Game Buzz: K2

K2 - image by Wikipedia user Svy123

I’m not really sure what the appeal of mountain climbing is.  I’ve been backpacking in the mountains before, but I’m talking about trying to conquer a huge chunk of rock just because it’s there.  However, many people attempt this death-defying feat every year, and many fail to defy death.  Take K2, on the border between China and Pakistan.  It’s the second highest mountain in the world.  It is 28,251 feet high (over five miles above sea level).  It has never been climbed successfully during winter.  One in four people who attempt the climb never make it back alive.

Sounds like a game to me!

K2 Cover - image by BGG user MacTele

K2 comes from Polish designer Adam Kałuża, with art by Jarek Nocoń.  The game is being published by, the biggest online store in Poland.  The game plays in 60 minutes, is for ages 8 and up, and is playable by 1-5 players.  That always makes my ears perk up – I like things that have a solo play option.  The premise of the game is pretty obvious – brave the harsh conditions, make it to the top, don’t die.  As with mountain climbing, the journey will be tough, but the rewards will (hopefully) be worth it.

This game comes with board that shows K2.  The board is double-sided, one being easier and one for more advanced climbers.  I always appreciate it when designers are willing to offer multiple versions of core components to increase replayability.  There are 12 weather cards, 6 for summer and 6 for winter.  There are 20 mountaineer pawns – 5 sets of 4.  There are 10 tents – 5 sets of 2.  There are 10 acclimatization markers – 5 sets of 2.  There are 90 player cards – 5 sets of 18.  There are 5 player mats.  There are 5 rescue cards.  And there are 20 risk tokens – 4 with value 0, 11 with value -1, and 5 with value -2.  In addition, there’s a starting player marker and a black disc used as a weather marker.

Advanced K2 Board - image by BGG image MacTele
Easier K2 Board - image by BGG user MacTele

I would imagine that you’d want to use the easier board for your first game, but I suppose that you could be brave.  Each player gets a set of pieces – mountaineers, tents, acclimatization markers, player cards, a mat, and a rescue card (if you’re playing the family variant).  Two of your mountaineers go at the start of the board, while the other two will go on the lowest score space (right side).  A weather track is formed out of 2 random cards corresponding to the board you’re using, three risk tokens are turned face up, and each player gets a hand of six cards from their player decks.

There are eighteen turns in the game, aka an 18-day expedition.  Each turn follows a set sequence: card selection, risk tokens, action phase, acclimatization checks, and end of turn.

During card selection, you will choose three cards from your hand and put them face up in front of you.  Once everyone has chosen, you reveal all three simultaneously.

During the second phase, everyone will add up their movement points from the cards.  Some cards will have a couple of numbers on them with arrows pointing up and down.  These are rope cards, and you’ll only count the upward movement number.  Whoever has the highest sum takes one of the three risk tokens and will enact its effect during the action phase.  A new risk token is drawn to replace it.

Now it’s time for the action phase.  Beginning with the start player (the last person who was in the mountains – I don’t know what you’ll do if you are in the mountains while playing this game), actions are taken in clockwise order.  You can do multiple actions at a time as long as you have the cards.

  • You could move.  Move your mountaineers up or down by spending movement points.  You can only move between spaces that are connected by a rope.  There’s a movement value shown on each space, indicating how many points are needed to enter the space (if there’s nothing shown, it’s one).  In addition, there’s a limit on how many climbers can be in a single space.  This is indicated by a table on the right side of the board.  The board is divided into four zones, and each zone has different requirements depending on the number of players.  You can pass through these spaces, you just can’t stop there.
  • You can raise the acclimatization level if you played any acclimatization cards.  Advance the corresponding token on your player mat that number of points.  Points cannot be split between your two mountaineers.
  • You can pitch a tent.  You spend movement points equal to the entry cost for the space.  Your climbers can use the tent, and you will gain acclimatization points for it later.  Tents cannot move once placed, and each mountaineer can only place one.

When you go up into a new zone on the mountain (marked by a flag), you advance the marker corresponding to your climber on the VP track.  If you go down out of that zone, you do not drop your climber back on the VP track.  If you have a risk token, you must apply its effects: with a zero, nothing happens; with 1 or 2, you must subtract points from the movement or acclimatization cards, or from the acclimatization level.  This seems to be an effort to balance out whoever gets the highest total.

You should also check the weather.  Weather can either add movement points, or decrease your acclimatization, or both.  It’s also possible that weather will have no effect.

After the action phase, you check acclimatization.  With favorable acclimatization spaces, you will add points to your total; with unfavorable acclimatization spaces, you lose points.  Weather can also affect these.  Being in a space with a tent of your color adds one acclimatization point.

Once all acclimatization has been checked, reduce your level to six if it is above six.  If your acclimatization drops below one, your mountaineer DIES.  He gets one point for the effort, but you can’t use him anymore.  In the family variant, you can use your rescue card to save the dying mountaineer.  That mountaineer must go to a spot below 6000 meters, and their VP marker goes back four spaces.  You only get one rescue card.  I think I would probably always play with this variant – for one thing, I hate player elimination.  For another, it’s friendlier.

At the end of the turn, you pass the start player marker to the left.  The weather marker is advanced one space.  All players draw three new cards.  If you have no cards to draw, you will play the next turn with your three remaining cards.  If you have no cards remaining in your hand, reshuffle your deck and draw six.

The game ends after the eighteenth day.  Whoever has the most points is the winner.  If there’s a tie, the player who got to the summit first wins.  Otherwise, there’s a tie.  Now, note that the game ends after the eighteenth day.  The game is NOT over when you get to the summit.  You can still die.  If you die, it doesn’t matter if you made it to the summit.  You only get points if you survive.  So, if you make it to the top, you might want to head back down to someplace safer.

So that’s a rundown of the way the game plays.  As always, I’m sure you really need to play it to find out how things work.  I think it seems very interesting, but I’m a little hesitant.  I think the problem is that this game is reminding me of Snow Tails.  I know a lot of people like Snow Tails, but I really didn’t.  The major problem I had with ST was the layout of the board.  Completely confusing.  I can see that being a bit of an issue in K2 since there are two numbers on many of the spaces and it might be bewildering trying to remember which is which.  However, I think it will be less of a chore figuring out where you can go.  Just follow a rope, up or down.  The card mechanic is slightly similar, though you don’t have to deal with so much math or coordination in K2.  Also, while both are sort of races, I like that K2 isn’t over until the end.  Just because you reach the finish line first doesn’t mean you’re going to live until Day 18.  This separates the game from the various race games out there.

I’m very glad to see that there are two different boards for different difficulty levels.  I can see this game getting a little stale with the same 18 cards, 6 weather cards, and risk tokens every time.  Still, I’m not sure how long this game would remain fun.  After repeated plays, it might get repetitive.  I don’t really see much potential for expansions at this time.  It’s a mountain, it’s not going to be that variable.  The only thing I can see is to port the system over to Mount Everest or something.  That would be more of a sequel, I suppose.

At any rate, I’m interested in giving this one a go.  Look up more information at BGG.  Funagain has the game backordered at the moment for $61.  I doubt you’ll find it too much cheaper as it’s an import.  Maybe some domestic publisher will pick it up, though I’m not sure who.  Thanks once again for joining me, and insert clever tagline here.



  1. This game intrigues me, in part because I’ve heard the components are very nice. For some reason the game reminds me of Pandemic — maybe it’s that you’re competing, at least in part, against the game itself. I think I’ll wait for the price to drop a bit, though….

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