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Subject: WIP: The Donner Party - the Card Game (Complete Rules) rss

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Adam Kazimierczak
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Well, it's not another sci fi game, or a game about building a city/village/latrine, or a game about pleasing a king/pharaoh/dead relative.

It's a game about the Donner Party. Take worker placement, strip it down to a struggle to survive and add a dash of history. This is far from a simulation, but I hope it captures some of the tough choices that have to be made when faced with a no win situation (and you don't have the luxury of cheating like Captain Kirk).

I'd appreciate any advice or comments!



The Donner Party: the Card Game
A Pioneer Survival Game by Adam Kazimierczak


Disclaimer: This game in no way trivializes the tragedy that befell the Donner Party expedition in1846-1847 but rather is an attempt to recreate the challenges it faced to better appreciate the difficult choices that were made.

Overview


Players each control a family of pioneers with the goal of reaching California. Supplies are limited and winter snows are on the horizon. Do you have what it takes to survive?

A competitive card game for 2-6 players, aged 13 and up.

Playing time: 30-60 minutes

The Game

"Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would Commence on Milt. & eat him. I don’t [think]that she has done so yet, it is distressing." Excerpt from Patrick Breen’s diary, February 1847.

The game with the Donner Party stopped by an impassable snowbank at Alder Creek and Truckee Lake where the families have built cabins and other shelters to wait out the winter in hope of a rescue.
Each player chooses a family and takes a Family card, 2 food tokens, 2 wood tokens, and a number of pioneer figures based on the number of players:

2 players: 6 pioneers
3-4 players: 5 pioneers
5-6 players: 4 pioneers

Reed: +1 to chop wood roll
Breen: Start the game with 5 food tokens
Eddy: +1 to hunt roll
Keseberg: +1 food from butchering
Graves: +1 food from the stock when begging
Donner: 6 card maximum Desperation card hand size

Remove the “RESCUE (Salvage Party)” card from the Event deck and shuffle the rest. Place the “RESCUE (Salvage Party)” card at the bottom of the deck.

Shuffle the Desperation Deck and place it next to the Desperation action space.

The game lasts until all the pioneers are rescued or dead, or you reach the last card of the Event deck (12 rounds). At that point the player with the most survivors wins.

The Donners start the game as 1st player (or determine randomly if not playing with the Donners) and then it rotates clockwise each turn thereafter.

Each turn includes the following:

1. Reveal the top card of the Event Deck and resolve its effects.

2. Starting with the 1st player, each player assigns 1 pioneer to an action space.
• Hunt
• Chop Wood
• Beg
• Desperation
Only healthy pioneers may be assigned to the hunt and chop wood spaces; and each after the 1st assigned to either space subtracts 1 to the roll (cumulative). Only starving pioneers may be assigned to the beg and desperation spaces.

3. Feed the family: discard 1 food to feed each healthy pioneer and 1 food to feed up to 3 starving or sick pioneers. Fed starving and sick pioneers each roll 1 die (d6) and on a 6 improve one step (starving to healthy, sick to starving). You must also discard 1 wood to heat your cabin. If not fed and given heat, pioneers advance one step worse on the physical condition track:
-healthy to starving
-starving to sick
-sick to dead

Hunt: This action space is only usable by a healthy pioneer. Roll a d6
• Less than 1: hunting accident, move this pioneer to sick
• 1-3: no game found
• 4: shot a rabbit, gain 1 food
• 5: shot a deer, gain 3 food
• 6+: shot a bear, gain 5 food

Chop Wood: This action space is only usable by a healthy pioneer. Roll a d6
• Less than 1: cut by axe, move this pioneer to sick
• 1: dropped all wood running from a bear
• 2-3: gain 1 wood
• 4-5: gain 2 wood
• 6+: gain 3 wood

Beg: This action space is only usable by a starving pioneer. If you have no food, then take 1 food from another player with 3 or more food; or if you have no wood, take 1 wood from another player with 3 or more wood..

Desperation: This action space is only usable by a starving pioneer. As an action either draw a Desperation card or play a Desperation card. Desperation cards of the “Reaction” type do not require an action to be played but rather are played as a reaction to the condition described on the card. The maximum hand size for Desperation cards is 4.


Physical Condition: The health and well being of your family of pioneers is represented by physical condition cards placed in a row in front of you. The cards from right to left are:
• Healthy: May not beg or act in desperation.
• Starving: May not chop wood or hunt. -1 to rescue roll. If not fed becomes sick.
• Sick: May not perform any actions. Cannot be rescued. Roll d6 for each sick pioneer at the start of the starvation phase, on a 1 the pioneer dies. If not fed the pioneer dies.
• Dead: May not perform any actions. Cannot be rescued. Dead is dead.

Cannibalism: The first time one of your pioneers butchers another pioneer for food, take a “Cannibal” card which imparts a -1 survival point penalty during end game scoring.

Rescue Rolls: When a rescue card is played, first determine according to the text on the card which pioneers are eligible to be rescued. Then starting with the 1st player this turn and going clockwise each player rolls d6 for each of their pioneers on the rescue one at a time and applies any applicable bonuses or penalties. Consult the chart below:

1-2: Falls behind or lost in the snow. Discard the pioneer.
3: Dies on the trail. Discard the pioneer. Any player may take a cannibal card for +1 to all subsequent rescue rolls this Rescue (no cost if you already have a cannibal card).
4: Frostbitten. As 3, or return the pioneer to camp sick.
5-6: The pioneer is rescued. Place it on the Sutter’s Fort card to be scored at the end of the game.
7+: The pioneer is rescued as are any other pioneers who have yet to roll.

End Game Scoring: After one of the endgame criteria has been met (deck runs out or all pioneers rescued or dead), count up the survival points to determine the winner:

1 survival point for each rescued pioneer
-1 survival point for the “Cannibal” card


edit: 1 typo
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Adam Kazimierczak
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WIP Box art:

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August Larson
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The very first game I started designing after being introduced to Euro games was on based on the Donner Party. Mine differed in that players were traveling TO California, taking creative liberties in allowing players to cannibalize at any point on the trail. I always had intentions of going back to it once I was a more experienced designer, but now that I see your game, I think "Donner Party of 5" will be retired.

From your rules I am excited to play this game! Let me know when you need playtesters, 'cause I'll be there.

Now for some questions: You speak of chopping wood and it being needed to heat your home. But I don't see when you're supposed to heat the cabin. Is that a separate action, or is it automatic?

Do all family members start the game as healthy, or are some already starving and sick?

How do you roll less than 1 on a d6 for those hunting and wood chopping checks?
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James Hutchings
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Oregon Trail is almost the Donner Party board game.
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August Larson
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apeloverage wrote:
Oregon Trail is almost the Donner Party board game.


But can you eat your own family...? zombie
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James Hutchings
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Add the option for witty observations, and call it My Donner With Andre.
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James Hutchings
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colmustard21 wrote:
apeloverage wrote:
Oregon Trail is almost the Donner Party board game.


But can you eat your own family...? zombie


No, but Monopoly makes you want to.
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James Wahl
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I don't 100% understand the Rescue mechanics, though I imagine that I would have to see the actual text on the Rescue cards - but I'd be curious to see the Forlorn Hope more explicitly selected and outfitted to add a bit more co-op to the game.

The Hope could also set the game length - maybe start off all of the pioneers weak, and the players would have to select a few to strengthen with their resources in order to give the Hope its best chance to find rescue. Accumulate some sort of travel chip each turn that the Hope is struggling to get to California, and when(if?) the Hope make it to the Sacramento Valley, remove one of those chips per turn until they're gone, which would signal end of game [edit: or take over the function of the Rescue Card.]

Also, with a separate event deck for the Hope (or a single event deck that combines both events for the main camp and the Hope - they could have storms at the same time) and an inevitable progression from (Robust to) Healthy to (Starvation to) Sick to Dead instead of save rolls, the game could be made less dicey. A combined deck would prevent changing history and sending a second Hope or simultaneous Hopes, though, but if the balance is right, the failing of the first Hope or splitting up Hopes should be an impossible strategy anyway.

[VP could be scaled at 1 for each adult pioneer saved, 2 for each child saved, and 1/4 for each resource given freely away to and accepted by another player, or something like that. Maybe -1/4 VP for eating people, and every corpse not in one's own family is fair game for eating.]

My 2 cents. Looks good!

J

edit: changed "Fort" to Sacramento Valley - I spaced out. Added scoring suggestions.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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colmustard21 wrote:


Now for some questions: You speak of chopping wood and it being needed to heat your home. But I don't see when you're supposed to heat the cabin. Is that a separate action, or is it automatic?

Do all family members start the game as healthy, or are some already starving and sick?

How do you roll less than 1 on a d6 for those hunting and wood chopping checks?


Thanks! Great questions! I really should have formatted the rules better, but they're still undergoing some changes and I'm working on the visual aids (which should make some things more clear).

As it stands heating the cabin is an automatic action during the Starvation Phase at the end of the turn. You just discard a wood if you have one. Some Event cards ("Cold Snap" and "Week Long Blizzard") make you use 2 wood, but otherwise you should be able to predict your wood needs pretty well.

There is also a Desperation card that lets one player skip heating the cabin: "Lewis Keseberg moves into the Murphy cabin" which means your family moves into another player's cabin and relies on them for heat as long as they donate 1 food per turn. While it's thematic, the mechanic needs some testing for balance.

All of your pioneers start healthy. The game starts before things got really bad (The Forlorn Hope mission), and overall the pioneers were still in decent shape and had some meager rations/oxen left (although the oxen were dead or dying).

Finally the wood chopping question. Currently the rules state (unclearly apparently modest ) that each turn every player after the first has a -1 to the roll to chop wood or hunt (creating a scarcity if all of the pioneers rush out to chop wood/hunt). I don't like that because it gives first player too much of an advantage and makes it too easy to get injured on the roll.

So a new version that I'm experimenting with is having a Snowfall card with a d6 on it to record a snow depth in meters. As winter progresses it will get harder and harder to Hunt and Chop Wood. The snow depth will rise in spurts due to Event Cards (Blizzards mostly), reflecting how as the winter progressed the Donner Party abandoned hunting and mostly stayed around the cabins (also they were starving and running out of ammunition, so nobody wanted to take the gun for a walk).

I like the "attacked by bear" and "hunting accident" risks but I may change them to Reaction cards on the Desperation track to use as a "take that" mechanism (historically starvation was the primary enemy not random bears and unsafe forestry, although George Donner's hand did get gangrene from a wound).
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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pharmakon wrote:
I don't 100% understand the Rescue mechanics, though I imagine that I would have to see the actual text on the Rescue cards - but I'd be curious to see the Forlorn Hope more explicitly selected and outfitted to add a bit more co-op to the game.

The Hope could also set the game length - maybe start off all of the pioneers weak, and the players would have to select a few to strengthen with their resources in order to give the Hope its best chance to find rescue. Accumulate some sort of travel chip each turn that the Hope is struggling to get to California, and when(if?) the Hope make it to the Sacramento Valley, remove one of those chips per turn until they're gone, which would signal end of game [edit: or take over the function of the Rescue Card.]

Also, with a separate event deck for the Hope (or a single event deck that combines both events for the main camp and the Hope - they could have storms at the same time) and an inevitable progression from (Robust to) Healthy to (Starvation to) Sick to Dead instead of save rolls, the game could be made less dicey. A combined deck would prevent changing history and sending a second Hope or simultaneous Hopes, though, but if the balance is right, the failing of the first Hope or splitting up Hopes should be an impossible strategy anyway.

[VP could be scaled at 1 for each adult pioneer saved, 2 for each child saved, and 1/4 for each resource given freely away to and accepted by another player, or something like that. Maybe -1/4 VP for eating people, and every corpse not in one's own family is fair game for eating.]

My 2 cents. Looks good!

J

edit: changed "Fort" to Sacramento Valley - I spaced out. Added scoring suggestions.


Thanks for the input! Yes, the Event cards and the Forlorn Hope card have explicit rules that make it more clear. Each of the rescue missions is an event which involves a selection of pioneers to be rescued and then each makes a rescue roll to see if they make it.

The last card of the Event deck is always the Salvage Mission which was the last group to arrive (when they found Lewis Keseberg was the only survivor with a pot of human remains and some looted gold and personal effects). Any surviving pioneers at that point (sick included) are rescued.

The rest of the game can be played in two ways:

The Historical Game: All of the Event cards are numbered 1 to 12 (there are 12 turns in the game). In the Historical Game the cards are placed in the deck in numerical order which represents the order in which things actually happened. This can be looked at as the "family game" in that things are predictable to an extent and the Rescues and Blizzards are spaced out relatively evenly.

The Strategy Game: All of the Event cards are shuffled except for the game ending card (the Salvage Party of April 29th) which is always last. This adds replayability because no game will play out the same and tactics will need to be adjusted to account for game changes.


The Forlorn Hope expedition is actually not an Event but rather a Desperation card, because the timing of it was controlled by the Donner Party (as opposed to the Rescue missions which just showed up). One player plays the Forlorn Hope card as a Desperation action and then each player may send up to two healthy pioneers on the expedition. Here is the current card text:


The Forlorn Hope: Play this as a RESCUE card. You and each player who gives you 1 food or 1 wood may choose up to 2 pioneers to go. All players’ pioneers have -1 to their rescue rolls.


It is a gamble because as they weren't sure where they were going and didn't have relief stations along the way (like later rescue missions) they were at a major disadvantage (hence the penalty to the Rescue roll). In terms of gameplay the leader of the expedition getting food/wood gives an incentive to play the card.


 
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James Wahl
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That is so interesting, and educational too! I was trying to make it more open, which I tend to do, but entirely less educational. I'm going to play with my rules in my notebooks, and eagerly anticipate getting a play of The Donner Party when you get it done.

I was working with the assumption that the survivors of the Forlorn Hope were able to inform people in the Sacramento Valley of the condition and the location of the survivors, thereby triggering the rescues. So, the timing of the rescues would be dependent on the speed and survival of the Hope, and the odds of that would change based on what provisions they were given and the individuals that were selected. Basically, I was blowing it out into a full boardgame - in my head were all three camps, attack and cannibalism rules, and the kitchen sink

J
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John Van Wagoner
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no reflection on the actual events, but this sounds great !!!
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Adam Kazimierczak
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John_VW wrote:
no reflection on the actual events, but this sounds great !!!


The Event cards do tie into the actual events, especially if played in order, but yes the game takes some liberties with the source material. Originally it was much more complicated with a Wounded state, a Craft action space (to make the snowshoes used by the Forlorn Hope among other things) and different types of pioneers (men, women, children), but it just turned into a bookkeeping mess with the game lost in a mass of exceptions and special case rules.

In the end I decided to go for a thematic game instead of a simulation.
 
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August Larson
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kaziam wrote:
John_VW wrote:
no reflection on the actual events, but this sounds great !!!


The Event cards do tie into the actual events, especially if played in order, but yes the game takes some liberties with the source material. Originally it was much more complicated with a Wounded state, a Craft action space (to make the snowshoes used by the Forlorn Hope among other things) and different types of pioneers (men, women, children), but it just turned into a bookkeeping mess with the game lost in a mass of exceptions and special case rules.

In the end I decided to go for a thematic game instead of a simulation.


I think he meant that the actual events of the Donner Party isn't great, but your game is
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colmustard21 wrote:
kaziam wrote:
John_VW wrote:
no reflection on the actual events, but this sounds great !!!


The Event cards do tie into the actual events, especially if played in order, but yes the game takes some liberties with the source material. Originally it was much more complicated with a Wounded state, a Craft action space (to make the snowshoes used by the Forlorn Hope among other things) and different types of pioneers (men, women, children), but it just turned into a bookkeeping mess with the game lost in a mass of exceptions and special case rules.

In the end I decided to go for a thematic game instead of a simulation.


I think he meant that the actual events of the Donner Party isn't great, but your game is
YES, that is what i meant !!! :-)
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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colmustard21 wrote:
kaziam wrote:
[q="John_VW"]no reflection on the actual events...

I think he meant that the actual events of the Donner Party isn't great, but your game is


Oh. modest

I feel like the snowfall rule will fix the action scarcity issue while staying true to the theme. But without a penalty for using an action space later in the turn players will always beg before hunting and chopping wood.

I`m experimenting with a + 1 bonus for the first player to do each action:

+ 1 to hunt and chop wood rolls
+ 1 desperation card draw or play
+ 1 food/wood from the stock begging

Note that one of the events adds a cannibalism action to the table, and 2 desperation cards add an exclusive cannibalism action space that only you can use (each with slightly different rules).

 
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pharmakon wrote:
I don't 100% understand the Rescue mechanics, though I imagine that I would have to see the actual text on the Rescue cards


Sorry, I didn't really answer that question on the last post. whistle

Here is how the Rescue mechanics work. 4 of the 12 Event cards are Rescue cards. When one of them gets revealed at the start of the turn, then the entire Donner Party (both the Truckee Lake and Alder Creek camps are lumped together for game purposes)has a chance to be rescued.

Starting with the 1st player for that turn, each player decides how many pioneers to send (up to the maximum allowed and obeying restrictions for that particular rescue).

Then again starting with the 1st player each player rolls for each pioneer and consults the Rescue chart. Certain Reaction Desperation cards can help or hinder pioneers. The pioneers that succeed are placed on the Sutter's Fort card and stay there until the end of the game for scoring (although one desperation card allows one of the rescued pioneers to return for his family and give them a bonus to their rescue roll while risking his life again-- as in when Foster and Eddy returned).

So it is possible for the game to end early in the Strategic Game if the rescues come stacked early and there are mostly healthy pioneers around (sick pioneers cannot be rescued until the Salvage Mission at the bottom of the deck, and starving pioneers get -1 to the Rescue roll).

The trick is you need to have starving pioneers to get Desperation cards which are some of the most powerful effects in the game, so keeping everyone healthy (if even possible) will likely make you the target of bad Desperation cards. Also starving and sick pioneers take less food to feed than healthy ones.

I agree with your point about "making the game less dicey." I'm not a big die rolling fan usually, but this game lent itself to a little "fickle hand of fate" dice rolling that could be mitigated by good play and card effects.

Originally there was no recovery roll: once you were starving you were starving, ditto for sick. That was a more elegant system, and if I go back to it then I will likely need to add a fourth condition between healthy and starving such as "Lean" to add a little buffer before sick (which would equate with screwed as you'd get no actions and couldn't be rescued).

There would still be a couple Desperation cards that would allow movement up the starvation ladder, but it would be rare.

Thoughts?
 
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James Wahl
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kaziam wrote:
if I go back to it then I will likely need to add a fourth condition between healthy and starving such as "Lean" to add a little buffer before sick (which would equate with screwed as you'd get no actions and couldn't be rescued).


In my head, I had added a status above "Healthy" that was "Robust," so yeah, I think "Lean" is perfect. I see now that the Desperation cards give you special powers, as well as Beg which is really 'steal' gamewise. I'd say that the only problem that could be run into there is that intentionally starving characters could become a strategy. Or might even be a necessity.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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pharmakon wrote:

In my head, I had added a status above "Healthy" that was "Robust," so yeah, I think "Lean" is perfect. I see now that the Desperation cards give you special powers, as well as Beg which is really 'steal' gamewise. I'd say that the only problem that could be run into there is that intentionally starving characters could become a strategy. Or might even be a necessity.


I added Lean and it fits well. The only irksome part is that I needed to have the pioneer meeples lying down to signify they are lean when they hunt or chop wood (so that players would not mistakenly return them to their cabins healthy at the end of the turn). But it does add a needed buffer and a way to straddle the fence (lean pioneers also can beg or get/play desperation cards).

The only downside to lean is that it gives -1 to hunt/chop wood rolls and rescue rolls (and now starving gives -2 to rescue rolls). I've revamped the charts to read:


Hunt: This action space is only usable by a lean or healthy pioneer. Roll a d6
• Less than 1: hunting accident, move this pioneer to sick
• 1-4: no game found
• 5: shot a rabbit, gain 1 food
• 6: shot a deer, gain 3 food
• 7+: shot a bear, gain 5 food

Chop Wood: This action space is only usable by a lean or healthy pioneer. Roll a d6
• Less than 1: cut by axe, move this pioneer to sick
• 1: dropped all wood running from a bear
• 2-4: gain 1 wood
• 5-6: gain 2 wood
• 7+: gain 3 wood

Rescue Roll (d6):
1: Falls behind or lost in the snow. Discard the pioneer.
2: Dies on the trail. Discard the pioneer. Any player may take a cannibal card for +1 to all subsequent rescue rolls this Rescue.
3: Frostbitten. As 3, or return the pioneer to camp sick.
4-6: The pioneer is rescued. Place it on the Sutter’s Fort card to be scored at the end of the game.


 
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August Larson
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Meeples always look great in a Euro game. But here's a suggestion I used in my previous Donner part game, to help with clarity: instead of Meeples, use dice to represent the pioneers. D6 look best IMO. 6=Healthy, 5=Lean, 4=Starving, 3=Sick, 2=Dead (ready to be eaten), 1=eaten up. These could look very cool being specialty dice instead with pictures of a happy pioneer, neutral one, sad, tongue sticking out, X's over eyes, and a blank side, representing Healthy, Lean, Starving, Sick, Dead, and Gone respectively.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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colmustard21 wrote:
Meeples always look great in a Euro game. But here's a suggestion I used in my previous Donner part game, to help with clarity: instead of Meeples, use dice to represent the pioneers. D6 look best IMO. 6=Healthy, 5=Lean, 4=Starving, 3=Sick, 2=Dead (ready to be eaten), 1=eaten up. These could look very cool being specialty dice instead with pictures of a happy pioneer, neutral one, sad, tongue sticking out, X's over eyes, and a blank side, representing Healthy, Lean, Starving, Sick, Dead, and Gone respectively.


Thanks! That's a great idea! I'm already using a die for the Snowbank card so dice for the pioneers will work. This will also eliminate the need for the "physical condition track."
 
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James Hutchings
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To me, 'starving' sounds worse than 'sick'.
 
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August Larson
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apeloverage wrote:
To me, 'starving' sounds worse than 'sick'.


What if instead of starving it was Sick, and instead of Sick it was Dying?
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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I agree that "sick" is a bit of a catch all. It's not like you're starving and then you catch a cold. I like "dying" although sick is still vague as a third level.

So...

Healthy
Lean
Malnourished? Emaciated? :yuk
Dying soblue
Dead zombie

 
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August Larson
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Hungry? Hungered? Craving? Hollow? Empty?
 
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