Saturday 14 September 2013

His Lordship Reviews: K2

In 1923, George Herbert Leigh Mallory was asked "why do you want to climb Mount Everest?". He simply retorted "because it's there".

In 1924, he was dead on the mountainside. If my mother had been in charge, his life expectancy would have been considerably shorter.

Photograph by Kogo
K2 is the second deadliest mountain in the world. Around 25% of those who attempt it will not survive to tell the tale. By comparison, my mother has got 75% of her climbers killed while attempting to scale K2. The board game, that is.

K2 the board game is the board game of climbing K2. Designed by an actual mountain climber. Here's how it works. Players have a team of two climbers, one with wavy sides, one with smooth curves. I call them "Bendy" and "Straighty". The aim of the game is to get both as far up the side of K2 as possible. Specifically, to get them further up than one's opponents. 

How would one achieve this? By an elegant combination of planning, audacity, and luck. Each player has their own, personal deck of cards. Each deck is the same, so everybody has the same opportunities, but not necessarily at the same time - every round, the player has a hand of six cards, of which they will play three. Each point on the board has two pieces of information attached - the cost to climb there, and the cost to "acclimitisation" (which might be referred to as "health" in lesser games) for every round they stay there.

Photograph by Mikko Saari
As a piece of game design, this works as a wonderful example of the meeting point of open and closed information. Everybody knows where everybody else is on the board. Everybody knows what they require to go forward, and how it will affect their fortitude. Health (and in some circumstances, movement) is also affected by the weather - however, you always have at least three days of forecast ahead of them, so everybody knows how the weather will affect them.

The problem, from a strategic perspective, is in the closed part of the information: what does one they have in their hand, and what is held by one's opponent. Am I planning to make a big move next turn? Will my opponent block your advance if I do? Even worse, am I trying to get down the mountain? If so, they may be moving to block your return. Perhaps I've calculated my movement and health budget perfectly for the cards I have in hand. I know I can make it up this round, and I'm pretty sure (given what's left in my deck) I can make it down next round.

Then some dreadful bounder moves in behind you. You've reached the top, and there they are, sitting right behind you. Some other fool is behind them. There's no way you can leap over both of them. They can't shift you. And every round, your bodily integrity is assailed by exposure. You pitch your tent for its modest protection and comfort. It's not enough. Bendy is dead, shivering and alone, an arm's breadth from his fellow climbers, his supposed compatriots, the true authors of his downfall.

Photograph by Marcin Niebudek
That would be one example. Another is the heartbreak when you get both your climbers ahead of everyone else, you control the mountain, and you realise that, with your present hand and the upcoming storm, there is no way in all the hells you can reach the top and live. Or even better, the pure elation of reaching the top and jumping off it in the same round, brilliantly leaving your opponent's homicidal blocking strategy empty and pointless. And that's just the easy game mode - if you want, you can play with winter weather, or attempt to scale the "difficult" face.

I have not tried these things. The game is more than heard enough on the easy setting. Maybe one day, when I've fully fortified myself with port (which is obviously the best time to go mountain climbing). However you choose to play it though, I confidently forecast you will not be disappointed. The game marries a compelling theme, satsifying mechanics, and brutal tension in a delightfully complete package.As the lazy days of summer give way to the chill winds of fall, you could do much worse than engage with the cold, hard brilliance of K2.

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