Updated: Apr 27
Moles spend most of their lives burrowing underground and all we see of them are the molehills they make in our lawns. Jim DiCamillo and Patrick Marino's ingenious design for this game replicates this as the 2-4 players move their cute acrylic standee moles around a subterranean board layer in order to secure area control-type scoring on the upper layer.
Mountains out of Molehills makes full use of the box and insert as the 'underground' board lays on the insert and plastic struts inserted into the four corners of the box securely support the 'ground' level board. The boards are double-sided to accommodate different player counts: with two players you use the board sides that show a 4 x 4 grid; with three or four players you use the sides with a 6 x 6 grid, tho' with three players you use only a 5 x 5 portion within that.
Players' moles each start off in a corner of the play area on the underground board. You need to face your mole in the orthogonal direction you want it to move. Players then draft action cards which they then use to program their movement for the round. These cards also dictate when and how a mole can turn. Whenever you move, you place a mound of your colour in the corresponding square in the ground (upper) level grid. If there's a mound already there, you place yours underneath. At the end of the round, you score for each molehill on which you have the bottom mound, and you score a point for each of the mounds in that molehill, regardless of whether the mounds above the bottom one were generated by you or by other players.
The extra twist is that there's a maximum height for molehills of just two in the first round, three in rounds 2 and 3, four in rounds 4 and 5, and five in round six (the final round). When you place a mound that raises the molehill above the maximum height for the round, it 'topples' over. The mound you just placed remains in situ but all those above it are teetered onto the top of orthogonally adjacent squares... You get to choose the direction of topple, and obviously that can have an effect on the scoring for neighbouring mounds. It may very well also cause a cascade of toppling molehills!
Because the size of the board on which you are playing is matched to the number of players, movement is always tight, which makes for a fun but often chaotic game where you may well find that another player's movement action blocks the path you intended to take. Success in Mountains out of Molehills depends on second-guessing rival players' movements and maybe bluffing them. Players can deliberately block other moles' movement if they are in their programmed path. You can also try to protect your molehills from being 'undermined' by using a card that allows you to deploy a rock that blocks movement. We found in our plays tho' at Board's Eye View that that wasn't a common choice because it meant foregoing a movement and therefore build action.
You'll need to take care over your programming of moves as the game can be quite unforgiving of 'accidents': make a mistake playing a left turn card when you mean to turn right and you can find you've effectively wasted a round. Turn order can also be important because if my mole is able to follow in your mole's footsteps, I can effectively undermine (take control) of the molehills you laid...
The Op have done a great job in the production of this game, making good use of art from Elena Muñoz, and Mountains out of Molehills' three-dimensional dual-level board adds hugely to the game's appeal. The game can sometimes be frustrating and you'll occasionally find it galling but, nonetheless, play is invariably fun; and with a playing time of less than 60 minutes, even with a full complement of four players, there's little risk of games overstaying their welcome.