I'm a sucker for games with humor, and me and my group enjoy games that are tough. Really tough. We are always in stitches when we play a game of DungeonQuest and nobody gets out alive (I still remember when one of us got DungeonQuest: We opened the box. "The components are kinda meh". "Hey, check it out, the manual says you only have a 15 percent chance of coming out alive". "Oooohhh.... cool, let´s play it").
So, when I read a comment about this game that "is actively trying to kill you"... well, I figured it would be a good fit for my group. Then I saw the cover, with that caveman running away from a pissed off mammoth, intent on recovering a big part of its anatomy, and something inside me cracked. It WAS funny.
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered someone in my town who was trading it. It didn't take long to get my hands on this puppy.
So, Friday night, and there are three of us at the table. Ace, methodical and deadly; Rick, cautious and AP prone, and myself, the self-proclaimed gaming god. We brought out the game and I started explaining. (Of course, I had run a solo play, which was a good thing).
So, we started up. The board represents a prehistoric valley with mountain, forest and plains hexes, plus several rivers and a lake (there are 4 possible configurations, thanks to a cleverly printed-and-sawed-in-half two sided board). Each player will place a village, 5 men and 2 women anywhere they see fit. Also, everyone gets 5 "fate" cards, with special abilities; they're always good for the player.
Now, Valley is not perfect, and probably the biggest problem it has: It's fiddly as all get out. A turn sequence contains 10 phases, some of which happen always, and some of which happen only on specific seasons. Simply put: The year is divided in six turns, three of which are summer and three winter. On each turn, you will:
- Show an event card, which affects everyone (and which is usually catastrophic to a hilarious degree).
- Place animals. Between 1 and 5 animals are brought randomly out of a bag and placed on the edges of the board. At first, we thought that it was good to stay away from them (we were all freaked that the game would try to kill us, you see). But later on, you learn that starvation is the real enemy here, and animals start to look yummy as soon as they enter the board.
- Animals move. Roll a die, and all animals migrate in the same direction, unless they can't. If the edge of the board, a river or a mountain is in the way, they move in the opposite way. Except that bears, wolves and sabertooth tigers can cross mountains. And bears can also cross rivers. Did I mention this game is fiddly?
- Everyone moves as many of their people up to two spaces. If you have a couple (male-female) that doesn't move, they can start a settlement, but it needs to keep at least a female there at all times. If the female goes away, so does the settlement. This is important because the winning condition is to have 4 settlements for two turns in a row.
- Combat. First, any people in the same hex as animals fight them, and if the humans win, collect food (which in this game is cause for much rejoicing). Then, if two players have people in the same hex, they fight. No sissy negotiating here; just good old plain "you're in my spot, ugh" followed by the banging of clubs. Combat is very, very simplified; just a six-sided die roll per side, a few bonuses (+1 per warrior, +1 if in your own settlement, +2 if you're in a cave), and whoever rolls higher kills an enemy, reroll any ties. Now, if you kill all enemy males and there are females of his in the same hex, you don't kill them, you, er, persuade them with flowers and chocolate to join your tribe. (Seriously, never play this game with a rabid feminist, or if you do, be prepared to debate the issue at this point in the game).
- And without further ado, the dreaded survival phase. Count your people; you'll need that much "food units" to survive the turn. Then check where are your people: You earn one food per occupied hex with access to water (fishing), plus 1 food per occupied forest (only in the summer tough, which tends to make winters all the more joyous), plus the food you got from killed animals (1-6 per animal). Not enough? Then you pay the difference from your stockpile. Still not enough? Kill as many people as necesary. Survival is a bitch in this game.
- Births happen only at the end of each season. Basically, you roll a die per settlement (two if you have two or more women) and get either a woman (1-2), a man (3-5) or twins (6). If you get twins, you roll twice, but another 6 will mean man. I don't have to tell you that twins are always very welcome.
- If it's the last turn of winter, and you have a settlement on a plains hex, you can spend one food to plant a crop. If it lasts until the end of summer (three full turns) you'll collect 8 food. Only, it never does. Animals love to trample crops, and several events are also bad. I think we've only harvested a crop in 5 games, and then it was a damaged one (only 4 food). Which doesn't stop any of us from planting whenever we have the chance. I guess it's the same impulse that keeps lotteries in business.
- If you have less that 5 fate cards you draw one. No, not up to 5, just one. We wouldn't want to make this too easy on you, would we? Now, let me make a detour here to address the cards. Most are good and some are very good; the problem I see here is that a lot of them are VERY specific. Things like "If one of your warriors ends movement in an hex with one and only one wolf", which doesn't really happen very often. So, some cards will help you a lot, but some of them will stay in your hand for the whole game. Which is not really bad; just thought you ought to know.
Do I like the game? To put it simply, I love it. It's a lot of fun and full of memorable moments. Moments you will never remember. Like the time when Rick used a fate card to incinerate a forest along with 6 of my 9 cavemen. Or the volcanic eruption that single-crateredly deep-fried two of my settlements. Or the locust plague.... Aaaah, good times.
Altough it is somewhat luck heavy (and mostly bad luck at that), the game rewards good strategy and, specially, good risk management. Yes, you'll get screwed more often than not, but you can minimize your screwage if you learn how to be careful. More importantly, you can learn to maximize other people screwage, and who doesn't like that?
Now, the bad. The game is, I can't stress this enough, fiddly. You'll need to have the rules in hand for at least the first 5 games. No, scratch that; you'll be checking the rules at least once a turn for the first 5 games, and after that you can get by on having them nearby. It's not a deadly sin, but it can turn off some people.
Which brings me to what I think is the bane of Valley: It's so fiddly and hard to get, that a lot of people won't make it past the first game. Which is a shame, because after 3 or so games, once you get your bearings, it's a very, very funny game. Unfortunately, the price of admission is somewhat high (and I don't mean money, because the game is fairly cheap; I'm talking about time and, yes, frustration). Still, I'll urge any gamer to pay it, because good things lie on this valley. And walk on it. And munch on my cavemen. But, hey, all in good fun.
- Last edited Fri Nov 24, 2006 9:59 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Fri Nov 24, 2006 7:50 pm
Great review. This game is a blast to play.
Terrific review and I agree on all points. This is my favorite wargame of all time.
Hopefully they will do a deluxe 3D version!
can you explain what you meant in "most players don't get it?" How difficult are the rules to digest?
27 World Series titles and counting!
Joe says...Be nice today!
The game isn't so complex, it's just the constant need for verification for each phases of a turn.
Things that only happen during summer, others during winter, animal movement is decided by the roll of a die but not all animals react the same way to boundaries. The basics of keeping a settlement also, which is to always keep at least a woman per settlement. However, women don't fight so if any other player just brings a single warrior to your settlement, he converts the woman to his tribe and thus steals your settlement...
So an experienced gamer will be able to figure it out and enjoy it.
My main beef with the game was that in a 3 player game with 3 experienced gamers, we weren't done at 2,5h and that was too long. I expect a game like this to end within 90 to 120 mins.