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During the hunting seasons, Indian tribes confront one another in order to establish which of them is the most prestigious. They hunt for very high stakes: Buffaloes, Tipis, Horses and the Sacred Totem. The player who plays their Hunter and Hero cards cleverly and skillfully will be the winner... with Manitou's help!
I don't know that I ever would have tried this game unless my good friend Martinian Prince had recommended it. I'd never even heard of it, and unless you hear others buzzing about a game, you tend to just pass over it without checking into it. (Don't miss Manitou, Big City, or [page scan/se=0908/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Entdecker--three of the best games no one seems to know about!) Well, thank you Martinian! This game is as good as you said!
The game is simple: your tribe needs meat to eat and furs for the winter to stay warm. Your tribe sends out their hunters and warriors to the plains to hunt the buffalo which have gathered there. The artwork on the cards is very beautiful: images of magnificent buffalo grazing in the fields, with proud Native American warriors ready for the Hunt. The game has ingenious little mechanisms that make gameplay clever and tense, but it stays simple and plays quickly. You simply select who from your tribe will go on the hunt, then go to the hunt, trying to outmaneuver the other tribes by clever card placement on the hunting grounds.
Card games can be boring, consisting of little more than a standard deck of cards with some small variations (Uno, Sting, Lost Cities, Rage, Skip-Bo). But card games can also be creative, original, and involving; card games that can actually stand on their own as actual games: [page scan/se=0027/sf=category/fi=stockall.asc/ml=20]Bohnanza, King of the Elves, Frank's Zoo, and Manitou are some of the best of the lot. And the Native American theme (sorely underused and overlooked, in my opinion) is used to pleasant effect here. I heartily recommend this one. Simple enough to be played by children, clever enough to be great filler for gamers.
Martinians excellent review planted the seed which led to my purchase of Manitou. And what a worthwhile purchase it was! I wholeheartedly agree with his evaluation that this fabulous card game contains all of the necessary quality gaming ingredients--strategy, quick and unique play, player interaction, quality art, and a nice theme. Player decisions abound: Which hunters and great warriors to select? Which to play? Where to play them? There is also ample opportunity to 'get' the guy in the lead, so final scores are usually close.
Give Me The Brain, Before I Kill You Mr. Bond, Lunch Money, Pit, and Guillotine, are fun no brainers. Res Publica, Money, Bohnanza, and Twilight provide a step up in strategy and interaction. Manitou beats them all.
Buy one before they're gone.
Being lucky enough to live in the hometown of Funagain Games has a lot of perks for an obsessive/compulsive game-buyer like myself, although my wife, who balances the checkbook, may beg to differ. This hard-to-find little treasure turned out to be one of those perks. I was once again doggedly engaged in my weekly perusal of the well-stocked shelves in the Funagain storefront. As usual, I needed to leave the store with something in my hands, and was feverishly hoping something within my skimpy budget would catch my eye, when I spied a box I'd never seen before nestled among the card games. Manitou! You've got to be kidding me! I had read some glowing reviews of this rather obscure little game only weeks before in a Game Cabinet link, but no-one knew the whereabouts of any unclaimed copies. Knowing next to nothing about the game, other than some other folks thought it was great, and that the graphics were superb (man, am I a sucker for that), I furtively slid it on the counter, scarcely believing that no one at the store had snatched it, half expecting someone to say, 'Whoa, how did that get out here?'. Paying a paltry sum for the game, I took it home with a sense of the surreal. But I didn't wake up, and since then it has remained in the echelons of my top three favorite card games, sharing the place of honor with such augustus persons as Caesar and Cleopatra, while I vacillate between Bohnanza and the Settlers card game for third favorite. (Although, really, Bohnanza belongs in a class all its own, don't you think? I mean, how many games can you think of that depict an intoxicated greenbean leaning against a lightpost while standing in a puddle of his own vomit?) But enough narrative.
Manitou's theme is that of midwestern Indian tribes (the regalia looks like Cherokee or Sioux to me) struggling for dominance over various buffalo hunting grounds during three consecutive years. This theme is beautifully portrayed by the colorful, detailed illustrations on the cards, but is rather abstract in the game as a whole. For myself, a person to whom theme follow-through is very important, the game is so good, it did not bother me at all. Manitou has a clever, rather unusual play mechanism which is unique to my experience. There are two types of cards which make up your tribe. One half of these cards are your Hunter cards numbered 1-10 and depict men on horses who will make up a band for the hunt. The other cards are Great Warriors, members of the tribe who have greater power and influence than the everyday brave or squaw. These card have no direct influence on the hunt itself, but the player who has the dominant Great Warriors will take the other players' hunter and Warrior cards captive at the end of the Hunt. Now before you start rolling your eyes in confusion, let me explain the process of the hunt and how it is scored.
There are three rounds to a game, each round representing the great buffalo hunt of the year. The hunting-ground cards depict large or small buffaloes on one side and a number on the other. Small herds have lower numbers, Large herds higher numbers. At the begining of a round, buffalo cards are separated (large and small herds) and shuffled. The dealer lays out buffalo cards to form three seperate hunting grounds, composed differently depending on which round it is. For example, in round 1, there are two hunting grounds with one small herd each, and one with a small and a large. Then each player hand-picks eight cards from their entire deck, a combination of both Hunters and Great Warriors. Each tribe has its own color and a Tribe card which shows how to score Great Warriors. This part is reminiscent of Ceasar and Cleopatra's ordering of the action cards before the game starts, but this mechanism has a much larger influence in how Manitou plays than it does in C&C. A player needs to have enough hunters to be able to win one of the herds, but if you pick too many high-value Hunters, the Thief will surely black bag your teepee! One must always include some GW cards to either defend one's hunters or capture someone else's. If captured, Hunters and Great Warriors are out of the game for good and also count for points for the capturer! Once the players have built their hands, they take turns laying down either Hunters or Great Warriors at the three separate hunting grounds. When all cards have been played, the score is determined.
First, the player who expended the highest value of warriors from his tribe is determined, regardless of which hunting grounds they occupied. This spendthrift is then penalized by the Thief card, which deducts 10 from whatever score they may have. Ouch! Considering that the highest numbered buffalo herd is 13, this will rock your world, Tonto. Bad Medicine! Then each buffalo herd is scored using the sum values of the Hunters placed next to it. Warriors do not influence this score in any way. The herd cards go to the players with the highest scores, but all the Hunter and Warrior Cards are left on the table. Then players determine which Great Warriors beat which, using their Tribe card. There are two each of five different Great Warriors:
Chief, Squaw (Chief's wife), Medicine Man, Rain-maker and Scout. Chief defeats all but the Squaw (Ain't it the trewth...), Squaw defeats Chief, Medicine Man defeats Squaw and Rain-Maker, Rain-Maker beats Squaw and Scout, Scout beats Squaw and Medicine Man. Basically, a really complicated paper-scissors-rock. If players have the same GW at the same hunting-ground, they cancel out and are flipped over. If a player has more than one GW face-up at a hunting ground, an opposing player must first 'sacrifice' a GW to beat the topmost card (both are then fliped over), and then may attack the second as normal. Whichever player's Great Warriors emerge victorious (ie, still face up) in a hunting ground will capture all face down warriors and all the hunters in that hunting ground. Cards belonging to the victor's tribe may be put back in the tribe deck to be chosen for future hunts. Then the next hunt begins. After the third hunt is scored, players tally their scores, including the buffalo cards, the Thief cards, if any, and all captured cards. Captured cards of either type are worth one point each. The player with the most points wins.
And now for the real review:
As should be obvious by now, this is a complex game with a good number of strategical approaches. The continual balancing act of enough warriors to win a buffalo herd, avoiding the Thief card and mixing in enough Great Warriors to hold your own and not be depleted by captures by the third round is a challenging one. Because each round starts with you building a fresh hand of cards from your tribe, you can change tactics each time. There is never any mystery regarding what cards you have, since you never draw blindly from a stack, so most of your energy becomes focused on deducing what your opponents may have and what their priorities are. It's some exciting, pithy stuff! This is a game akin to a little hole-in-the-wall Thai place that has some of the best Thai food in the city. Most people don't even know it exists, it's not easy to find, and it's probably not for everybody. But if you love this kind of game, your collection isn't complete without it.
Fans of bluffing, deduction and unseen power struggles will get a kick out of Manitou. it plays quickly, but is satisfying and fun. You'll find yourself saying, 'well, alright, let's do one more game' until 'OHMYGOD, what does your watch say?!' Incidentally, there is a translation that I found to be helpful where the one that comes with the game is unclear. It's at the Game Cabinet; both together have answered any questions I came up with. Keep your eye out for this original card game by Gunter Burkhardt. It's a steal at any price under $15. Good luck and good hunting! And no, you can't have mine.
Most games that are nominated for the Spiel des Jahres award tend to generate at least some level of buzz in the online gaming community, but Manitou seems to be one game, like Kardinal last year, that has flown completely under the radar.
I won't go into detail about the mechanics of the game, which are well-documented elsewhere, but I will say that it scales well to 2, 3, or 4 equally well. It also has both a unique setting and unique mechanics.
Why doesn't it get 5 stars, and why doesn't it get more buzz? Simply put, it is a fun game, but not stellar fun. It feels a tad dry, and most people that I have played with have been a little underwhelmed by it. I can't really understand why this is, other than it does feel a little abstract.
If you want a game that combines unique mechanics, some bluffing, and some second-guessing, then order this little gem. Two thumbs up.
I was in the middle of my first game of Big Manitou (What's Your Game, 2005 - Gunter Burkhardt) when I suddenly realized that I was playing a "Eurogame". Of course, I have hundreds of "Eurogames", but there is a stereotype of many Eurogames in that they are considered themeless and dry and mechanical. For some reason, Big Manitou, though fun, gave me the feeling that if there were a game the personified this accused "lifelessness", it would be this one.
Please don't get me wrong, Big Manitou is a very interesting, good game. It has very nice components and plays well with room for some good strategy. But it certainly doesn’t feel like an Indian hunt, which is the theme of the game. Big Manitou also seems to have a learning curve of at least one game and offers a lot more strategic options than one might think on the onset. While I won't play the game for its theme, the mechanics are intriguing; and I'm still thinking about my tactics for the next game.
Each player (up to five) is given a deck of eighteen cards in their color. The cards include ten hunter cards (numbered one through ten), two chieftains, two squaws, one scout, one rain maker, and one medicine man. A pile of tiles is shuffled and mixed in a cloth bag, and two wooden cylinders (the totem and the horse) are set to the side. One player is the dealer for the first hunt (of three to five hunts - depending on number of players).
Each hunt occurs the same way, with the dealer drawing the "booty" tiles from the bag and forming three hunting grounds - each a group of two to four tiles, depending on the number of players. Each player then chooses from among their cards a certain number to use for the first hunt. The first player chooses nine, the next player(s) eight, and the last player seven. Players then shuffle the cards they have picked and draw the top three cards into their hand. The starting player goes first with play proceeding clockwise around the table.
On a turn, a player plays one of their cards face up next to one of the three hunting grounds. They then draw a card from their deck to replace their card. This continues until players have placed seven cards, at which time the hunt ends. During the hunt, as cards are being played, Warrior cards are simply placed down and stay until the end of the round. Hero cards (all the non-Warrior ones) are played differently, however. Each hero is either stronger or weaker than the others - for example, the Medicine Man is stronger than the Rain Maker and the Squaw but weaker than the Chieftain and the Scout. When two heroes are played at the same group of tiles, the stronger one defeats the other one, causing it to be turned face down. Cards of equal strength destroy each other, and a player can play two heroes at the same location to make their position even stronger.
At the end of the hunt, players first decide who attracts the leather thief. The player with the highest sum showing on their Hunter cards must discard a tepee or buffalo tile. Then, each hunting ground (group of tiles) is evaluated, giving the player with the hero there (if any) the choice of any one tile with the player with the highest hunter sum chooses next, taking two tiles; and the second player with the most hunter takes any remaining tiles. All played cards are then discarded, and unused cards are shuffled for the second hunt with a new player becoming the first player. Every other round, players can choose their hunt cards once again.
There are five types of booty tiles, the most common being the teepee and buffalo tiles. At the end of the game, each pair of teepees and buffaloes score one victory point (some tiles count as more than one tepee/buffalo). Tomahawk tiles add to the sum of every hunter card played (if I have two tomahawk tiles, and a "7" and a "3" at a location, it is now as if I have a "9" and "5" laid down. Totem tiles are useful, because the player with the most (or first to get the most) takes the totem token. In future hunts, they may place an eight card after all other players are finished. The player with the most horse tokens gets the white horse token, which allows them to move one card to a different location at the end of a hunt.
After the final hunt, points are totaled, with each pair of tepee/buffalo scoring one point. The player with the most tomahawks gets one point, the player with the horse gains one point, and the player with the totem receives one point. The player with the most points is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The cards are not only high quality, but the illustrations on them are fantastic, showing Native Americans in beautiful array. The tiles are of a good thickness, and they, the chunky wooden cylinders, and the cloth bag of tiles barely fit in the smallish box. Components are fairly good for this game, but I'll give the artwork a tremendous grade.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is six full color pages long; and although there are a few snafus due to translation, it's very easy to understand. I've been able to teach it with very few problems. There is one rule, however, that is just confusing and fiddly - and that's the amount of cards each player starts with. "Did I have seven or eight cards?" is a question often mentioned in the games. I suppose that there is some strategic significance, with the player going first having more cards, etc., it's just a pain in the neck. I'm not sure that tactical considerations are equivalent to the annoyance of remembering how many cards you're supposed to draw. Why not just have everyone use half of their cards? Other than that, however, the rules are easy - the hero powers are basically a more complicated version of paper-rock-scissors.
3.) Points: When first going over the rules, I saw that the person with the most tomahawks got an extra victory point. "Big Deal", I thought - one measly point. Well, Big Manitou has some of the lowest scores I've ever seen in a game, with "5" being a large score. Therefore, this brings sharply to focus the fact that every point is critically important, and players therefore cannot make one false move. A player who has a terrible first hunt - not getting any booty tiles - can fall dreadfully behind, and experienced players won't allow him to catch up.
4.) Cards: In one of our games, one player denounced the fact that players picked their cards to use each turn, stating that random picks would be equally as good. However, after trying this out, I can state unequivocally that this is certainly not so. I chose all heroes and got totally devastated; and the next round, with all warriors, things were just as bad. In fact, choosing cards is a big part of the game - almost like building a deck in a collectible card game. Knowing where to play the cards is another matter. A player can play two heroes to one spot, hoping to claim that spot; but is it worth the extra cards?
5.) Tactics: The hero cards are important, because they allow a person to take the first tile from a group; but having the most warrior cards is often better, since you get two tiles! However, the game has a clever mechanic in which the person with the most warrior points must lose a buffalo/tepee tile, which can be rather annoying. Knowing which tile to take is also important - should one take another tomahawk to buff up their future hunts, or attempt to get the totem or horse?
6.) Fun Factor: The game is a fun exercise for those who like a slow auction, which the game basically is; but it can be frustrating for some people. I've often seen a turn in which a player, because of the way that the game worked out, got NOTHING from any of the three hunts. This can really bother some people, but a pure tactician might enjoy taking their chances like this. So far, the game seems to work best with three people, as four or five lessens your chances to get anything from a hunt.
If a small score, unforgiving choices, and rather interesting options interest you, then Big Manitou is certainly a game you might enjoy. No one will probably get into the theme, in which players hunt for tomahawks and tepees, but the gameplay is certainly solid. It's a bit unforgiving for new players, and a costly mistake will most likely cause a player to lose the game. Still, once all players know what's going on, Big Manitou rises above the thematic failings and is an interesting card 'n tile game.
"Real men play board games"
There's a moderately interesting game here trying to get out, but the English rules that come with the game are a mess and leave many essentials, including fundamental questions about scoring and timing of events either unanswered, or answered in conflicting ways.
Corrected (official) rules posted on BoardGameGeek clear up most ambiguities, and are essential.