Monday, May 20, 2013
Cavemen: The Quest for Fire was the first one I've played. And I hate to say it, but I think I can see why it hasn't been the surprise hit of 2013. It's not a bad game, precisely, but it's also not one I'm itching to play again. Plus the art looks like a junior-high kid made it out of Playdoh.
The object of Cavemen is to be the first player to invent fire. If you are, the game ends immediately, which I suppose means that technically, you would be the only player to invent fire, not the first, as 'first' suggests that there might be a second. And there's not, because the game is over after the first one. So I'm screwing this up already.
In order to invent fire, you have to improve the size of your gang of pipe-hitting cave-dwelling gangsters. Some of them will hunt for you, some will scout. Some will find food. Others will just do lots of thinking - and the thinkers are the ones you need to win, so they probably ought to get a raise.
The problem is, getting a bigger tribe is tricky. You need to feed them all, which means you have to either waste time running around after nuts and berries or you have to hunt dinosaurs. Yes, you hunt dinosaurs. Because whoever made this game was evidently one of those nutty goofballs who thinks the world is 1500 years old and cavemen had dinosaurs for pets. I like to call those people Flinststones paleontologists. Maybe they just wish they could have had a dopey pet dinosaur who thought he was a dog. Whatever, it's ridiculous, because dinosaurs were all dead way before cavemen came along, but we can overlook it because this is a card game, not a scientific debate.
So you'll hunt dinosaurs to harvest food and teeth, and you'll bid teeth against the other tribes to grab the conch shell, and then you'll be the only one allowed to talk at the beach meetings until Piggy gets chased across the island and beaten to death before the crazy kids set the trees on fire. Wait, no, wrong conch.
Oh, right, you'll bid teeth to grab the conch and get first pick of the cards that come up. You'll have first access to the best dinosaurs, the smartest cavemen, and the most thrilling inventions. Not only that, but you'll be able to go twice when everyone else only goes once, so having the conch is really pretty awesome. In fact, it's so good to have the conch that this is my first complaint about this Cavemen game (outside the cavemen hunting dinosaurs thing, and that's mostly just my personal pet peeve about people who let their religion replace their common sense).
See, it's so important to have the conch that it will almost always go to the guy who can bid the most teeth. And then that person will have the pick of the cards that come up, and he will probably decide to do whatever gets him the most teeth so that he can have the conch next turn. And then he'll still get another turn, so using his turn to make sure he gets first choice next turn is actually a good tactical decision. And that means that you stand a very real chance of having one person control the entire game while everyone else just throws up their hands and is bored. And that is one hell of a complaint.
But that's only my first complaint. The second complaint is that there are too many cavemen. Sure, it's a game about cavemen, and so there should be a lot of them, but there should also be enough caves and dinosaurs and inventions and stuff. If you can grab all the caves and keep the other players from getting their hands on them - which you can do if you can control the conch the whole game - you can effectively remove any chance at all that they might have to build a bigger tribe. Once again, one guy runs the game and everyone else sits there irritated.
The problem is, and the thing that really made me upset about the horrible balance issues in this game, is that the basics of this game are a good idea. The implementation is horribly flawed, to the point that I hope to never play Cavemen again, but the idea here is brilliant. Honestly, I think that if you just have the conch pass to the left every time, with no bidding anywhere, you would have a pretty decent game. But I don't know because I'm not testing it because right now I'm kind of irritated. Plus there's that Flintstones thing and the Super Sculpey art.
OK, that's it. That's all my complaints. I actually think Cavemen is a pretty cool game, but it has a couple things in it that just plain ruin it for me. The conch bidding and the unbalanced card counts make this cool little game into a mistake, but if you really want to play this one, just house-rule it a little and you might end up liking it.
Not me, though. I'm not playing this again. Which probably means I'm not getting any more games from Rio Grande.
Neat concepts - shared resource pool, tribe management
Fun core game
Conch bidding lets one player run the whole game
Card imbalances can ruin the game completely
Art is just plain not very good
Bad news: Cavemen is kind of broken. Good news: It's very affordable.
GET IT CHEAP
Posted by Matt Drake at 7:02 PM
Saturday, May 18, 2013
This is relevant because tonight I am reviewing yet another Kickstarter thing, but this time, my money is where my mouth is. Before I wrote this review, I went and backed this Kickstarter, because I really want the figures they're selling. Plus they're cheap! Mine were like half a buck each!
In all fairness, they're cheap because they're laser-cut out of wood. These are fantasy gaming figures (tough to call them miniatures when they are more like silhouettes that stand up). Only they are cut out of wood like the little wooden men you find in every boring game that German people ever made about farming.
These flat wooden dungeon meeples elevate wooden game pieces to an art form. These puppies are awesome. I conned the guy who makes these figures into sending me a bunch from a game he already did, and I love 'em. I only got a dozen, and I really wish he had sent me many, many more, but at the same time, I did just buy like 150 figures, and I got them stupid cheap. So I'm probably set either way.
Here's how this works. The base set of wooden fantasy figures comes with 30 different figures, all painted in different colors so they're easy to tell apart on the table. There's a knight and a wizard, a thief and an archer, plus a few other heroes, plus some we'll get if enough of you agree that these things are great and go promise to give this dude some money. You also get scads of monsters - spider, rat, goblin, orc, troll, skeleton, and a whole bunch of others. But just one of each, so if you need a horde of kobolds, you will need to buy a metric buttload.
"But!" you cry, "I don't need six knights just so I can have six kobolds!" And no, you don't! That's the beauty! For 20 bucks more, you can just get a monster pack that has three each of the monsters you're likely to need more than once. Three zombies, three kobolds, three spiders, three rats - you get the idea. Need more than that? Buy more than one set!
Oh, and there's a dragon. No, strike that, there are TWO dragons. And if you get the figures from Dungeon Heroes (the ones I have) you will have three dragons! I think you would have to agree, that's pretty cool. Even if you don't ever need a dragon, they're like handguns - better to have one and not need it that need one and not have it. Except that I don't have a handgun, so I just have to stick with giant reptiles.
So we've gotten this far and you're reading along at home (or, more likely, from your desk at work) and you're saying, 'But Matt! I want regular old miniatures with sculpted faces and tiny brittle swords and for some reason all the girls are half-naked when they're supposed to kill things for a living!" And this brings me to a great excuse for me to explain exactly why you definitely need to buy these fantastic wooden figures. I present my reason with a sample scenario.
You are the DM. Your friends have just entered the lair of the goblin king, and you have thrown down a great map that you painstakingly built in Photoshop knowing full well you would use it for ten minutes and then throw it away. The heroes have lovingly painted miniatures, except for the one stoner who never bothered to buy a good figure, so his paladin is represented by a miniature depicting a disproportionately well-endowed woman in a bikini. And she is all gray, because he does not paint.
YOU: "Before you is the lair of the goblin king! He leaps up and directs his goblin minions to attack, then releases his pet mustard jellies as his shaman summons a small horde of giant wasps!"
GARY: "I cast silence on the shaman!"
YOU: "Oh, sorry, that's the warg rider. The roll of pennies is the shaman."
RALPH: "I throw a bottle of flaming oil at the mustard jellies!"
YOU: "Wait, no, those are goblins. This poker chip is one mustard jelly, and the river troll mini is the other one."
BETTY: "I scream a battle cry and charge the river troll!"
YOU: "No, there's no river troll. I just don't have a miniature for the jelly."
BETTY: "So what is the braineater with the squid head doing here?"
YOU: "He's a goblin."
BETTY: "And the salt shaker?"
YOU: "Sorry, that's leftover from breakfast. I had eggs."
See how confusing that is? It sucks. Why bother having miniatures at all if you have to substitute all the time? You could use paper standups, except then there is always at least one person at the table looking at the pieces from the side and he can't tell what any of them are supposed to be. Or you could try to buy enough figures that you've got enough for every situation - and that will cost you two thousand dollars and you will spend the rest of 2013 and most of 2014 painting them so that the table is not full of gray metal, except that you want to play before you're done so you wind up with big battles involving three painted figures and ten ugly gray lumps.
These wooden figures are colorful. They are expressive. They are FUN. That's actually the most important thing - they're fun. And you can substitute at will, because they already assume a level of imagination. You won't get people asking you if that orc is really carrying a crossbow just because you ran out of orcs holding spears. You won't have to put a saber-toothed tiger on the table and tell your friends it's a dire wolf. People will ask for descriptions, and have to use their imaginations to improve the scene in front of them, and yet it will still look like a battle and it will still be fun. And since you don't have to use a dildo as a purple worm any more, the table will look consistent.
Now, I want you all to head over and pledge to buy some of these fantastic miniatures, and there are two reasons for that. First, I want this to succeed, because I think it's a great idea. And second, I have a stake in this now. If we can hit some of the stretch goals, I can get even more figures! And by God I want them!
Get over here and throw your money at this guy:
Posted by Matt Drake at 5:40 PM
Friday, May 17, 2013
The game is essentially a gimmick - take the greatest line from Princess Bride and substitute other funny stuff. Like this:
Hello! My name is Arnold Schwartzenegger. You collapsed my souffle. Prepare to die.
That's it. That's the game. In fact, the rules for this game are so short, they printed them on three of the cards. And in case that sounds like a lot of rules, that covers three different ways to play the game. So it's not very many rules.
Really, though, the rules are that you're going to combine a person with a thing that person did, and pretend that's a good reason to kill them. Then laugh.
Game Salute sent me a few of the cards for this game. They're clever, and some are even funny. I have to be honest, I wouldn't buy this game, because it's almost completely pointless, but I also have to admit that I laughed when we were coming up with some rather silly combinations.
A few more samples:
Hello! My name is Harriet Tubman. You branded my stallion. Prepare to die.
Hello! My name is Nikola Tesla. You drank my milkshake. Prepare to die.
OK, two samples.
I don't think I need to keep going. Either you want to play this game or you don't. If this sounds like fun to you, check out the Kickstarter and buy yourself a copy:
HELLO! MY NAME IS PETER PAN. YOU SANK MY BATTLESHIP. PREPARE TO DIE.
Posted by Matt Drake at 9:45 PM