Full disclosure: A review copy of Mountain Goats was provided by Board Game Tables.
Back with more reviews, as usual! This time we’re covering Mountain Goats, another small-box title from Board Game Tables! I had been meaning to play this one on Tabletopia, but time is what time is and we ended up trying it in person, so now I’m reviewing it. What a wonderful cycle game reviewing can be, probably. Who’s to say? Anyways, we covered Sequoia previously, covering Mountain Goats now, might do GPS in the future. Let’s dive right in!
So you’re a goat. Just let that one sink in and sort of take in the majesty of the experience or something. Either way, you’re now fundamentally at peace with your one goal, which is climbing those mountains. Unfortunately, your opponents are also goats who want the same thing. As is the case with many board games, you are a highly specific entity with a highly specific desire that unfortunately is shared by other highly specific entities. Only one way to settle this, and that’s roll a bunch of dice. Climb mountains, gather points, and go for the bonus if you want to be the king (or queen [or ruler!]) of these hills. Will you be able to rise to the top? Or will your opponents manage to get your goat?
Not a ton to do, here. Set the Mountain Cards up in order:
Give each player a set of goat tokens; they place one goat token at the bottom of each of the Mountain Card stacks:
Set the point tokens above their corresponding mountains:
If playing at three players, discard one point token from the top of each stack. If playing at two, discard two tokens from each. Set aside the bonus tokens, as well:
And finally, choose a player to go first and give them the dice:
You should be ready to start!
Your goal in Mountain Goats is to be the ruler of the mountain. As many mountains as you can, for as long as you can. Should you be able to do so, you’ve got a shot at winning!
On your turn, you’ll roll the four dice and use them to make groups of at least one die. You can make as many groups as you want, but you’ll want the total value of the group to be between 5 and 10, if you can. If you roll more than one 1, you can change all but one of the 1s to any value you want.
Once you’ve decided on your groups, advance your goat one space up the mountain corresponding to the total value of each group. This means if you rolled 5 / 4 / 6 / 1 and made a 5, 5, and 6 group, you would move up two spaces on the 5 track and one space on the 6 track.
Should you reach the summit, you immediately take a point token from the corresponding mountain’s pile and boot any goat on the top card to the bottom of the mountain (starting below the mountain track, as they did at the start of the game). Rude, but fair. If your goat is already on top of the mountain, they gain another point token for every space upwards they would have otherwise moved. If all the point tokens are taken, the goats can no longer move on that mountain.
If you ever get a complete set of point tokens from all six mountains, you immediately take the corresponding bonus token from the top of the bonus token stack. You do this each time you complete a set of six different point tokens, so you can get more than one bonus token.
If three point token piles become empty or the last bonus token is taken, the game ends! Total your points and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Oh, this game ends up being wild at different player counts. Buck not, lest ye be bucked, is essentially the mantra of the higher player count ends of the spectrum, here. You may make it to the top of the mountain, only to be cast back to the bottom before you even get a turn to enjoy it. You may stick it out at the top of the 5 or 6, as well, as nobody might think it’s worth all the effort required to kick you off. At two, it’s a knife fight basically constantly. As soon as your opponent has something, you need to take it from them, otherwise they may start cashing out on subsequent turns with reckless abandon. I played a two-player game where my opponent got five 6 tokens before I could do anything about it. Before I even scored anything else. That game didn’t go well. We don’t talk about it. But, while it’s definitely a more crowded game with more players, that works to the game’s advantage; it’s a hoot to be constantly churning and cycling around. I’d actually say that both ends of the spectrum are pretty fun, in different ways, so I don’t have a particularly strong player count preference for Mountain Goats. Just be prepared for a variety of different play styles with different player counts.
- It’s not a bad idea to just go for the high-value spots early; you’re going to get kicked off eventually, anyways, so if you can get two tokens from that spot it’s probably worth it. You get one just for showing up, after all; if you can manage to hold on to it for even one additional turn, you have a shot at getting a second token. If you can take two tokens from each location, you’ll get a second bonus token, as well, so it might be worth just going for spots, if you think you can actually pull them off. There’s a lot of timidity around the 9 and the 10, early in the game, as players don’t necessarily want to give up a valuable spot to an opponent. And that’s valid! But someone needs to be the first person up there, and frankly, it might as well be you. You never know! Your opponent might not make the rolls required to get up there and kick you off! I definitely saw someone hit the 10 and the next player roll 5 / 3 / 3 / 3, and there’s no way they’re getting to the 10 with a roll like that. Things can shake out in your favor if you’re daring, and even if they don’t, you still got a 9 or 10 already! It’s a short trip back to the top of the mountain.
- That said, if you manage to climb to the top of the 5 or 6 quickly enough, you can pretty effectively farm those spots for a lot of tokens before someone can catch you, unless they get lucky. I saw someone roll four 5s when they were close to the top, which they just used as four distinct 5s, getting them a bunch of tokens. Would two 10s have been better? Maybe! But you still need some 5s to get bonus tokens. Plus, barring a similarly impressive roll, it takes your opponents a while to catch up to you. In a two-player game, that means that you might be able to make off with a bunch of tokens of one value before your opponent can catch up to you! Will you be able to drain the stack? Who knows. But it might be worth going after it, depending on the landscape of the rest of the mountain cards.
- Try to avoid getting shut out of a bonus token, if you can. It’s pretty bad if you somehow miss out on getting a bonus token, especially given that they’re literally free bonus points. It can happen, though! Look for places where your opponents are starting to drain the token pile and make sure you get one (preferably at least one) for yourself. If you don’t have one of each, you can’t get a bonus token!
- If you can shut an opponent out of a bonus token, though, do it. Yeah, this is a major draw for trying to camp out on the 10. If you can drain all the 10s, then in a two-player game, it doesn’t even matter what your opponent tries to do. Unless they can similarly shut you out on a token type, they’re going to be in for a rough game, given that they are now incapable of getting the bonus tokens. It’s definitely a good strategic move to try to lock an opponent out, if you can do it, but it’s harder to do than it sounds. Your opponent needs to have some particularly bad luck for that to happen (or make some particularly bad choices).
- Particularly, getting a few early 7s or 8s can really help set you up for a bonus token or two. A lot of players don’t really go for these since they’re in that uncomfortable middle zone between “easy to roll but hard to ascend” and “hard to roll but easy to ascend”, so they tend to get ignored. Going after these may be a decent ticket forward, especially if you’re seeing a lot of other players compete for the 10 or 9.
- You can make combinations in multiple different ways; be open to a few different options. Some players will forget that they can use 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 to make a 10. Even though it’s only one space worth of advancement on that turn, it might not be a bad idea.
- It’s sometimes worth only getting one token if it’s a 10 or a 9, both because of the high value and the small pile. It might be the last token! Or, I mean, they’re the most valuable tokens in the game (save the bonus tokens), so one 10 is potentially worth missing out on two 5s, if you already have a couple. Try to prioritize not just the printed value of the token, but also the potential value of scoring a bonus token. That should help you decide which mountain to prioritize in the moment.
- Also, consider when to end the game, especially if you’re the last player. You might not want the game to go another round, as it gives other players chances to score. If you’re up and they’re not, it may be worth ending the game to lock your lead in place. If you’re simply at the top of a few good mountains and they’re far from it, it might be worth riding out a few more rounds to earn some more points and potentially close the gap between you and the leader. It’s always worth having a rough sense of where you’re at in a game, points-wise, as that can give you some insight as to what to do next.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The goat tokens are excellent. Board Game Tables has been really doing good work on these meeples and stuff; I’m a huge fan. They’re chunky without being too top-heavy and they look great on the table. They’re also in fun colors, which I appreciate. Just a good job all around.
- The art is also nice! It’s the same artist as Sequoia (Anca Gavril), but I feel like it bears repeating. The entire set of games looks cohesive, and that’s great. I’d actually kind of love to see more companies do sets of small-box games with different themes and the same artist; this is a very cool thing. I also just like the artistic consistency.
- I’m also, component-wise, a big fan of the dice. The dice are big and clunky and they’re fun to roll. I think the TomaTomato die has them beat, but only in size; the weight of these dice is great. They’ve got a good heft to them and that’s just a great component experience.
- The small box set this makes with Sequoia is very nice. They’re fairly different games. They have similar mechanics (roll dice to make sets to advance tokens on those sums), but they play very differently in practice. And that’s good! You don’t really want to buy two of the same game, if you can avoid it, unless you’re a weird collector like me.
- Not too challenging to learn. Roll dice, make groups, advance goats, score points. You’ve got most of it, right there. And that’s also good. I think there’s kind of a (fair or unfair) perception that the smaller the box, the easier the game should be to learn, and I find that generally holds as long as you’re not playing Mottainai. This is relatively straightforward and a great opener for players who are just getting into modern board games.
- Rolling a bunch of 5s or 6s becomes very satisfying. Just getting to move all those spaces feels great. It’s a big moment for players.
- Similarly, it feels great to get the bonus tokens. It’s nice to have a mini-goal in a small game to help players feel like they’re making good progress or doing the “right” things. It also feels cohesive within the larger game, so it’s not some weird side goal, either.
- It also feels good to knock someone else off the top space. This just speaks to my innate sense of cruelty, but it is fun. It helps that this is a very common occurrence in the game, so it’s hard to get too mad about it. Players will most likely just shrug it off and then knock the player who knocked them off off, as well. A beautiful cycle of violence.
- I really like when you have a tough decision around how to arrange your dice. For a small and short game, that’s a weighty decision! It’s also contextual and requires thinking about where your opponents are and what you need. I generally like when players are presented with tough choices of roughly equal quality and forced to strategize, a bit, and I feel like for a game that relies on dice and chance, those choices do come up a surprising amount of the time. They’re low-stakes choices in the grand scheme of life, but they may have a pretty big impact on the rest of the game, which is fun.
- I wouldn’t recommend playing this immediately after Sequoia. Mostly that Sequoia also has you making groupings of dice, but in Sequoia they need to be in pairs and in Mountain Goats it’s whatever you feel like. That definitely threw us off the first time we played. Just keep in mind that you can make any combination of dice that you want in Mountain Goats, and you should be fine.
- The variance of the dice means that you may just not always get what you’re looking for. In fact, you may never get it! That’s dice! Generally, this should average out over the course of the game, but you may not notice that you had a shot at a 10 that you passed up. This leads to players occasionally being frustrated, but it’s such a short game that it hardly matters.
- I struggle to get the box to close perfectly. There’s just a lot of stuff inside! Which may be a draw for y’all value fiends, but it is gently annoying, as well. Sometimes I just want stuff to close.
- You can definitely get to a point where you’ve lost, but the game isn’t over. This is a slight problem because this is the vaunted hall of Where Kingmaking Happens, as a player who can’t win but is still in the game is kind of dangerous. Generally, my rule when I’ve been effectively eliminated from a game becomes “make the game end as quickly as possible”, but if you’re not feeling particularly gracious you may choose to knock one player down to potentially benefit another. Not a huge fan of that, but there’s no way to end the game without draining three piles or draining the bonus pile, so what can you do. It doesn’t usually take a particularly long time for the game to end, given how short it is
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Mountain Goats is a lot of fun! If you forced me to pick, I’d probably gently prefer Sequoia, but honestly, I think they’re both great little games. Mountain Goats has a lot of great components, to its credit: it has great-looking cards and tokens, fantastic little goat meeples, and a solid set of dice that are a great color and feel great to roll. There’s a lot in the box for a little game (to my occasional / slight annoyance), but I think it all fits together pretty nicely and seamlessly. It’s not terribly surprising to me that its original version (Level-X) got nominated for a number of awards; I think Mountain Goats is a clean and clever little design, and the cyclical nature of its king-of-the-hill competitions manages to take a very aggressive type of game and blunt it such that players don’t take getting booted off the mountain all that personally. I think that’s good design! Part of the reason it works is that the mountain cycle is pretty fast, even at low player counts. You’re always only a few turns away from taking back the mountaintop that was cruelly stolen from you, so it always feels within player reach. That arms-length design paradigm is wise! Players never feel completely shut out unless they’ve made enough bad decisions or had bad enough luck that they’re hosed on points. If that happens, then sure, the game could probably end a bit more quickly, but in even the worst case Mountain Goats is not a terribly long game. I’m a fan, all things considered. It’s always nice to have more solid starter games as a way to introduce folks to modern hobby gaming or kick up a game night, and I feel like a lot of my game night regulars might be a bit rusty, anyways, given that we’ll have gone basically 15 to 18 months without an actual Eric Game Night. Bummer. Anyways, rather than focusing on that, let’s talk about Mountain Goats! If you’re into small box games and looking for something quick, or you enjoy dice-rolling and king of the hill, or you just like games with solid art, you might enjoy playing Mountain Goats, as well! I certainly have had fun with it.