Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

First Ascent Board Game


Raise your hand if you like board games. Anyone? I know our famly loves a good game night. So we were thrilled to get the opportunity to check out a new climbing-themed board game a few weeks ago. The game is called “First Ascent,” designed by Philadelphia-based climbers Kate Otte and Garrett Gibbons.

First Ascent can be played with 2-5 players, and takes 45-90 minutes to play. It is recommended for ages 14+. From the official game description: “The goal in this strategic and competitive game is to gain the most points by climbing the best route up the mountain and becoming the most skilled climber!” Our family got to play several times over the course of a few weeks. Here’s what we thought about the game and our experiences with it…

It me!

AGE: The recommended age range for First Ascent is 14+. Upon opening the box, it was obvious that we were used to much simpler game nights with our 11 and 7yo! There’s just so much to manage – skills, and gear, and objectives, oh my! I was a little worried about whether my kids could handle it. But the game creators made a fantastic video that went thru every little detail of the game, which really helped us get a feel for how everything was supposed to flow. There are two different ways to play – the full version, and Guide Mode, with the latter being a lot simpler and easier to learn. Since our kids are definitely on the younger end of the spectrum for First Ascent, Guide Mode was perfect for the whole family to be involved. My 11yo picked it up right away, and my 7yo got by with just a little help. Even in guide mode the game was still really fun – it didn’t feel “dumbed down” at all, just less complicated b/c there are far fewer things to keep track of all at once (much like when you have an actual guide to help you navigate a new place!)

CHARACTERS: At the start of the game, each player chooses one of ten characters, each with unique attributes that factor into the strategy of game play. The coolest part is that each character is not just a stereotypical persona, but based on a real climber! A few (like the Free Soloist), are pretty obvious, but most are a refreshing representation of diversity in climbing. For obvious reasons, my favorite is the CragMama, although admittedly I might be a little biased. Other popular characters in our family were the Young Prodigy, Cool-headed Crimper, and the Dirtbag.

The set up.

GAME DESIGN: The artwork in First Ascent is amazing! It is very evident how much thought was put into every detail on every card (ie, Cragmama’s home crag is the New River Gorge, and the bridge spans the backdrop of her character card.) The mountain on the board itself is composed of hex tiles (referred to in the game as “pitches.”) The pitches are actual names of real rock climbs, and our family had a lot of fun picking out which ones we had done/knew about. The hex tiles are put out at random at the start of every game, and points are earned when pitches are successfully “climbed.” Points can also be earned by completing other objectives that are drawn out of a separate deck each game. You know how some games get repetitive and boring after a while? The randomness of this board set up combined with all the unique attributes of the individual characters and the differing objective cards means that every game feels like a completely different experience and strategy.

Summersville ladders representing!

In addition to climbing, skill, and gear cards, there are several very creatively designed game pieces, from lengths of rope to colored cubes that represent water and psych. Sometimes individual turns can take a long time, but my 7yo stayed at the table b/c all of the pieces kept her interest while she was waiting!

BOTTOM LINE: While clearly designed with the climbing crowd in mind, I’m pretty sure anyone who enjoys strategic board games will enjoy “First Ascent.” It’s similar to games like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride, in that the game itself is just plain fun to play, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re into the “theme” or not.) It’s a perfect way to pass the hours away on a rainy day when you’re stuck inside and can’t climb, or to introduce some climbing fun to the rest of your family.

HOW CAN YOU GET IT? I was hoping you’d ask! The kickstarter for First Ascent launches TODAY!!! If you’d like to be a part of it, go here to see the different levels of support you can be a part of to get this project off the ground!


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN