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In Valley of the Mammoths, by Bruno Faidutti, players represent cavemen tribes trying to survive and expand in an hostile prehistoric environment. Goal of the game is to be the first player controlling four settlements for two complete game turns (and to discover fire, if using this optional rule).
Players start the game with one settlement, 5 Warriors, 2 Female tokens and 5 Fate Cards representing events and bonuses usable during the game. The structure of a single game turn is quite articulated, since it includes 10 phases, and it alternates series of three Summer turns and three Winter turns, as indicated with a wooden counter on the map.
With the exception of the first two game turns (ending a previous Summer season already started), the first thing to do is drawing an Event Card from the appropriate season deck, wich can produce a variety of effects, usually bad for your tribes. Then new animals are randomly drawn from the cloth bag and placed on the board, entering the game from border hexes. There are six different kind of animals, differing for movement characteristics (move allowance and passable terrains), food provided when killed, and the ability of trampling planted crops. Animals move automatically in a randomly chosen direction (roll one die) and stop as soon as they encounter an obstacle or a space occupied by tribe tokens. During Summer turns, there are more animals than in Winter, so there is also less food during the cold season.
Players take turns moving their tokens 1 or 2 spaces, without crossing rivers nor the lake, and immediately stopping when entering a mountain space or a space already occupied by enemy tribe tokens and/or animals. If a settlement is left without at least one female token, is considered abandoned and removed from play. Furthermore, if a Warrior and a Female counter share the same space and there are no opponents and/or animals there, they can forfeit their movement and place a new settlement instead. The new settlement is a Village if placed in plains or forest spaces, or a Cave in mountain spaces; the difference is that you can only plant crops in Villages, while Caves give higher bonuses when defending in combat.
Combat is simple: each faction rolls one die and adds bonuses depending on the number of Warriors involved and if there is a friendly settlement there; the lesser result causes the loss of one token and combat continues until one side is completely eliminated. Animals of the same species in the same hex forms a herd and gain bonuses depending on the number of tokens, while animals of different species in the same hex have to be fought separately; however, if there are both different tribe counters and animals in the same space, combat against animals will be resolved last (giving animals an advantage against weakened survivors). If there aren't Warriors, women can only fight other women and/or animals, otherwise they're useless and treated just as spoils of war, becoming part of the winner tribe at the end of combat; a settlement with only female tokens attacked by Warriors is automatically conquered (along with females) or destroyed (killing females), and the attacker will also steal part of the food reserves of the defending player.
Survival is very important in this game. Depending on the season and tokens placement, cavemen will go fishing, foraging or harvesting their crops, accumulating Food Points (also coming from animals killed in combat). Food Points are spent in order to feed Warrior and Female tokens, so food resources increase and/or decrease during the course of the game. When food resources are depleted, some tokens will probably die and are removed from play...
Finally, some activities depend on the season and can only be performed during specific turns, like births in settlements with at least one Female token, crop planting, drawing new Fate Cards.
Despite of the complex structure of game turns, Valley of the Mammoths is substantially easy to learn, is very amusing and gives players a lot of strategic choices. Food is a key issue, so hunting animals is very important, but the risk of losing tokens in combat must be carefully evaluated considering that new births happen only once every three turns. Besides of this, there are few suitable terrains for fishing, foraging and planting crops: tribes will have to combat each other in order to gain land control.
Starting the game from protected and isolated areas of the board is useful to grow faster, but isolation will become a problem when your tribe needs to seek animals and expand over the land; on the other side, starting in a more "open" area makes easier hunting animals and expanding lands, but will make your life harder with other tribes.
The rulebook is quite good (even though there are a couple of big mistakes, see below), game components are very good and pictures are excellent and more than hilarious. Valley of the Mammoths has a good replay level, since changing the game board you'll surely need to change strategies and choices from one game to another. A single game doesn't take too long to complete, and is always funny and original: Valley of the Mammoths is surely is another excellent product in the usual quality standard for Bruno Faidutti games.
The only problem with this game is a couple of big mistakes in the rulebook, but fortunately you can find an Errata on the official website. These mistakes includes errors in the combat bonuses table for Warriors and Animals, and furthermore they forgot to specify that a Cave has a better combat bonus than a simple Village. Apart from mistakes, it could have been useful to include a quick reference...
Excellent review Goblin, thank you!
My friends and I hated this game. I spent $30 on it, we played it once, and I gave it away. That's how bad it was.
What's the big beef? It's another elimination game, just like Risk or Monopoly. For the last hour or two or three of this tedious thing, we had two or three people sitting around watching the last two guys play a boring stalemate. Because we'd all been killed, they could mop up plenty of food and such, and hardly needed to go anywhere near each other. Meanwhile, nobody could establish the four camps it takes to win because tribe members were starving far more quickly than they were having babies.
In order to build a new camp, you have to have exactly one male and one female tribe member stand in a space without moving. So we'd spend a turn getting them to that space. Then in the next turn, we'd watch helplessly as some randomly placed animal charged into that space, forcing the couple to interrupt their camp-building activities in order to fight off the critter. A turn after killing the animal, an opponent who realized you were trying to build a new camp would make sure to again interrupt your camp building by sending one tribe member into that space, forcing another fight.
I admit it, many of the game's mechanics were lots of fun. Combat was simple, spending and gaining food points was easy to understand, etc. Like Risk, the game had lots of map-based strategy and dice rolling. But like Risk, the crowded board (we had six players) meant that real estate was dear and that as a result, a couple of people were eliminated pretty quickly. One guy had eight tribe members starve on the same turn because the animals never landed in his spaces. Winter came, his foraging spaces were suddenly useless for food production, and his whole tribe disappeared in one glorious swoop. Actually, that part was pretty funny.
The "event cards" should be called "disaster cards," because that's all we ever got out of them. Just when we figured out that food production was extremely important, we got the card that required a tribe to have 1.5 food points per tribe member rather than the usual 1-for-1 ratio. That event wiped out two tribes right there.
Have four camps on two consecutive turns in order to win? HA! It was all any of us could do to keep two camps going, and that's what each tribe STARTS with! It's true that we were probably being too aggressive too early, a problem this group often has in any games that involve combat. But in a game with a theme based on cavemen, let's face it, you expect to be attacking anyone foolish enough to come near your tribe!
You have to keep a female in a camp in order to keep the camp going. That makes females weak fighters but very important tribe builders/maintainers. So when you finally get to one of those rare and precious baby birthing turns, and all the babies are males, you get to look forward to three more turns without any tribal growth. If your females get killed in the mean time, you can only replace them by stealing females from other tribes. That's a logical enough mechanic, but it forces everyone to be overly aggressive, leading the game to tons of combat and very few chances to make babies or build camps. It's like they designed a game with a reasonably solid object, but then offer only strategies that are destructive to it.
We finally made the last two guys playing this game just quit so that the whole group could do something together. When we get together for an all day gaming session for six people, the last thing we want to do is get sucked into a game where people are regularly getting eliminated so that they can just sit there and watch the others finish the game. Valley Of The Mammoths offers you a cheesy way to let such victims back into the game (with a reduced "charity tribe"), but we had too much pride to use it.
Great idea for a game, but I'd rate it weak on execution.
You are certainly entitled to your opinion and I'm not disputing that, but I did notice that most of the things that you didn't like about it had more to do with your group than with the game itself.
First, the animals always appear at the edge of the board. They are randomly placed as to which edge they appear but since you always know where they will start it's pretty easy to avoid.
Second, you only start with 1 Camp. Personally I've played six player games that lasted for a half hour because someone built up Camps so quickly and I've had six player games last for hours because of various stalemates. I think you are quite right in that the players seemed too aggressive too quickly. VOTM is a game of survival rather than combat.
Combat isn't actually *always* inevitable, but it is pretty likely when people get hungry.
It seems like your biggest complaint was that people were eliminated and had to 'sit out' the game. But then you admit that no one wanted to take the 'Charity Tribe'?!
Since I've seen people win the game with this tribe often enough it seems like the pride was more the reason you didn't like it than the game itself.
DSHStratRat2 (#67860), by the way, you might try "Nomad". Its a lot more generous and you might like it better if you like the theme.