Mountains out of Molehills
The moles are pushing up dirt from underground to turn their molehills into mountains!
Mountains out of Molehills is a competitive “mountain-building” game for 2-4 moles (players), designed by Jim DiCamillo and Pat Marino and published by The Op.
How to Play
First, we need to set up the two boards. The Aboveground board is suspended from its four corners, directly above the Underground board.
Now everyone places their Mole on a corner of the Underground board and one of their molehills in the corresponding space on the Aboveground board.
Each round, all players will draft cards, plan their movement, activate their plan, then score.
Take turns choosing cards from a face up layout until every player has four cards. There are always extra cards in the layout, so even the last card drafted offers a choice.
Planning & Movement
Once you have your four cards, use them to plan out your movement for the round. Arrange your drafted cards in the order you want them to activate.
When all players are ready, the first player will reveal their top card and activate it. Then the second player reveals their first card… and so on, until all players have revealed and activated all four of their cards.
Most cards move your mole. Some turn the mole. Some allow a move and a specific turn – in whatever order you choose.
A mole always stops when it hits an obstacle (a rock, another mole, the side of the board), so take that into consideration when planning your moves!
Whenever a mole moves into a new space, they also push up the ground above them. Place a new molehill on the bottom of whatever stack is in that space on the Aboveground board.
There are two other types of card. Rock cards let you place (or move) the rock token on the Underground board. Choose a spot to place it, then roll the rock die. From now on, if a mole runs into the rock, they turn in the direction shown on the die.
Mole cards indicate that a mole has “peeked” Aboveground, causing the mountain directly above them to Topple.
Toppling also happens if a mountain gets taller than the maximum height allowed for the round.
When a mountain Topples, the bottom molehill stays in its current spot, but each molehill above it “falls” farther and farther away, in a straight line (determined by the player who caused the Topple.)
After all players have finished their movement for the round, it’s time to score! Every space on the board scores for the player who controls it: one point per molehill piece stacked on that space.
But who controls a mountain? The mole who last pushed it up, of course! You’ll need to look at the bottom piece of each mountain.
After writing down each player’s score for the round, re-examine the turn order. The player who has the most pieces showing on top of the mountains on the board is the new King of the Hill – they can choose where they’d like to be in turn order.
After six rounds, the game ends. Whoever has stacked up the most points, wins the game.
We love the ideas represented in Mountains out of Molehills – the action-programming, building up the molehills and “controlling” them from the bottom, toppling hills to change how they score – but the way they come together just isn’t as much fun as the separate parts would suggest.
Got to be Good-Looking, Cuz They’re So Hard to See
The friendly mole illustrations by Elena Muñoz are wonderful, and the design of the Aboveground and Underground boards is attractive.
But the brown-on-brown design of the Underground board is hard to see – even before the Aboveground board is put in place above it. Once the two boards are together, the Aboveground board blocks most overhead light from reaching the Underground board. It becomes very hard to determine exactly where our moles are going.
I know moles are nearly blind, but people aren’t!
Stacking – and Falling
Since the movement board is so hard to see, we’d normally move the board around to get a better view – but that leads to a second problem.
The molehills, when stacked, become top-heavy. Every time we play, someone knocks over a few mountains (usually in the 4th or 5th round) and then we have to stop and re-create where everything was.
Stuck in Corners
Moving around, blocking your neighbors, and pushing up hills is rewarding, but even here there’s a problem. It’s far too easy to get stuck in a corner. We got better at avoiding this as we gained more experience, mostly by staying away from the corners.
But if you get in a corner and don’t have a “turnaround” card, you’re stuck – and there’s no guarantee that the right card will come up in the next draft, either.
There could (should?) have been an escape valve here. Discard your entire hand to turn around? Turn around when bumping into the “walls” of the Underground board? Something to keep players from feeling trapped.
Too Many Molehills, not Enough Mountains
There’s so much to love in Mountains out of Molehills, it should be a joy to play. It’s got cute moles, a new perspective on area control, and clever action-programming. But all the small issues turn it into an uphill slog.
If the cute moles have won you over in spite of the flaws, you can find Mountains out of Molehills on Amazon or at your friendly local game store.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Mountains out of Molehills from The Op for this review.
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Mountains out of Molehills
Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 9+
Playtime: 45-60 minutes