Board Game Review: K2

I’ve never tried it, but by all accounts climbing a mountain is pretty tough going. It looks quite tricky to be fair, and there are more than enough stories of people becoming seriously ill (or even worse) while trying to make it to the top of the world’s highest mountains and back to think otherwise. So take a long, hard slog such as mountain climbing and convert that into a board game, keeping the theme alive while at the same time trying to simulate a race to the summit. K2 does that very well, but the slight issue with maintaining a solid theme is that is can also feel like a fairly slow, difficult task at times – not something that everyone will want from their games, but also not something you should instantly shy away from.

Let’s focus on what the game does right though. As already brushed over, the theme of hiking up a mountain and trying to reach the top without dying and turning into a yeti’s breakfast is maintained really well in K2. Your climbers will be heading up a mountain, setting up camps along the way for a form of safety, all the while trying to decide if that next section of mountain is really worth the risk. Weather plays a part in your decisions, as does the level of acclimatisation your characters have (which is a health system, basically). There’s even two sides of the board with different route difficulties, and two sets of weather effects available to let you climb in lovely sunshine or in far less picturesque conditions.

But what made K2 shine for us was the tension that it brings as a result of trying to get your climbers up the mountain and back safely. As you make your way up with your two climbers (designated by a normal meeple and one which looks like it’s been on the doughnuts n the buildup to the climb) you keep track of how high you’ve made it by moving the marker on the side of the board. Each time you reach a new height your marker moves up and, more importantly, stays up even if you get back down to the safer lower reaches of the mountain. The key point though is the need to stay alive; points only count if your climber is still ticking over after the 18 day expedition (shown by the weather tiles running out) so racing to the top of the mountain and staying there to prevent others from reaching the peak isn’t really an option – the harsh conditions will see to that, quickly draining your climber to the point of dying right there and then.

So you need to plan your route both up and down the mountain, using the cards in your hand to move your climbers around according to the values on the cards and the spaces you’re moving through. It’s possible to plan ahead, work out how to get one climber higher up while using the other to block an opponent’s path up (or in a more deadly twist, down) the mountain. But it doesn’t take much to bring your plan crashing down – one unexpected move from an opponent, one harsh twist of the weather and your finely honed plan is nothing more than dusty snow disappearing into the distance.

So there’s tension in this race, and it’s entirely possible to start caring about your little wooden people as you desperately work to get them back to safety after a bitterly fought journey to the summit. It’s not easy by any means, but then again neither is climbing a mountain.

But there’s also a lack of pace at times, and this is something that might put people off who prefer their games to rocket along at a fierce pace. As mentioned earlier the task of climbing a mountain is one that you’d need to plan carefully, pace yourself and occasionally accept that you need to duck down to safer ground in order to try again a day or two later. And while this translates very well into this game, it only works if you’re willing to accept that the game can feel like you’re making very limited progress at times. Sometimes a measure of success is simply just not dying on your turn, holding out while you play a couple of cards which might breathe a bit more life into your exhausted climber. It may be that you spent three days just getting in another player’s way, hoping to limit their score instead of working to make your own score as high as possible. It can be a slow, tactical and thought out race, and if that’s not for you then you’ll be far better off giving it a miss.

But for anyone who likes the idea of the theme, K2 is a very decent game that is pretty simple to learn and play, and as such would be suitable for both gaming veterans and newbies alike. It’s worth keeping in mind if you want something a little different, and the fixed game length means that with a couple of people playing you’ll be through in an hour or so. Not bad at all.

Available Now, RRP £34.99
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