Buzzworthiness: The Climbers

Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from playing…

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

The Climbers is a game designer by Holger Lanz that was originally published in 2008 as Die Aufsteiger by Chili Spiele.  Capstone Games/Simply Complex published a new edition in 2017, and that’s the edition I’ll be talking about today.  The game is for 2-5 players and takes around 45 minutes to play.  The object is very simple – be the highest climber on the mountain when the game ends.

The Climbers comes with 12 half cube blocks, 12 cube blocks, 9 double cube blocks, 2 neutral triple cube blocks (the foundations), 5 short ladders, 5 long ladders, 5 player pawns, and 5 blocking discs, as seen here.

image by BGG user clayross

To set up the game, stand the neutral foundations next to each other and randomly place all other blocks around them.  Every block must touch another block, and the foundations must be completely covered when the mountain is complete.  When finished, randomly assign each player a player color – they get the corresponding pawn and blocking disc.

On your turn, you can move one block and move your pawn.  The block can be moved at any time during your turn.  Just pick it up, rotate it so that the side you want up is up, and place it where you want.  You can pick up blocks to look if you want, just be sure to put them back where they came from.

To move, you just take your pawn and move it to another block.  You can only move on faces that match your color, or onto the grey spaces (which are neutral).  You can’t move diagonally, though you can move onto another block if any part of its side is touching the side of the block you’re on.  You can also move as many spaces as you can or want to.

If you’d like to move upward, you can only move a half cube up at a time.  A half cube is about the height of your pawn’s shoulders.  If you would like to move up any higher, you’ll need to use one of your ladders.  The short ladder can get you up a full cube, while the long ladder can get you up to a height of two cubes.  Both ladders can be used on the same turn, but once you’ve used a ladder, you won’t get to use it again for the rest of the game.

The last thing you can do on your turn is play a blocking disk.  If you put it on the surface of a block, no one can move that block or move onto that block until the disk is removed.  When it gets back to your turn, the disk is removed from the game.

Continue taking turns until a round occurs where no player has made any upward progress.  Once that happens, the player who is highest climber on the mountain (or the player who got there first in case of a tie) is the winner.

image by BGG user duchamp (from original version)

COMPONENTS: With all the blocks included, this game turns out to be fairly heavy.  But that means the blocks are of nice solid construction, and the mountain is not going to fall down if someone slightly bumps the table (unless you have a problem with your table).  The colors on the blocks are nice, though I imagine color blind people might have some problems – I know I had a tough time distinguishing some of the colors (especially pink and red) in low light.  Also, I’ve had the game for a little less than a month now and the sides are already looking a bit scuffed, so I wonder if this will last in the long term.

The ladders are a really cool component of this game, and the pawns are a nice height to be able to measure blocks.  The blocks here are all very precisely designed in terms of size, even down to how they all manage to fit in the box with only a little space left to put the ladders, pawns, and blocking disks.  So despite some of the aesthetic problems with the blocks, I still think the components in this game are pretty good overall.

Before I move on…I don’t usually harp on rulebooks.  I know it’s difficult to write instructions in a clear and precise manner, and I can often forgive some clunkiness as longs as the explanation is there.  But I don’t like the way this game’s rulebook is laid out AT ALL.  It starts with a list of the components, then moves on to a description of components and special rules for the game.  Then, on the last two pages, it finally gets around to describing how the game is played.  It’s very disjointed, and doesn’t cover common questions like “Can I go down?” or “What happens if the mountain falls over?”  I’d recommend learning the game from a video or another person rather than the rules – it’s not difficult to understand, and the rulebook makes it a lot more so.

THEME: In The Climbers, you’re climbing a mountain and trying to get higher than anyone else.  It’s not really a simulation of mountain climbing – I’ve never hear of anyone moving parts of the mountain around to suit them – but that does give you a framework for what’s going on.  This is a theme I’d definitely throw in the “don’t think about it too much” category.  It’s really just a race game, and instead of racing around the table, you’re racing upwards.

MECHANICS: There’s not a lot going on here mechanically.  BGG classifies the mechanisms as modular board and tile placement.  I guess I can see that, but to call this a “tile placement” game is weird.  If you look at the blocks as three-dimensional tiles, maybe, but it’s still weird.

One of the great thing about this game is that its mechanisms, while few, are pretty intuitive and easy to understand.  You can only climb up the height of your pawn (half a cube).  Ladders help you reach higher places.  You can only step on spaces of your color (or the neutral color).  Get as high as you can before anyone else does.  There aren’t a lot of complicated things going on, or weird rules in play.  It’s all very smooth.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There are a lot of choices going on when you play this game.  Choosing the right block to move in order to help yourself is an obvious one, but choosing the right block to move to mess up your opponent is another.  When to use your ladders is a critical choice, and I’ve found that using them early is not necessarily wise.  For a pretty simple game, there’s quite a bit of thinking that goes on here.

ACCESSIBILITY: As I’ve mentioned, this is not a difficult game to understand.  It packs a lot of strategy into an accessible package, meaning that serious and casual gamers alike will be able to get something out of the experience.

SCALABILITY: I’ve played this with 3, 4, and 5 players, and it works pretty well with all counts.  My three-player game was much quicker than the other player counts, for what that’s worth.

REPLAYABILITY: With random setups and random player colors, this is a very replayable game.  There are a ton of possible combinations for the mountain, and the game can go in an infinite number of directions once it starts.

INTERACTION: The game is turn-based, which doesn’t always lend itself well to interaction.  Here, it does.  You can move blocks around to help you and hurt your opponents.  You can use the blocking disks to prevent your opponents from going places (though you can leave that out of the games and there’s still plenty of interaction).  You also can try to set up moves with your opponents to prevent others from running off with the game.

FOOTPRINT: You don’t need a whole lot of space for this game, but wherever you are, make sure it is sturdy.  While the pieces are pretty solid, a wobbly table doesn’t lend itself well to a stable structure.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  It’s surprising how much depth of strategy there is in a game that looks like it should be for children.  This is an excellent game, and one I’d highly recommend.

Thanks for reading!

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