"What a time to be alive!" You think to yourself as your hot air balloon rises up through the clouds. You travel along the scaffolding you've built into the side of the mountain, gathering resources you'll need to continue building your clever inventions and ingenious machines. Your workers wave from below. But the sky darkens under the shadow of your opponent's Zeppelin, which soars by the scaffolding. And suddenly, the heat from the machines melts the snow on the mountain, and some of your workers are washed into a whirlpool! You could save them, but it'll take some time. It's hard to be a titan of industry in a hot air balloon, isn't it? Welcome to the wild, wonderful world of Whistle Mountain.
Whistle Mountain is a brand new worker placement game for 2 to 4 players by designers Scott Caputo and Luke Laurie, produced by Bézier Games. In Whistle Mountain, players take on the role of a leader of a company with a fleet of airships as you build elaborate scaffolding and machines on the side of a mountain. Players take turns taking a wide variety of actions in order to score victory points, and at the end of the game the player with the most points wins.
On its surface, Whistle Mountain revolves around the classic worker placement mechanic, meaning that you have a set amount of workers that you place around the board to achieve various goals. In this game those workers are represented by your airships that you either place directly on the board to gather resources, or around the board to purchase special abilities, one-off cards, pieces of scaffolding, and machines. You use the resources you gather both to purchase various building pieces and to build said pieces. It's a fun and thinky puzzle to know when and where to place your resources (more on that below), and knowing when to buy vs. build various pieces is crucial.
But as much as this is a worker placement game, Whistle Mountain also adds an entirely novel new spin on the mechanics. Instead of resources being located on specific parts of the map, you'll place pieces of scaffolding of varying shapes onto a grid in the center of the board. It's on those pieces of scaffolding that resources lay, and you dock your airships (which also vary in size), wherever you can fit near those resources to collect them. Once you've built up enough of a stable scaffolding, you and your opponents can build machines on top of that scaffolding. These machines grant powerful bonuses, extra resources, and even victory points to anyone who lands on top of (or next to) them.
As a final mechanical note, you also have little workers, human-shaped meeples, that you can move onto the scaffolding. If a machine is built on scaffolding they occupy, you score them. But as you continue to build structures, water at the bottom of the game board will begin to rise, and your workers can get swept away, in need of rescue lest they cost you negative victory points.
It's this mixture of classic worker placement and tile placement (both in the supporting scaffolding and the machines that go on top) that elevates this game far above the rest of the pack. And those 2 different systems couldn't work together unless they were both executed at a high level of design. The worker placement is very tight, making each turn feel of momentous import. Waste a worker placement, and you could find yourself 2 steps behind your opponent. Pair that tight decision space with the laying of polyominoes (aka the variously shaped pieces of scaffolding, think Tetris pieces) that mutually benefit anyone who can access them on the board, and Whistle Mountain very quickly becomes a game that activates many different parts of the brain, and scratches many gaming itches.
The Bottom Line
Whistle Mountain is not a light strategy game, but it's also not a brain burner either. And it's the kind of game that makes sense as you play it, and even folds in and welcomes the natural process of discovery as you're getting comfortable with it. Whistle Mountain is, for me, one of the most satisfying strategy games I've played this year. This is a game that has a masterful control of its own design, that challenges the player without overwhelming them, and that keeps the momentum moving without feeling rushed. Whether you're a fan of worker placement or you're growing a little bored of the genre, Whistle Mountain will come as a breath of fresh air, the kind that ruffles your hair as you sail by in your airship.
Get This Game If
- You enjoy worker placement games
- You're looking for a new spin on a classic style of strategy game
- You enjoy solving multiple kinds of problems at once
Avoid This Game If.
- You're looking for a lighter strategy game
- You're afraid of heights (those Zeppelins sure can catch some air)
Whistle Mountain is currently for sale at your friendly local game store and via Bézier Games, MSRP $69.95
The copy of Whistle Mountain used in this review was provided by the publisher.