(2016 - Stronghold Games)
Designer Carl Chudyk is best known for his heavier card games such as Glory to Rome and Innovation. Mastering these games can take numerous plays and both are well known for containing various strategies. I was intrigued then, when I learned about Chudyk’s newest card game, Bear Valley. Make no mistake however, Chudyk has gone for a lighter, more family style press-your-luck game with this recent release. Although it may diverge from his usual design style, with Bear Valley, Chudyk shows that he’s capable of creating card games of various weights.
In Bear Valley, players are attempting to make their way through the wilderness, traversing from their Starting Camp to a Destination Camp. When a player attempts to move, a press-your-luck mechanic triggers in which the more a player continues to move, the higher the probability he will not be able to move at all. Players may experience getting lost, discover caves, mountains, gold, or may even come across the dreaded bear himself. Players will need to balance their pace of moving through the wilderness. Attempting to traverse too fast through Bear Valley and there’s a high probability you will get lost and go no where at all. The first player to make it through the winding maze of the valley to the Destination Camp has won the game.
- Valley cards
- Wilderness cards
- Character cards
- Character tokens
- Equipment tokens
- Gold tokens
Before the game begins, the river that runs through Bear Valley must be formed. The included Valley cards are made up of these waterway sections. One of these cards contains the Starting Camp and another the Destination camp. Players can decide how many of the Valley cards to use in the game, as more of these cards will make for a longer game. The rulebook does however give suggestions for configurations based on player count and game length. Seen above is an example of a 3-player layout. The Starting Camp card is always placed on the far left space, while the Destination Camp card is always placed on the far right (all cards placed to created Bear Valley are done so horizontally, not vertically).
Each player will choose a Character card and its matching Character token. Each Character card contains a certain limitation and special ability on the back of the card. For instance, Sunny is limited in that she is not allowed to use or carry a flashlight (therefore unable to explore caves). Her special ability gives to Wilderness cards containing a butterfly icon.
The Wilderness cards are shuffled together and placed facedown to create a draw deck. Each player will place their Character tokens on the Starting Camp card. Finally all Equipment tokens and Gold tokens are placed somewhere nearby. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
The player’s main objective in the game is to reach the Destination Camp area (seen above) before any other player, while also trying to do so without being killed by a bear. Bear Valley uses a press-your-luck mechanic in regards to how players progress and move throughout the wilderness.
Each Wilderness card contains a series of paths and exits. On a player’s turn, he will choose an exit from the card his character is currently on and draw a new Wilderness card, orientating it on the map so that one of the paths on the new card connects to the path he is exiting from. Newly revealed Wilderness cards are always placed in a staggered manner so that it can potentially border 6 other Wilderness cards. For instance, if Sunny decides as her first move to exit the northeast path from the initial Starting Camp card, her player will draw a new Wilderness card, and place it as seen above. This new card has a connecting path to the northeast exit, and the card is placed in a manner so that it touches both the Starting Camp card and the card to its right.
Players do not immediately move their Character token when revealing a new Wilderness card. If they choose to continue moving, they will pick a new exit and reveal another Wilderness card (unless the exit they are moving through already has one on the map). Only once a player has chosen to stop, or is forced to stop depending on the Wilderness card, will the player actually move his Character token to that space. Note that normally, only one player can occupy a card at any one time, and players are usually not allowed to move through cards with other Characters on them. During the 1st Round, players are only allowed to move a number of spaces, according to their number in turn order. Therefore, the starting player can only move 1 space, the next player up to 2 spaces, and so on. After the initial Round, players can attempt to move as many spaces as they wish.
As the player moves throughout the map, he’ll count off an hour for each time he moves to help keep track of the number of spaces he’s moved thus far. For instance, his 1st move is 1:00, his 2nd move is 2:00, and so on. This is important in confirming a character’s “lost” status, as well as how a Wilderness card containing a bear might effect him. As mentioned before, each Wilderness card contains a certain number of exits. If the drawn card’s number of exits matches the current hour the player is on, he is immediately considered lost. Becoming lost immediately ends the player’s turn and he does not move his Character token at all. A player is also considered lost if the new Wilderness card they’ve drawn does not contain a path that can match the exit they are leaving from. However, if this occurs during his 1st or 2nd movement (1:00 or 2:00), the player is allowed to place his Character token on this newly revealed card. He’s essentially found a way through the vines, bushes, and thorns into the new area. But this can only occur during his 1:00 or 2:00 movement.
For instance, after placing her first two cards, Sunny decides to move again. Since she’s the 3rd player in turn order she can move a max of 3 spaces her 1st turn. She chooses to exit from the eastern path. When she draws a new Wilderness card, she realizes that it contains 3 exits, which match her 3:00 hour (3rd movement this Round).
She is therefore considered lost and her Character token remains on the Starting Camp card. The is how pressing your luck too much can have a negative effect. Had she chosen to stop after her 2:00 movement, she would have ended her turn by placing her Character token on the 2nd revealed Wilderness card.
Some of the Wilderness cards contain a bear icon on them. Normally, when revealed, the player will immediately end his turn and leave his Character token on his current location, much like if he was lost. However, there are a few special rules regarding when a Bear card is revealed in relation to the player’s current hour. If the Bear card is revealed during the player’s 1st hour, he is allowed to move again, either onto an adjacent card or a newly revealed card. He’ll then end his movement on this new card. Apparently, bears aren’t at their most alert first thing in the morning. So if you’re going to come across a bear, best to do it before breakfast. A good safety tip, kids! Additionally, if a player for some reason wants to attempt to move a 7th time during his turn (the 7:00 hour), and reveals a Bear card, he’s immediately devoured by the bear and is out for the remainder of the game.
Let’s take a look at some of the other Wilderness card types and how they affect the player when revealed:
Whenever a player moves onto a card that contains water (the river or lake), or reveals a card that contains water, he must immediately stop his movement. Bears are attracted to water because of the food source they provide, so players are forced to tread carefully when passing through these areas. It’s always important to remember though, that if a player reveals a card that contains water, and doesn’t want to move there, he can choose to stay on his current space instead.
Some of these cards contain bridges. These cards are special in that the bridge path itself is separate from the dirt paths underneath. If a player enters the card on the bridge, he must exit the card on the opposite end of the bridge.
Some cards contain large hedges that separate different paths from each other. Much like the bridge cards, if the player enters the card on one path, he can not pass through the hedge to the other path. He must stick to the path on that side of the card.
Some cards contain thick woods which can effect the direction the player explores next. Each Woods card has multiple exits that each contain a number of stepping stones. When the player reveals the next Wilderness card, he will count the number of exits on the new card, then must match it up to the exit path of the Woods card that contains the same number stepping stones. For instance, if the newly revealed card contains 3 exits, he must match this card to the Woods card path that contains 3 stepping stones.
Some cards contain a mountain. When a player comes across a mountain, he is only allowed to move one more space. Of course, the player can choose to stay on the mountain card instead, but if doing so can only move one space on his next turn.
Some cards contain a cave. If a player has a flashlight, he can choose to enter the cave. When doing so he can make 3 movements in any direction without counting hours, as long as the last movement is to explore a new area (by revealing a Wilderness card). Since this movement is done underground, the player will ignore all card restrictions and bonuses on the cards he moves through while in the cave. The player will end his movement on the newly revealed card.
Some cards contain gold on them. When a player reveals a card with gold, a Gold token is placed on it. When a player begins his turn on a space with a Gold token, he receives the token. If a player has more Gold tokens than another player, he is allowed to move through a space that contains that player’s Character (normally this is not allowed). Also, if a player ever collects 3 of the 8 total Gold tokens, and makes his way back to the Starting Camp space, he immediately wins the game. This is an alternate winning condition to reaching the Destination Camp space.
Some cards contain different types of equipment, whether it be canoes, flashlights, machetes, picnic baskets, ropes, and telescopes. As with the Gold tokens, players who begin their turn on a space that contain these items may take these items with them. Whenever the player chooses to use the equipment, he’ll leave it on the space it was used on, possibly where another player can pick it up later and use it. These items have various uses such as allowing a player to cut through blocked off areas and hedges (machete), move along multiple cards with river areas (canoe), or even moving through a Bear card unaffected (picnic basket).
Trading Post card
Once the Trading Post has been revealed, players can only move onto it if they can make a trade involving gold and/or equipment tokens. The Trading Post’s inventory consists of all gold and equipment tokens that have not yet been placed on the map. For instance, if all canoes have been placed on the map, the Trading Post will be sold out of canoes. All equipment tokens have the same value, whereas every gold is worth two equipment tokens. When trading at the Trading Post, any trade can be made as long as the Trading Post makes a profit. For instance, a player can trade 3 equipment tokens for 1 gold. He could trade 1 gold for 1 Equipment token. Or a player could trade 2 equipment tokens for a different equipment token.
There are three different types of Enhancement cards containing either butterflies, a fox, or mushrooms. When a player starts on a space containing butterflies, he is not required to count the exit spaces of newly revealed Wilderness cards. When beginning on a fox space, a player can move through spaces that contain other players. When beginning on a space with mushrooms, once during his turn when revealing a new Wilderness card, if he doesn’t like it, he can return it to the bottom of the draw deck and draw a new card as a replacement.
End Game Conditions
Once a player has reached the Destination Camp space, he has won the game. As mentioned before, an alternative way to win is to collect at least 3 Gold tokens and return to the Starting Camp space. Finally, the last way to win is as the last man standing, meaning that all other players have been eaten by bears.
For some, Bear Valley will come with expectations that it just isn’t meant to live up to. Any Carl Chudyk fan looking for a card game similar in style and strategic depth of Glory to Rome or Innovation should know ahead of time that Bear Valley is a completely different game altogether. Designed as a family-style, press-your-luck card game that can be played in less than 30 minutes, Bear Valley can be both a fun and interesting game.
Containing a large arrange of wilderness card types helps with the unknown of what lies beyond the player’s current path. Combine this with the risk of moving too many times and getting lost, and there can be quite a bit of tension for a game meant to be a quick race to the finish. Unpredictability is a designed focus in Bear Valley, and being as how it is thematically set around players finding their way through the wilderness, this works well.
While the game is simple, there are a numerous options such as character abilities, equipment, enhancements, and gold that can be added to the game to add a bit more variety and depth. Families with smaller children will enjoy the straightforward pace of the standard game. This focuses solely on the press-your-luck and movement mechanics, while removing the variety of special rules that may be too complex for younger kids. However, the inclusion of these advanced components and rules are where Bear Valley truly shines. If you’re a fan of Carl Chudyk’s previous designs, know that Bear Valley is a much different game than he’s released before, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bear Valley is an enjoyable, simple, fast-paced card game that can act as a nice filler for any game night.
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Nice job, Scott!
Stephen M. Buonocore