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Subject: Session Report rss

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Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
Mammoth Hunters is a regional majority game, similar in some ways to El Grande or San Marco. With few exceptions, I'm not a fan of this type of game, and didn't really enjoy Mammoth Hunters, either. I'm always happy to try something new, however, and no doubt lots of other gamers will find something to like here.

Actually, I found some parts to like, too. The components are pretty good. Little meeples (a la Attila) would've been nice, or at least wooden markers that don't roll like the little cylinders. The wooden mammoths are cute, and the board is clear & attractive (reminding me somewhat of the designers' earlier Das Amulett). The cards are well-designed, and the "cave drawing" pictures help clear any ambiguities in the text. (Plus there's a card-by-card description in the back of the rules.)

It's not quite right to call this a regional MAJORITY game, since the scoring doesn't depend on having more markers in a region than your opponents. Not directly, anyway. There's a population limit for each space (for which you have only partial information), so having more markers there helps you to retain some that go on to score. That subtle difference probably leads to some difference strategies for placing your pieces, but I didn't pick up on that until too late. Ryan did, though, and managed to pepper the board with all of his markers for the final scoring. Even though many of those only scored one point apiece, the important part is that almost all of them scored. The rest of us weren't paying much attention to the low-scoring regions (without mammoths).

Then again, Greg P. (the game winner by a single point over Ryan) DID concentrate on just the higher scoring regions. His victory hinged on a critical play, the last card of the game, however. Does that mean concentration or dispersal is the better strategy? I'm not sure--it may mean that both strategies can work!

The light/dark card system is very good, and one I hope finds its way into other games. It sort of has already, bearing some similarity to the cardplay in Domaine. In both games, you can play cards at a cost in resources to do good things for yourself, or discard cards to gain resources for future actions. Mammoth Hunters takes this idea a considerable step farther, though, in that the "discarded" card allows one or more OPPONENTS to perform an action. (A tiny bit like the cards in Wildlife, which I enjoy.) Since the discarding player gets to decide which opponent takes the action--though not how to carry out that action--there's good player interaction. Furthermore, a timer mechanic is built into the discarding system.

With all that going for it, why aren't I a fan of the game? First of all, I may be. The game has a reputation of moving surprisingly slow, and our game certainly did that. It's not the fault of any particular player--this is just one of those games that can't help but bog down. I never like that. However, Ryan had heard of a suggestion for only playing three scoring rounds instead of the standard four. For our first play we opted against any such variants, but now I'd like to try it that way. I don't see any real downside, and I bet it would shave at least 30 minutes off the playing time (ours stretched to two hours).

Even with that, though, I may not enjoy this game as much as everyone else. I just don't get much of a charge out of the basic game type, constantly trying to outmaneuver my opponents to place more wooden blocks in certain regions. It just turns me off. The only reason I enjoy it in San Marco is the wonderful card-dividing mechanic, combined with the game's wonderful pacing for 3-players (in marked contrast to El Grande, Mammoth Hunters, or--I understand--Wongar). So I'll play Mammoth Hunters again, but what I'm really waiting for is the next incarnation of the light/dark card ideas in some other game.

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