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Cavemen: The Quest for Fire» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Review of Cavemen: The Quest for Fire after 1 play rss

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Last night, I got to play Cavemen at a gamenight, lead by Dan Cassar, the creator of the game himself! Here's what I saw:

Theme
You're recruiting cavemen, some who are better at fighting, some inventing, some foraging, you need to hunt/forage to get food and teeth (currency at that time!), need extra caves for cavemen to live, need food to keep them going, can have cavemen killed off by things you're hunting.....it's all really there and feels good.

Components
The chits for food/teeth are very thick cardboard. The art on them shows very obviously that the small ones are worth 1 and large are worth 5, and physically, there's a large difference in size between the small and large ones, so it's easy to see from across the table, how much each person has.

The cards are perfectly acceptable cardstock, the art is kinda awesome. I've seen others wondering how it was done, Dan confirmed that it is indeed photographed claymation. It's a very different look than you see on any other game, and quite well done.

Gameplay
It's a very nice middle-ground between heavy and light.

Each turn, you flip up a few cards in the middle, then there's an auction to decide who goes first in drafting (AND who gets to go last, getting a second card in one turn!), which has some strategy of when to spend your teeth (which can be hard to come by) to go first, and then whoever goes first spends more food to feed (again, you need to stock up on food to feed extra if you're planning to go first!). If no one bids, then whoever started the auction, goes first (happened to me once, forcing me to spend extra food when I didn't want to).

Also, a nice bit that's different than many auction games is that if you pass, you can get back in the auction if it comes back to you. So you can start off by passing, seeing how things play out around you, and possibly come back in later. Does the person to your right currently have the high bid? Maybe you don't care about going first and would be happy with second, so you pass, but then the person to your left bids and the person to your right passes and now you want to get back in so you're not last that turn. It's a very different, but fun strategy bit.

Next, you go around buying cards/acquiring technologies/fighting dinosaurs. Buying is fairly simple, you pay the resource, you get the card. For technologies, you need cavemen/other tech to provide enough "invention" score, and then can just take the tech card. Fighting dinosaurs is similar to inventing, only with a fighting score. There's a catch, though. Every card has a number on it (1-5, I believe). When you fight, you flip over the top card of the deck, and if it matches one of the numbers on your cavemen, the dinosaur kills one of them (your choice).

So that adds another layer to your strategy, trying to only get cavemen of a couple of numbers, to limit your chances of getting hit. Also, I found myself hiring an additional fighter later in the game, since I was forced to have more numbers, just so I could handle losing him and not losing an inventor.

Finally, after everyone takes an action and start player takes 2, the person who went last that turn chooses a card(s) to discard from the middle, leaving a few for next turn and getting rid of ones you really don't want, and you do it again. So that gives last place a chance to have some control over the game, which is a very nice touch.

This continues until Fire, a tech card mixed in randomly, comes up, someone wins the auction to be first place, and has enough of a tech score to acquire Fire. If no one can, Fire is shuffled back into the deck until it comes up again. So the game is really a variable length, depending on when people get that invention score up and when Fire comes up. In the game I played, Fire came out a couple of times and ended up not being purchased until after we got through the whole deck once (at which point Fire is out every round until someone can claim it).

Strategy/Feel
It all felt pretty good, as long as you played the game "right." When I say that, I mean that I noticed right away that you pretty much need some fighters or you're going to be in trouble. Another player didn't really get any fighters early on, which lead to a spiral that was basically impossible to stop: No fighters means he can't beat any dinosaurs. Not beating dinosaurs means he wasn't getting any teeth. Not having any teeth means he wasn't going first practically ever. Not going first means he wasn't seeing dinosaurs he could beat last till his turn and rarely saw other fighters he could afford to recruit (since again, very few teeth and low food, since he's not killing things). Not having those things meant that he couldn't afford to hire on Inventors. Not having Inventors meant he couldn't take on Inventions. Another player seemed a bit stuck in that loop, but was able to forage for food better than anyone else, so he was able to get out of it.

All in all, this could have just been an issue with it being one game, and the first game for everyone at the table, but if you don't get in on early Hunters, I'm not quite sure how a player can catch back up if they're not in the right spot early on. I'd have to play it more, but unless I missed something big, I foresee a pretty big runaway leader issue in a lot of games.

Conclusion
After 1 game, I can safely say the game is fun. It took us less than an hour with 4 new people, including learning time. The runaway leader problem happened in the game I played, and if that keeps up, I think it can be a huge problem with this game (and maybe there can be a "blue shell" added in, in an expansion to fix this issue), but otherwise, not a bad shorter game.
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Ian Noble
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Did you talk with Dan about your concerns? Seems like a pretty big deal if there is only 1 way to get teeth. The runaway leader issue pops up in other games and can usually be solved with more plays.

 
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ianoble wrote:
Did you talk with Dan about your concerns? Seems like a pretty big deal if there is only 1 way to get teeth. The runaway leader issue pops up in other games and can usually be solved with more plays.


No, because the run-away leader issue dawned on me more and more as I thought about it later and realized what had happened. I at least wanted to put my thoughts here, so if there were things to add from Dan or others who have played more, they could do so.

But it was asked in-game and he did confirm there is only 1 way to get teeth.
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Dan Cassar
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sybrwookie wrote:
But it was asked in-game and he did confirm there is only 1 way to get teeth.


Hunting is the primary way to get teeth, but several inventions give teeth as well, including Human Sacrifice, Burial Rites, Taboo, Earth Worship, Feast, etc.
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Ian Noble
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maltezefalkon wrote:
sybrwookie wrote:
But it was asked in-game and he did confirm there is only 1 way to get teeth.


Hunting is the primary way to get teeth, but several inventions give teeth as well, including Human Sacrifice, Burial Rites, Taboo, Earth Worship, Feast, etc.


I figured there would be other ways. Plus it looks like you can "pay" for other cavemen with food, saving your teeth for the auction.
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maltezefalkon wrote:
Hunting is the primary way to get teeth, but several inventions give teeth as well, including Human Sacrifice, Burial Rites, Taboo, Earth Worship, Feast, etc.


Sure, but to get those inventions, you need Cavemen who can provide more "Inventing," and it's going to be tough to get those relying solely on food you get from doing either lower end hunts or only foraging. And since teeth are important, if someone has an easier path to them, they're probably going to get there first.

ianoble wrote:
I figured there would be other ways. Plus it looks like you can "pay" for other cavemen with food, saving your teeth for the auction.


You can, but if you're using your actions to get food through crappier dinos or through foraging, you're not getting as much as the people who are able to hunt the bigger things (and especially important, you face the same risk as they do if you're hunting a parrot and they're hunting a t-rex, only with them having a MUCH larger payoff at the end).


So while yes, it's technically possible, one path is giving you many more resources for the same risk as the other path.
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sybrwookie wrote:
You can, but if you're using your actions to get food through crappier dinos or through foraging, you're not getting as much as the people who are able to hunt the bigger things (and especially important, you face the same risk as they do if you're hunting a parrot and they're hunting a t-rex, only with them having a MUCH larger payoff at the end).

Lower-end beasts give a much greater proportional payoff between the hunting score required and the number of food provided, so the disparity is not nearly as great as you're making it out to be. More than half of all beasts are huntable with a hunting score of 3 or less, which is each tribe's starting score. On average, those beasts provide 4.2 food each. Beasts that require a hunting score of 4 or more give, on average, just 5.6 food each.

sybrwookie wrote:
So while yes, it's technically possible, one path is giving you many more resources for the same risk as the other path.

This is usually not true. While a player that recruits cavemen all with a single stone marker incurs the same risk as a player with just a single hunter, usually this isn't possible, and the greater number of cavemen required to hunt larger prey most often also results in a greater likelihood of suffering casualties as a result, due to having a larger number of stone markers.
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maltezefalkon wrote:
Lower-end beasts give a much greater proportional payoff between the hunting score required and the number of food provided, so the disparity is not nearly as great as you're making it out to be. More than half of all beasts are huntable with a hunting score of 3 or less, which is each tribe's starting score. On average, those beasts provide 4.2 food each. Beasts that require a hunting score of 4 or more give, on average, just 5.6 food each.


Unfortunately, when the cost to hunt (1 action) and the potential losses (1 Caveman) are the same no matter how strong the beast is, even a small boost in food (and the more important part, a boost in Teeth) is going to be a huge deal, as that stacks on itself, by being able to spend those extra teeth to be first player more often, getting 2x as many actions more often, and, even if the costs are higher, one extra Hunt here and there makes up for it, leaving, at worst, first choice of cards to draft many more times. It's just a huge advantage that there doesn't seem to be much of a mechanism to get past.

maltezefalkon wrote:
This is usually not true. While a player that recruits cavemen all with a single stone marker incurs the same risk as a player with just a single hunter, usually this isn't possible, and the greater number of cavemen required to hunt larger prey most often also results in a greater likelihood of suffering casualties as a result, due to having a larger number of stone markers.


Sure, but if you can go first more often, you raise your chances of sticking to 1-2 markers, while the further down the line you go, the more likely you are going to be to have to take whatever is left. So person going first more might have 5-7 Cavemen of 2-3 markers, while person to that guy's right (the person who will be stuck going last, most often) might have 2-3, and also have 2-3 markers.



It might be as simple as players being experienced enough to not let one person get ahead or back themselves into a corner, but it looks like without some proper coaching, that can happen and once it starts early-game, there just isn't a mechanism later-game for someone like that to come back. Getting a better early setup than others leads to literally more of EVERYTHING good in the game than others can get with a worse setup, while the only downside being that sometimes, some more resources have to be spent to do so, but generally less than the difference between 2 crappier hunts and 2 good ones.

I'm not saying the game is awful or anything like that, it just seems like, as the title says, after ONE play, it might have a flaw.
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Dan Cassar
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Let me start by saying that I really appreciate your feedback on the game. I also truly appreciate your invitation for my response to your review.

There is obviously an element of luck involved here, and definitely some first-player advantage. But from what I've seen, the advantage isn't generally decisive in any way, especially with experienced players.

If you ever want to play again at Redcap's Corner, I'd insist on giving you the conch on the first turn.
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Sarah Reed
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I played this a couple of weeks ago at the game store and did not get the strategy to have more hunters at the beginning. I thought it'd be better go quickly for inventors. Sadly, I fell behind and never caught up. The game experience wasn't that great for me - I felt trapped and inneffective the whole game, but it didn't completely turn me off the game.

My husband rocked it and loved it so much that I bought it for him as his Valentine's Day gift. I'm hoping we'll have time to play it this weekend because I really want to understand this game and get to a point that I enjoy it, even if I still can't beat my husband's super strategy.

I'll be sure to post a session report after we play to see if my feelings have changed about the game.

So my point in posting here is that it does sound very likely that first time players can make the one bad decision at the beginning - to not get hunters - and they will not be able to catch up the rest of the game. Not a completely bad thing as players who are quicker to get the strategy won't make this mistake, but it could turn some people off the game.
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Tim Tripp
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I played this several times over the weekend with my wife and two sons (aged 9 & 13). First game was a learning game and was never finished as we got a few rules wrong at the beginning (We were paying both teeth AND food for cards - You can chooses to pay teeth OR food, not both).

My strategy was to go for inventors and acquire as many technologies as possible - so towards the end of game, I was earning food and teeth just from my tech cards. For most of the game I only had one hunter and I was only acquiring hunters to sacrifice and had the tech card to get them for free (now didn't that sound brutal).

So I had enough invention score to win long before anyone else, but didn't have enough teeth to keep the conch, my sons had gone after hunters and had a lot more food and teeth so I was being out bid by them each turn.

This is what made it such a good game - Hunting gets you teeth, but you can't win with teeth - you win with Inventors, but you also need the conch to win and you can't keep the conch without teeth and Inventors can't hunt for teeth.

Everyone new if I kept the conch the game would be over, so the last few rounds were tense with a lot of negotiating. It got right down to the wire with all of us having enough inventor points to win on the last turn.

I was lucky to get some inventors early on when no one else seemed interested in them. I don't think any strategy is better than the other - as there is some luck in the cards that are drawn at the right time that could tip the scales either way.

And you can play this with Children. My 9 year old son won.
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Sarah Reed
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Glad to hear you had fun, Tim. And that it is good to play with kids. Thanks for adding your experiences. Now I'm actually looking forward to trying it again and see if I can do different strategies. But then again, my husband is a tough one to beat so I may not have a chance at winning anyway, but I do want to be able to enjoy the game.
 
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Dan King (The Game Boy Geek)
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So far in my plays I find the conch holder both a good thing and a bad thing. Good thing because the obvious (get to go first and last in the same turn) but the bad is you need to feed 1 food for every Caveman. Therefore the turn or two before you naturally would get the conch (assuming no one else bids and gets it) you need to concentrate on food to make sure you have enough when you get the conch. I think thats cool because it forces you to go for something that might not be your first choice. Or you'll have a tough decision to go for what you really want, with the tradeoff of hoping you get a big dinosaur drawn next round, or realize you might lose a Caveman from starvation (which might not be the end of the world if you have one that's somewhat disposable towards the end of the game like an explorer after you have 2 caves). My full video review should be coming out next week on this game. So far I really like it!
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Damien Seb. ●leoskyangel●
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I play games not to win, it's the gathering that's important - Thanks for the tip Cate108!
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Thanks for the review. To OP, has the runaway leader problem ever occurred to you again in your subsequent plays?

Really interested in this game, but the so-called problem steered me away.
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Honestly, I can't say. I actually don't know anyone who purchased it, and the game store I played it at doesn't have a store copy (from what I noticed). I would definitely give it another try or 2, but given my first experience with it, I'm not going to be the one to go out and get it, to try again.
 
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