The Climbers was originally released in 2008 and reprinted by Capstone Games at Gen Con 2017. The first game in a line of “Simply Complex” games, The Climbers promises interesting strategic decisions despite having a small ruleset that can be taught to a new player in less than 10 minutes.
The Climbers is an abstract strategy game for 2-5 players that plays in about 30-45 minutes. It plays best with three or more players.
The premise is very simple, you are attempting to reach higher on the mountain than any of the other players. Each block has six different colored sides, one in each of the player colors and one neutral gray side. There are four different sized blocks in the game. I do have a small concern with the production quality on the blocks. Quite a few of them have small amounts of paint rubbing off already. It isn’t a huge problem considering the game is a box of heavy wooden blocks, it may be unavoidable.
During each player’s turn they can move their climber, move a block, and move their climber again. You can only stand on neutral blocks or blocks of your color, and you can only “jump” onto blocks you can see over, basically half the height of a cube.
You also have three items that can be used one time. A small ladder which lets you scale a full cube’s height. A large ladder that lets you climb twice the height of a cube. And finally a blocking stone that can be placed on any space, blocking its use for a round.
The game ends when all players consecutively take a turn without moving higher. The climber who has reached the highest point wins.
The Climbers was easily my most played game at Gen Con. And it was my most played game in the week after Gen Con. It has a lot of the strategic elements I enjoy in games but isn’t one that requires 45 minutes to setup and explain the rules.
Having played The Climbers many times now, it is great to see that no two games have really felt the same. We have had games where the structure ends up split into completely separate towers with different groups stranded from each other. Often temporary alliances form to help someone move higher; normally to be able to use the block they were previously standing on. Even though the initial setup always looks pretty similar, we end up with some crazy looking shapes when it is all said and done.
Each block always has the same colors on opposite sides. Orange is opposite yellow. Purple is opposite blue. Pink is opposite neutral. In part, this is great as you won’t need to pick up every block to see what color is on the sides you can’t currently see. The drawback, playing pink seems to be somewhat of a disadvantage as the neutral side will never give you a different option. For other player colors, you can normally place a half block or double block vertically or horizontally. The pink player has fewer options and I choose to leave the pink player out unless playing with 5. It isn’t a huge disadvantage but it certainly isn’t exactly fair.
There have been some games where a player is out to an early lead and the other players must somewhat work together to keep the game going. Once all players move without going up, the game ends, so it is in the best interest of everyone involved (except the leader, of course) to help someone move up even if you can’t. Eventually that may lead to additional opportunities for you to keep moving as well. I can see some not liking this aspect, but considering none of the players are working against their own interest, I don’t mind it.
But there can also be situations where you are able to make a move to hurt someone else that doesn’t help you. It feels a little strange for an abstract strategy game to have so much of a “take that” feeling. It is certainly group dependent and if someone spends the whole game just blocking other people rather than moving up you might need a new group rather than a new game.
The Climbers is an incredibly satisfying game to play. When you find the perfect move that allows you to jump two or three levels, you feel like perhaps the cleverest person in the universe. Although it is abstract, The Climbers isn’t solvable in any way I can see; as each setup will be different and how other players move around impacts the overall game.
The Climbers seems to fulfill all of the promises of the Simply Complex line. It looks like a kids game and in fact the rules are easy enough for most kids to play it without a problem. Yet it also has been a hit with my gaming group that tends to favor medium to heavy weight euro games. The Climbers is a change of pace and a great way to end a gaming session.
Be warned: The Climbers can be mean. It isn’t simple to win and it can be frustrating at times when people are getting in your way. But that just makes the payoff even better when you are able to expertly ascend to the top of the mountain and look down upon all those amateur climbers who tried to thwart you.
Final Score: 4 Stars – An awesome looking game that will continue to get many plays. Works great for gamers that want interesting decisions in a small package.
• Can be exceptionally mean–kingmaking is definitely an option
• Some quality issues on the paint job