As you can see from the 360º photo on Board's Eye View (www.facebook.com/boardseye), Summit certainly looks intriguing: the board represents a jagged mountain on which players are laying triangular tiles marking the routes of their ascent. The individual player character boards have indentations to firmly grip marker cubes in place, so, unlike many others, this isn't a game prone to being ruined halfway through by a jogged elbow or overly exuberant dice roll: it seems reassuringly appropriate for such risk assessment to be reflected in the design of a game about mountaineering.
Summit is actually two games in one. At its best, it’s a fully co-operative game where a team of climbers has to work together to successfully master the ascent and descent of the mountain in the face of adverse weather, avalanches and other mishaps but it also comes with the cards and components needed to cast aside co-operation and play as a ruthlessly competitive race game.
Players each have their own characters and, at the start of the game, they get to choose how much food, oxygen and other equipment to take with them. They will need these to respond to the hostile conditions they encounter as a result of the tiles they lay, the weather dice they roll and the event cards that they encounter. Of course, the more they take, the heavier the load, and that naturally reduces the distance they can travel on their turn... To avoid pre-game AP (analysis paralysis), the rules offer a helpful recommended starting allocation for each of the six characters, but players will be able to depart from this suggested start once they have learnt the game.
So, Summit is a game where players are juggling the odds. It is not, however, a game where you can ever be sure what will happen because the weather can scupper your plans and you will always be at the mercy of event cards which may sometimes help but which are more likely to inflict a succession of disasters. Arguably, that makes it a thematically quite accurate representation of the vagaries of mountaineering. Players can pre-set the difficulty level of the game by adjusting the distance from base camp to summit, the starting point on the game’s blizzard track and the event cards to include in the deck.
As a co-operative game, players always have the option of drawing on the support of their Sherpas – another aspect to balance in – and they can lend help to one another or even sacrifice themselves for the greater good of the team.
For those who prefer a more competitive experience, the board can be flipped over to play Summit as an aggressive dog-eat-dog race game. For competitive play, players will also be using a ‘karma’ deck, mostly to attack each other, and, as with the event deck, there are options for editing in or out some of the more ‘mean’ cards (in the American sense of the word ‘mean’). There may be circumstances when players will still help each other during a competitive game, but usually this will only be to build up the ‘karma’ they need to play a negative ‘take that’ card that inflicts a setback (or outright kill) of another player’s character. Yes - this is a game where there can be player elimination.
Summit takes up to six players and individual turns will usually be completed quickly, so, once you've set it up and allocated your starting gear, you should be able to play the game through in about an hour.
Given that it comes with the rules and all the different components needed for both competitive, co-operative and solitaire play, Summit delivers a lot of game in its sturdy big box, and it packs in enough variables to keep the game interesting through multiple plays. If you do yearn for still more of a challenge, however, Inside Up Games offer the Yeti expansion, throwing an Abominable Snowman into the mountain mix to make your collective or competitive ordeal yet more challenging…