It's a love/hate relationship.
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The following narrative is an attempt to review the game Lost Valley via a story. I have an active imagination (some would say overactive), and when I encounter a game that really ties the theme and mechanics together, I get drawn into the story that the game tells. For these games, the theme is central to the gaming experience, so I felt a review from a thematic perspective would be appropriate (and hopefully fresh).
To help you connect the narrative to the game components and mechanics, I’ll first briefly describe the components and mechanics. If you prefer to just discover the game through the story, skip to the narrative.
Components and Mechanics
Lost Valley is an exploration game for 3-4 players, where the board is built from diamond and triangle-shaped pieces as players move around. You’re trying to be the player who gathers the most gold nuggets by the end of the game. On each turn you can move and/or perform one action, in either order. Actions consist of:
- Building things (mines, sawmills, etc.)
- Gathering food (fishing, hunting), or raw materials (lumber)
- Panning for river gold, or mining mountain gold
- Buying wares at the trading post
- Interacting with a special event.
The game has a lot of cardboard chits, representing the raw materials (tools, food, lumber), and wares (whiskey, axes, fishing poles, horses, carts, etc.), animals, gold and special events. Each player has a small board to keep track of his raw materials, wares and gold. There are also reference boards listing all the wares that can be purchased, items built, and special items to be found. All the materials are of quality stock and nicely illustrated.
And now, on with the story.
It’s a beautiful summer day in the mid-1800s, during the gold rush of the American west. You’ve just arrived at a trading post at the entrance to an unexplored valley, rumored to be rich with gold. Outfitted with some basic raw materials (tools, food, lumber), and two bottles of the always useful whiskey (a.k.a. liquid fortitude), you’re ready to walk up the riverbank, past the waterfall, and into a future rich with gold nuggets.
But beware! You’re not the only new person at the trading post. Three to four eager prospectors (including yourself) are all going after the gold. Who will be the most successful at leveraging the valley’s resources and the wares at the trading post to gather the most gold? Only about 75-90 minutes of gaming fun will tell the story.
As you head into the valley, you stop to explore your new surroundings. The river that runs by the trading post begins to wind unpredictably throughout the valley. Away from the river, you find forests, mountains and tundra. Occasionally, you find special areas (triangle tiles), such as lakes, moonshine stills (a handy source of liquid fortitude), and even a bear cave. You find good fishing spots near the river and lakes, while the forests and tundra provide occasional hunting opportunities. Since gathering gold is a time (i.e. food)-consuming process, having these food sources available definitely will help, but gathering food will take time away from exploring the valley and collecting gold.
Speaking of gold, you soon discover there are two types in the valley: river gold (found near the river and on tundra), and mountain gold (found on mountains). Panning for river gold proves to be easy, only requiring water and some time (food). However, it doesn’t net many gold nuggets (1-2 per chit). Before you can pan the river gold on tundra, you must build a canal, linking it to water. This requires lumber. You know you can get lumber from the forests, but that takes time too. "Next time I'm at the trading post, I'll buy an axe," you think. That will double your lumber output.
Right now, you decide to investigate the mountains. It’s clear there are more nuggets to be found here (3-4 per chit), but you’ll have to build a mine first (or use someone else’s mine), which requires a tool, some time (food), and lumber to shore up the mineshaft. After that, you’ll need more time (food) to extract the gold, and more lumber to keep the mine from collapsing. And if you're not careful, someone else can use your mine to get the gold. Who knew mining gold would be so hard!
You decide to build a sawmill (with a tool) in a forest near some mountains, knowing that it will allow you to collect twice the amount of lumber at that location. A nice lumber source will expedite your mining activities. However, food will still be a problem. So you decide to go hunting, which is never a sure thing (you must roll higher than the animal on a d6). After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, you swear to use some gold to buy a rifle (+3 on your roll) on your next trip to the trading post. Next time, you’ll bag that elusive animal (and get 1-4 food)!
Fishing is the more predictable source of food (albeit not as productive as hunting), so you decide to head back to the river. You begin to realize all this walking around takes a lot of time. A horse from the trading post would be expensive, but should really save time in the long haul. While you’re there, maybe a cart would be helpful too, as it would allow you to carry 40% more raw materials, at the expense of taking up two ware slots.
As you head back along the river (where traveling on foot is faster), you notice a fish trap. One of the other prospectors has unknowingly helped you out with your food problem, as the fish trap nets you twice the food (2) you otherwise would have gained from fishing (1). While fishing, you spy another prospector across the river, and she’s using a sieve! She’s really hauling in the river gold (2 chits/action instead of 1). "I should have bought a sieve," you think. But, there’s more gold in the mountains, so you decide to focus on that strategy. Maybe that box of dynamite you saw at the trading post would help your mining efforts, and be worth its hefty five-gold price.
As you approach the trading post, another prospector paddles up river in his new canoe! Not only can he now move even more quickly along the river, but he can cross the river while out in the valley (which can’t be done on foot or horseback). Since you are focused on building your mines away from the river, you hope a horse is still available, as you feel you’re losing the race for the gold, and this warm weather won’t last forever. If the valley freezes over, or one of the other prospectors hauls enough gold (10 chits) back to the trading post, you’ll be out of time. You drink some of your precious whiskey (gives an extra move or action) to make up some time, hoping your not too late.
Thus ends the narrative review of Lost Valley. I hope it conveyed the tight integration of theme and mechanics that this game provides, while giving a sense of game play. If you enjoy richly-themed euro games that include varied resource-optimization decisions and decent (but not overwhelming) luck, I highly recommend giving Lost Valley a try.
This was an awesome review - I really did appreciate it, and it's going on my wish list for Essen right now!