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Subject: A day in the life of a Neanderthal... rss

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Steven Goodell

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Hello!… and welcome back, gamers extraordinaire everywhere!

This week we are going to take a look at the Caveman Simulator, Kickstarter game from Small Box Games; Neolithic!



Of course we have built more than a few tribes now (a lot more than a few), so it bears pressing forward and give it the fair review it deserves.

So, tally-ho, chop-chop, and all that…

Components

The only components are the cards for this game, so not much to cover, other than the cards are very nice, not necessarily card stock but not MTG thin either, and they do have a soft linen finish, so there is that upside as well.

On the downside, not really a deal-breaker for most, but the font on the card is kind of fat, like they used the bold on the font, and as you can see in the pic below, on a few of the cards the small letter ‘e’ is almost completely closed. I like the font, I just think they needed to slim it down a bit.

Gameplay



The cards above are all divided into the stacks you will use for the game. The game is highly icon driven, with almost every card having a match, or synergy of some type, with another card somewhere in the deck. Do not let iconography spook you however, this isn’t Race for the Galaxy where that class you took in Hieroglyphics will actually serve you… it is very easy to play once you have the order of play down.



Note the two Founder cards. According to the Icons at the top of the card (ignore the bottom for now, that is for endgame) both of them can play a role as a female, or a male, within the tribe for purposes of procreation (the main way of obtaining new tribe members… who knew, right?) The third option however is the main difference, and can be the most important one; whether your Founder is a Hunter or a Gatherer. Those icons limit which deck your Founder has access to.

Let’s go ahead and cover some game layout;

After shuffling the individual decks, each player (2-player only) will receive a randomly-chosen ‘Villager-Founder’ card at the beginning, along with three of the Innovation cards to get you started.

All the decks will be placed in the center of the table; Procreation – Gather – Hunt – Innovate – Forage. You can place the first four decks horizontally or vertically (per the pic above), and order them however you see fit, that part of the game is malleable. The forage deck is comprised of removing the top two cards from the deck and place them as a fifth deck at the end of the row, with the Forage card on top. They do NOT need to be shuffled, as any villager sent to Forage will allow the player to rifle through the deck and choose what ONE card they will add to their hand.

Here is a shot of the table at Game End, but gives you an idea of the field of play. We laid out our cards horizontally except for the Forage deck at the end. The blue stack following the Forage deck is the discard pile for when you burn Rituals. We’ll talk about that in a few…



After all is set; each player, in turn, will play a Villager from their hand to one of the Task Decks. The icons on the top of the card will represent what that Villager can do, and must match the iconography on the task at hand. A task that is already occupied by one Villager cannot be occupied by another, or in the singular case, both tribes are allowed access to the Forage deck regardless of occupancy.

In the case of the Procreation and the Innovation Decks, you must commit two villagers to the task; in the case of the Procreation Deck, while seemingly obvious, must be stated that there must be a female icon and a male icon for this, and the Innovation Deck requires two Villagers that have that particular icon as well.

These icons allow you access to the decks that power the game, as you send out your available tribespeople to ‘Gather’, ‘Hunt’, ‘Innovate’, or ‘Forage’. As you do, you will follow the directions on the back of each deck, i.e.;





Eventually, you will have enough cards in your hand from the various decks (there is no stated hand-limit) you will be able to match some of the synergies that arise from the cards;



As you can see, you can be a Hunter, or a Gatherer… an Innovator, or a Rancher… the cards may at first seem to randomize the game, but you have the control over what you send your villagers to do, it is just what you manage to do with what your Villagers obtained that matters the most. All cards have opposing faces on the front. Sometimes you will be instructed by the game to play them a certain way, but you also have an option to play them for points or to obtain higher Innovations, or even to burn Innovations as Rituals.

Rituals are powerful magics that allow you to do things like searching a deck for a card you want, or adding the top card of a deck to your hand or Village.

Lastly, you may play a Villager as a ‘Culture’ card, placing it face up on the table amongst your village, to show what cultural developments your Tribe represents. Multiple ‘Culture’ cards may be used, but each time you play one, the Villager he represents is effectively removed from Task play, so make sure you have enough Villagers in your hand to leave him at home.

The game end is triggered when two of the five decks have been emptied. At that point, both Tribes discard the cards from their hands, and as per the instructions on the Founder cards, count the number of icons at the top of their cards (The icons below “Requires:” are NOT counted). The person with the most icons gets 5 points to start.

Now the players add up the points they have accumulated according to the cards they have played/developed. Here is a sample by way of my final village from our second game;



Looking at my Villager cards played as Culture cards, my Tribespeople were Artisanal, Shamanistic Survivalists. Not to shabby. According to my Quick Setup cards (remember, we are operating without a full hard printed set of rules here) here is how scoring went;

- I had the most icons, so that automatically gives me 5 points
- Artisanal gave me 10 points; 1 point for each clay, stone, or wood
- Shamanist gave me 5 points; 1 point for each Pelt/Antler icon collected
- Survivalist gave me 2 points; 1 point for each Barley/Flax/Wheat I collected
- Finally, I received 1 Point for developing ‘Linen’ and 2 Points for
developing ‘Pottery’

My tribe must’ve eaten all that meat I brought back… Oh well (There’s a card for that too). The final tally came to a close 18 to 23; the difference of the 5 points I received for most icons. Surprisingly, our following games were also very close within 4-5 points with neither player managing a run-away victory.

Final Thoughts

The artwork on the cards is nice, it’s a ‘what if a Renaissance painter went back in time and painted cave people and their activities” kind of art, rough but stylish. The game plays smoothly, and while you can catch yourself thinking a little too long on whether to hunt or gather and what your opponent may do (cutting you off from something else you may need), it never really bogs down as you are also busy doing the same.

I have to say, I really like this game. For a small game composed solely of cards (53 playable cards, 56 total), and if you have a little imagination, you really seem to get a feel for your little tribe. Their discoveries and resources through Hunting, Gathering, Innovations, and Rituals influence the Cultural plays of your Villagers and you watch them flourish, or flounder, as they attempt to grow and learn.

A definite 8 out of 10. I enjoyed playing it, and would highly suggest it to any players out there.
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Kevin B. Smith
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Yup, I just discovered this nice little game. Worker placement, deckbuilding-ish, tableau building, and set collection, all from a single deck.

My one component complaint (well, aside from the cheap tuckbox) is that I wish it were much more clear which icons are provided, and which are required. For example, putting them inside different shaped or colored frames, or making them a different size. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but it added a layer of necessary sharp-eyed observation and memory to the learning game that was entirely avoidable.
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