The compass always points to Terrapin.
This review first appeared in Counter #51 (December 2010)
Jäger und Sammler
2-4 players, 45 minutes
designed by Reiner Knizia
reviewed by Joe Casadonte
According to BoardGameGeek Knizia has added 23 games to his roster this year. About a quarter of them seem to be reimplementations of an earlier release and all but 2 of them I had not heard of. Jäger und Sammler (Hunters & Gatherers) is one of the latter, something I had not heard of previously. Gamers will be pleased with this middle-weight game, filled with lots of interesting decisions but not too hard to learn.
The game has been compared to Hey! That's My Fish (Günter Cornett & Alvydas Jakeliunas) and Knizia's own Africa. I find the similarity to Africa to be superficial at best and instead I'm reminded of Knizia's Through the Desert.
Thematically we're prehistoric humans eking out a living, migrating between Summer camps and Winter camps and back again. Accordingly the game will be played over two phases, a Summer phase and a Winter phase.
The board consists of 120 hexagonal spaces, eight of which are pre-printed with camps, four Summer near the outside edge of the board and four Winter near the inside. The other 112 spaces will be filled with a set of Summer tiles. Nearly half of the tiles simply generate VPs, 1, 2 or 3 points for Berries, Tubers and Herbs, respectively. Twenty of them are primitive goods, 10 Jugs and 10 Necklaces; these are collected in sets for points. There are also 12 Weapon tiles and 3 Mammoths. That's it for the tiles that players will collect. Also in play will be 19 Path tiles and 5 Cave tiles. These are all mixed up together and set out, face up.
Each player starts with 4 pawns, one in each of the 4 Summer camps. On your turn you get to move twice, either 1 pawn two spaces or 2 pawns one space each. The general rule is that you can only move to a space with a tile (or a pre-printed camp), and that you take the tile on which you are currently standing when you leave it. The only tiles you don't take are the Paths and Caves (and the pre-printed camps, of course). The Paths just help you move around when the tiles get thin, but the Caves allow you to move from one Cave to another for 1 movement point, enabling you to jump large distances easily. To enter a Mammoth's hex you need to hand over a Weapon tile.
Only 1 pawn may be in any given hex except for Caves, Paths & Camps. You may move over another pawn in a non-Cave/Path/Camp hex provided you immediately move out of it (and you don't get to take the tile that the other pawn is on, naturally).
The final twist to movement deals with the Winter camps. When a pawn moves thought a Winter camp a cube ("storage box") is placed in the player's color. Only one cube per player may be placed in any camp, but more than one player can place a cube in a camp.
Once all of the tiles that can be taken have been collected, and all Winter camps that can be reached have been cubed, the remainder of the Summer tiles are removed, except for the Path and Cave tiles. Any remaining pawns, too, are removed. Then the Winter tiles are set out. The composition of the tiles are nearly identical to the Summer tiles with a few exceptions: 1) the sets collected are different (Pelts & Skulls instead of Jugs & Necklaces); 2) there are no additional Caves or Paths put out; and 3) the number of Weapons and Mammoths are switched (there are now 12 Mammoths and only 3 Weapons).
The catch at the start of the Winter phase is that you only place a pawn in a Winter camp if there's a cube there. If you didn't get to all 4 camps during the Summer phase, you won't get to use all 4 pawns in the Winter phase!
Game play in the Winter phase is identical to the Summer phase with one exception: you now place cubes in Summer camps, which will score you 5 points each at the end of the game. Once all tiles are taken from the board and all Summer camps have been reached, the game is over and the final scoring begins. The Berries, Tubers and Herbs all score 1, 2 or 3 points. The Mammoths are worth 3-8 points, depending on the number printed on them. The collected sets are scored individually based on how many of a given type were gathered during the game, using a triangular scoring: 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 or 20 points for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6+ tiles gathered of a given type. Why he chose to stop at 20 points instead of 21 is a bit of a mystery.
The game is filled with interesting but not necessarily obvious moves. Much like Through the Desert, there are often many things you need to do in a given turn, but you only get to do two of them. Picking which two is the fun part. Maybe you can distract your opponent by asking her to pass the M&M's while you march towards the high-valued Mammoth, or isolate an area so you can scoop up all of the tiles there, but you do so at the risk of not laying down you Winter camp cube. Fun decisions all around, at least for me.
The switch between Summer phase and Winter phase isn't simply "more of the same"; it's amazing how much of a change marching from Winter camps to Summer camps is from the march into the Winter camps itself. The Paths that helped you move around in the first phase are now just getting in your way and the area that was dense with high-valued Herbs are now awash in nearly useless Berries.
A nearly identical game was published last year in the U.S. as Zombiegeddon (Twilight Creations). I've not played it but my understanding is that the only two differences are the quality of the components (vastly inferior in the Zombiegeddon version) and the fact that Path tiles are now blocking tiles, and they restrict movement rather than facilitate it.
I've played the game almost a dozen times now, mostly with 4 players but some with 3 (I haven't played it 2-player yet) and it's been very enjoyable. It's definitely a middle-weight game, but it's a lot of fun, easy to learn and plays quickly. I'm definitely glad I bought it!
Very good review. Thank you.