And like the great blackness from 2001: A Space Oddessy, Phil Eklund’s two games raise back up out of the ground in a new kickstarter:
Many questions have been asked of me about these two games. Mainly: should I get them?
So rather than try to hash out exactly why or why not you may want these games, why don’t I sit down and play out a few hundred thousand years of human existence and see whether you like it or not. At the very least it should be entertaining to see me flail around in the ice and snow trying to keep my tribes together.
So we should start chronologically with Neanderthal. This is a 1-3 player game which starts you as a group of non-vocal hominids who slowly evolve until you can possibly become tribal and vocal. Throughout all this, you’ll hunt, you’ll intermarry with other species and possibly domesticate animals and build simple tools. Let’s get started!
Firstly of note, all pictures will be from the first edition because the new edition obviously isn’t out yet, and I wasn’t involved with the playtesting or anything cool like that. Sorry. Moving on:
In the solitaire game, there are only a few changes to the basic rules. The first major change is the tribes aren’t trying to mess each other over at each possible chance. Oh, playing this 3-player is a joy, because you’re constantly fighting over scarce resources and watching your opponent get slaughtered by a bear is oh-so-fun!
Anyway, I will be controlling all three species and the goal of the game is to have at least two survive ’till the end of the game with one or more domesticated animals. There is a (wonderful) variant that lets you only play one species, but this way I can show you as much of the game as possible, and I can let it blend into Greenland, so this will be better. It’ll also force me to play at my best, because I want my tribes to be strong in Greenland, so I need all three at tip-top shape at the end of the game.
I’m also allowed to swap a disc or an invention amongst the tribes, but this rarely happens because you have to be allowed to negotiate between species….it’s hard to be able to form words yet, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
Finally we’re forced to take trophies if we roll that result. That scores us points (which is irrelevant for the solitaire game) and makes the hunting grounds more difficult to play in.
I handle auctions a bit differently to up the difficulty, but I’ll show that when we get to it.
So first, let’s look at our three species:
All three look fairly similar except for: 1) Color & 2) The Disc in their head.
Color is used simply to show turn order and to recognize your pieces (which in the 1st ed game are just cubes, but in the kickstarter version will have shapes and cool stuff like that). But what are these discs in your brain?
In this interpretation of (pre)humanity, you’ve got three “Domains” in your head. They have names (Technical, Social and Nature). Each connection between these domains (which also have names: Venus, Shaman & Bison) can have colored discs placed on them. That’s you learning words and getting smarter!
Smarter leads to Netflix. Smarter is good.
Don’t worry about the names for the Domains and the connections, they are not really all that important. The colors are. Take a look at the picture again: You see the Venus domain has a black and orange color under it. Shaman has Orange and White and Bison has White and Black and already has a White disc there! The two colors under these connections are what discs can be placed there. Easy peasy. Once one Domain has all three possible colors attached to the (The White Nature domain has Orange from Shaman, Black on Bison and White on either of the two), you are able to unlock a new ability. You can see the ability unlocked in the picture there, it’s called “Trapper.” Cool!
Moving discs around is a LARGE part of this game. You want to get discs in your head because you get smarter and unlock abilities. Also, once you get six discs (or 5 in a 2-player game) in your head, you can flip your species card to the Tribal side. That’s when you can start building tools and domesticating animals, you smarty, you.
But I’m getting ahead of myself: So the difference between the tribes are color and the first disc you have in your head. Archaic Man starts with a White disc in Bison. Neanderthal starts with a Black disc in Venus, and Cro-Magnon starts with an Orange disc in Shaman. It may not sound all that asometric, but this will affect play at the very beginning of the game.
There is also one other thing that makes players different at the beginning of the game:
Yeah, you heard me.
Each player is given a random Sexuality card. Each card has two sides, and you can select from one of the three possible sexualities based on what you’re dealt. Each has its own special ability (listed in small print under the title), point values for end of game scoring (the chart on the left side of the card) and “Male Parental Involvement,” which is a number of discs that will be placed on the card and stuck there, removing them from play, making things a bit more difficult for you.
For those looking to play multi-player, the real fun is that each time you hit “Chaos,” you can flip your sexuality card over, changing the number of discs you have available, your special power, AND HOW YOU SCORE YOUR POINTS. It’s a great way to change strategies at the end of the game to sneak in a win. I’ve gotten a totally unearned win by changing to Promiscuous near the end and just breeding uncontrollably. That 2 points per hunter can really add up, and is a great way to catch up if you aren’t getting Inventions or Trophies.
Finally we set up our Hunting row:
This includes prey to hunt, predators to run from, inventions to discover, animals to domesticate, herbs to gather and all sorts of other things to interact with. This will all be explained as we interact with it throughout the game. Let’s start the game by interacting with the last bit: The Daughter/Event deck.
Here I show our first Event card flipped both ways. First we look at it as the Event side. We see four events along the right side of the card: A Glaciar, A Shooting Star, A skull with a die on its forhead and two wings with eyes on them.
How can you not know what to do?
Okay, the first icon means: Add another Event to the bottom of the deck. The Event deck starts at 10 cards. You’re never quite sure how many turns the game will go for. This is how the game length will be randomized. So I stick another card there.
The next symbol is the SYMBOL OF CHAOS! MWUAHAHAHAHAHAH!
This is a mechanic to keep you from making your species too big. If you have too many members, infighting will cause them to kill each other. Then you have to discard half (round up) of your hunters and one of your elders. That’s a lot of death. How do you know if you have too many hunters? You compare them to how many spare discs you have (spare discs are also called “Vocabulary”). Each player starts with 15 discs, minus what you had to put on your sexuality card, minus the 2 discs you put on your species card to start with.
That means Cro-Magnon right now can have 13 hunters without dropping into Chaos (15 – 0 – 2 = 13). Neanderthal can have 10 (15 – 3 – 2) and Archaic Man a measly 7 (15 – 6 – 2). Every player starts with 6 hunters, so no chaos on that first turn.
The next symbol is called “Elder die-off.” Yup. Being old sucks. And elders are hard to keep a hold of. Each tribe will roll a 1d6, and if it corresponds to the number of a certain elder, that elder will die. All players start with an immature Firestarter, which is in position 6, so it’s possible that before the game starts, we’ll already have someone dying.
After three rolls, Archaic Man lost their firestarter. While that stinks for him, it does free up the black disc that was sitting under the elder (designating it Immature, more on that later). Since Archaic Man has the least amount of discs available, that may not have entirely been a bad thing.
The last icon(s) are Wanderlust icons. If you lost the most people in the chaos event, then you’d be able to take cubes from your dead pile and put them in other people’s tribes. You can’t control them, but they count as points for you if they survive ’till end game. Since no one lost any cubes to chaos, no wandering will be done.
Finally the last symbols to look at are the little bits in the row in the center. You see an Orange and Black disc – this tells you what you can bid in the upcoming Daughter Auction (it’s not as offensive as it sounds), and then the Green with the exclamation point shows that Green will go first, followed by Yellow (the other color shown there), followed by Red.
(This is unlike Bios: Genesis which stuck with seating order after first player, but I believe all games are switching to this kind of player order from now on because no one remembered to stick with player order in Bios: Genesis.)
Now we can auction off a human being!
Let me try to continue without feeling awful about myself. So we’re looking at the Generous Woman here. There’s icons there for when folks are trying to marry her, but for auction purposes, the bits on the right of the card are important. She says:
Phase 1 – May bid while Tribal as if Vocal.
Phase 6 – Place Venus Portal
These are the two powers that will be available to the species that either has her or marries her (or both, if you’re a Pair Bonding species). Her first power is not very useful right now: “Going Tribal” is later in the game once you have 6 discs in your head. Once you do that you can no longer bid on any more daughters, effectively stalling your evolution. She, however, gives you this ability. The other effect is what ALLOWS you to place things into your head. Otherwise you can’t.
So, looking at this, I know that Archaic Man already has one disc in his Venus Portal (why does that sound so dirty?), so I won’t have him bid, so it’s between the other two. I’ll go with Cro-Magnon because a) He has the most available discs and b) he has to marry his daughters before he can use their abilities, so I want him to have all his daughters early in the game.
Now usually in solo games, you can just bid 1 for all the daughters and move on, but to change things up, I put 1 of each possible disc on the daughter, so it can cost from 1 to 3. It makes the game a little more difficult. In this case, a Black disc and an Orange disc are taken from my unused “Vocabulary” pile for Cro-Magnon and placed onto the Generous Woman and she is placed into Cro-Magnon’s tableau.
Now we move on to Phase 2: Hunter assignment.
Which I’ll have to tackle tomorrow…..