22 October 2021
Sometimes you play a game where the mechanics are so slick that it makes you want to sing, and Whistle Mountain has had me skipping around the house and belting out show tunes.
Although all visitors to the house have been forced to play (I even tried to rope in the postman) and despite the fact that there’s no solo mode, I keep playing it on my own (left hand versus right hand) just to get my fix. I feel compelled to delve deeper into the strategy, try out different starting conditions and improve my score(s).
There’s a lot to love here. Using three airships, you’re building precarious scaffolding and crazy contraptions deep in the Rockies to acquire resources and upgrade your company’s abilities. As you build, the water level rises, flooding the scaffold and putting your workers in danger.
On your turn you may neatly dock an airship in one of the satisfying indents around the edge of the board to take scaffolds, buy machines, acquire cards or purchase upgrades. Alternatively, airships – which come in three different sizes – may be placed on machines or around the scaffold to trigger adjacent resources and machine actions. When all three airships are deployed, you must ‘forge’. This returns the airships to your player board and allows you to extend the scaffold, construct new machines and move workers to the scaffold.
Each decision has long-lasting and far-reaching implications – take scaffold placement, for example. You can’t obtain the resources in the scaffolding when building it, so creating airship positions with access to a plentiful variety of resources can help other players more than it helps you, particularly as their airships may block spaces for several rounds. Placing scaffolding lower down the valley allows you to tessellate tiles, which gives you points and creates solid areas of scaffold for machines. However, building scaffolding as high as you can, opens up new spaces for workers, keeping them safe from rising waters and possibly gaining access to higher scoring tower levels. But crucially, each time you build a piece of scaffolding above the danger line the snow melts and the water rises, flooding machines and sending the lowest workers into the whirlpool.
It’s these rising water levels that make the game so tense and interesting. Flooded machines become unusable and unstable workers fall into the whirlpool, where they will score negative points. When the water reaches the top of the bridge, the game ends. This can happen rapidly and really take you by surprise. Efficiency is key. Several actions can be duplicated by discarding resources and it’s a really good idea to do this as your time is so limited, but being properly prepared isn’t always easy. It’s vital to be strategic and plan several turns ahead but other players can drastically change the landscape, scuppering your plans and forcing you to optimise your actions tactically.
Leaning into your personal starting ability (and building your strategy around it) provides a useful focus. Combine this with a few complimentary upgrades and you’ve got a nice little engine. With 17 different starting abilities and 24 upgrades the variety and replayability is immense.
Each turn is rich with choices. You’ll certainly want to do far more than you are able and deciding which actions to prioritise (and block others from taking) is thrillingly challenging. But despite the varied options, I’ve found analysis paralysis to be fairly rare. The game keeps moving forward because the objectives are crystal clear – build stuff and save workers.
Whistle Mountain is a wonderfully puzzly juggling act. You’re building structures that become communal, but ideally, you want to maximise your own benefit, while restricting or hindering others. The chunky components are a delight and despite the complexity, the rules are easy to follow. This game has it all – it’s well worth the price tag. It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Both worker-placement games are elevated by hyper efficient resource management and intense player interaction.
Designer: Scott Caputo & Luke Laurie
Publisher: Bezier Games
Time: 60-80 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 1 Gameboard
- 4 Player boards
- 8 Water bars
- 2 Water bar holders
- 42 Scaffolds
- 17 Starting abilities
- 24 Upgrades
- 54 Machines
- 12 Airships
- 80 Resource tokens
- 24 Awards
- 40 Cards
- 92 Victory point stars
- 36 Workers
- 1 Duplicator token
This article originally appeared in issue 60 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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