Print this review Das Tal der Mammuts

Das Tal der Mammuts
Valley of the Mammoths

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:

  1. Events
    Depending on the season a summer or winter event is drawn from the appropriate event card pile. Most of the events have a negative effect on all tribes on the board, some affecting only a particular region or have a lasting effect for a whole season. For play balance events are not drawn in the first two turns of the game.

  2. Arrival of new animals
    New animals arrive on the map by randomly drawing them from a sack. Their numbers vary depending on the season (and the number of players) with less animals arriving during the winter turns. Each animal drawn has a defined starting location at the border of the map.

  3. Movement of animals
    The roll of a die determines the direction in which all animals move across the board. Depending on the type of the animal (wolf, tiger, bear, bison, rhino or mammoth) they move a different number of hex spaces and are able to traverse different regions. Whenever an animal moves into a hex occupied by humans its movement stops.

  4. Movement of tribes/setting up camps
    Starting with the strongest tribe on the board (number of camp then number of tribe members are considered) players may move there tribe tokens one or two hex spaces on the map. If any enemy tokens (animals or enemy tribes) are in the same hex a token may only be moved if the enemy is outnumbered because a player must leave at least as many tokens in such a hex as there are enemies present. Instead of moving a player may set up a new camp if there are at least one warrior and one female and no enemy tokens in a hex space.

  5. Combat
    Combat takes place in hexes occupied by different tribes or by tribes and animals. Combats are resolved by die rolling with a modifier for each warrior, animal or camp. Combats between tribes are resolved first and finish when there are only warriors of one tribe left in the hex concerned. Females finding themselves in a hex with enemy warriors and no warriors of their own tribe are replaced with a female token of the "capturing" tribe. Camps may be captured in a similar way. After all tribe combats have been resolved combat with animals takes place. Killed animals provide food points which can be used in the next phase.

  6. Survival
    In this phase the tribe first collects food points when occupying hex spaces in forests (gathering) or near water (fishing) or for harvesting any previously cultivated plain hexes with camps. Then they consume food points. Each tribe member requires one food point to survive the turn. If insufficient food points are available the player must remove any surplus tribe members from the map.

  7. Births
    At the end of each season (not at the end of each turn) up to two females per camp give birth to new tribe members. The gender of the new member is determined by a die roll with a small chance (roll of a 6) that twins are being born. New-borns are immediately considered adults.

  8. Cultivating land
    In the last turn of winter tribes may cultivate any plain hexes with camps at the cost of one food point.

  9. New fate cards
    Players with less than 5 fate cards may drawn one new card from the fate card pile. Fate cards usually provide an advantage to a tribe by either strengthening the own tribe or harming enemy tribes.

  10. End of turn
    The season marker is now moved one space clockwise. If a player controls four camps that player must notify the other players about this condition. If the same player still controls four camps at the end of the next turn that player wins the game.

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) Tal der Mammutsit may be a good idea to quickly go through them before the very first game.Freund 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