With Reach for the Summit I broke my own rule about how much I’m prepared to pay for a vintage board game. I don’t really go searching for them on eBay, preferring instead to try my luck in charity shops and at car boot sales. Normally I prefer only to spend two or three pounds on a game, but in this case I was happy to part with the grand total of £4.99 for Reach for the Summit. Firstly, it was a game that I wasn’t at all familiar with, but the condition it was in was impeccable.
I honestly think that the copy we picked up had only been played once. Even the box itself was so pristine that it looked like it had been tucked away in a cupboard for years. Possibly even since 1975 when it was first published as part of The Berwick Masterpiece Series (more on that in a separate blog post).
Aim of Reach for the Summit
The aim of Reach for the Summit is to get to the summit of the mountain in the middle of the board, and then return to base camp. This may sound simple, but the added complication is that each player doesn’t just have one counter that they need to get to the summit. No, they need to get a support party of three, and an assault party of two there, and they all need to be roped together!
Reach for the Summit is a game for between 2 and 4 players.
The board looks like series of triangles representing the side of the mountain, with the summit in the centre. Climbing routes are represented by yellow, red and green lines and the points where these lines intersect (the corners of the triangles) are “footholds” where climbers must be located. Routes to the summit are graded, with the most difficult ones costing more points to move along.
- Yellow routes cost 3 points.
- Red routes cost 2 points.
- Green routes cost 1 point.
These degrees of difficultly and the points required to traverse them apply for both the ascent and descent of the mountain.
In each corner of the board is a base camp, one for each colour player, and then there are six supply camps located part way up the mountain. Each player starts in their allocated base camp with the two assault party members roped together taking the rear two positions, and the three supply party members roped together occupying the front three positions in the base camp.
Climbing the mountain
Each player has two spinners to use when it is their turn. The blue “climbing conditions” spinner is spun first. This tells the player whether or not they will actually be able to climb that day, and depending on the conditions the number of points that they gain to climb with on the second spinner may be increased or decreased.
If they can climb the player then spins the red “numbers” spinner which tells them how many points they have to move with.
Play starts with trying to get your supply party to one of the six supply camps on the board. Once they occupy three of the positions in that supply camp the assault part can start their ascent of the mountain.
To actually move the playing pieces a player must use up the points that they have collected on the red spinner. They must use up all of the score in that turn and this is where the game becomes quite complex. Trying to work out exactly which pieces you can move with the points you have, whilst all remaining roped together and without backtracking at all. The rules of the game give you some examples of moves that are possible, but even then it takes a bit of getting your head around them. In that sense the game remained me a bit of Kensington, a two player game from a similar era that Bonn and I had played before.
Moving the assault party and taking the summit
With the supply party safely at a supply camp on the board, you can then start moving your two man assault party. The assault party do not need to go to the supply camp themselves, they can just head straight towards the summit, but one of them can not take the summit until they are roped to the supply party in a continuous line. This roping up uses up a player’s turn. You do not need to rope up immediately, but it does have to be done before the summit is taken.
Returning down the mountain
The game is not won by taking the summit first. Instead the winner is the player who takes the summit and gets all his team back down to the base camp first. As in real life, the descent can be just as tricky as the ascent.
Firstly though, the assault party member that has taken the summit has to be moved off it as soon as possible, and all five members of the team have to remain roped together until this member is off the summit. Unroping also costs a player a turn. Once this has happened the supply and assault parties can move separately again, although all members of each party remain roped together.
On the descent you do not have to go via a supply camp, but when you get back to base camp the assault party have to go back to the rear most two positions and the supply party take the front three positions.
Playing the game
When we sat down to play Reach for the Summit the thing which struck us most was just how brief the rules were, and how we were left with so many things that just weren’t explained properly. There were some examples given about how you could move your climbers on the board, but they were mainly just done in picture form and didn’t make complete sense. We ended up having to create our own house rules as to what was allowed and what wasn’t!
The other thing that left us quite confused was one of the sets of climbing conditions that you could get on the blue spinner. This simply says “Lose supplies. Support part returns”. Errrr, returns to where? To base camp or to supply camp? If supply camp, which one? What if the one they used before is now occupied by another player? Does it depend on whether they have established a supply camp or not? What about if the supply party are roped to the ascent party? Do you leave the ascent party where they are? Do they have to go with the supply party? What about if you’re on the descent? Where do they return? And surely that will be seen as a positive thing if you’re already on your way down? We were left somewhat confused by these particular conditions.
The rules say that roping up and unroping use up a turn, but we disagreed as to whether you had to spin the blue climbing conditions spinner first or not.
On a practical level the ropes on the playing pieces were quite fiddly. Yes, they remained securely in place, but when you were roping and unroping it ended up with you moving your playing pieces all around and you really needed to remember where they had been at the start of your move.
Reach for the Summit – Our verdict
I’m not sure we all fully enjoyed Reach for the Summit, but mainly for the reason that it was much more complicated than we were expecting the game to be. You need to really put in quite a lot of thought about how you can move your climbers when it’s your turn, especially as you have to exactly use up all your points. If you go into the game expecting this level of complexity then I think you will be much more open minded than we possibly were.
It’s also quite a long game. It took us nearly two hours to reach the summit and get back to base camp. That’s quite a long game compared to other modern day ones.
That brings me on to our thoughts about how games have changed over the years. Reach for the Summit is over 40 years old, and from other games that I’ve seen from the 1970s (although admittedly not Miss UK!) I think it’s fair to say that people seemed to want slightly more intellectual games. Ones that were a bit of a puzzle and required players to think logically and sometimes mathematically, rather than just rolling a dice and moving a counter around.
The game says that it is suitable for players aged 8 and up. Little Miss C is eight, nearly nine, and to be honest I think she would have struggled with this game. Not only in terms of her attention span to keep going for two hours, but also on terms of thinking through how the moves worked. Was it the case that an 8 year old in 1975 had a longer concentration span and was more able to think logically and deal with this live of complexity in a game? Is this just a reflection of how our changing lifestyles over the years have changed children’s abilities when it comes to board games?
I’m glad I picked up Reach for the Summit, as it’s given us a brilliant insight into one of these more intellectual board games that people seemed to like in the 1970s. I really liked the retro style of the game and it was interesting to see how the game had been modelled on a real life climbing scenario. Despite this though, I don’t think Reach for the Summit will stay in my board game collection. We just didn’t get excited enough about getting to the summit.
If you want to Reach for the Summit yourself then some secondhand copies of the game are available on Amazon (affiliate link).