I was recently introduced to the abstract game The Climbers at the Granite Game Summit. I was immediately taken with the components and the game play. Nice, chunky wooden components and decent strategy! Let’s take a look at The Climbers and see what it has to offer. Climbers is a game for 2-5 people, ages 8+ and plays in anywhere from 15-45 minutes. Players pick a figure of a specific color and can only climb on blocks with that color, or grey facing upwards. Blocks can be moved and turned to facilitate climbing.
How to Play
When you first open the box, you’ll see it’s packed tightly with all of the components. 35 wooden blocks of varying sizes, 5 short ladders, 5 long ladders, 5 colored figures and 5 colored blocking stones. Two of these wooden blocks, the largest, are solid grey while the rest of all of the varying five colors on them. The wooden blocks come in 1?, 2? and 4? sizes.
Setup: To set the game up, the two large, grey blocks are placed upright next to each other. This forms the core of the climbing structure. Next all of the colored blocks are placed around the two grey blocks so that the grey blocks are completely obscured. This is done randomly and can be a fun little exercise if everyone starts grabbing and placing blocks rapidly. They can be placed horizontally or vertically. All of the blocks must be placed so that they are entirely on other blocks (or the table) but they can be placed offset of each other. Each player chooses a color. They take the pawn and blocking token of that color and both a long and a short ladder.
The blocks are all configured so that Red is opposite Yellow, light Blue is opposite dark Blue and Purple is opposite Grey.
Play: At the start of the game, all of the pawns are simply hanging about on the table. Here’s how a turn works.
First, a player may move an empty block to a new location or rotate it. The blocks must end up connected to another block, with at least 1/4 of the surface touching that other block. They cannot overhand, nor can holes be created. Blocks can be placed on other ‘occupied’ blocks (with a pawn or pawns on it) provided that there is still enough room for those pawns. Each pawn takes up 1/4 of the surface of a block. Blocks can’t be loose, inclined (tilted) or skewed. And you can’t move the same block someone just moved on the prior turn.
Next, that player may move their pawn (called the “climber”). You can move the pawn up, down, horizontally or in any combination of those. Your pawn may only move upwards or downwards 1? without the assistance of a ladder. They may use the short ladders to climb up the equivalent of a 2? block or the long ladder to move the equivalent of a 4? block (so that could be 4 1? blocks or any other combo). Once the ladders are used, they’re discarded – you only get one shot with them! Also, your pawns may only move onto a block of your color or a grey block.
Lastly, you may place a blocking stone on any unoccupied block. No players may move onto this until the start of your next turn, when the blocking stone is removed from the game. Again, you only get one shot with the blocking stone!
Winning: If no players can move higher during their turn, the fist player who couldn’t move their pawn higher gets one more shot. If they somehow contrive to legally move higher, the game continues. If not, the highest pawn wins! If two or more pawns are the highest, whoever arrived first is the winner.
Why you should play
There’s a few rules to digest in this one, but I assure you that once you’ve played a few turns, you’ll get it. From there on in, it’s a fun, fairly quick little puzzler of a game that will have people up out of their seats, wandering around the table to look at it from all angles. There can be a bit of a take-that aspect of the game, but there can also be a surprising bit of cooperation – nothing forbids players from working together to attain greater heights.
This game could I think best be described as absolutely charming. Even when you’re doing a bit of a take-that move, it doesn’t feel like you’re denying other players so much as settling on a very decent strategy for yourself. Lots of people love playing games that give you the feeling of having built something at the end – a decent card engine, an engaging and interesting city, a massive army. This not only gives you that feeling but collectively all of the players are building a colorful, if abstract tower while also climbing that same structure.
The game is completely random at the start in that the tower was built with no plan. From there on out though every single factor of the game depends on how the blocks are moved by the players and where they place their ladders and blocking stones. The strategy in this game lies not only in getting your pawn to climb higher, but doing so in a way that makes it harder for others to do the same while they only move or rotate one block.
I very much enjoyed my time playing this game and am looking forward to adding it to my collection. The components are nice, chunky wood, the game is simple to explain, easy to teach and very fun to play. It’s also pretty quick for a 2-5 player game – after the first play I think most games could be played out in 20-30 minutes tops, even with five players. If this sounds like the kind of abstract game you’d enjoy, you can pick it up at the Strategic Space site in the US or at your FLGS.