#8 ALBS, English language edition of Eiszeit
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Imagine a cold and windy autumn day about 30,000 years ago. For hours the hunters have shadowed the mammoth herd. Will they succeed? Will they be able to bring down one of the huge beasts?
If they succeed, the beast will feed the tribe for many weeks....
Players take the role of these fearless ice age hunters. They try to remain close to the mammoth herds as they wander from region to region. As all hunters want to be close to the mammoths, conflict is inevitable. Some will stay, but others will go. In the end, those with clubs rule the regions.
The Alea series of bookshelf games has included some of the highest ranking board games there are (Puerto Rico, Ra, Princes of Florence, etc.). So any addition to that line has high expectations demanded of it, as a natural part of its family heritage. Mammoth Hunters (Ravensburger and Rio Grande, 2003 Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum) sounded like a good idea to me, being part of this family.
And how did it measure up? In truth, I like many of the aspects of Mammoth Hunters, including one very unique mechanism. There was just something about the game that didnt really provide us with a desire to play it much more, however. The game seemed to end abruptly, and there was a serious kill-the-leader problem. It didnt seem like the winner won because they played better, but rather because they were in the right place at the right time. To understand this, lets first go over an explanation of the rules.
A game board with twelve regions on it is placed in the middle of the table. Each region is a different type (grasslands, etc.) and are numbered one to twelve. Each player takes 13 hunters (wooden cylinders) of their color and place one on a scoring track that goes around the edge of the board. Two decks of cards are shuffled, one light deck and one dark deck and placed at the side of the board, with two light cards and three dark cards being dealt to each player. Depending on how many players are playing, some of the regions are then covered up with icebergs, effectively removing that region from play for the remainder of the game. Four wooden mammoth tokens are placed on the board in certain regions (again depending on number of players). A long cardboard divider counter is placed between the light and dark card decks, and a pile of stones (from 20-30, depending on number of players) is placed above the dark deck, to the one side of this divider. A small pile of six cardboard club counters is placed nearby. Each player also receives four stones to start the game with. A pile of campfire tokens are shuffled (with values from 0 to 2) and placed facedown in the open regions.
Players now begin a setup round, where in clockwise order, each player places one of their hunters in a region. This continues until each player has six hunters on the board. The game then begins with the first round, of which there are four. Each round is made up of four phases.
The first phase is the Settling phase. One player goes first, then the others follow in clockwise order. On a players turn, they MUST play one card from their hand, may discard another, and then refill their hand back up to five cards. If a player plays a light card they must pay the indicated amount of stones on the card and place them above the light card deck. They then can follow the action on the card, which is a benefit to them. If the player plays a dark card they receive the indicated amount of stones on the card from the pile above the dark card deck. Then they choose another player (or in some cases all the players) who get a benefit from this card. When the last stone is drawn from the pile above the dark card deck, this phase is over. Examples of cards include:
- Light cards: Place three hunters in a certain terrain type on the board, move 3 hunters and a mammoth on the board to another spot, move a campfire tile, place a new mammoth, give a hunter a club, etc.
- Dark cards: All other players add a hunter, one player can remove any one hunter from the board, one other player can remove a mammoth, etc.
The next phase is the conflict phase. Each campfire on the board is flipped over, and each region is checked to see how many hunters it can support. Each region can support at least three hunters, plus the sum of the numbers on the campfires in that region, plus one for each mammoth in the region. If the amount of hunters actually in the area exceeds this amount, then conflict occurs. The player with the smallest amount of hunters removes a hunter, then the next smallest, etc. This continues until the number of hunters is supported. Any hunter with a club is immune to being removed.
Each region is now scored. Every player receives one point for every hunter they have in a region with no mammoths, two points if there is one mammoth in the region, and three points if there are two or more mammoths in the region. Scoring markers are moved, and then the glacier phase occurs. The player with the fewest points picks any region on the board that is currently next to a glacier, and places a glacier tile on top of the region, removing all hunters, campfires, and mammoths that are there. All stones are moved from above the light card deck to above the dark card deck, and the campfires are reshuffled and placed on the remaining regions. The next round then begins. After the end of the fourth round, the player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game.
1). Components: I cannot deny how good the components of the game are. The board is very beautiful, and I was especially impressed at how the regions were of different shapes, yet the iceberg tiles still fit nicely over them. The stone, campfire, and club tokens are of good quality, although I would have preferred perhaps plastic coins rather than stones (I know the theme of the game calls for stones, though). The hunters are youre your typical wooden cylinders (Id prefer cubes, as they dont roll as much), but the mammoths are really nice little wooden mammoths, and are easily the nicest pieces in the game. The cards are good quality, and have a sort of caveman art on them. Everything fits very well in a snug plastic insert in a sturdy, well-decorated bookshelf box.
2). Rules: The rules are printed in an eight page full-color booklet that is full of examples, illustrations and help guides. I especially liked the quick summary of the rules on the side of the pages, which is very useful when replaying the game, as you dont have to search through long rules to find exactly what you want. The last two pages of the rules have a very detailed explanation of each card which was very handy for resolving arguments. The game is easy to teach, but does take a while for people to play well, as its a little confusing at first where to place hunters, etc.
3). Dark cards: I really like the idea of the game pay to play good cards, but to get the stuff to pay for these cards, you must play bad cards that help others. Its a tremendous idea in theory, and even works in this game, but what happens is that no player ever really has a chance of getting too far ahead. If any player is a clear frontrunner, that player will never receive any help from the other players. This keeps the game close until the end of the game, so why try at all in the beginning anyway? Its frustrating to do well for three rounds, and then have everybody gang up on you the final round.
4). Kick the leader syndrome: As just stated, this is a major problem. It may be exciting to some to have scores extremely close during the fourth round and end of the game, but it basically makes moot the first three rounds. And since no negotiation is allowed in the game, it becomes a little plodding at this point. I may try the game with negotiation anyway, just to see what will happen.
5). Time: The game is short (an hour or so) and therefore can be played often. We werent impressed, with the speed of the rounds, however. Some rounds were over in less than five minutes, and the game has a certain abrupt feel that wasnt very pleasing. Maybe this will get better over time?
6). Fun Factor: There were a lot of features that I did find fun in the game, and as I stated before, the light card/dark card idea is really good, and works in the game to some small degree. The theme is there, with mammoths, clubs, and stones, and that helped make the game more enjoyable to us. And no one could deny the fun of the last-place person extending the ice barrier. In a game that has some frustrations, its a lot of fun to destroy an entire area with an ice reef!
If you like area control games, there are many better ones that I can recommend to you. Mammoth Hunters is a good game, but the ideas in it really dont work as well as they should. If I was asked to play the game, I will do so again, but I dont think it will see a whole lot of time at our table. This game certainly does not hold up against it's older brothers (Puerto Rico, etc.), but if you are looking for a light game about Mammoths, and already have other good area control games and are looking for something lighter, then this might be the game for you. If careful planning is your forte, then I would suggest that you try something else, as this game may drive you mad. Nice theme, beautiful pieces, unique ideas, some fun but for some reason, the game just doesnt add up the way it should
Fairly good game, but seems to not have the spark all the other Alea games have.
The dark cards are nasty...not being able to give advice, only allowing you to point to an opponent and give him the ability to 'remove one of his opponent's piece' or the like. All too often, he comes after yours. But, being necessary to play since that is the only way to get money, you can only hope for the law of averages coming back to save you.
This is definetly a come from behind game...the last player at the end of the first round is almost certain to glacier one of the locations where the leader is, likely eliminating several men as well as a mammoth.
Note that a previous reviewer mentions 5 glaciers being placed. This is incorrect...only 3 can ever be placed in the game (at the end of the first 3 turns).
Mammoth Hunters catches you as a game player unaware. I was reluctant to give three stars, but the game has a few major problems, including such a short game with only four turns.
You have only four turns (with four phases) to complete your victory points. If one does not plan carefully where to place the six initial hunters, the initial placement can come back to haunt you in the regions. The lowest scoring player for each round decides where to place the next glacier to ruin others' sequence of play.
As a group of four (five maximum for the game) we didn't know what regions were tundras, stone deserts, and steppes. Actually, the rules should have stated specifically that the regions are shown in a little color on the light and dark cards with the 'tic-tac-toe' drawings. Players soon found they ran out of stones and had to play dark cards where other players can affect their opponents more readily. For example, you can ask another player to remove an opponent's hunter. One player complained bitterly that the light and dark cards did not give him enough control and planning. Personally, I like chaos, and the light and dark cards (three dark at the beginning and two light) certainly gave that feel.
As the game progressed, five regions were eaten away with glaciers. One player smartly positioned his mammoth and several hunters in a stone desert (Region 9) far from the glaciers and other players. I liked the rule of replacing the numbered campfires each turn for the scoring of points. We easily went through the four phases: (1)settling, (2)conflict, (3)scoring, and (4)placing glaciers. It was an odd experience to finish the four turns and want more of the game. Again, that one player complained that the game should be buried with the mammoths.
It was hard accepting the loss of hunters during the Conflict Phase, but that is the price of placing too many hunters in a basic three-hunter region. The person with the least number of hunters in a region during Conflict Phase loses the first hunter and so on. We did not use any light and dark cards for obtaining clubs. The club allows one hunter to stay put in a region when the Conflict Phase begins. It is a form of protection.
All in all, I would rate the game playable and enjoyable. One just has to plan carefully at the beginning for the selection of regions. Those mammoths have to be watched, because they give an extra point to each hunter in the region. The final scores were: 48, 34, 29, and 18. The 'glaciating' of another player by the lowest scoring player for each round became a contest of where the most damage could be done.
I always have liked the games by Alan Moon, so I was eager for this new little game. We took it with us on our annual 'gaming weekend' but we were a little bit disappointed because the fire that's usual in Alan's games was nowhere to be seen. It has some great mechanisms but we missed the 'Hey there's something deeper behind this' kind of thing.
I surely will give it another try but I expected something more. Pity!
When I first opened up the box I was impressed by the attractive map-board and the quality wooden pieces included, but I was disappointed by the gameplay. The pro card/con card aspect was an interesting twist, but the game had too high a degree of randomness for my taste; a series of well-placed cavemen can be destroyed with the play of one card (blindly drawn) by your opponent and there doesn't seem to be any way around it. Will only collect dust in my collection...
You start with money, Light and Dark cards dealt from separate decks, and six hunters in play. Rounds begin with a random facedown numbered disc in each region. Several regions contain a mammoth. Each turn, play one card and replenish. Pay a Light card's cost to perform its action: You may either place, remove from play, or transfer hunters, mammoths, or discs. Use Dark Cards to replenish your money by allowing competitors to execute the cards' actions. What a dilemma!
Reveal the discs at round's end. A disc's value and the number of mammoths present determine how many hunters can occupy a region. Players in turn remove a surplus hunter, starting with whoever has fewest, until the limit is reached. Remaining hunters score points, based on the number of mammoths present. The player with fewest points selects an area and closes it to further play, whereupon its hunters and mammoths return to supply. After four rounds, highest score wins. Luckily, you won't have to hunt too far to find this mammoth achievement.
Puerto Rico was always going to be a hard act to follow and the danger for the game that was given the job is that we would all spend too much time making comparisons and not enough on looking at its own intrinsic merits. So let us get that out of the way first. Mammoth Hunters is not in the same league as its predecessor, but it is still pretty good, a worthy member of the Alea 'big box' series, one of the better games to emerge from this year's Nuremberg Fair and a damn sight better than the early verdicts from The Gathering might lead you to believe.
The game is played in four rounds, in each of which you will get several turns. In the course of these, hunters and resources will be added to, removed from and moved around the various regions of the board, as players try to get their people into what will turn out to be the best areas. At the end of the round a 'population limit' will be determined for each area and any surplusses culled. Surviving hunters then score points, with the most going to those in areas where the mammoths are located.
At the start of the game a campfire marker is placed face-down in each region of the playing area. Its value will help determine the region's population limit but will not be revealed until the end of the round. After that some mammoths and hunters are placed on the board and each player is given 4 'rocks' (money) and dealt 5 cards. Three of these cards are 'dark' and two 'light', and it is this division into dark and light that is at the core of the game system. When it is your turn you will play a card. A light card enables you to improve the position to your advantage but will cost you money; a dark card means that one or more of your opponents gets to do something but the playing of it brings you money. Examples of dark cards include
Each opponent may place 1 hunter (and you get 3 rocks).
One opponent may remove 2 hunters, but no more than 1 from any player (and you get 4 rocks).
With those cards that say 'one opponent' you choose which it is to be, but you can't start adding conditions about how they are to execute the action. The opponent can, and quite probably will, direct it against you.
The light cards enable you to add hunters or mammoths to areas and to move pieces around. For example, for 3 rocks you could either add 3 hunters in regions of a particular terrain type or 2 anywhere you like; for 2 rocks you could add a mammoth to a region where you had a strong presence; and for 1 rock you could move one of the campfire markers. As these examples show, rock for rock the light cards give more than the dark ones take away and so the general trend is for a board that gets more crowded as the round progresses.
After you have played your card and the action has been executed, you have the option of discarding a card before making your hand back up to five. A neat little wrinkle this as it goes a long way to ensuring that you will always have useful cards to play and that your hand doesn't turn into a repository for ones that you don't want.
The money you pay to play a light card is kept separate from that which is used to pay you when play a dark card and so there is a steady drift of cash from one pile to the other. The round ends when the 'payout pool' runs out. The campfire markers are then turned face-up and there is a scoring. This is done region by region.
Each region has a basic population limit of 3 and to this is added 1 for each mammoth that is there and the values of any campfire markers. These are in the range 0-2. This net limit is then compared with the number of hunters in the region and if the latter is greater than the former, some of the people have to go. This is handled by each player with a presence taking turns to remove a hunter. The one with fewest hunters removes first and the process continues until enough have gone. And if you think you have seen something like that before, it is because both the idea of a population limit and the method of removing people is identical to that employed in Francis Tresham's Civilization. It always was a clever idea and the wonder is not that it is being re-used here but that, as far as I recall, it hasn't been re-used before. It works perfectly in this sort of context.
Each surviving hunter scores 1 point if in a region with no mammoths, 2 if in a region with one and 3 if in a region with more than one. When all regions have been scored, the player in last place has the option of advancing the glacier to take out one of the regions. Any pieces in the region that has been lost to the ice are removed from the board, and since the choice of region is up to the player, it is an option that will usually be taken. The bank is shifted back from the light side to the dark and the whole process starts again. Repeat three times and aggregate scores over the four rounds.
The complaint coming out of The Gathering was that there wasn't enough interest in the game to justify the two and a half hours that it was taking and if that really was the correct playing time, I'd agree with them. However, as Greg Aleknevicus pointed out in his account of The Gathering in the last issue, the fault lay with the players rather than with the game. These people are among the best games players around, but on this occasion they got off on the wrong foot and 'group think' took over from there. What they were doing was starting by playing light cards. Having thus improved their positions, they were then nervous about using the heavyweight dark cards, with the result that everyone was running on subsistence economics and the outflow of money from the dark side of the bank was slow. Greg's claim was that the game would go much faster if people began by playing their dark cards. He is right and not only is it the quicker way to play, it is the superior strategy, as a little commonsense reflection should tell you. The play of a dark card often involves enemy action against a player or players of the executor's choice and what more natural choice of victim than the player whose onboard position is strongest? That being the case, it makes sense to delay sticking your head above the parapet.
Starting a round with the play of your heavyweight dark cards and leaving your best light ones until later achieves several things:
1. It boosts your bank balance, giving you the funds to pile in with successive high value light cards as the round draws towards its conclusion.
2. It makes you a less likely victim of actions taken by other players.
3. It gives you more time to recover from any actions that are directed against you.
4. It gives your opponents less time to spoil the good positions you have created.
That it also makes for a much quicker and more enjoyable game comes along almost as an afterthought.
In our first game, worried by the tales of overlong playing times, we decided to follow the suggestion Greg made in his report and just play 3 rounds. Despite the fact that this was the 'learning game' we finished in just over 60 minutes. In the second we played the full four and finished on the hour.
Mammoth Hunters doesn't have the strategic range of Puerto Rico or Die Frsten von Florenz. There are no equivalents of 'this time I'll concentrate on shipping or architects'. 'Dark before light' is the best way to go and so that is what you do. What you then have is an interesting game of tactics and timing. Initially everyone will play dark cards and this will see the bank shrink quickly from its initial value of twenty odd to about five or six. The money gathering then goes on hold, partly because players want to play some light cards and partly because of a rule which says that if you own 8 or more rocks you can't play a dark one. Then follows a juggling for position as players try to gain numerical superiority in the places where the mammoths are and to shift the beasts into more favourable positions. All this while you have one eye on the size of the bank. Then somebody will pounce with the dark card needed to empty it.
I like this game. The play is enjoyable and in the dark/light card mechanism the designers have come up with a mechanic that is every bit as clever and original as the 'share the pie' one that they gave us in San Marco a couple of years back. It is not my favourite from Nuremberg: Amun-Re retains that position, with Edel Stein & Reich second, but this is a close third and I'm happy to recommend it.