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The board contains the villages of four tribes, each with three huts. The aim of the game is to be the first tribe to add the sixth piece onto your totem pole. Every tribe has, at the start, seven people, young and old, male and female, and six chukka birds (cage liners not included). People may be distributed among the huts as desired, with no more than six in a hut. Through proper decision making, allocation of resources, births and deaths, and spell casting, players advance their cause, racing to complete their totem pole. A lovely production and true original.
I had the 'pleasure' of playing this game on this playing evening with my friends and we all thought the game was good, beautiful to look at, but was lacking something. It's not that the game concept is poorly conceived or executed, it's just that in the end the game has some flaws which ends up ruining the otherwise good playing experience.
In this game you have to manage the growth of the population of your village by trying to have always more people than your opponents, the thing that will lead you to the construction of totem pieces. When a player gets their sixth totem piece, that player wins the game. The players can interact with each other via the use of 10 magic spells, which alter the demographic growth by giving birth to females only or males only (screwing up your opponents' plans), or just help yours to grow faster or to hunt better. But the most important, maybe, are the defensive spells, that can keep a player steadily in the lead (given he actually reaches first place). The number of spells a player can play per turn is determined by its totem size. A totem size of 4, for example, is worth 4 free spells.
This leads to Totem's greatest flaw: once a player gets ahead by a couple of totem pieces, it's extremely difficult to catch him, and even if you succeed, you're probably doing this while not expanding your population to the fullest.
Nonetheless I have enjoyed this game of Totem, and I will play it again if the occasion arises. Ok, I know, maybe you want to know if you should buy it or not. I'll go for a diplomatic suggestion: rent it before you buy. :)