Play: On — FIRST ASCENT Kickstarter Preview

Ah, dear reader, you know my taste in games so well. If it has euro mechanics, or some kind of esoteric Americana theme, or has anything to do with trains, you know that I’ll get excited beyond any reasonable relationship to the potential goodness of the game. Yes, sometimes I latch onto games just because of a cool theme or artwork, and it works out poorly, but sometimes it works out great! The month of May was one of those times — when I got to try First Ascent, a new game coming out on Kickstarter today.

Note that the pictures below are all from a pre-production prototype copy, and things are subject to change in the Kickstarter, but even this version already looked like an amazing production with good quality art.

Kate Otte designed a game that connects her love of rock climbing and board gaming into one package. First Ascent is a Euro style game where climbers compete to score as many points as they hone their rock climbing skills, tackle steep ascents, and — hopefully but not always — make it to the top. The game has a lot of what our family looks for in games of this weight — quick turns, puzzly action, and a cool theme!

My wife and sons are big rock climbers, and two of them have been certified climbing instructors over the years, so I had a good feeling that they would be into the theme. I was right! They recognized many of the techniques shown on the cards and climbs based on real climbs across the U.S. (P.S. I used to climb with them, but basophobia is tearing me up!)

If you are curious like me about how much research went into this game, you will be fascinated to read the excellent interview Eric Buscemi (fellow Punchboard Media member) from the Cardboard Hoard did with the designer. Click here for the full written interview.

The gameplay is fairly simple, and everyone picked up the rules right away. Players are rock climbers, each with a unique climber with their own special power, who will attempt to score the most points by scaling “pitches” and upgrading their equipment. The mountain has various climbs in difficulty, and has both hidden and public scoring objectives that can throw some extra points your way if you plan your route carefully.

Players have a limited amount of “rope” to extend their climb up the mountain, and lots of ways to score those objectives, so it takes a little bit of planning to ensure that the optimal route up the mountain is taken. But there’s some friendliness built right in — the “ledge” is a free area in between the third and fourth level on the mountain, which acts as a way to reset your trajectory up the side of the mountain. I had a lot of fun planning cool routes that involved starting on one side of the mountain to catch some quick points and tokens, and then sliding down the ledge to another area that would give me a straight shot to the summit!

In addition to the puzzle involved in figuring out which are the best routes, there’s some great other mechanisms that will appeal to most euro players. For instance, matching up the cards you play each round can give you some very juicy bonuses!

The buzzword around Kickstarter projects is always replayability, and so far, it seems like First Ascent has a lot to offer in that department. Since there are a ton of different climbers, and the board’s routes are different every time, and the public and private objectives are all randomly drawn each game, games seem to play out differently each time we get the game to the table.

Plus, the game comes with event cards that you draw after each successful pitch is climbed, so that adds some thematic elements and randomness that keeps it fresh, too.

Leaving the safety of the ledge behind!

If I had a tiny quibble with the game, I’d tone down some of the event cards because some types are clearly better than others and tighten up the rule book, but hey, we were playing with an advanced production copy so there is plenty of time to fix all that in the Kickstarter project.

Roux Dat Says: This is one of those “Goldilocks” games — just light enough that you can teach your friends who aren’t serious gamers how to play it quickly at your next Abita-root-beer-and-board-game-night, yet First Ascent has plenty enough depth to satisfy any euro gamer. Slick, well designed, and beautifully produced and it looks amazing on the table! It’s out on Kickstarter right now, and we will update this with the link as soon as it goes live.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

Our thanks to the designer and publisher for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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