Publisher: Eurogames/Jeux Descartes
Author: Bruno Faidutti
Tester: Aaron Haag
Game Tested: 1st release 2001
Scenario: Will your tribe be the first to vanquish its enemies? Can it prosper, multiply and seize vast territory? Are you ready to battle rival tribes and confront ferocious beasts? To hunt, fish, forage and farm in order to provide the necessary food for the survival of your tribe? Then welcome to the Valley of the Mammoth… and good luck! This quote from the English rules nicely describes what this game is all about: controlling a tribe of humans in prehistoric times with the aim to not only avoid starvation (difficult!) but also extend your control of the map board by setting up camps.
The Game: Ten years after the first release of this game ("La Vallée des Mammouths", 1991, Ludodélire) the German version became available at Spiel 2001 in Essen. An English release ("Valley of the Mammoths", 2001, Eurogames Descartes USA) is also planned and should be available by the time you read this. Compared with the French version there have been some slight modifications to make the games more balanced and in some respects easier to play (e.g. animals all have the same strength now).
The games is set up on a board with 37 hex spaces depicting three types of regions (plains, forests, mountains). As a nice touch the board comes in two pieces and is printed on both sides using different regional setups - so there are a total of 4 different maps to play on. Each of the two to six players controls a tribe of 10 warriors and 6 females of which at the start of the game 5 warriors and 2 females are placed in a camp on the board . The players then receive 5 fate cards each. Fate cards provide a tribe with one-time abilities or options and may be used when the appropriate turn is played. The player's task is to set up a total of four camps on the board and keep them for one complete round. The first player achieving this goal wins the game.
The game is played in turns consisting of up to 10 phases each. The actions in a phase vary depending on the current season of the year: each game year is divided in a three turn summer season followed by a three turn winter season.
The phases of a turn are:
Playing Time: The game can be explained in 15 minutes and played in about 60 minutes to 3 hours depending on the number of players and the type of players (fighters vs. builders).
Similar Games: La Vallée des Mammouths, Vinci, Ursuppe
Westpark Gamer's Opinion: In many respects this a typical Faidutti game with a strong strategical component plus some equally strong chaotic elements added (the fate and event cards). Players who like this kind of mixture will definitely like this game. The potential for clever strategies is quite high and as long as one does not mind too much to be hit by some ill fate or event at the worst possible time this game provides a lot of fun.
Because some of the fate cards can have quite a big effect on the game (e.g. "Kindbettfieber" i.e. childbed fever or "Steinschlag" i.e. falling rocks) it may be a good idea to quickly go through them before the very first game. This is also recommended for those (non-Europeans?) who may have problems with the cards' wonderful cartoonish graphics (e.g. "Freund", i.e. "friend") or theme (e.g. "Homopower"). Actually, the German "Homopower" card (which allows a player to establish a camp without the necessity to have members of different gender present) translates to "Domestic Partners" in the English version. So its more in line with Lemmon/Matthau's "The Odd Couple" and rest assured: in the game females are still required to keep the camp for longer than just one turn or to propagate ;). And there is a sufficient number of cards in the deck so you can take out which ever you find inappropriate for whatever reason.
We found it quite hard to keep one's tribe strong enough as the food supply is very sparse. Some bad events during the winter season actually can reduce a tribe to a mere couple. Combat between tribes therefore is not a common event and usually only happens once one tribe has become so strong that some of its members will not survive anyway. In this case its better to loose warriors in combat rather than due to starvation.
There is certainly room for a number of different strategies: from "empire building" and avoiding combat with other tribes as much as possible but instead concentrating on setting up camps and collecting food to agressively "attacking everything that moves" with the aim to take over as many enemy females and camps as possible. I still have to see the empire building strategy to really work (I lost twice trying to do this being unable to defend the 4 camps I set up). Also keep in mind that the game tends to take considerably longer if all players are of the empire building kind. I personnally believe that the game is much more fun when played agressively.
There is an optional rule about the usage of fire which I strongly recommend you use. It makes the game only a little more complex but adds an advantage to combat with animals which in my opinion is necessary to generate sufficient food. On the other hand this is counterbalanced by the fact that now 1.5 food points are consumed per tribe member per turn. Another variant also dealing with food availability is called Health Food and is described on Bruno Faidutti's web pages.
There seems to be a second edition of the rules that state that the game is to be played with three to six players instead of the two to six mentioned in my 1st release rules book. The game can be played with 2 players without any problems, however, due to the fact that there is a lot more room for expansion, fights will occur less often than with more players, which may suit those "empire builders".
One word about the German Eurogames edition: although the quality of the game components is quite high I must say that this game again is a typical Eurogames title. I wished that they would get the rules right with the first release of a game. The German rule book has some serious translation errors regarding the camp set-up, fire-taking and food gathering. The correct rules are that camps may be set up and fire may be taken as long as there are no enemies in the same hex and fishing provides only one food point if a hex is located at a river and a lake. Luckily, Bruno Faidutti provides an errata page on his web site.
There is also a tiny flaw with a small number of games of the Eurogames edition: the crop markers are printed incorrectly showing only one ear of grain on both sides. This can easily be corrected by marking one side with a bold 2 (or by writing to Eurogames who will send you a correct set of tokens). One small additional hint here while you are marking the crop tokens: we also marked the animal tokens with their movement points, movement ability through terrain and their food points. This speeds up the game a little as you do not have to look up these values in the rules every time you need them. Alternatively, you may want to print out Pierre-Nicolas Lapointe's very nicely done help card.
Aaron's Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Westpark Gamers' Rating: 7.67
|Links to further information:||Westpark Gamers' Strategy Tips|
|Bruno Faidutti's page with english rules, a FAQ and rules errata|
|Luding link for Das Tal der Mammuts|