It was only appropriate that I opened up the box to the solo-only tile placement game Snowfall Over Mountains while it was snowing outside. I live at about a mile elevation in Boulder, Colorado and we’re no strangers to snowfall or, for that matter, mountains, with the majestic Rocky Mountains on the edge of town. Mountains with a fresh covering of snow are quiet and mysterious places with barely visible paths and strange animal tracks. Was it a bear? A rabbit? A coyote? I’ve even had foxes and mountain lions show up on my property.
All of these turn out to be an integral part of the theme of this delightful and relaxing tile placement puzzle game from Pencil First Games. Comprised of 30 Snow Tiles, 15 Scoring Cards, 8 Tool Cards and a starter Cabin Tile, the goal of Snowfall Over Mountains is to thoughtfully place 26 tiles in an optimal configuration to achieve the best possible score. Scoring varies each play and consists of points for tree placement, bush placement, bear tracks, rabbit tracks, and pond placement. There are three scoring variations for each of these five categories of which one is randomly chosen each game, giving you lots of possibilities. Similarly, you play with 26 of the 30 Snow Tiles, randomly discarding four to ensure each map is different too.
BASIC SETUP OF THE GAME
Let’s just jump in because overall the game is pretty straightforward:
The top row are all possible Tool Cards, and the bottom row are the five stacks of three possibilities per category for Scoring Cards. A regular game has you pick two out of three Tools for later utilization, and a tougher game only offers one randomly chosen Tool. For the Scoring Cards, pick one randomly from each of the 3-card decks.
As you can see from the three Tool Cards, it’s not always easy to know what you’ll want as you get to the end of your game. I chose to pick Showshoes and Snow Shovel, both seeming to be very useful. I discarded the Compass (3 pick 2) which left me with the following Scoring cards and Tool cards:
Scoring all takes place at the very end of the game when the last tile is placed, but it’s critical you study these and consider how they might work together. Also a factor at the end is that the home Cabin Tile has a starting path: You really want to ensure that you continue that path because you’ll lose points for discontiguous paths you might create and fail to connect to the main path.
At this point, I’m ready to begin playing Snowfall Over Mountains!
SNOWFALL OVER MOUNTAINS: BASIC PLAY
With scoring and tools all selected, it’s time to get this party started, so I place the Cabin Tile in the middle of my play area and choose two Snow Tiles from the face-down stack:
The Cabin tile is broken into two squares. The left square has a path and a pine tree. The right square continues the path (with exits on two sides) and includes the cabin itself. The lower left tile has a rabbit track (the faint footprints) and a bush on each side. The right tile also has a rabbit track, along with another pine tree and a bit of pathway. One of the scoring cards specifies that we seek lonely pines, so we don’t want to place them in adjacent squares. We also want the path to connect to the Cabin path, and if we can, having a nice long rabbit path will be good. That lower left tile is worth 4 points already: 2 points for each bush adjacent to a rabbit path!
Snow tiles can be placed in any orientation as long as at least one square is fully adjacent to another. They don’t all have to be horizontally or vertically oriented, and you can end up with holes if that’s your best layout option. The goal is to simultaneously try to extend as many different types of trails as possible, critically including the path from the Cabin. A bit further on, here’s how my tableau is looking:
I rather obsessively try to ensure that the Cabin path is continuous because it’s -3 for each and every tile with an unconnected path at the very end of the game. That’s a lot of penalty! Also note in the above that our rabbit track is now four squares long in the top right and that so far I have managed to ensure all of my pine trees are lonely. No rainbows here, it’s a snowy day.
Now look how I’ve extended it all out and both added a pond and extended that rabbit track quite a ways:
Remember that to score ponds, I need to have them surrounded on all four (orthogonal) sides. This first pond counts, so that’s another two points. It’s growing well, but it’s also time to start working on building out a bear trail (the darker footprint trail), specifically one that is sporadically overlapping with the rabbit tracks, as per the scoring card.
FURTHER INTO THE GAME
I’m almost done and have added a bit to the bear track on the lower right, along with placing a second pond (that isn’t yet surrounded on all four sides, so it won’t yet help with my score):
I’m almost out of Snow tiles, so there’s not much else I can do to grow my map. At this point I evaluate my Tool cards to see if either offers a bonus. Unused tool cards at the end of the game are worth 1 point each, so saving them is a viable option if there are no overt wins to utilizing them.
And, finally, with the last tile placed, here’s my final tableau with scoring cards shown again:
This is where the game gets a bit complicated. Turns out scoring is nuanced and requires you pay close attention to the layout. I had originally scored this as 47 points based on my interpretation of the scoring cards, but the team at Pencil First Games clarified a few things and my score on the above layout is 64 points, a very good result. Here’s how that breaks down so you can follow along in the above image:
- Lonely Pines: 14 trees not adjacent to any other trees = 14 points
- Hopeful Harvest: 4 columns and 4 rows in your largest bush cluster = 8 points
- Landlocked Lake: 2 lakes surrounded on all four sides = 8 points
- Follow the Scent: 5 squares of rabbit tracks adjacent to your longest bear path = 10 points
- Berry Pursuit: 11 bushes adjacent to your longest rabbit path = 22 points
- Available Tools: 2 unused tool cards = 2 points
- Disconnected Paths: 0 disconnected paths = 0 points (No negative, which is pretty awesome and hard to do!!!)
- TOTAL: 64 points
Where I tripped up was on the Berry Pursuit, calculating a far lower score for myself. How does 64 points stack up? They offer up the following: < 46 points = Lost Traveler, 46-55 = Wayward Hiker, 56-65 = Cozy Sightseer, 66-75 = Experienced Explorer, and 76+ = Master Trailblazer. I landed at the top end of Cozy Sightseer, which is a good middle point, but I think I can get two more points out of my next game to attain Experienced Explorer!
THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS
I really enjoy these simple and straightforward tile placement games, finding them a fun mashup of classic tile fitting games like Tangram and thematic games that offer a bit more variation. You’ll find that Snowfall over Mountains is easy to pick up and start playing too, and since the snow tiles are relatively small (2.5″ x 1.25″) you don’t need a lot of table space to play either. The challenge is in the scoring, and since I was playing with a prototype, the company did reveal that that final design has some tweaks to the graphics to make things more clear (for example my version has two colors of bushes, but that’ll be simplified to a single color to avoid confusion). Take your time and you’ll soon master scoring, however, and then you can explore the included mini-expansion Another Winter’s Day which adds some additional complexity.
This one’s a keeper and if you enjoy having a straightforward and relaxing tile placement game with lots of variation to play at work, between classes, or even at a restaurant while waiting for your food, this might be a great choice for you. Highly recommended.
Disclosure: The company sent me a pre-production copy of the game in return for this candid review. Nice. Very nice.