There is one type of television show that I will always stop to watch besides telenovelas and that would be game shows. Everything from The Price is Right, Family Feud, or Amazing Race will cause me to stop my channel surfing and watch. One of my favorite game shows of all time was on Nickelodeon back in the early 90’s, Legends of the Hidden Temple. In LofHT, kids would compete in teams of two in a variety of mental and physical competitions until only one team remained. This team was allowed to go into the temple to find the ancient artifact for that show. I think it’s the fond memories I have for that show that made me interested in the game that we are reviewing today. Jungle Ascent is a racing game where explorers are trying to be the first to reach the top of the Cliff of Frab to claim the treasure. Players will use cards to build platforms to move up the cliff, set hazards to stop the other players, and take special actions as their explorer pawns ascend the rocky face. Is this game worth the dangerous climb or should you just stay on the ground? Read on.
Jungle Ascent is a hand management racing game for 2-4 players and plays in under 30 minutes. In my experience, the game plays best with 4 players.
You and your fellow explorers start off together deep in the jungle where the Oobiedoobie tribe once lived. Your quest is to search for their lost treasure. This treasure, according to legend, will grant the owner amazing power. After making it to the base of the Cliff of Frab together, everyone decided that instead of sharing the treasure, it’s every explorer for themselves. Each turn, players will have two actions to improve their chances to claim the treasure. Players have to manage how they use their actions to move up the cliff, play cards from their hand, and draw new cards in order to leave the other explorers in the dust. The game will end when one player has reached the top of the game board to claim the treasure.
Normally the size of the cards isn’t a point to bring up when you talk about components, but with Jungle Ascent they are one of the more interesting things in the box. Instead of the typical size of 2×3 inch cards, they are 2×4. The reason they are this size is so they can fit on the grid layout on the game board. Admittedly I was put off by the different sized cards. I had flashbacks to the train cards in the USA version of Ticket to Ride and how annoying small they decided to make them. I thought these cards would be difficult to shuffle and wouldn’t be the easiest to hold. Luckily, I was wrong on both counts and the cards work just fine with the game.
There is something about the smart iconography in this game that makes me smile. With each card that can be added to the grid, they added a simple orientation icon. This shows which way the card should be aligned on the grid relative to the top of the cliff. This allows for you to quickly place cards on the board. They were also able to put the card name, type, and other important text without distracting from the great artwork on the cards. The artwork in the game is done in a bright cartoony style which I like in a game that is more on the casual side. Plus, the whole story of the game isn’t realistic and having a serious art style would seem out of place. Even with this art style, when you get all the platforms and hazard cards on the game board, it looks like these are all placed by a side of a cliff. Overall, there is nothing to complain about when it comes to the bits in this game.
How to play:
The game board is broken up into a 9×9 grid with the bottom row of the grid the start location at the base of the cliff. This is where players will put their pawns in one of the four starting spots. Each player will also be given a hazard token of their color and five cards from the deck. Let’s talk about the type of cards for a second. There are four types of cards in the game. Platform cards are a rope ladder, bridge, or magical conveyor belts that allow players to move their pawns up the board. Hazard cards can be placed anywhere on the board as long as they don’t overlap another hazard card or a space occupied by a pawn. These cards can block player’s paths, push pawns off platforms or remove the cards from the game board. Each player may only have one hazard on the game board at a time. The last two types of cards are effect and interrupt cards. These are special cards that are used to gain a speed advantage, hinder opponents, or affect the game play in some way. Effects can only be played on a person’s turn while interrupts can be played when the card states. Enough with card talk, let’s get to game play.
Each turn consists of three parts.
1. Activate Hazards
If the current player has a hazard out on the board with their player token on it, they activate it. This means that they look at the movement icon on the card for the direction and number of spaces to move that hazard and resolve any effect of that movement.
2. Use Actions
Players have up to two actions to use on their turn. They can use these actions to play a card from their hand, move their pawn one square on a platform on the board, or draw two new cards from the pile.
3. Discard Extra Cards
If you happen to have over seven cards in your hand when you are done using up your actions you must discard back to seven.
Play will continue until one player has reached the top row on the game board and is declared the winner.
When I first got Jungle Ascent to the table, I had a feeling that I would enjoy it. Originally, it was the theme that drew me in. Anything that involves racing after treasure is something that I will play. Admittedly, some of the game elements are a little silly to find deep in the jungle. Under the mask of magic in the jungle, the game has conveyor belts, ascending fireballs, an alien disguised as an explorer and rocket shoes at the player’s disposal. This breaks any chance of a serious tone to the game, but this does lend the game to be very light hearted and approachable for the players. Even with these elements, it feels that you are attempting to climb up the game board. I love the placing of platforms and hazard cards onto the game board. It sort of gives the illusion that you are building this crazy platform network on the cliff side. But theme is never enough for me; I need solid game mechanics as well.
Overall, I had a ton of fun playing the game. I love how simple this game is to play. There are no complicated rules or difficult symbols to understand to play the game. The only decision players have to make is to figure out the optimal use for those limited actions they get. Do you place a hazard, build a platform or play an effect that causes everyone to adjust their strategies. Each decision made by a player affects everyone else on the board. The game board changes so much that you will need to change your plans frequently. This leads to a lack of long term strategy for players to develop in the tactical game. However, because you have to constantly react to what is happening around the board, you will never disconnect from the game while waiting for your turn.
When I see a game that is billed as a racing game, I worry that it has too much of a “take that/gang up on the leader” element to it. When a player distances themselves from the pack, this usually causes the rest of the players to throw everything they have at them. This can cause a game to slow down and become less fun to play. In this game, you do have to deal with this, but it doesn’t cripple the game. One reason is that players can only have one hazard card on the board. This stops players from just unloading on one player. Also, the hazards are more annoying than causing catastrophic changes to the game. Because each player has two actions each turn, they should have a decent chance of getting out of the way before anything major happens when dealing with a hazard. Players are forced to move around the hazards instead of instantly falling to the base of the cliff and destroying all of their progress.
I also found the effect and interrupt cards to be a nice addition to the game. They allow for some game changing effects if they are played at an opportune time. I feel that the deck is very well balanced between the different types of cards. If the balance would of been off, it would of caused the game to drag. The game time is perfect for a light racing game. Even with players throwing everything at one another, the game is never a long endeavor. Even with a full group of four players my games have never taken over twenty minutes and is packed with fun moments throughout the game.
Jungle Ascent is best with four players because it leads to the most interaction. When you only have two players it can be too easy for players to make their way to the top. While three players is better in this regard, it’s still not as good as four. The game does come with two mini expansion sets of cards as well as a co-op variant. The hidden danger expansion adds more cards to the game. These are more unique than the base set and add some more strategic decisions for you to make in the game. They allow for permanent platforms, ability to swing across an open space to another platform, and other interesting cards that should be included once you have played the game once. I honestly found these cards to be some of my favorite in the game and wouldn’t mind getting more like them. The co-op expansion allows all players to work together to survive the hazards being thrown at them to claim the treasure together. The co-op game works fine and worth your time if you want to play it that way. For my taste however, it isn’t as good as say Forbidden Island for a lighter co-op game. I think the game plays best as a race to the top with each explorer for themselves.
Jungle Accent has a lot of things going for it. It’s an extremely easy to play racing game with tons of player interaction and fun moments throughout the game. Jungle Ascent has amazing artwork and fits in well as a filler game in your collection. This is a game that you can bring out to all ages of your family and play a couple of games quickly. I personally wish there were some more long term strategy decisions you can make in the game, but for what it is; Jungle Ascent is a great family racing game that I can easily recommend for you to purchase.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $30
Final Score: 4 Stars – A family racing game that will keep gamers and their families entertained as they race to the treasure.
• Simple rules to play with all ages
• Quick playing time
• Hazards are not as punishing as they could of been
• Not many long term strategy decisions to make
• Some of the platforms and items don’t fit to the jungle location