Thank you for checking review #38 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: A copy of this game went “on tour” and we were one of the spots on that tour. A copy has not been provided, as we are paying the shipping to send it off to the next location. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.
An Overview of The Climbers
The Climbers is a game designed by Holger Lanz and has been republished by Capstone Games’ Simply Complex line. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 45 minute play time.
The Climbers / Die Aufsteiger is an easy-to-learn, all-wooden, 3D strategy game with beautiful components, which include 35 colorful blocks of different sizes, a climber pawn for each player, a blocking stone for each player, and a short and a long ladder for each player. Starting with all the blocks in a random tower, players move a block and then climb up the tower gradually — without ladders for small steps up, and with ladders for larger climbs. Blocking stones keep the block in place and unoccupied for one round, but you can only use your blocking stones and each ladder once during the game. The winner is whoever gets to the highest point first when no one can go higher for one round. You can only climb onto surfaces that are the same color as your climber or beige (a neutral color any climbers can use).
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
The game sets up and plays the exact same regardless of player count, which is one of the things I like about the game (more on that later). Either have one person, or work as a group, to construct the initial “tower” out of the blocks. The two tallest pillars stand up to form the core of the structure, and there are only a few requirements:
1) All of those two tall blocks must be covered, including the tops and all sides.
2) There can be no overhanging blocks.
3) There can be no blocks that form bridges over gaps.
Apart from those few rules, the construction of the initial structure is pretty wide open. You could house rule things, such as not having the same color appear in consecutive locations (providing someone a quick path up if they use that color) or having the colors for each player chosen at random after the structure is built.
The object of the game is to be at the highest point on the structure when no other players are able to move upward. During a player’s turn they may move their climber (never diagonally or downwards) to a block of the same color or the neutral color, so long as the block is on the same level or 1 higher (about head-high on the climber pawn). They have a one-time-use small ladder that can allow them to move onto a 2-high block, and a one-time-use large ladder that can allow them to move onto a 2, 3, or 4-high block from their position. Each player also has a one-time-use blocking disc that will prevent anyone from moving onto, through, or moving a specific block until it gets back to that player. The other thing a player may do is to move or rotate exactly one block that is unoccupied on the structure (and is also not buried under other blocks, nor can it be the block most recently moved by a player).
Turns are fast, simple, yet complex in a “race” to be the person to reach the highest point on the structure when no one else can move.
The Climbers is a game that catches the eye when it is on the table. Everything in the box is wooden and colorful, and the 3D construction of the structure makes this stand out when compared to many other board games that are flat pieces of cardboard with some cubes or meeples. While there isn’t anything fancy about the game, it really grabs the attention of people when it is set up on the table. The choices of color in the game are also great.
This game is about as easy to jump in and explain as you could hope for. The rules overhead is really minimal, allowing you to fast-forward through long explanations and get to playing the game. I was able to read the rules within 10 minutes of my wife getting home and taught her that night. It played well, with no need to refer back to the rule book. I enjoy longer, more complex games, but I think we both appreciated being able to pick up and jump right into a game without spending a ton of time going over how to play.
The one-time-use nature of your three items are where the majority of your strategy comes into play. I’ve seen new players use them all right away to take an early lead, and I’ve seen players store them until a situation where nothing else can allow them to advance. Deciding what to use, when, and how, are some of the more interesting choices to make.
Call me crazy, but I love that this isn’t a game that you can just sit down and play. Literally. This game is usually spent standing up, walking around the table to see the entire view of the structure before deciding on your move for the turn. This can be avoided with a lazy susan, of course, but for some reason I actually enjoy playing the occasional game where I don’t have my butt planted in a chair the whole time.
One of my favorite things to do is to let a new player build the structure before explaining any of the rules of the game. It is fun to see how they go about piecing everything together, which can provide some really interesting puzzles for the early game. It was much better than letting my wife build it for our second play, where she had set herself up with a nice purple pathway up the side of the structure. Which I had to work hard to disrupt early in the game in order to keep up with her initial advancements.
This game isn’t the best with two players. In fact, it might play its worst with just a pair of people. In spite of this, the game still provides a fun and exciting experience in most games. It really is player-dependent as you could theoretically both build up on opposite parts of the structure and not actively take pieces that your opponent needs in order to advance. We’ve had a game where it was literally two towers and it was a matter of seeing who ran out of a 1 x 2 piece to move first. Yet most games we’ve still been in each other’s way often enough to make it not feel like a solitaire puzzle/race.
The pieces are all really standard in shape. Imagine a stair-step style of piece with two different colors, or some other funky shapes pulled from the range of polyominos in a game like Patchwork. Because you’re going to be using either 1×2, 2×2, or 2×4 pieces (or, if you dig enough, those massive 2×6 ones), you can plan effectively for what you need. And, most often, it is a matter of fighting over the use of those 1×2 pieces in order to avoid using ladders, especially in the early game.
I wish there was the inclusion of the “official” variants that Mr. Lanz had designed, such as being able to use the ladders as bridges. That would open up the possibilities over the course of the game and make for an interesting decision when it comes time to use those ladders. It would also make it so you could jump to an adjacent tower with your long ladder and reap the benefit of someone else’s hard work. If they add to the rule book on the next printing, this would be the one thing I’d like to see included. Not because the game needs those to be great, but because the inclusion of them will add variety and additional plays for many gamers.
This game was placed on my radar initially thanks to Edward Uhler at Heavy Cardboard. After all, if the guy rates this as his #1 Thinky Filler game of all time, a listener should be expected to take notice. So when I had the chance to become a stop along the path for this game, I knew I needed to take advantage of the opportunity. I didn’t really have any idea of what to expect prior to playing this game. And, to be perfectly honest, I was in love with this game as soon as the first play ended. And that was with 2-players, which is clearly not the ideal count for this game.
This is very much a game that sets up fast, plays relatively quickly, and cleans up easily. The type of game that you want to keep around for those night when you want a fast game. And while I don’t think this is the best thinky filler out there for 2-players, nor do I think it plays close to its best at two, I still have to admit this is a very solid experience with two players. The state of the tower changes only a little between turns, making it so you can really map out a progression upward. Until your opponent takes the block you were counting on and uses it in their own path going up. Which inevitably happens because there are only so many of the 1 x 2 blocks to go around that have the color you need in the place you need.
The real reason, though, that I would recommend this game for your collection is because of how much better it plays with 4-5 players. This is a fun and enjoyable game as a couple, yet we all have those times when family or friends want to get together. And it can be a challenge to find that game which they might be willing to try out. This game is one that anyone can grasp and do well at. There is ample strategy to be found in the simple mechanics of the game, yet it is approachable in a way that even Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and the other “Gateway” games are not. Gamers and non-gamers can equally enjoy this game, and it is easy to get them involved right from the start with the construction of the playing area. So while this might be a game that rarely hits the table for us as a couple, this is the game I’d reach for first when we’re hosting another couple at our house. It’d be the first one I’d want to take to a family gathering. It’d even be one of the first I’d think to take along to a game night, because it has a table presence that will get people watching and welcome in those who don’t view themselves as serious gamers yet.
This game is the first in the Capstone’s Simply Complex line, and I think they really hit upon an excellent flagship game with The Climbers. This is the perfect game for every board gaming collection, which is not something that can be said lightly. But it truly is that defining game that can unify a diverse group of players and satisfy those who want a simple game as well as those who seek a complex game with some strategy. I can’t wait to find out what Capstone decides to push out next in their Simply Complex line!
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