The Climbers: Mount Everest or Mariana Trench?

6 11 2012

The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5 players
Duration: 45 minutes

The Climbers

Die Aufsteiger aka The Climbers – Box

Die Aufsteiger, or The Climbers, is an abstract game by Holger Lanz which sees you trying to make your meeple reach the highest point, or if equal in height, then to have made it there first.This is a three-dimensional game made entirely of wooden pieces. Yes, even your meeples are wooden! The box contains a large variety of blocks of different sizes, as well as large and small ladders for each player. Each block has six faces, each coloured differently to match player colour (with one side left grey to represent a wildcard colour). Opposite faces will always be consistent (e.g. Blue on the other side of light-blue).

You begin the game by finding the two large grey pieces and align them vertically on the table. The remaining blocks are placed randomly around these structures until no parts of the two towers are visible. When I say randomly, there are – of course – building rules to adhere to. For example, no gaps underneath blocks. It is at this point that player order is randomly selected and meeples/ladders distributed. Oh dear, you didn’t get your favourite colour? Never mind, it may be to your benefit! You see, those random blocks you’ve all just laid out form the basis of the ‘mountain’ upon which your little meeples will begin their adventure skywards.

The Climbers box contents

The Climbers box contents

Put simply, they are only allowed to step upon matching coloured faces of face-up blocks, or the grey wildcard faces). There is no rule as to how high a meeple can move up – or down – in a player’s turn, but you can’t climb an adjacent block if your meeple is shorter than it.

Hmm – there are only a select quantity of the blocks which your meeple can climb onto as the others are two large. So what do you do? Well, firstly, on your turn you can move a block (as long as the previous player didn’t move it directly before you). This allows placement or removal of a block to help you on your way. Or indeed, you might already have a path upwards, in which case, you might decide to move a block to hinder an opponent, such as to make a potentially reachable area – unreachable. You may just wish to rotate a block instead so that the upwards colour is prefential. All would be legal as long as you stick to the (few) building rules (not all mentioned here).

You also have the option to use your ladders, for those hard-to-reach locations. As long as your ladder starts on a legal colour for your meeple, and ends on similar, then you can climb higher than usual. Be careful though, as these are one-time use only! You have one short and one long ladder.

There is one other nasty trick up the sleeve – the blocking stones! Again, these are one-time  use only and each player has one. By placing one of these instead of moving a block as step one of your turn, you prevent a player from using/moving that block for the duration of that round (until it is your turn once again).

Game in progress

A game of The Climbers in progress. Blue is looking good!

Playing the game
So, how does it play? We’ve played this once as a 2 player and a couple of times as a 4. There is no real difference in rules at all. Each game has been entertaining and has gone down well with the players concerned. As the initial tower is built randomly and then colours chosen, no player can complain of bias or accused of stacking the sides up in their favour.

In the same way as 3D Blokus needs it, we felt like the games we played could have benefited from the use of a ‘lazy Susan’ in order for players to be able to see around the entirety of the structure. As it was, players find themselves manoeuvering around the table and peeking over the top to see what the optimal move is. That’s not to say the producers should supply one, it would just have been good if we had one to hand!

In the most recent game, two players were quite clearly in front and the result seemed clearcut. However, I still had my ladders and blocking stone and was able to use these to good effect to claim the victory! Equally, in another game, I started slowly and paid dearly for it. So it seems like there could be multiple ways back into (or out of) the game.

With all the different options to move/place blocks, there is plenty of scope for some slow turns. However, this didn’t seem to matter or occur with us too much and the game flowed very well.

All in all it is a fun gaming experience. There’s enough there to give the thinkers of the group enough to get along with, but also enough for the doers to get stuck into too. I don’t think it’ll be the sort of game you’ll play repeatedly of an evening, as one play seems ‘enough’, but we can see this one making it to the table when we fancy something a little different

The Climbers Demonstration

The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger being demonstrated





Tokaido: A walk on the gentle side

3 11 2012

Tokaido
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5 players
Duration: 45 minutes
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The man behind boardgaming hits such as 7 Wonders and Ghost Stories, Antoine Bauza, revealed a much more genteel game at Essen 2012: Tokaido.
This game was high on the ‘want’ list for many Essen-goers and I’m sure the gloriously beautiful artwork by French artist Naïade played a keen part in this.

The game sees 2-5 players embarking on the ancient journey to Edo and are trying to make this as pleasurable a journey as can be. They do this by virtue of making various ‘stops’ along the way. This can be to sample hot springs, to make donations at local temples, to sample the wonderful panoramic views, eat tasty meals at the many inns, buy souvenirs or simply have encounters which bring a variety of benefits. These benefits bring either VIPs, coins and/or can contribute to bonus VIPs at game end.

Beautiful board/art/pieces
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One of the game’s strengths is the turn order mechanism. There is no ‘follow clockwise around the table’ to be found. Quite simply, the player who is furthest back on the path to Edo is the player whose turn is next. This brings us to the next mechanic of how far along the road a player may move. Again, in a twist, a player can move as far along the road they want (at least until the next inn).

Rushing ahead has a variety of benefits, such as enabling players to have the best pick of the options available on that section of the road, and can guarantee a spot rather than get blocked out. Reaching the inn first also gives access to the widest choice of meals. However, the player who jumps ahead will miss out on many of the other delights to be had. Also, the mechanics mentioned previously will result in the players further behind being able to mop up everything that was left behind. If these players are quite far back then it will be quite a wait until that player gets another turn. So there’s a balance to be had. Does slow and steady win the race, or does he who snooze, lose?

Each player also has a choice of two characters at the start of the game who offer a special ability to that player only, such as discounted meals or souvenirs.

Game artist Naïade illustrating copies of the box at Essen Spiel 2012
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Player interaction isn’t high in this game. Other than blocking spaces you can see your opponents may want, or reaching spaces before they do in order to claim bonuses, there are no attacking options to harm other players. However, the game doesn’t set itself out to be that type of game. It is all about the journey.

For gamers who are after ‘meat’ they will find this game doesn’t have it. Everything is light, gentle and you won’t find yourself spending ages deliberating your next move. The game’s age range and playing time recommendations back this up (8+ and 45minutes respectively).

We have played this 4 times now: once as a 2-player, twice as a 4-player and once as a 5-player. In the 2-player game you play with an Alhambra-esque ‘Dirk’-type 3rd player who is controlled by the player farthest along the road. We didn’t find this worked badly at all.
In each of the games, one of the concerns has been that there wasn’t much of an urge to forge ahead and skip places, so most players felt that choosing the next space (or 2) ahead of them was the only viable option to take. Which in fact, felt like it amounted to a lack of choice. Many found the bonus values in each area (3pts) were not significant enough to encourage them to skip ahead to complete panoramas, etc. Out of the many players, one said that they never wanted to play again, but in contrast, there were others who were very much looking forward to doing so.

All that being said, there is no doubt to the appeal of the game. In Essen, the game had many many pre-orders and sold out during the show. We found that there was always a large gathering at the FunForge stand, and indeed, back at the hotel after the show, we had plenty of people show an interest when we were playing.

For me, it is a game I will definitely keep as I had fun playing it and I think it shows off the hobby in a good light. I believe it will be one of the gateway games I will turn to to help introduce new people to the world of non-mainstream games.

If ever the world runs out of Enigma songs, joss sticks or herbal oils, there’s always Tokaido to turn to for some gentle relaxation!

Game in play
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