By Peter Ruth II
Sorry for the delay, Circus goers, in getting reviews out. I haven’t played many games in the last month due to my normal group not being able to meet for a variety of reasons, the least of which is my dear friend’s poor, but improving, health. So, forgive the lags in between reviews for a while as it’s getting hard to get people together. I’ll try to get more out in the near future. I had planned a “Holiday Buyers Guide” and have the template made, but I missed the timeline pretty heavily and so I’ve cancelled it. Finally, I’ll have a 2011 recap done this week. Onto the fun!
This week’s review subject is a 2007 game out of Germany, from MAG Games. I know, you’re thinking, “What the hell do I care about some German game from 5 years ago that I never heard of?” Well, it’s my stated goal to bring you news about games you may not know about that are worth your time. Well, Caveman is that game. It’s got painted dinosaurs intent on chewing your brain stem out. It’s got half-naked cave-chicks who will, without compunction, have sex with cavemen at the drop of a hat, provided there’s another man or woman involved in the act. That’s right: the game not only encourages threesomes, but you can’t really advance without them.
The upshot of the menage-a-trois action is that you have kids who more often than not will die without so much as a whimper. And the best part, there’s an opportunity to chuck spears at each other, or at the dinosaurs. It’s simply a really fun little game that really amounts to a sort of set collection game with a healthy infusion of “essence of Ameritrash”. There’s even custom dice, and if you have a pulse, you should like custom dice.
The idea behind the game is that you play the part of a tribe of Cretaceous humans who are struggling to emerge from the Stone Age through technological advancements. The players are tasked with winning through two possible paths: players can develop five stone age technologies or can grow their tribe to eight adults. The board is strewn with randomly placed chits that depict animals, berries, caves, trees, and flint, each of which must be landed upon in conjunction with one another to discover technologies.
Alternatively, when a man and woman of a tribe is on the same space and another woman is on berries or another man is on an animal, the paired up lovers produce a cave kid. Kids can, at the end of a turn, be converted into adults via a die roll. The “die roll” is aptly named, too, because in many cases, the kid never grows up because if you don’t roll well, he dies. The game ends immediately upon a tribe growing to eight adults or when a fifth technology token is earned.
The components are top-notch as well, with the box art being quite attractive and the chits being very well illustrated. I mean, the box art alone just begs you to buy the game. Inside the box you’ll find several custom dice in green, yellow, and red, with each color being used for something different. Also inside are a big pile of cards that ship with a plastic cigar band sleeve to keep them from flying all over the place.
Inside are six tribes’ worth of people chits, with men, women, and children represented, not to mention the five technology chits used to track a tribe’s progress toward civilization. A neat thing about the people chits are that the chits representing the men are larger than the women, which in turn are larger than the children, so that the nature of a stack of people is easily identified. On top of that, there’s a big pile of resource chits which are used to populate the board’s resource locations, allowing each game to have a different layout. This aids replayability greatly, but it also can unbalance the game a bit because you can end up having a slew of goodies in close reach of one tribe over others.
Beyond that, there’s a rulebook that is written in several languages, yet is one of the worst-organized I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s all over the place, even for as short as it is, and several reads would be required had they not included some of the best reference cards ever. The cards alone allow you to completely understand the flow of the game, and using them alone is the best way to play.
The board itself is actually very nice, with nice illustration and is easy to play on. The last bit worth mentioning is that the game shipped with an baggie of prepainted dinosaurs that look really awesome. I mean, the game wouldn’t be nearly as fun without tangible, carnivorous beasts vying to chomp you or squish you in between their feet like Godzilla did to soap during the third step in his recovery. All things considered, the game is has remarkably good production value, although miniatures for the tribals would’ve been nicer, a little. Still, it is well worth the price I paid for it.
So now you know what it looks like, but how about gameplay? Let’s explore that, and I’m fairly certain that you won’t be disappointed.
To set the game up, simply choose a colour of tribals, shuffle the deck of cards and place it on their volcanic resting place on the board, shuffle and place the resource chits on their board locations, and finally, choose and place your three dinosaurs in their start positions around the volcano. After that, you’re ready to play. The whole process should take around five minutes, at the longest, which is in my opinion the sweet spot for all board games.
Gameplay is quite simple, which makes this game all the more fun because while the method of playing is simple, the strategy is actually quite deep if you choose it to be. You can win through procreation, which is always my first choice, or you can win through developing the five required technologies, each of which provide you a bonus or ability upon development. Random events occur which can augment or stymie your chances of success as well, which throws a bit of an “X Factor” into the mix as well, so nothing is absolutely certain, and sometimes timing can be critical.
On your turn, you simply pull a card from the deck and resolve it. Cards are split into two sections, with the top section giving your tribe an allocation of movement points to share amongst your people, and the bottom section has either an event or allows you to move a specific dinosaur a certain amount of spaces. You must first use whatever movement points you wish, and these points can be used to bring new tribals into play by placing them in your start zone. Adding new tribals can only happen if you have three or less in play, so once you’ve hit your fourth you can only expand your tribe through engaging in threesomes with your adult tribals. Apparently the game is OK with polygamy and bestiality, but draws the line at incest as children can not procreate.
To procreate, you have to have a woman on top of a man tribal, which makes sense, but you also need to have one of two conditions met. The first condition is that a different woman has to be grabbing some “berries”, and the second is that a man has to be on top of an animal. So, it really does take three to tango in Caveman. If the conditions are met, you can place a child on top of the man and woman who were the principals in the mating process. The only restriction is that there is a stack limit in play, so if you have too many people engaging in the orgy or too many children around, you can’t effectively make babies.
At the end of a turn you may choose to advance the children into adults which, like life, pretty much amounts to the roll of a die. You roll the special die to determine if your child survives and becomes an adult, and be advised that the deck is stacked against you due to the distribution of the icons. If you’ve developed the “fur” technology, your odds improve, as does the advent of developing fire. King Louie had it right. If you make a successful roll, the child chit is removed and a man or woman chit is placed in its stead, but if not, the child simply ceases to be and is removed. On top of that, children must always be accompanied by an adult, so if you elect to abandon one, it immediately dies.
Developing technologies is done by having your tribals sitting on different resources at the same time, such as having two different tribals on flint resource chits simultaneously, which allows you to develop the spear technology, thus giving you a stronger fighting ability. Develop the fire technology and your kids run a better chance of survival, and develop the wheel and you gain a +1 movement rate on each subsequent turn. There’s also a cave skill that you can develop that allows you to hide out in caves, earning sanctuary from attacks. The only restriction in developing these technologies is that you can only develop one technology per turn, so there is no hope of placing your people on a bunch of chits and getting a windfall of technological breakthroughs. The only thing missing is a monolith chit which would allow you to develop all the technologies at once; apparently the designers aren’t Arthur C. Clarke fans.
Once you’re done moving your tribals, you may be allowed to move dinosaurs, depending on the card you pulled, which may end in bloodshed. This is epic, because while each dinosaur has a different aptitude for gnawing tribals’ bones into meal, all of them are more lethal than your average tribal. Getting into combat, seeing as it makes sense to do so now, there are different rules for combat depending on who is involved. To initiate combat, you simply need to share a space with an enemy tribal or a dinosaur. While all cave dwellers roll the green dice, the thunder lizards get to roll their own red die, which has a higher hit percentage. It’s got the Heroscape combat system, essentially, where each success counts as a hit, with opposing hits cancelling one another out. Killed dinosaurs respawn at their start position, but tribals who die go back to the owner’s pile to be put into play later.
It is immensely satisfying to combat against tribals with dinosaurs. They are, without a doubt, the most efficient way to reduce an enemy force quickly. The T-Rex is the baddest of them, with three red dice to chuck against the meager tribals’ one die per chit. Luckily, the tribals can help even the odds with a spear, which allows the spear symbols to cause a hit as I alluded to earlier. The fighting is truly intense, because with limited resource spaces on the board, killing an enemy tribal before who is sitting on a resource can cripple them momentarily, giving you the momentum to surge for a win. You not only deny them the ability to use the resource, you also wipe out people, which sets them back on that front as well.
Going back to the cards, it’s about a 50/50 ratio between allowing dinosaurs to move and events. The events can be downright nasty, such as forcing all players to lose a technology, while some can be simply annoying, such as not allowing use of caves for a turn or not allowing children to advance to adults for a turn. The random events aren’t so pernicious that it’s distracting or unbalances the game, but the fact that you always have to be wary of them does make you think, especially after five or six games where you know most of the events.
The game ends immediately when a player either develops his last technology or converts enough children to adults to hit the eight adult bogey. In the games I’ve played, it’s usually tense right up until the climax, and if anything about this game is truly well done above all else, the balance of keeping a runaway leader from emerging is it. It’s a clawing, teeth-gnashing good time the whole way through, and thus far I’ve never experienced one player truly being the leader from the start and staying in the lead the whole time, even when the resources are stacked in his favor. It’s just a fun game, albeit a little on the random and simple side.
Why Caveman Is A Jurassic Park Full Of Awesome:
– Nice art and brisk gameplay make this a fun ride through the stone age
– It seats up to six players, and is fun playing from three to six equally
– An hour and a half is the perfect sweet spot for a game like this, and it’s right there
– The reference cards are brilliantly executed and the game can be played solely by using them
– The game encourages prehistoric threesomes involving bestiality
Why The Game Exudes A Steaming Pile Of T-Rex Turds:
– Random events can be brutal in rapid succession, extending the game by as much as forty minutes
– Growing children into adults can be an exercise in frustration
– The rulebook seems to have been written by actual Neanderthals
While this is a really good game, it’s not a great game. It’s definitely a game that sees the table quite a bit at my place due to the fun factor, and it’s playable by anyone from about 8 years old and up, although that may be too young as you’d likely have to explain why a mommy and daddy caveman need to have mommy’s sister with her hand on daddy’s berries in order to make a cave kid. Barring that issue, though, it’s well worth the price of admission. I’m certainly glad that I own it, and I’d say that very few people wouldn’t enjoy playing this well-produced game a great many times.
I’d usually say that you can learn more at the publisher’s website, but for some reason, they don’t really seem to give a monkeys: http://www.jklmgames.com/gamessin.php?game=238
You can’t read the rules, either, which may be a blessing. Just look at the photo of the reference card below to see how to play, it’s really the only way to go.
For those of you who didn’t know what I meant when I referenced Godzilla, see Joe Lansdale’s “Godzilla’s 12 Step Program” here…it won’t disappoint: