Lascaux: Exploring Ancestral Art
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In 1940 four teenagers discovered a complex of caves in southwest France, at Lascaux. The caves are famous for their paintings, consisting mainly of realistic images of large animals which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time. They date back to the Upper Paleolithic era, somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 B.C.
In Lascaux, the game, the players place a certain amount of cards in the center of the table at the start of each game turn. Each card depicts an animal and two colors. The players secretly choose one color and then place stones into the ceremony bowl. As more and more players drop out, some will win the animal cards at the end of each game round. At the end of the game each player receives points for animal "types" in which he has a majority. The winner is the player with most points.
- 54 playing cards (the animals)
- 50 stones
- 30 cardboard markers
- 1 ceremony bowl
- 1 rules booklet
Average Rating: 4.5 in 1 review
This week on the Dice Tower, I'm going to be celebrating games with tremendous artwork. The adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" applies to board games, and yet most people never do. A game that looks gorgeous will likely be more attractive to people; and as much as I hate to say it, I'm affected by it as much as the next person. Lascaux (Mayfair Games, 2008 - Dominique Ehrhard and Michel Lalet), themed on the Lascaux caves found in 1940, is simply uninspiring to look at. I will grant that the theme is unique - but the artwork, while important historically, isn't endearing to me personally.
But you know what? All of that is blown away when you play the game. Lascaux is a simple card game that uses a familiar bidding system (especially to No Thanks! fans) to motor a game that plays quickly and is simply enjoyable for up to five players. Using a unique auction system, players attempt to win cards with pictures of different animals to score the most points. I have to say I was impressed with how enjoyable the game played - how fun it was to bid, outguess the opponents, and collect cards.
Each player starts with twelve stones (ten in a five-player game) and six tokens - each with a symbol representing the player on one side and a color on the other side (pink, yellow, white, blue, green, and brown). A deck of cards is shuffled and placed on the table - composed of fifty-four cards. Each card has one of six different animals on it (bison, deer, horse, ram, mammoth, or rhinoceros) and two different colors. The youngest player starts the first round.
At the beginning of each round, cards are turned face up from the deck until either six different colors are showing, or seven cards are face up. All players then simultaneously decide which color cards they want, placing the token they have of that color face down in front of them. The starting player then starts the bidding.
Bidding is simple. On their turn, players must place one of their stones in the middle of the table or pass. If a player passes, they take all the stones in the middle of the table and place their token on top of a token pile. When only one player is left, they flip over their token and take all the cards that match the color they have on the token. Then the player whose token is on top of the pile does the same thing (if possible), then the next player, etc. Players will often be unable to take cards because the color they pick is already depleted. Any unclaimed cards stay in the middle of the table, and the next round begins, starting with the player whose token was on the bottom of the pile.
All stones are either hidden or open, depending on the player's preference; and play continues until the deck has been entirely claimed by the players. Players then compare cards that they have taken. Whoever has the most of each animal type scores points equal to the number of cards of that type that they have (ties award points to all players involved). Players also score one point for every six stones they have at the end of the game, and the player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game...
- Components: I'm very happy with the components of the game,
except one small thing. The animals are distinguishable but not at a
quick glance. All of them have similar body structure, and most have
some type of horns; so players have to give them a second look to make
sure they are getting the right animals. The colors are much better,
produced on the cards and the discs in the shape of a hand, with a
small symbol in each for those who are color blind to tell apart. The
cards are of good quality, and the tokens are round, thick, cardboard
pieces. The stones are misshaped glass stones, which are easy to
handle and look good; I often throw glares at people who spend the
game clinking them together. Everything fits inside a box that is
much larger than it needs to be, but which holds everything in a nice
- Rules: The rules are on four pages and clearly explain the game
with full color illustrations. I had no problems teaching the game to
newcomers, as the "play a stone or take the stones" is simple to
understand, and the only thing I had to emphasize was the scoring at
game's end. Anyone who has played Mogul or No Thanks before will
easily pick up the auction mechanic, as it is virtually identical -
just with different results.
- Bidding: My favorite part of this game and an auction system I
never tire of - the bidding process is fast, fun, and sometimes a
little stressful. Players have to balance how badly they want the
cards on the table, with how badly they want the burgeoning pile of
stones in the middle. Even if there are four cards in the color that
you want on the table, a pile of ten stones is going to give a player
pause, especially if they have very few stones left in their hands.
Players shouldn't be collecting stones for the end of the game
(although I have seen them break ties), but having a few stones can
really limit a player on future turns. Many times a player will win
the bidding and be left with only a few stones on the next turn only
to gain a few, putting them behind for a few rounds. And just when
you decide to take cards, the cretin in front of you is likely to
gather them all up, eliciting groans and yells.
- Colors: What color should players pick each round? If they pick
the color that has the most cards on the table, then they are
basically committing themselves to winning the round, because likely
others will also pick that color. Players can attempt to be canny and
pick a color that will still be around after the main color has been
taken, but I've seen the person in last place get quite a few cards
because all the other players have thought the same thing. One can
simply not care about the color, because they are planning to get a
pile of stones in a round; but you never know!
- Animals: Having a lot of cards guarantees a player no points;
they must instead seek to collect majorities of the different animals.
With only nine cards per animal, a player can be assured of points if
they collect five; but that will rarely happen, and players will often
only have a few majorities (a score of ten or eleven is common).
There are no rules for resolving ties (shame!); but they don't happen
as frequently as it might seem, because players get one point for
every six stones they have, which will likely break ties. I attempt
to control three animals when playing, so that I am (hopefully)
assured of getting two of them; but it all depends on what the other
players are attempting to achieve.
- Open or closed: Should you hide your stones or not? You'll find
great debates on this, and players will likely want to play one way or
the other. I prefer to keep the stones hidden myself, as it adds more
tension to the game.
- No Thanks! and Fun Factor: The enjoyment of Lascaux comes from a
combination of the bidding and outguessing the other players when
picking a color. The speed of the game will make it a highly
requested game, as No Thanks is for me now. So will Lascaux replace
No Thanks? No Thanks is a cheaper game, slightly easier to
understand, and faster to play. Lascaux, however, offers slightly
deeper game play and outguessing the opponent - something No Thanks
doesn't handle. I really can't recommend one over the other, although
I'm leaning towards No Thanks because of its higher portability and
Lascaux is not a dry game about archaeology, as the box would suggest. Rather, it's a light, entertaining game in which players have a fun time bidding stones and collecting animals. Most games with new players will produce calls for another game, as it's just that enjoyable. A great start to 2008, Mayfair has produced a quick game that packs a lot of punch into a short time. Don't judge this game by its cover!
"Real men play board games"