Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

K2 is a mountain-climbing game. You have two mountaineers, and within a fixed number of rounds, you try to get them to climb as high as possible. You score based on how high each of them gets, but only if they remain alive by game end.

Actions in the game are driven by cards. Every player has his own deck of cards, and the decks are all the same. You have a hand of 6 cards, and must play 3 every round. Throughout the game you will cycle through your deck quite a number of times. The deck is small enough that you will have some idea of what cards have come out and what are coming. Cards are used for two things, movement and acclimatisation.

Let's talk about acclimatisation first, which I tend to think of as health, so I will just call it "health". Both your climbers start with health 1. If health drops to 0, your climber dies. You need to build up your health before you try to go further up. Some lower locations increase your health, some cards too. Higher locations reduce your health, and poor weather conditions as well. You need to always manage your health, because a dead climber, even if he has reached the peak, scores no points. Movement is simple. You need one movement point per step. Some locations, especially at higher altitudes, cost more movement points. Weather conditions may also increase movement costs.

Every player has two climbers of different shapes, and each climber has a tent matching his shape. This player board records the acclimatisation level of the two climbers. At first I equated acclimatisation to health, and placed the marker on 10, i.e. full health. The correct way is to start with 1pt of acclimatisation. Numbers beyond 6 have a darker background, which means you can't "store" any acclimatisation more than 6. If at the end of a round you have more than 6, you set your value to 6.

The cards are nice. Numbers in a blue circle are acclimatisation ("health") points, and numbers in green are movement points. The rightmost card is worth different number of points depending on whether you use it to move upwards or downwards.

The implementation of weather conditions is clever. It is integrated with the round countdown. Weather conditions differ every round, sometimes there is increased movement costs, sometimes there is a health penalty, and usually these apply to specific altitudes. Naturally, bad things tend to happen at higher altitudes. Because of this, players often need to plan where they land, to avoid bad weather. You will get weather forecasts at least three rounds ahead, which lets you plan your next moves.

There is a space limit for each location, which depends on the number of players and the altitude. Players will often experience traffic jams near the peak, due to limited space. Turn order is important. When you are the start player for a round, you can plan your card play with certainty. Cards are selected secretly and simultaneously by all players every round, but executed in player order. If you are late in turn order, you may find your way blocked.

That on the top left is the start player marker for a round. It passes to the next clockwise player every round. Every player has his own draw deck and discard pile.

The game board. The right side of the game board (i.e. bottow of this photo) has boxes to record the highest altitude each climber achieves (which is his score). The game board is two-sided. I think this is the easier side.

Every climber has the chance to build one tent, which reduces the health penalty by one. Once built, it cannot be moved, so this is an important decision. Good use of a tent can be a life-saver.

After 18 rounds, players add up the scores for climbers who are still alive, based on how high they have climbed, and the highest scorer wins.

The Play

John taught Allen, Chee Seng and I the game, and he is the only one who has played it before. The rules are simple and thematic, but mountain climbing is quite challenging. It takes much forward planning. You need to pay attention to the weather forecast, you need to watch which routes your opponents are taking, you need to pay attention to player order, and at the same time you are subject to the card draws. Since you have a hand of 6 and you play 3 per round, there is some forward planning you can do, keeping good cards for the right moment.

Chee Seng always kept his two climbers together, triggering some jokes about Brokeback Mountain. We kept telling him this was mountain-climbing, and this was not the time for any romantic hanky-panky. Two climbers were definitely not allowed to share the same tent. As his climbers approached the peak, space limitation forced them to split up eventually, which triggered another round of jokes. John was first to have one of his climbers reach the top. He focused on getting one climber up, while the other stayed behind. This is probably the best strategy. It is very difficult to manage the health levels of two climbers being at high altitudes at the same time.

Look at Chee Seng's two blue climbers... sheesh...

John (yellow) was first to reach the top. A number of tents have been set up near the peak.

I was first to have one of my climbers killed. Aarrgghh!! I had miscalculated the health penalties, and missed by just 1 health point. That was painful. Later Chee Seng also lost one of his climbers, which triggered yet another Brokeback Mountain joke. Allen was the only one who managed to get both his climbers to reach the top, so he won the game with full marks (20pts). John was second, and of course Chee Seng and I were far behind. We tied for last.

The dead. Blue is Chee Seng's, green is mine.

Game end. The two boards on the right side of this photo are the weather boards. Each board covers 3 rounds, and has the corresponding weather conditions.

The Thoughts

The feeling I get when playing the game is very much like facing an insurmountable feat. Health penalties and movement costs get worse and worse, and sometimes the card draws are just not ideal. There is much you can plan ahead for, and you must catch the right opportunity and coordinate the timing to shoot for the peak. I think the game is very much about good preparation, and striking at the right moment. You are wasting time if you charge, but don't quite get there, then fall back a little, and try to reorganise and strike out again. It is better to be precise in your preparation and get it done in one perfect shot. Of course, that's easier said than done, when you are dependent on cards you draw and you also need to compete for limited space.


I quite enjoyed K2. It is thematic. Every part of the game works well together. Everything ties back to health and movement points, so the game is easy to teach and easy to understand. It's a medium weight game suitable for families and gamers. It certainly is a different experience from the average Eurogame. This is a game where the mechanisms really produce the feeling of the subject matter, as opposed to being tools invented or collated to construct a game based on a rare topic. This is what I admire most about this game.

I actually have not watched Brokeback Mountain. Maybe I should.

1 comment:

J.Y said...

I really enjoyed the game as well even though I've only played once. I agree with you, it's very thematic and quite fun! :)