1-4 players, Competitive, Action Programmer Mountain Climber
Designer: Jonny Pac Cantin
Artwork: Jakub Fajtanowski, Michal Dlugaj
Publisher: Board & Dice
Overview of Gameplay
In Sierra West players will be utilizing these nifty little player boards to place three drawn cards each turn. Now the boards are designed in such a way that when the cards are placed it blocks certain parts of each card. The emblems that remain visible create two different paths that you send two worker meeples down, taking the actions of each emblem as you move across it. There are a bunch of different emblems that can be utilized but a lot of them boil down to collecting resources or moving your third meeple. This little fella is hanging out at the base of the mountain below a literal mountain of cards that are just begging to be climbed. Using these movement actions you can choose to either move this little dude up card by card till you reach a flipped card. Utilizing a different action allows you pick up that card and place it in your ever growing deck of cards to draw from with new actions and abilities. You can also use movement actions to move your wagon meeple along the base of the mountain trail and let me tell you right now, do NOT ignore this thing. This section acts as a point’s multiplier for end game scoring and it’s not to be taken lightly. Just last night I played a game where I only got to the last section of the 1x multiplier whereas my opponent got to the 3x zone. I lost pretty badly even though I had collected far more mountain cards (which are also worth points).
So players will be going around the table taking turns placing their three cards, taking the actions and managing the various points trackers on the different boards based on what actions they choose to take. Now there are FOUR different game modes included in the box which all change up the flavor of the game considerably and I’ll go into more detail on each of these in a bit. That said, the end game mechanic is the same on all of them. Once the last card is placed along the trail row from the mountain, each player gets one more round and then game over! Players calculate points based around a number of factors such as cards collected and animals trapped and cabins built, not to mention the point multiplier sections. Whoever has the most point’s wins.
Personally speaking I think the base gameplay is SUPER unique. Not so much the action selection or deckbuilding aspects but the way you go about it is interesting. Like drawing three cards and trying to figure out how to place them so the icons you want are not covered up and debating on IF you can even do certain actions based on how much of a certain resource you have. It’s a crazy thought provoking and engaging game.
The components are all solid. You have a variety of wooden and plastic resource tokens that are all shaped and colored like the items they represent. The three worker meeples for each player all have different shapes to tell them apart. The cards have a nice linen finish to them and the player boards are a nice double layered thickness. I have experience a bit of bowing with mine on overly humid days but they have since flattened back out nicely.
The game board is basically a card mountain. This is pre built by you when you set up the game based on whichever mode you choose to play. Basically you shuffle the cards then lay them out each later partly atop the last. At the very top the top two cards are revealed and the only two that can be acquired. Once a player acquires one, any cards below it that are fully uncovered are flipped over and revealed. Now these are available to acquire. It’s a super interesting mechanic and speeds up the game over time as you don’t have to move as far up the mountain to acquire cards. Well scattered in with these cards are some special mode cards. When one of these are flipped they automatically go straight to the trail at the bottom which usually helps generate MORE points based on the chosen mode.
So this mountain of cards is a really cool idea and I love how the backs of the cards are designed in such a way to look like a mountain when they are placed atop one another. Setup really doesn’t take all that long either depending on how “neat” you want your mountain to be. Since you are placing cards next to each other and on top, sticklers for perfectly symmetrical edges could spend a decent amount of time getting everything perfectly set.
The box has a nice insert included as well which is always a plus in my book. Sections for each modes card decks and a few other open areas to toss the rest of the stuff. Of course you will still need to bag up most everything other than the cards and a couple of the cardboard tokens as most of the sections are just big open areas. That said it holds the cards nice and sturdy and haven’t had any spills or anything from storing the game on its side.
Visual Appeal /Theme
The games theme is ever changing based on what mode you choose to play and because of this you can get a very different vibe each time. I mean the base theme takes you back to the early days of settling America with all the animal trapping and log cabins. Each different mode does bring with it a different theme to layer upon that and I’m happy to say it does make the game feel different enough each time.
The first theme and the one recommended to play first out of the box is the apple orchard mode. This one utilizes a special apple tracking point’s side board and is by far the most simple of the four. In a nutshell you are collecting apples of two different varieties which give you more points the more you collect. It’s a good starter game mode to learn the basics.
The second of the bunch is a canoe/fishing version. This one is my favorite as it adds a new corner piece to the bottom of the mountain trail board with fish prices and a river. It basically transforms the regular card “trail” at the bottom of the mountain to a “river”. It also uses a small wooden canoe token to show where you are on the river. This of course expands as you uncover those mountain cards and changes what fish you can collect and then eventually sell back at the beginning of the river for game points! There is a lot to love in this mode and it incorporates tiny little cardboard shaped fish tokens as well.
The third mode is a mine gold hunt version. Now when I was eyeballing all the modes before playing I was thinking this was going to be my favorite based on the theme alone but as it is this was my third favorite. There were a decent amount of things to do here such as using dynamite to roll dice to see if you find stone or gold (which is a cool thematic idea) and the idea of having to use a lantern card to illuminate certain dark cards is neat. However at the end of the day the way it gained points was pretty boring to me as you basically just put gold on a mine cart tile and score that as extra as the end of the game. Just didn’t resonate with me as much as the fish one.
The last mode was my second favorite as it brings in those pesky bandits. The mechanics and card use on this one are super interesting. It adds these little bandit tokens to certain cards on the mountain and those cards cannot be flipped until those tokens are removed. To remove said tokens you need to collect mountain cards that allow you to load up your six shooter with ammo and then have a gunfight with them. The gunfight aspect is interesting as well as you can roll the dice once for every bullet spent and have to roll equal to or higher than whatever the last card (wanted poster) is on the “trail” with the first one being 6 of course. Once you get all the bandit tokens removed from each card, that card will flip and go to the “trail” which lowers the amount you need to roll to gain a kill. Oh and each of those bandit tokens are worth points based around the multiplier you reach at the end of the game as well. My favorite aspect of this mode is how you keep track of your bullets. There is a card with the bullets and another card that is basically the lid of the box of bullets. You just move the “lid” card to cover whatever number of bullets you don’t have available. It looks really cool and brings out that theme even more.
The rulebook is pretty good for the most part. It explains everything really well and I didn’t have any questions about how to do anything after the fact BUT the order it’s set up in is questionable. I can see what they were going for basically explaining the Apple mode in the setup and having separate pages for the setups of the other modes as it would be super lengthy to have to explain 4 different games. And for the most part this works. HOWEVER I wish they would have just put ALL the information for each mode together. Like section out the rulebook for the apples mode and another section for the bandit’s mode etc. They could keep the rulebook the same length and use what they already have written, just order it differently. I have found myself constantly flipping around the rulebook trying to find the specific page for the setup and then to a completely different part of the rulebook to try and find what all the icons/actions mean for that particular mode.
There are some nice handy player reference cards that tell the turn order and a few of the actions but I wish they would have done that for the solo mode. I always have to keep the manual open to the page of the solo AI’s actions to remember exactly what they need to do. Oh and an index would be very much appreciated. The rulebook isn’t THAT deep but an index to help find certain things is super helpful.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
The player interaction is interesting as it’s not in your face really but it’s there. So for example on another players turn they announce what animal icons appear on their cards and other players can choose to send one of their two worker meeples to a specific spot on their player boards to effectively “trap” that particular animal (animals not trapped are worth negative points at game end). This of course ties up that meeple so it cannot visit your own cabins on your turn later on (which give their own benefits). I like this bit of strategy and planning. Also the more “in your face” aspect is the race up the mountain to snatch up the cards. If there is more than one meeple on a card and one of the players acquire it, the other players meeple is flung back to the base of the mountain to start the hike all over, however they do not leave empty handed as they gain a 2-movement token to kick-start their journey again. Those tokens are worth points at the end of the game as well. Now of course that isn’t as nice as gaining the card itself but at least it’s not a full start over situation.
Now all that said, this game can see some SERIOUS analysis paralysis from players that suffer from that terrible affliction. You would think only having three cards to choose from would be an easy choice to make but because of the way that you have to place them it really opens up ALL kinds of choices which lead into other decisions and that keeps cascading. My advice is to just give them a cursory glimpse and place them but that’s much easier said than done.
As I mentioned before this game is incredibly engaging which increases the fun for me. I mean every decision you make works towards SOMETHING whether you choose to keep a meeple off the path to hit up a cabin to help the other meeple or if you choose to spend those movements on furthering your wagon instead of trekking up the mountain. And thus far I haven’t seen a choice that was a “bad” choice or something that wasn’t worth it in some way (although getting that wagon over those multipliers is very much recommended)
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
If you can get a group of four players that do not get AP then I would say go for it. However 2 and 3 player is also a good time and easier to manage what other players might be doing with their explorer and what animals that people have drawn. The solo mode is a freaking blast! There is a special deck of AI cards that is very simple to use, just draw one out and set next to the last. The arrows on the newly drawn card point at some actions on the last card, these are the actions the AI player takes. And there is a decently large variety of actions they can take so stuff is always changing up. I mentioned this earlier but I wish those actions for the AI were printed on a card for ease of access because I can never remember what they are.
Replayability is good as well since there are four different modes to choose from so we are talking at minimum four games to see everything. Although it could be argued that after players find their preferred mode, they will just stick to that one basically creating their own “base” game of Sierra West.
Positive Final Thoughts
I really, really like this game. The variety of modes, the unique action selection and card mechanic, the deckbuilding. The engaging game play is excellent and you always seem to know what needs to be done to get those points. There are things right from the get-go that you know need to be worked on such as building cabins and trapping animals to reduce the negative point loss at game end. For the price, this game is the biggest bargain of the year honestly considering all you get in the box and the quality of everything. Extremely impressed with this package overall.
Negative Final Thoughts
My biggest gripe is the layout of the rulebook as I have spent a considerable amount of time flipping back and forth to see stuff for each particular mode. And sadly enough I expect to always have the rulebook out as I need to constantly reference it for the solo mode actions as well. Oh and this game may not have a huge board to take up table space but expect to clear out quite a bit of space to manage all the cards not only for the mountain but to place and remove the cards from your player board as well.