The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Summit
Summit: The Board Game, designed by Conor McGoey and published by Inside Up Games, was originally Kickstarted in July of 2016 by just short of 700 backers. The game is currently getting an updated second printing, and is getting German, Spanish, and French translations.
It is a game of surviving a mountain climbing expedition that can be played competitively, cooperatively, or solo. It also has a small expansion that features a Yeti, which adds to the difficulty of the game. The core essence of the game, regardless of which mode is being played, lies in the mountain board, the player boards, and the weather and event dice.
The mountain board is made up of a grid of triangle spaces. Players will play triangular tiles with rope paths onto the grid, creating potential tracks that can be used to climb the mountain -- from the base camp to the summit and (hopefully) back again. Each player will have a hand of tiles they can play as they choose, but Ice tiles will take more actions to traverse, and Thin Air tiles will require players to use oxygen canisters that are in limited supply.
The player boards are used to manage each climber’s health, speed, how much food and oxygen they are carrying, and the weight of the items they are holding. Each climber has a unique board, some allowing them to carry more, some traveling faster, and each has a unique ability that will help them on the mountain. Players are free to start with as much food and oxygen as they’d like, but the added weight will slow their movement. There is also a chart in the rule book with suggested starting food and oxygen values, as well as suggested item cards -- shovel, ski poles, helmet, etc. -- for each of the climbers.
The weather and event dice are rolled on each player’s turn. When a player rolls the snowflake icon on the weather die, they must pay the cost in food. When they roll the blizzard icon, they move up the blizzard track and then pay the associated cost in food and/or oxygen. The blizzard track also acts as the game’s timer -- after too many blizzards are rolled, the players all perish on the mountain, ending the game as a loss for all involved. The event die determines if an event is drawn. If an event is drawn, its effects -- which are usually, but not always, negative -- happen immediately. This can cost a player food, oxygen, items, or health, can drop them down the mountain, and can even affect tiles on the board, creating new hazards on them or eliminating them entirely.
I’ll go into more depth on each mode of play, and the expansion, separately, as there are significant differences that make them unique.
In this mode, players will be attempting to score the most points while racing to summit the mountain and return safely to base camp. While points are awarded for ascending the peak first, and being the first to return, there is also another source of points -- and considerable tension -- with the karma track. Each player will have a hand of four karma cards that will refill each turn if any are played. These cards will affect other target players, some positively and some negatively. Playing a positive karma card will buff one or more of opponents and will boost the karma of the player that played it. Playing a negative karma card will impede opponents at the cost of losing karma. This is important for two reasons. First, the karma track is worth victory points. The higher on the track you are, the more points you score at the end of the game. Second, if your karma is too low, you cannot play any more negative karma cards until you first play cards that boost your karma. This creates a nice push-and-pull of how and when to play certain karma cards to your biggest benefit, in an attempt to help them as little as possible and hurt them at just the right times.
In this mode, the board will be flipped over, which replaces the karma track with sherpa tracks for each player. The sherpas will be able to store food, oxygen and items for players, but in order to use those items, players must spend a turn without moving to resupply from them. Additionally, the first player token can be used as a one-time bonus during the game, as long as a consensus is reached among the group about using it. There are six unique first player tokens, such as the carabiner, which allows all players to move two trail points, and the med kit, which allows players to gain back health. When playing cooperatively, only one player needs to summit the mountain and return to base camp for the expedition to be considered a success, although if only one climber summits, the players are collectively “putting all their eggs in one basket” and committing to getting that one climber back safely to the base camp.
The solo mode plays on the same side of the board as the cooperative mode, but unlike in the cooperative mode, a solo climber can use two sherpas. While there is very little difference in the rules between cooperative and solo, the feeling of the game changes, as there is no downtime between each turn, and the route planning falls to one hand of tiles, and there is no discussion about tactics, as there is no group consensus. It makes the solo play quickly, and with a good flow. It’s lone climber vs. daunting mountain -- one player testing their luck against all the random events that can befall them.
This small box expansion adds two new unique player mats with new abilities, two new item cards, seven event cards, seven karma cards, and -- obviously -- a Yeti. The Yeti, which is an awesome custom meeple, can be used in any mode of game play. It starts at the peak of the mountain, and works its way down every time the weather dice reveal snowflake icons. When the Yeti reaches a tile with climbers, it will take food or health from them. While I would not call this expansion necessary, it adds to the potential difficulty in solo and cooperative modes, and adds another element of take-that in competitive, as the player rolling the weather die gets to control the Yeti, and can send it after competing climbers. The expansion components also fit perfectly into the base game insert, which is a nice touch.
Pros: Summit: The Board Game has a beautiful, distinct artistic style. While it is not cartoonish, which wouldn’t fit the theme, it is not photo-realistic either, which would have lost some of the theme’s fantastical escapist nature. All three modes of play work well, so there is high probability at least one will be a good fit with most game play groups. There is a high amount of variability, even beyond the play modes, with many unique characters and items, multiple difficulty settings, and optional cards that can make the event deck both easier and more difficult. The components are very high quality and fit perfectly into the custom plastic insert -- even with the Yeti expansion.
Cons: This game is large and very heavy, so it’s clearly not the most portable option. There is a lot of randomness -- tile draws, dice rolls, card draws from multiple decks, etc -- and while that does fit the harsh unforgiving theme, it will turn off players with low thresholds for randomness in games (similar to what I said about the surfing themed game Tavarua).
First Edition Quibbles: The first printing of Summit has the rules for competitive and cooperative play interspersed with each other in the same rule book. After hearing feedback, Inside Up Games split the competitive and cooperative/solo rules into two rule books for the second edition. For anyone that has the first edition of the game, digital versions of the split rule books can be found on InsideUpGames.com. Additionally, the player mats in the first edition were cut a bit too small to properly fit the cubes they were designed to hold -- my only mark against an otherwise gorgeous production. However, in the second edition, the player boards have been modified to have both larger holes as well as deeper recesses, which should fix that minor issue.
The competitive game is easily my favorite mode of play. I relish the ability to block other players with my tiles, play karma cards on them at opportune times, and selfishly race to be the king of the mountain, which isn’t a surprise if you know my personal playstyle preferences. I do also enjoy the solo game, as it plays quick and can be quite the challenge. The cooperative game, as with most, was a miss for me, but I can understand its appeal for less cutthroat groups that enjoy the camaraderie of working together.
Overall, Summit: The Board Game succeeds at what it attempts to do -- create a thematic recreation of climbing an unforgiving mountain, using a stunning visual style and premium components, and featuring multiple ways to play the game that will appeal to a wide variety of board game players.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Summit: The Board Game and the Yeti expansion from the publisher.