Reviewed by Herb Levy
VALLEY OF THE MAMMOTHS (Eurogames-Descartes; $29.95)
It seems that Eurogames has fallen for prehistoric times. Last year, they released Evo (featured in the Summer 2001 GA REPORT) which centered on dinosaurs. This time, another prehistoric animal – the Mammoth – takes center stage in their new release: Valley of the Mammoths.
Valley of the Mammoths is a new edition of the original game by Bruno Faidutti, published by the now defunct French company Ludodélire as La Vallée des Mammouths back in 1989. The large square box contains the typically high quality components we’ve come to expect from Eurogames: a mounted game board (and, as in Evo, consisting of two parts so that they the parts can be flipped to form different board configurations), three decks of cards (Fate, Summer Event and Winter Event), animal tokens (and a bag to hold them), six sets of tribe tokens, food markers and other assorted markers and six pages of rules. This moderate complexity game is for three to six players (but plays best with five or six) and has a playing time of about two hours.
Players begin with a set of color-coded markers representing their tribe. These tokens represent men (warriors), women (females) and camps. In turn, each player sets up 1 camp, 2 women and five men (also known as warriors) in a vacant space on the board. When first seeding the board, no player may set up in an adjacent area. The Fate cards are shuffled and each player is dealt a starting hand (four cards with 5 or 6 players; five cards with 3 or 4).
Time in the game is measured in “years” consisting of two seasons: summer and winter. There are three turns in each of the two seasons. (However, the game begins in the SECOND turn of the summer season so there are only two turns in the first summer cycle.) Turns follow a specific pattern of activities (subject to certain modifications).
First, an Event card is drawn. Event cards are chance cards that can influence, usually for the worse (!), chances for survival! (The yellow backed cards are used on summer turns; blue backed cards are on winter turns.) Next, animals (represented by the animal counters that are held in the provided bag) are drawn and placed on the board (placement determined by letters on the back of the counters) and the animals populating the entire game board may move, based on the roll of the die to determine direction. Animals move up to three spaces (based upon the type of animal they are) unless stopped by terrain (a mountain stops a wolf, for example), the edge of the board or the presence of any humans in a space. Now it’s time for the humans to try to survive.
The player with the most camps goes first. Turn order goes clockwise from there. The player on turn may move any or all of his tribe tokens one or two spaces. If an animal or another tribe is present in the space, movement is only possible if the active player OUTNUMBERS the enemy or animal tokens present. Should a female and warrior token occupy an empty space, they may set up a camp (only one camp per space is allowed). Camps must be occupied by at least one FEMALE token. Otherwise, the camp is considered abandoned and is removed from the board.
Combat occurs when tokens of a tribe are in a space occupied by an enemy tribe and/or animals. Combat is resolved by die roll + modifiers. (For instance, the presence of a camp in a space where you are fighting adds +1 to your die roll.) High roller wins and eliminates the opposition. In true caveman fashion, only the warriors fight. (Females only fight if only females are involved in a confrontation.) If an enemy tribe is conquered, the women are taken over (the enemy’s color-coded female tokens are exchanged for the victor’s tokens). While defeating another tribe can give you women and food (if you take over an enemy camp), your food supply is, to a large degree, dependent on combat against animals.
Once again, the dice are rolled with modifications applied and high number being victorious in animal/human battle. Killed animals supply food points (from 1 for a wolf to 6 for a mammoth). Defeated animal tokens are returned to the bag, available to return to the board on a subsequent turn. With all combat resolved, survival is determined.
Food is critical to survival. In this phase, players calculate how much food they have generated from hunting (via combat with animals), fishing (you get 1 food point for each space occupied that borders a lake or river), foraging (1 food point for each occupied forest space) and for harvesting. Crops may be planted, one per occupied space, at the end of winter at a cost of 1 food point per crop. Harvesting only occurs on the last summer turn and yields 8 food points for each occupied and undamaged crop space. Crops planted in a space where an animal has entered are considered “trampled” and generate only 4 food points. All humans (females and warriors alike) consume 1 food point each. If you have created more food points than you spend, the excess goes into your “bank”. If you have less than needed, tribe tokens are eliminated!
Finally, at the end of each season, surviving women of the tribe give birth. Again, the die is rolled. On a 1 or 2, a new female comes into play. A 3, 4 or 5 results in a new warrior. On a toss of 6, we have twins! (The die is rolled twice more but now rolls of a 6 yield warriors.) Also, at the end of each season, players may draw ONE new fate card if their hand of fate cards has dipped below their starting amount.
The first player to control 4 camps must alert the other players that he controls 4 camps. If at the end of the next turn, he still controls 4 camps (even if they are 4 different camps), that player wins! Conversely, if at the end of a turn only animals roam the board, ALL players lose!
Valley of the Mammoths is a game of tremendous chaos. As such, it probably simulates on some level the wild and unpredictable life of early man. While there are decisions to make, the best plans can be undermined in a flash by the turn of a card or the roll of a die. One constant is that you need to give a lot of attention to getting food as it is difficult to maintain a sufficient supply to keep all of your tribe alive. Very often, the best play is to separate yourself as much as possible from the other tribes to avoid conflict. This allows you to work on building those camps. Conflict between tribes is usually a “last resort”; done when an opponent is on the verge of winning. Optional rules include “fire” which gives an advantage in combat, especially useful in fighting animals and getting more food. However, these modifications are done at the expense of time (making the game longer) and food (as people now need 1.5 units of food instead of 1 to survive).
The artwork by Gerard Mathieu is delightful but sometimes get in the way. For example, there are TWO styles of warrior tokens and TWO styles of female tokens but the styles have NO bearing on game play. This is an unnecessary distraction. And nowhere is the cultural differences between the United States and France more pronounced than in the artwork on the female counters. The females are portrayed bare-breasted. Now I have nothing against bare-breasted females. (Some of my best friends are….) But if you’re aiming for a family audience (and you are, judging from the kid-friendly graphics), this might be an unwelcome surprise for the adults gathered around the family gaming table. While it’s true that the counters are small and the counter graphics may be overlooked (unlikely but possible), the graphic theme is repeated around the perimeter of the inside box so you can’t miss it!
Valley of the Mammoths is a game sure to appeal to those gamers interested in the topic of prehistoric man and like the idea of rising to the challenge of the elements and the unexpected. Being able to quickly respond to abrupt shifts in your luck and situation is the key to victory. And watch out for those women! – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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Winter 2002 GA Report Articles