Full disclosure: A review copy of Paleolithic was provided by Shepherd Kit.
It’s always exciting to get a chance to check out games from outside the U.S. / Europe, and this is no exception! Previously, I had tried some of the Emperor S4 games from Taiwan (that have since been brought over by Deep Water Games), but these are entirely different, as they’re targeted towards a slightly younger audience. As a fan of lighter games myself, I’m still interested.
In Paleolithic, you play as tribes in prehistoric Taiwan hunting, gathering, and creating to try and establish yourself as the Great Elder of your people. With a simplified worker placement mechanic designed to appeal to newer players and bright, colorful art, it’s definitely a fun game on the table, but how does it hold up to some play? Let’s find out!
Setup is moderately straightforward. One helpful thing is that the board is a 4-piece puzzle:
So it shouldn’t take that long to assemble. Every player should be given / assigned a player board:
Each one has a symbol on the board; that’s where you’ll start. Give a player all of the tokens in their color:
Place two cavemen tokens on that starting space, along with the animal. I’m not sure what you do with the third caveman. Maybe it’s in case the other gets lost.
You’ll want to set up the tribal stands and place the hut tokens in it so that your player board looks like this:
As for the tribal tiles, shuffle them up and place two face-up on the board:
Shuffle the Artifact cards, and place five face-up on the left side of the board:
Also, place the dice somewhere:
And add the resource tokens near the board:
You’re pretty much done! If you’re playing the basic game, you are done, but for an advanced game, also add in a Legendary Character:
You’ll put one of the cards on the space for it and then roll the dice, placing the Legendary Character on the space matching the sum of the dice.
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
A game of Paleolithic is played over several rounds. Each round, you may either do the Explore or Workshop Action. Let’s talk about each.
During the explore action, you can do these two steps, in order:
- Migrate: Move one of your cavemen / animal companion tokens up to one space in any direction. Naturally, these spaces must be connected by a path in order to move between them.
- Collect: Roll the dice. At every location where you have tokens, collect the resources corresponding to the sum of the dice and the number of tokens you have on that space. In the basic game, do not count any Tribal Tokens you’ve placed. That’s only for the full game. You can only hold 12 resources, though, so be mindful of that.
That’s pretty much the whole Explore Phase. If you’re looking for a strategic variant / you want to slow the game down a bit, make it so that players must choose a location and roll for it, rather than getting resources from all locations. I find that this adds a bit of strategy to things, but your mileage may vary.
During the Workshop Phase, you may choose one of two actions: Produce Artifact or Build Tribe.
- Produce Artifact: You may discard resources equal to the resources pictured on any Artifact card on the board to purchase it and add it to your player board. At the end of the game, you may score bonus points for that Artifact, based on what your player board says. Either way, each Artifact has its own points, so you get those, for sure. Draw a new Artifact card to replace the old one.
- Build Tribe: You may spend the requisite resources pictured on a Tribal Tile to take it and slot it into one of the spaces on your hut board on your player board. When you do, you add one of your Hut tokens to any space on the board where you already have tokens. Each Tribal Tile is worth 3 points at the end of the game, but you may only buy 3. In the complete game, these huts count as additional (permanent) workers, as well, so you can get more valuable resources by focusing on spots.
The Basic game ends whenever a player has 5 Artifact Cards and Tribal Tiles, and the Complete Game ends at 8. Once that happens, tally scores:
- Players score the points present on each Artifact card and 3 points for every Tribal tile they possess.
- Players score bonus points on their player board for having certain kinds (or sets) of Artifact cards.
The player with the most points wins!
One last thing you can do is add in the Legendary Characters (see setup above). When you do, if a player has tokens on the same space as the Legendary Character and chooses to Workshop (rather than explore), they may also use the Legendary Character’s ability. The Legendary Character then moves on, and you roll the dice and re-place them on the board (as you did in setup).
Player Count Differences
The major difference is going to be contention for Artifact Cards, since players want different combinations of types and you might be fighting against nearly everyone to get the cards that you want, which is definitely going to hurt you in the long-term. That said, at two, the board feels a bit empty, and it’s possible with some bad placement that nobody will ever use the Legendary Character (it spawns far away from both players). That’s always a bummer, but what can you do? If there’s too much overlap between the players’ needs then it’s also possible to get stymied by the cards; nobody wants to buy the card that’s not useful and potentially give their opponent a useful card on the flop, especially since both players have been hoarding resources. That stalemate isn’t great for anyone, so I’d probably recommend this most highly in the 3- to 4-player range to avoid those two things.
- You’re gonna occasionally need to snipe your opponent. Do you see them building resources for a Tribal Tile? Yours, now. What a shame, etc. etc. etc. I think that the primary way to come out on top in this game is to trick your opponent into wasting time. Otherwise, it’s gonna come down to sorta luck of the dice / which cards come up.
- If you’re not getting the cards you need, buy cards anyways. You may be able to end the game before your opponent locks down too many cards if they’re always waiting for the best ones (since you can only buy one card per turn, remember). That’s a decent way to come out ahead.
- Try for those two-resource rolls. Even if the rolls aren’t quite what you need, you might be able to leverage the Legendary Character to change up the resources or buy different cards with the excess. Either option is pretty good, since either option is eventually points.
- Go wide, if you really want meat. Unfortunately none of the Artifact cards are made with meat, so, that’s not super flexible long-term, but if you’re looking for short gains (or trying to build a Tribal Tile), going wide is a pretty good way to do that (since you’ll gain ~3+ resources, as all spaces activate simultaneously on a roll). Looking at it another way, if you get super lucky you might just get swamped with resources. You’ll … waste many of them because you can only hold 12, but, in the meantime it’s a pretty daring dream.
- Make sure to lean into your Player Board, if you can. It gives you a lot of points for buying cards in your set and in the sets you need, so, don’t waste that opportunity. You’ll need it if you want to win.
- Collect some Jade? I find many players (except for Green, obviously) tend to undervalue it and then we end up with a bunch of useless Jade Artifact cards that nobody can buy. They tend to be relatively cheap (in terms of Resource Cost, they’re low-cubes) but high-value; if you can make an engine that works for you, there, you can rake in a lot of points.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The component quality is super nice. It’s a really nice, cushy punchboard and the cards are a very satisfying heft and thickness. I assume this means it could take a fair bit of play, but also it’s just a very satisfying product to have in hand and play with.
- The art is whimsical and endearing. It’s definitely aimed at younger players, but it’s very cheerful and pleasant, both of which are things I appreciate in games, these days.
- It’s low-complexity enough for new players / youths to grasp while still having strategic depth. It’s a slimmed-down worker placement game with some dice-rolling to balance out the luck/skill ratio. I think that’s generally a solid way to do it, so, I’m supportive.
- Sets up pretty quickly. It helps that everything is fairly large, so you can kinda just put it where it needs to go. I imagine that having a family-weight game that takes a long time to set up also is kind of a non-goal.
- The theme is super cool. Prehistoric Taiwanese hunter-gatherers is not a theme I see get a lot of play, so I’m kinda excited about it.
- If you don’t like the “blocking” aspect of worker placement, you’ll appreciate that this game has none of that. It’s a very, very nice worker placement. Like, the kindest one I’ve ever played. The meanest thing you can do is take a card someone else probably wanted (and I suppose you’ll have to at a certain point, especially if you have competing aspirations).
- Still not totally sure what the third caveman token is for. I assume it’s in case another gets lost, but the rules make no references to it, so it’s anyone’s guess, I suppose.
- The rules could be a smidge clearer. I messed up a play or two early on because I got read “any” as “any one” instead of the intended “every”. (“Any will activate” as opposed to “Every space will activate”.) My mistake, but, still, just using every might make it a bit easier to process.
- At two, you can get into an aggressive stalemate waiting on “good” cards. I’ve seen the game grind to a bit of a halt with that sort of thing. Both players just need to … buy other cards, but the risk of their opponent getting a good flop is often enough to keep players held back.
- You can only do so much to mitigate luck. If your opponent gets the rolls they need and you don’t, it can be a bit frustrating. Thankfully some of the advanced rules help fix that (Huts are a permanent +1 on that space; the Legendary Characters also can do a few things to help). The major issue is that a lucky player can usually be mitigated by a solid catch-up mechanic, but there doesn’t seem to be one, here, as far as I can tell, so if a player gets some good early card flips or some really nice dice rolls, it can be hard to make any headway against that player’s early lead.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Paleolithic is fun! I think that I’d love to see it more widely available stateside, as a few of my friends that have kids on the younger end (slightly the older end of HABA) would be interested in this kind of game for their kids, and even when I play it I still have a lot of fun with it (probably due to the theme and great art). It’s got pretty solid mechanics, a nice runway for expansions (I say this with two expansions already in-hand), and a very unique theme, all of which make for a very pleasant and positive gaming experience. I’m hoping that the expansion components add a catch-up mechanic and a way to cycle cards more easily, because those are my only two main areas that I’d like to see improvements. Either way, if you’re looking for a lighter spin on worker placement-style games or you want to check out games with a unique theme, I’d suggest trying Paleolithic!