Adam Kaluza


No. of Players:
1 - 5

G@mebox Star



Looking fearfully at the mountain of new games released at every SPIEL, you might be led to forget that there exists life outside the convention halls, and some of the outdoor mountains tend to be even higher than any pile of games. However, sometimes an author allows us a furtive look at the outside world, and so K2 takes us onto a mountaineering expedition which has set off to conquer the menacing K2 in the Karakoram Range. The well-done artwork and the look of the gaming components of Adam Kaluza's game invite players to try the long and arduous trip to the summit of the K2, but since the K2 is known for the difficult ascend and a high fatality rate it is rather comforting to sit down on a gaming table instead of preparing for a longer trip to Western China.

The game runs over a total duration of 18 days (rounds of play), and within this timeframe the players try to get as high as possible with their two mountaineer figures. The K2 is split into different altitude zones, and whenever one of the player's mountaineers reaches a new height the corresponding scoring marker of that mountaineer will be adjusted accordingly, thus representing the highest position that particular mountaineer has reached during the course of the game.

The gameboard shows the K2 in all its magnificence, and from a base camp at the lowest corner of the board several interwoven paths lead up the mountain. Each of these paths is divided into round spaces, and the players will try to move their mountaineers from one space to the next, always focusing on the most valuable space on the K2 summit. The movement of the mountaineers is based on a streamlined movement point mechanism, with each of the spaces showing how many movement points a player needs to pay if he wants to enter the space with one of his mountaineers. The movement allowance is generated from a fixed deck of 18 cards held by each player, and usually a player holds a hand of six randomly drawn cards from which he must chose three for the current turn. Only during the 6th, 12th and 18th turn (when each players' deck is exhausted) the players will have to use up their remaining hand of three cards before their decks are shuffled anew and a fresh new hand of six cards is distributed.

The players may not simply add up the movement point total and split this value between their two mountaineers, but they are allowed to assign each mountaineer a varying number of cards, possibly even using all three cards for the benefit of just one of their mountaineers. Three different types of cards can be found in each player's deck, and the most easy type are the movement cards which simply offer a movement allowance which can be used. The second type of cards are the rope cards, and these cards bear two movement values instead of one. One movement value shows the number of points a player may use for moving his mountaineer upwards, whereas the second value applies if the card is used for downwards movement.

Moving downwards? Why the heck should a player decide to go down the mountain, when the higher victory point values await the successful mountaineer on the K2 summit? Well, here we come to the most crucial part of the game, the acclimatization level of each mountaineer. Each player holds an overview board which shows the current acclimatization level of each of his mountaineers, and comparable to classic life points a mountaineer will be removed from play if his acclimatization level ever drops below the starting value of "1". The lower part of the mountain actually features spaces where a mountaineer who stops his movement on this space will gain an acclimatization point, but the upper part of the K2 actually contains spaces with a rising demand of acclimatization points. Thus, a player has to plan his trip into the upper regions carefully, since a mountaineer running out of acclimatization points will be removed from the game, counting a sobering, lonely victory point in the final calculation. Thus, a player's aim is not just to get his mountaineers into a high altitude, but he also needs to take care that both mountaineers survive until the game's end, and so it may be wise to turn around and descend again after a certain altitude was reached.

The acclimatization level of a mountaineer may also be rised through the third kind of cards available in each player's deck - the acclimatization cards. These cards can be used to keep a mountaineer fit and fresh, and especially players who have gotten more familiar with the game will discover the planning possibilities arising from the fact that each player is running on a fixed deck of 18 cards. Thus, players who are familiar with the card distribution within the player decks can try to plan ahead for the next few days, relying on the information which cards still can be found within the limited scope of their deck while at the same time not being absolutely certain in which round a desired card will appear.

Player competition is reached on the gameboard through a maximum number of mountaineers which may be present at any given space, and this maximum value is adjusted both on the number of participating players and the current altitude level. As a general rule, the spaces at a higher altitude may contain less mountaineers than the lower spaces, and despite the fact that a mountaineer may move through a space containing the maximum number of mountaineers the ascend becomes more tricky because the mountaineer may not stop at such a space. In addition, movement gets even more hazardous by the fact that all players will chose their cards for the current round simultaneously, so that everybody remains uncertain of the actions chosen by the other players until the cards are revealed. And as a further pitfall, the player who spends most movement points for the current round will have to take one of the three randomly drawn, revealed risk markers which lie next to the gameboard. These markers have values from zero to two, and during his movement phase the player will either have to substract the value of the risk marker from his movement allowance or spend an according sum of acclimatization points of his mountaineers.

A factor which should not be neglected is the weather, and here the weather forecast will be simulated to a set of six weather cards, with each of the weather cards showing the weather of three days. Two weather cards are revealed at the beginning of the game so that the players will know the weather for the next six days, and when the last day of a weather card has been played through the weather card is discarded and the next weather card is drawn, so that the players once again will know the weather of the following six days. In gaming terms the weather can slow the players down by increasing the movement requirements for every taken step, or it can be more exhausting so that the mountaineers might lose acclimatization points (or a combination of both). However, the barometer-like representation of a day's weather also shows an altimeter, and so the negative influences of the current weather possibly might only be experienced at a certain altitudinal range. And, of course, there are also good days of bright sunshine when the mountaineers will not have to face any negative weather influence.

A further tactical element for the players are the tents carried by each mountaineer. So, each of a player's mountaineers has the possibility to place a small bivouac on a space he has reached if he pays once again the same sum of movement points which was required to enter the space. The bivouac will remain in this space until the end of the game, and despite the fact that it was built by a specific mountaineer if may be used by both mountaineers of the same team. In game terms, the bivouac means protection for the mountaineer(s) in the same space, and so it will lessen a possible loss of acclimatization points or even give a mountaineer an additional point in a space with no negative conditions.

Adam Kaluza has chosen the theme of his new game carefully, going into the rather unexplored terrain of mountaineering instead of trodding other well-known paths. And indeed, K2 offers a rather good implementation of the theme, taking into account pivotal factors like weather and acclimatization with easy but well-integrated mechanisms. Really nice is the fact that the players not only go up on their own, but due to the decreasing number of mountaineers which may enter each space there exists a good degree of competition to reach good positions. It is especially valuable to reach the K2 summit because it brings a haul of three additional victory points if a mountaineer gets there, and furthermore the first player to reach the K2 summit will win the game in case of a tie. Thus, the race for the summit is on right from the start…

Finally, it should also be mentioned that the game rules and components offer ample opportunities to increase the difficulty level. So, the gameboard is two-sided, with one side showing an easier path and the other side with much harder climbing conditions. Likewise, there exist two sets of weather cards - one for the summer and one for the winter - and the winter set contains much more difficult conditions than the summer set. The game also may be played as a family variant with each player receiving a special Rescue-card which may be used once for keeping a mountaineer in play which otherwise would have been lost, and taken together all these elements should ensure a high challenge even for players who have gotten used to walking up the K2 once a week…

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Copyright © 2010 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany