Mountains Out of Molehills

We were given the chance to review Mountains Out of Molehills by The Op Games. In this adorable game, you play as moles that have traveled from around the globe to compete in the Mountain Maker Tournament. To win, you must control the tallest mountains to be crowned the champion. It is a light strategy game in which you must draft cards, select the order of cards, and then reveal them, taking into consideration your placement and other player’s actions.

Underground layer

To set up the game you first must put the two layered playing board together! The box is itself the lower level and you must place little beams that hold the top layer together. We always appreciate when the box is used in a unique way. The lower level (underground) is where your character will move around, turn and dig. The underground layer has two sides depending on player count. The top layer is aboveground and it is where you will place your molehills after each movement. Even though the beam pieces are slim and simply shoved in the corners to hold up the top layer, the contraption is sturdy and holds together quite well. The tiers will only wiggle if you purposely make them wiggle and normal gameplay will not cause the rig to move in unexpected ways.

Aboveground layer

Now that your board is ready, you can select your mole. The moles are acrylic standees that are bright and colorful. You have your choice of four different characters/moles. There is Loama the naked mole rat, Sandy the coast mole, Clay the star nosed mole, and Pete the blind mole. Each has a cute back story and while they all play exactly the same, you will definitely have your favorite. King of the Hill tokens are given at random to each player which determines player order. Once you select your mole and their matching molehills, in turn order you select your placement on the board. Placement for the game begins in a free corner facing any direction you would like. Lastly, you place a single molehill above the space you selected. The molehill pieces are flexible plastic lumpy boxes that insert into one another to stack into taller and taller structures. They are the lifeblood of the game and determine your points.

Once all players are ready, the movement cards are shuffled and 5 cards are drafted per player and placed in rows to form a draft selection. In turn order, players will select the card of their choice until each player has a hand of 4 cards (the remaining cards are discarded). These cards are kept hidden once drafted and will determine what your available actions will be.

Movement is always done from the perspective of your mole. There are different types of movement cards that allow you to move forward, turn left/right, do a U-turn or a combination of these movements. The icons show an arrow pointing in the manner in which you may move plus a number that determines how many spaces you may move. So a straight arrow with a 3 means you can move forward three spaces and a U-turn with a 1 means you turn around completely and move one space. Movement in this game is unique in that you must take into account the orientation of your mole. You can only turn and move in the direction of your mole. We found ourselves having to orient ourselves in the way the moles were looking to determine movement and made errors that changed our original plans.

Every time your mole moves underneath a space, it will dig up dirt above it, causing your hills to grow from the bottom up. So taking a forward movement of 3 will mean that you will place 3 molehills at the bottom of any spaces you moved through. The bottom-most piece will determine who controls the molehill and the person who controls the molehill at the end of the game will score points. So your goal will be to have the biggest and tallest molehills under your control. As the mountains grow taller and taller, eventually they topple over. The topple limit is determined by the round. To topple a mountain first you must reach the topple limit and then select a direction in which the mountain will topple. The fall must be orthogonal and as the mountain falls, it leaves its pieces one by one on the spaces in its direction. So if the topple limit is 5, the top 4 pieces “fall” on TOP of the 4 spaces in the orthogonal direction of your choice. They fall on top making any spaces taller without changing who controls the mountains. In this way it may affect other players points as you may inadvertently give other players taller mountains.

If you cannot complete your movement you simply stop. If you reach the edge of the board your movement stops. If you bump into another player you stop your movement as well as “moles are polite and wait their turn.”

There are also two special cards that allow for different actions. The rock card allows you to place a rock tile on any free space (one that does not have molehills) and roll a die that will be placed on top of the tile. These rocks serve as barriers that will change the direction in which you travel should you “bump” into them. Digging under a space with a rock will force you to change direction however the die determined earlier. This can be helpful in some instances where your movement may be limited or someone threw a wrench in your plans by standing in your way. The rocks remain in place until they are moved by another rock card.

The die and rock tile

The second type of special card is the mole card. The mole card forces the mole to stay in place but the mole “peaks” above forcing a topple regardless of mountain height. This can be helpful if you are trying to topple an opponent’s stack onto your stacks or to simply take their points down a peg.

Once all players have completed their movement, the round ends and points are scored based on mountain height and who is in control of the mountains. The player with the most pieces on top of mountains will select their place in then order and so on until turn order is determined. A new round begins with the same amount of movement cards placed for drafting. At the end of the 6th round the game ends and points are scored. The player with the highest score wins. Ties are broken by counting how many stacks of 5 tied players have. Then 4 stacks if still a tie, then 3, 2, 1. If all stacks are STILL tied they just share the victory.

A tied game!

Language Barrier Playability: The game is heavily reliant on symbols and numbers making this game easily playable with a language barrier. Once rules are explained there is no need for translation.

Replayability: Excellent. The game is short and simple. This type of game may easily be played multiple times in one sitting as the scoring is very competitive and you always feel like your plans were foiled if you just hadn’t made the one move.

Artwork: Adorable. The artwork is cute and you will find yourself gravitating towards one of the moles. They are cute little moles with overalls and pickaxes, what about that sentence is there to not like?

Quality: Great. The box is well crafted and as mentioned above the acrylic standees are brightly colored and sturdy. The tiered box holds up very well and the molehills are slightly flexible and hold together well when stacked.

Strategy: Light. The game does depend on randomness and a lot of the game has to do with playing the cards you are dealt in the sense that you only have so many options to choose. However, which cards you select and how you choose to play the cards is what makes the game challenging. Also taking into account other players movements is a challenge as well.

Instruction Manual: The instruction manual is very easy to follow and easy to read. It lays out every step in writing as well as diagrams. Some of the tips are a little randomly scattered throughout pages but are appreciated in terms of gameplay.

Organization: Excellent. All pieces fit neatly into the box and the box also serves as a two layer board. So not only does the box hold everything, it also frees up more table space as you are using the box to play in instead of shoving it to the side of your play area!

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