WBG Score: 7.5
Player Count 2-4
Published by: The Op
With special guest contribution by Ameristrashtalk at the end.
Mountains out of Molehills is an intriguing game. On looks alone, this game screamed out to me. Begging to be played. It certainly does have a unique table presence and I am sure that it bring in the crowds when set up. But how does it play?
Mountains out of Molehills is an area control game at it's core. But the game is driven by a programmed movement mechanic which I love. If you have played Colt Express or Tiny Epic Mechs you will be familiar with this idea. Players will chose a group of cards to play in a specific order, making a plan for how they will move around the board. In isolation, this is a very easy process. Move forward one, turn right, before moving forward another two spaces. A perfect turn! However, it very rarely turns out like this because this does not work in isolation, there are other moles at the table!
Players will flip cards in turn, one card at a time. After your first turn, perhaps you have moved forward, your opponent may have then placed a rock to your right, so then after you turn, your path is now blocked. This is what I love about programmable movement. You need to try and guess what your opponent will do, and how you think they may try and interfere with your actions. And of course, players often inadvertently block or affect the other players actions too. There is some luck involved here, some turns can be a little frustrating. But if you can embrace the chaos and enjoy the outcomes, be they in your favour or not, this game could be for you.
To set up the game, the first job is to make the board. I love games that make use of the box, and this game certainly does that! Inside the four corners of the box, you need to place the four pillars. They slot in nicely. You can watch a video of this simple process here. Once this is done, each player will place their Mole into one of the four corners of the bottom board and a molehill in the space directly above this. The boards are double sided to suit different player counts, providing more space for more players to avoid too much carnage, whilst keeping it tight in a two or three player game.
How to play.
When this is done, lay out cards face up on the table ready for the draft phase. Players will then take a card in turns until all players have four in their hand. Each player will then order their four cards in the hope they can run through the action phase in a smooth manner. Once this is done, each player will place their cards on the table face down and put their order token on top to show they are ready to play. Then, depending on the turn order, players will reveal each card they selected one by one, taking the appropriate action. You are generally moving forward, turning to the right tor left, taking a u-turn, moving the rock, or popping up to the surface for a look above ground causing a 'topple'. All the cards are self explanatory, and like everything in this game, it all feels very intuitive.
When ever a mole moves, a molehill must be placed directly above them in the new space they have moved to. If they move more than one space multiple molehills are placed and a trail is created. As more and more molehills are left behind, towers are formed. Each round, the maximum height of these towers is increased. It starts at two and rises to five in the later rounds. If ever a molehill is created that is higher than that rounds maximum, the tower will topple over. Each molehill piece will fall in the same direction away from the original spot, one piece at a time, moving one space further away for each molehill piece that fell. The direction they fall is up to you. This creates a chaotic board that is hard to predict, and this is crucial to the way you score in this game.
At the end of each action round in the game, the scoring phase takes place. Each player will score points for each molehill they control. A player controls a molehill if the bottom piece is their colour. As players move through the board and add extra pieces to existing molehills, their piece will become the new bottom space. The molehill builds from the bottom up. Your goal in the action phase is to create more molehills, and take control of any existing ones that are not yours.
Players score one point for each piece in every tower they control. Each round, all molehills remain in place, so the amount of molehills and the height of each one gets increasingly bigger. In turn, the amount of points available each round significantly increases. I like games that employ this scoring mechanic. It is the perfect natural catch-up mechanism. If a player takes an early lead in the first few rounds, the amount of points available in the later rounds means it is easy to catch up. And as ownership of each molehill is so fragile and constantly changing, there is often a swing in leadership throughout the six rounds.
Another clever catch up mechanic in this game is that at the end of each round, the player with the most amount of pieces on the top of each molehill, as in the player who probably just scored the least amount of points, gets to chose the turn order first for the next round. Taking the first player token means you can take the first pick of the cards available in the next draft and importantly, will have the initiative in the movement and action phase. Taking the best card available, especially when there are only a few turn cards for example, can be a big advantage. And of course, in a programmable movement game, taking the first action offers considerable assistance. Being able to do something before anyone else does gives you a much higher percentage chance of actually being able to do what you want to do!
Control or Chaos?
Playing Mountains out of Molehills brings a mixture of emotions. I constantly feel somewhere on either end of the control/chaos spectrum. Often moving from one extreme to the other within a matter of minutes. I like this. I enjoy the random elements of programmable movements, because when things go well and according to your plans, it feels great. When things don't quite play out in reality as they did in your head, it can be frustrating. But If you can accept this will happen, and understand that each time it happens to you it will most probably happen to the other players too, you will experience a lot of laughter in this game.
On one occasion, due to a constantly moving rock, I was bouncing around off the corner of the board over and over for two full rounds. I was unable to lay any new molehills, and my scoring was terrible for those rounds. I was unable to catch up and lost this game by a long way. But the entire process created huge laughter all round the table. If this sounds like it would make your friends and family giggle too, this game could be for you. If it sounds like it may frustrate you due to the lack of control, then perhaps you need to think about how you have felt playing programmable movement games before. If you have not played any, then maybe try this one just to see how it works for you. If you didn't enjoy the ones you have tried, I guarantee you will at least enjoy the set up of this! Building the board is fun enough for anyone.
But don't just take my word for it, check out what May from Ameritrashtalk has to say about this great game.
Mountains Out of Molehills is a delightful take on an abstract game. First, it has a wonderful production that provides a satisfying tactile experience from the acrylic mole standees to the little molehills themselves. In addition, the use of programming your movements and revealing at the same time as the other players adds some fun chaos to the game. Foiling the perfect plan, with a well placed rock, is such a treat and gives you laugh out loud moments.
The game feels fresh with its two layer board; and the idea of toppling. The perfect strategic topple to score max points is amazing and gives the players a sense of accomplishment. I personally had so much fun with this game. My only concern would be the wear and tear on the board as you press the molehills down, however, I think with good care that may not be an issue at all. This was such a pleasant surprise, and quite a unique game in our collection.