Comments on ClimbingMan

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Review of ClimbingMan, a solitaire piecepack game

This review is part of the first Piecepack review contest. For more information see http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/2104548 and http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/29294/

Theme

Imagine a climbing wall (or even a rock if that makes it more appealing to you): it has a certain height and it has spots with a secure grip that are scattered all over the place. They all look different and some spots are a lot stronger than other ones. You know that you have to get a hold of that strong spot just at the edge of your reach, but there’s only so much a limb can stretch. If you can’t reach that point, you will have to take an alternative route. But what way then? Will you be able to reach the top of the wall, or will you be forced to quit because you can’t hold on much longer? Will you finish or will you fall? This is exactly what Climbing Man is all about: you, the player in this solitaire simulation puzzle, are a climber who wants to reach the top of the climbing wall. The back of the tiles form the wall and a pawn plus the four dice represent your torso and its limbs. The coins are those grip spots that are scattered all over the board like on a real climbing wall. Of course your body needs to exert a minimal level of force on the spots to prevent it from falling down. You therefore have to spread your powers as efficiently as possible. And last but not least you need to find the route that will lead you to the top of the wall. I may have a vivid imagination, but I can see all this happen when I’m playing the game: where am I going to reach for next and with what limb? Will I be able to make it to the top? I therefore can only say that the components are used in a creative way to set the theme for this piecepack game.

Use of Components

Speaking of components: a piecepack set is a standardised set of components, so there is nothing I can tell about them, that’s worth mentioning. What ís worth mentioning, is the way they are used. That’s what makes each piecepack game different from the next. When looking at the use of the components in Climbing Man, there are three things that stand out. The first aspect is the unique way in which the role of the dice and the coins are reversed. In most games, dice determine the luck-factor: you throw them and the outcome determines what will happen or what your possibilities will be. In this game the dice are your limbs and the numbers on their sides represent the force exerted on the grip spots. They just show what limb is using what force. The number on a coin (a grip spot) determines the maximum force this spot can handle. While setting up for a new game, you place the coins together with the suit face up and shuffle them. After having built the wall with the tiles (grid face up), you place the coins on the board. Only when you want to grab a spot, you flip the coin over to see the strength of this spot. This blind number placement determines the randomness of a game: when in luck, the high valued coins are spread in a nice path up to the top of the wall; when out of luck, you will be locked in by low numbered coins preventing you from finishing the game. Although I really like the reversal, in my opinion this is the weakest part of the game as well: the randomness makes it very hard to finish a game. Somewhere during the climb you are very likely to encounter a couple of low numbers, leaving the higher numbers out of your reach. The second aspect, though not unique, is the fact that the player can make the wall as difficult as he thinks he can handle. A four by six wall is recommended for the beginner. Once the mechanism of the game is understood, you can build a different wall. Due to the modular characteristic of the piecepack system, there are dozens of possible wall-layouts. In my view this is one of the most appealing aspects of the piecepack system. Climbing Man makes use of this characteristic and lets the gamer decide what way he wants to climb to the top. The last point is comparable to the previous point: there is a great liberty in the placement of the coins. One tile can only hold one coin, but as long as the coins are not touching each other orthogonally, it can be placed anywhere in one of the four spaces. In this way the gamer can be both creative and be as hard on himself as he likes. If the grip spots are not spread out nice and even, it will be harder to reach the top. All and all the components are used in an original way and the gamer has a high degree of control over the difficulty of the game. The real deciding factor in the game however, is the random distribution of the values on the coins.

Rules

When reading the rules, I wished that more games would have such decent rules as Climbing Man: they’re very clear and concise. What’s more: they are illustrated with examples and figures to make things even more comprehensible. The goal is to get to the top of the wall. In order to do so you have to move you limbs (the dice) up the board from coin to coin, making sure that the sum of the dice on the board is at least 10. Your maximum reach is three steps: one step in any direction followed by two steps orthogonally. But there’s a catch: the further away your torso (the pawn) is from a coin, the lower the number on the dice can be. When the pawn is just one square away from the coin, the maximum force is 5; two spaces away your maximum force is 4 and for a distance of three spaces the maximum strength will be 3. This all makes a lot of sense, since it is comparable to real climbing. When you have finally reached the top of the wall, you can calculate your score and write it down on the added scoring sheet: your score is the height of the wall in small squares plus the sum of the numbers on the coins that haven’t been turned over (although I don’t really see much use for it since the games are very random). As you can see, there’s a lot of calculating and counting going on in this game: is the strength on the dice not below 10? Will anything happen to the strength on the dice as the torso is going up? How far can the climber reach? Is the torso able to move upwards keeping the reach of the legs in account? I have never been a fan of mathematics and subjects alike and that’s exactly why this is not the game for me. You could say: “What are you complaining about? It’s not that hard to count to ten for the dice and to three for the steps!” You’re right about that, but due to the earlier mentioned randomness of the numbers on the coins, it’s a constant puzzle that’s not to my likings.

Climbing Man in practice

When reading the rules one could even ask why this game was published anyway: it all looks too simple. But theory and reality are not the same. Most games start out plain and simple. But once you’ve encountered a couple of low numbers, you start to make really strange moves. I struggled through them, because I imagined them as a real life wall (or rock) climb: three limbs are in a horizontal or vertical row while the fourth one is just dangling a bit lower. It was only due to this imagination that I continued playing, because nothing could be found about this kind of situations in the rules. Was this the way the author had intended the game to be? Are you cheating when you play like this? I don’t know and that’s what I would like to read about in an update of the rules (preferably with an example and a figure).

Conclusion

Climbing Man is a solitaire game with an excellent theme, which uses the components in an original and challenging way. These plus sides for me unfortunately don’t counter weigh the fact that the games are just too random, especially for a puzzle game. Even though the author has thought about this by adding a rule that you can swap an unturned coin with one that’s around the climber, for me this will not work. Firstly since there is no definition of “around” (maybe something for future rules as well?). Furthermore, what will you do when you get stuck surrounded by only bad numbers? Maybe you could go back down again for a better number (nothing about this point in the rules either), but by that time my joy of the game would already have run out. But that’s just my dislike of constantly counting and calculating as I’ve told before. There’s one more positive aspect about the game’s simplicity: I think it could do well in education. As I’ve told before, you have to be constantly aware of what will happen to the dice and what your possibilities are. I think this is a great way to train the young mind and maybe I would like calculating a bit more if I would have learned it by playing a game like this. For anyone who doesn’t mind the constant calculating and counting it’s a great game due to its simple rules resulting in challenging puzzles.

Reply to the review:

Hey, thanks for the great review. I'm glad you thought the theme fitted the mechanics well, as I'm a fan of thematic games, and I did design the game from the theme...

About the randomness, I'll just say that very few setups have been unsolvable for me. It may happen, but usually there's a way to reach the top, even in the direst situations. That's the puzzle aspect I like about the game, but you're right the difficulty is quite variable for the same setup...

I'll answer your questions: First, about the positions of your limbs. You can place them anywhere (after all climbers are very agile people) around the pawn. The only restriction is the distance from the pawn. I thought this was quite clear in the rules, but I'll revise that part. And the second question, by around I mean a coin that you can reach from your position.

Thanks for taking the time to review my game.

Edit: Just wanted to add that the way the limbs work is abstracted. I didn't define which die is each hand and foot because in practice, a climber will interchange hands and feet as needed. I thought I could do away with that complexity and each die will be a hand or a foot as needed. So, if you've got a die low under your body and then pick it and place it high up over the body, you can think of it as the foot was place where one of the hands were and then the hand was placed up (I hope that was clear :) )

Cheers,

-Jorge

Roger Meertens

-- RogerMeertens? 2010-04-28 09:14 UTC


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