Full disclosure: A review copy of Whistle Mountain was provided by Bezier Games.
I’ve really had the opportunity to play a wide variety of games (that have been available on Tabletopia) in the last few months, which has been an interesting time for me to try things that may not be as directly inside of my Immediate Game Preferences. The longer titles (90+ minutes) have been particularly interesting to dive a bit more into, since, you know, I don’t, usually. That’s largely not driven by taste; it’s just hard to play and review four 60+ minute games in a week. Now that I’m only doing two, though, I have a bit more time to try and expand my horizons. It’s its own mountain to be climbed, I suppose, and all the more reason to try a different kind of mountain with Bezier’s new Whistle Mountain! Let’s get climbing and see how it plays.
In Whistle Mountain, you have reclaimed your entrepreneurial spirit and decided to invest in the most practical form of freight and transit: blimps! And zeppelins, and a hot air balloon; you’re practical, after all. You now need to make this mountain work for you with its wealth of resources. Unfortunately, you’re not first to it; your opponents have obtained similar machines and wish to take the mountain’s splendor for themselves. You’ll have to be smart, because, as everyone knows, sloppy building is a recipe for disaster on these peaks. Take resources and use them to buy scaffolds and machines, and then place those machines on the mountain so that your workers may use them on subsequent turns. Be careful, though; your opponents can use your machines (and their machines) as well! You’ll be combining worker placement with some engine-building as you gain player powers and rapidly place machines to try and build out combos. As you build higher and higher, though, the snow on the mountain will begin to melt and possibly wash meeples too far down the mountain away until you can rescue them. Keep playing until every meeple has been placed and then see who won! Will you be able to claim the mountain as your own?
Player Count Differences
This one changes a fair bit between player counts, mostly in that as the player count increases much, much more can happen between your turns. If two players build above the Bridge line when it’s not your turn, suddenly the barracks is two levels more flooded than it used to be. If you’re close to the ground, that might cost you 10 points! Or, at least, you gotta get in there and get your people out. Since Whistle Mountain has so many dynamic markets and worker placement, a lot can change between turns, especially if multiple players do the same things (or can access blocked spaces with cards or upgrades). It’s hectic, but that means that you can largely control your expectations a bit more at lower player counts. At four, I figure it’s probably a bit more chaotic than I’m looking for, but if you want to be Lord of the Dunk Tank or just see a bunch of things change pretty rapidly, then you might be in business! I prefer lower chaos and higher predictability, so I will likely stick with two, though I enjoyed the game at three! It largely doesn’t take too much longer, since eventually everyone’s meeples will either be safely on the tower or washed away like meeps in the rain or however that saying goes.
- You should very much lean into your starting player power. It’s likely to be a primary driver of what you can do, especially in the early game. As you get more upgrades, you may pivot a bit into what they’ll let you do as far as your engine, but you should try and at least use your starting power for all the mileage you can get out of it. Just make sure you don’t overcommit to it. There are upgrades that play well with every starting power, but refusing to get upgrades until you find the perfect one may just mean that the larger game passes you by.
- You can pretty aggressively stymie your opponent(s) if you take upgrades that play into their ability, and, indeed, you might need to! There are some pretty deadly combinations that can emerge early in the game and synergize well with players’ starting abilities. You may need to be a bit vigilant and just kind of swoop that upgrade (or discard it, if you have the right machines) so that they can’t get an early-game power combo. It can be a bit of a bummer if you have to do that, but, sometimes it’s critical.
- Keep an eye out for where you can place your machines. This is mostly just useful to do, but think about why you want to place a machine at a certain spot. Are certain resources easy for you to get, so you want to try and lower the supply of those resources for your opponents? Are you trying to make it easier for your meeples to make it higher up the tower? Do you want to try and create a combo machine area? Are you just trying to wash your opponent out of the barracks? These may lead to different placement outcomes, so weigh your motivations carefully before you lock the machine in.
- Placing scaffolding to maximize points isn’t a bad idea, but neither is building upwards to try and dunk your opponents’ workers. They kind of have the same effect, provided you can get enough of your opponents’ meeples dunked on the same turn. I would recommend the Coal Slide if Maximum Dunk is your goal. Giving your opponents the Fun Dip. The Involuntary Slip-n-Slide. And I’m going to stop. Building upwards gives you more points and some rewards, so provided the awards are still on the tower, it’s often worth going after those first.
- Don’t lock yourself too hard into a strategy; your lower-down machines will eventually get waterlogged. You can’t rely on machines (except the Elevator, I suppose) forever; eventually you will have to either say goodbye or buy the Salvage Yard and get them back. Just understand that if you love something, let it go, and it will eventually slumber eternally under a lake created by melted snow. I’m 36% sure that’s how the saying goes. But in all seriousness, you’re going to have some machines that won’t make it to the endgame, so your strategy (and engine) need to be fault-tolerant enough to weather those losses if you want to win.
- Don’t sleep too much on upgrades; they can really tilt your strategy. Often, they are points and a boon. The nice thing about them being end-game points is that it also makes it more challenging for your opponents to suss out your score, which may make them go after other players. The boons are helpful because they’re permanent abilities. 2 bonus points from an upgrade ain’t much, but getting to use water as a wild resource is pretty great, for instance. Try to chain your upgrades together with your machines or your player power so that you can really make an engine out of them.
- Getting to move right after your opponent Forges means that you may be able to take “good” locations that they created. That may be part of their plan (players can occasionally “bump” airships back to their owner, but there’s a strong chance that early in the game players will create zones that they want to move onto to get more resources, so try and identify those so that you can take them for yourself. Later in the game, it’ll be mostly machines.
- Don’t forget that you can only play one card and redeem one award per turn. This is mostly to remind you that you need to use all of your awards before the game is over. You’ll see a bit of a rush towards the end of the game if players have forgotten, especially if the awards are fairly valuable (like points!).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The theme is super fun! I like the idea of using fancy zeppelins and blimps and hot air balloons to build machines in the mountains. Is it practical? Wildly no. Do I care? Also wildly no! Sometimes things should just be whimsical, and this is the appropriate level of whimsy.
- I just like blimps and hot air balloons. They’re fun vehicles. Like I said, they carry a certain amount of whimsy inherent to their shape and transportation style, and that’s usually the right amount of whimsy for me to feel invested.
- The components are quite nice, as well, which is generally something I’ve seen a lot of from Bezier. The blimp tokens are wonderful. Like, I like them quite a bit. I’m also impressed by the fine features on the gears and the player boards. It’s an impressive construction and it really turned out looking good.
- I also like that the board is well-laid-out so that almost everything can be stored or notched on the board. For a large game, it does kind of keep the experience limited to the board (and some space for the resources. I ended up just putting the VPs on the board along with the awards to conserve space, but it largely worked. I just need a larger photography table.
- I like the multiple uses and sizes of workers. It adds an interesting spatial dynamic to just worker placement. I haven’t seen this a lot. Generally when I think of Large Workers, I think of the Big Meeple from Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals, and I don’t see a bunch of other ones. Applying the workers to a grid and enforcing size limits to use certain machines and place in certain spots is very interesting, and it adds an even more dynamic layer of player interaction beyond just being able to use machines other players have placed. While most worker placement games have blocking, this introduces partial blocking, which is even more frustrating (and interesting). I appreciate that it doesn’t
- Building the scaffolds so that we can get resources to build machines to place on the scaffolds is a very cool dynamic. I often say that a lot of what people want in games is a sense of progression, and this game certainly has that. You start with a blank slate and you finish up with a highly functional machine. That’s pretty impressive! All players contributing to it in their own way to create their own working paths is also nice. I like that working machines can’t generally be removed, as well, so you’re never tearing things down, even if you are kind of waterlogging them.
- I also like how the game manages its own progression via the water. As I mentioned, a sense of player progression is good, but a sense of game progression is great, too! As the water rises, things you bought and strategies you used at the beginning of the game are no longer accessible to you, and I think that rules. You start relying less on scaffolds and more on your machines. It’s very cool, and it forces players to keep thinking dynamically over the course of the game. It gives players a bit of a sense of imminent danger, as well, which is never a bad thing.
- The online implementation would benefit wildly from a scoreboard rather than physical VP tokens. Tabletopia is hard enough to use as-is. If y’all are adding games to Tabletopia, consider adding a physical scoreboard rather than having players futz with physical victory point chips. Even if they have to spend VP or gain them now or later, it’s better than having to continually make trades for additional tokens. While it’s not perfectly authentic, your players will thank you.
- I would not be able to play this at four players; too much would happen between turns for me to feel like I have a good ability to plan ahead. I think that’s kind of a problem I have with worker placement games anyways, but add in the ability to build and the length of your airships mattering and you’ve got a game whose state can change rapidly and intensely between two of your turns. That can make it very hard to plan, and I’m very much a planner in games like this, so I’d almost certainly never play this one at four players. I wouldn’t say that it’s a flaw in the game itself, just a mismatch between the kind of scenario it creates and the kind I want to experience, especially in a longer game.
- Given that the face-down awards are distributed at random, it’s odd that some of them are very low-value (gain a resource) and some are very high value (gain an upgrade, which is endgame points + a permanent ability). It was sort of the perfect storm, but my opponent had an upgrade-focused engine and drew the one random upgrade award, which allowed her to chain together a 20-point turn that also gave her the ability to use two different resources as wild. This caused some long-term problems since it effectively meant that any resources she got were whistles, and she could hold 12 of them. I believe I got a whistle out of that deal, which, largely doesn’t compare. It seems odd that the random outcomes could be so disparate, especially since the only tile we saw that game that distributed awards gave them to all players. I suppose the risk is that the situation may have been reversed, but that makes the game feel … swingy, which it doesn’t need at its runtime. I would much rather have those kinds of awards be purchasable or gained in the same way that awards are gained via the tower.
- The rulebook is pretty rough. There’s a lot of information on every page (probably a bit too much), and I struggled to find a clear flow of information from start to finish. For instance, they denote the Build action as letting you build a scaffold or machine. They follow that up with How to Build a Scaffold, makes sense. Then, the Move / Rescue Workers action is explained, and then How to Build a Machine. They, decently often, end up introducing concepts before fully explaining them, which is pretty confusing for new players. We attempted to start this game twice, and the first time didn’t take because we just got overwhelmed by the rulebook. It’s also hard to scan, which can be an issue as players try to go back to double-check certain effects or abilities. Either way, my play group is pretty experienced and this is the first time I remember struggling with a rulebook in a while. Part of it is also just how much you need to read and consult it, because there are a surprising number of fine-grain actions that you need to look up and remember. Having this be an icon-heavy game makes that challenging, as well.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I had fun with Whistle Mountain! My first game was a little rough, but I think that may just be how things go until players have had a chance to learn all the icons and various rules. I let my opponent get a deadly combo and just got forcibly removed from the game. Alas. The next time around, though, I had a better sense of what I was doing and had a lot of fun! I really like games with a strong sense of progression, and this game is all about codifying that sense of progression for everyone, with scaffolds that become machines that become waterlogged and some unfortunate meeples getting swept away. The board’s changes over the course of the game are worth a really cool time-lapse video that I didn’t film and am now regretting not filming, so, that’s something. I think the art is also great! It’s bright, colorful, and whimsical, which is exactly what you want from a game that relies on zeppelins, jetpack labs, and fancy whistles. Nice art and nice components really help a game out, and they do exactly what they’re supposed to for Whistle Mountain. I do wish the rulebook were a little less confusing and easier to skim, but I largely think that making the rulebook the same size as the box didn’t help. A smaller rulebook that had more pages might have been easier to process, ironically. My other real gripe about this game is that the face-down awards have a bit of a swing to them, and some of the more powerful ones can be pretty useful if they’re gotten early enough in the game. It feels … a bit more luck-driven than other aspects of the game, and for an otherwise fairly strategic game, it sort of feels like a misstep. I’d prefer a tighter allocation of what the awards can do, but, that’s me. Beyond that though, it’s fun to play and build up a (somewhat) collaborative machine as you try to get resources, scaffolds, upgrades, and points. If you’re looking for a neat game with good progression and you’re down to do some thinking, I’ve had a good time with Whistle Mountain, and I’d recommend it!