I had hauled Bison to 3 Sunday gaming sessions, but we had not gotten it to the table. We frequently end up playing games that will take 5 or 6 players, but the breakdown of players today allowed for a 4-player game.
I started off giving Ken, Mike and Kevin a run through of the game. Ken and I had played at Gen Con, but that was the extent of our experience.
Bison can give a bad first impression as the game starts out a bit slow the first year as players generally get tiles and hunters out on the table, and there isn't much contention for the resource.
I got a good draw on my tile with a 3-turkey mountain that I was able to join to the 2-turkey starting tile. I placed 3 hunters in the mountain area. Ken had a similar draw with a 3-fish river and created a 4-fish river. Mike and Kevin weren't quite as fortunate in their tile draw but got areas started with 3 food items. All of us put 3 hunters out. I followed that up with a 2-person tepee in my mountain area and Ken followed with a 2-person canoe in his choice river.
Mike made an early choice that he was going to take a tact of spreading out his hunters to capture food items in as many areas as possible, while Ken and I went for a couple of big payoffs. Kevin went for a hybrid approach, put the mountain area he build his tepee on in the first season was surrounded by prairie and never grew after season one. This is certainly a danger of placing a teepee or canoe early in the game. Still, with a 4-player game only lasting 4 seasons, you can't wait too long.
After season one we were all in good shape on food and some of us even had more than we started with. Season two let all of us expand our main areas of concern, but with more territory available the hunting parties began to explore and make others nervous. I moved a hunter onto the river Ken had extended and which now held 5 fish. My original mountain area was now at 7 turkeys. Mike and Keven also had rivers that held 5 fish. A central prairie area had become an area of contention for Mike and Kevin. With the good food hauls in season one, most of us placed out 4 hunters on turn 2 which also contributed to increased conflict. Due to the scoring mechanism, it is possible for the players with the 3rd or 4th highest influence in an area to get a higher payout that the player in 2nd. I'm not sure I like this, but we certainly tried to take advantage of it, with Mike becoming known as the "3rd place man". If you have not played Bison, when contiguous terrain areas are scored it works like this:
Assume we are scoring a river. First is the tribe with the largest canoe. 2nd goes to the next biggest canoe, and so on. The tie breaker is the number of hunters in the area. Also let me say a river may be made up of river segments from several tiles as long as they connect. Each segment may have some fish in it. You sum up the number of fish in a contiguos section of river. The first place player increases his fish level for the total number of fish in the entire river. 2nd place gets half of this, rounded down. 3rd and 4th place get the fish that are in the river segment for the single tile their hunter is on. A situation you might frequently see is a river that has segments on two tiles; one with 3 fish and the other with two fish. Given this example, the tribe with the most influence will add 5 fish to their coffers at the end of the seach. 2nd place gets half rounded down for 2 fish. 3rd and 4th place get the number of fish in the river segment where their hunter or canoe resides. In this case there is a single river segment with 3 fish in it, so it is entirely possible for the 3rd and 4th place player to get 3 fish where the 2nd place player got 2. This happened more than once and was the strategy Mike was taking. You could frequently get this 3rd or 4th place playoff with a single hunter placed judiciously.
During the 3rd season a nice prairie openned up near the river Ken was agressively defending. I added to my mountain area, but such a way that I could move more hunters into the new prairie area on the river Ken and I were contending for. I had put a 2-person canoe in the river, causing Ken to have to leave hunters there to ensure he maintained the most influence there. I begrudgingly accepted I was not going to gain the most influence in the river and decided to go for the prairie. I had placed a tile to extend the prairie area in question and placed 4 hunters there. On my next turn I bought a 3-person teepee and placed it on the prairie. Ken followed suit also buying and placing a 3-person teepee. The board had evolved where it seemed Ken and I were competing on one side while Kevin and Mike were fighting over the other, although they were not having the escalation that Ken and I were experiencing as we fought for choice areas. Mike was still spreading hunters further and further from their starting tiles. He had also managed to build a nice 6-fish river that he had all to himself. Kevin was also working on building up his river, but was trying to do so without adding to the mountain area I had control over.
The start of the 4th year saw everyone with enough food items to play aggressive and build 3 or 4 level canoes and teepees if desired. I drew a 3-buffalo tile and joined it to a two-buffalo tile on the opposite side of the board from where I had been playing. I placed my 4 remaining hunters on the tile. I eventually built a 2-person teepee on that prairie and moved my remaining two hunters into scoring position. I also had to reinforce my original mountain area after Kevin moved in and built his own-two person teepee in those mountains. He was only able to get one additional hunter to the mountains while I brought in two to keep top influence by the slimest margain. Kevin then took a heavy hit as his original prairie area that had grown nicely saw Mike take over influence with a 4-person teepee. It was the first, and only, teepee or canoe Mike had placed the entire game. Ken had reinforced and had firm control of first in large river and prairie areas
When the final scoring was done it came out as:
Mike - 28
Jeff - 27
Ken - 22
Mike's strategy of scoring in as many areas as possible versus building and controlling large territories barely won out. It was fun to see how the different approaches worked, and games are always funner to play when there are multiple paths to victory.
Just on a side note, Mike's food levels were 11, 9 and 8, while mine were 10, 10 and 8. Had I managed to pick up one more food item I would have had him on the tie breaker. The tie breaker is the highest score for your lowest level food item (shades of Ingenious or Tigris and Euphrates). Our 8 would have been a wash and on the next food item my 10 would have beat his 9 on the second tie breaker. You can't get much closer than that.
It was a fun game and my rating of the game might rise a tad if further plays provide these kind of results. It is a game that can easily be prone to analysis paralysis though. As a group I think we did pretty well in this regards. You do need to give some thought to where you place your tile each year and even how you place your hunters on the tile. This isn't a bad thing as I think there may be more here than I was originally giving the game credit for. I'm looking forward to trying it again.