Full disclosure: A preview copy of Camp Pinetop was provided by Talon Strikes Studios. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.
Double Kickstarter week! I mean, it’s going to be double Kickstarter week every now and then for a while. We’ve got Camp Pinetop and The Grand Carnival this week, The Search for Planet X and Calico in a few weeks, Cards of Olympus and Tangle a few weeks after that, and then we’re basically in November and it’s September, now, so who knows what will happen. I’ll be excited to see where the ride takes us, but for the meantime let’s focus on Camp Pinetop.
So your family has just dropped you off at Camp Pinetop and you’ve been made an Official Possum Scout! It’s not a very prestigious rank, but, everyone’s gotta start somewhere. Your goal for the summer is to make the most of your Camp Pinetop experience and learn new skills, make friends, and acquire badges. Word on the street is that you may even be able to reach the coveted Badger Scout rank by the end of it. If it’s so easy, you figure, might as well challenge the other local Troops to a race. First one to make Badger wins!
Give each player a player board:
Some campers, rank markers, and achievement cubes:
And 12 Achievement Patch Cards:
You’ll want to use the side without the arrows; those come later. Now, split the map cards into three stacks:
Shuffle each of the stacks separately, then take some from each stack and shuffle them together:
- 2 – 3 players: 4 of each type.
- 4 – 5 players: 5 gray, 5 blue, 6 green.
Make a 3 column, 4 row grid if you have 12 cards or a 4×4 grid if you have 16. Then, shuffle the Mastery Cards and place one on each corner of the grid:
Finally, shuffle the Supply Cards:
Deal some to each player:
- First player: 5 Supply cards.
- Last player (2 players): 6 Supply cards.
- Last player (3+ players): 7 Supply cards.
- Other players: 6 Supply cards.
Make a deck out of the remainder, and place two cards on either side, face-up.
Once you’ve done that, have players place one of their Campers on a Map Card (in turn order) and you’re ready to begin! If you want to place your Camper on the same Card as any other player(s), you must give each of them a Supply Card from your hand.
At Camp Pinetop, you have one goal: collect badges. Naturally, that’s in service of your actual goal, which is becoming a Badger Scout, but frankly it’s more about the journey than the destination; you’re about 20% sure that’s the Badger Scout Pledge. Anyways, collect enough badges and you can become a Badger Scout! The first player to do so immediately wins. So that’s fun.
On your turn, you may perform one of four actions. I’ll describe each in turn.
Draw Supply Cards
You may draw 2 Supply Cards from the Supply Card area, either taking from one side of the deck or the other, or blind-drawing from the deck. There are a few rules:
- If three cards of the same color are visible and you choose this action, all face-up cards are discarded and refilled.
- If you take a face-up Wild Card, you only get to take one card.
- If you take a card from one side of the deck, you must pull your second card either from the other side or the deck.
Your hand limit starts at 8, but it decreases as you rank up! A proper Scout should be self-sufficient, after all.
Add a Camper
You’ll note that the Supply Cards also have tents on them, same color as the Map Cards. If you discard two cards of the same type, you may place a Camper on that Map Card. Again, if you want to place your Camper on the same Card as any other player(s), you must give each of them a Supply Card from your hand.
Move and Draw a Supply Card
You may move one Camper one space in any orthogonal direction (you cannot move off the Map Card Grid) and then take any one Supply Card. Similar to placing Campers, if you want to move your Camper onto the same Card as any other player(s), you must give each of them a Supply Card from your hand.
Move and Gain an Skill Badge
Instead of drawing a Supply Card, you may move onto a space (following the same rules as above) and pay the Supply Cards listed to earn an Skill Badge. The way to figure out which one you earned is by figuring out which one you crossed over. If you moved from the top-middle card to the top-right card, you crossed over the left badge on the top-right card, so that’s the one you earned.
Generally, Green badges give you an immediate effect, Blue badges give you a permanent effect, and Black badges make it easier to spend different types of resources. If you would gain the same type of badge twice, you may upgrade it to an Advanced Badge, which provides different effects.
Eventually, you’ll complete one of the conditions on one of the Mastery Cards; as soon as you do, take one of your cubes and cover any of the available badge icons on that Mastery Card. You’ll gain that badge immediately.
Gaining a Rank
As you gain badges, you’ll also be able to gain a Rank by gaining the correct number and type of badges. Higher ranks have stricter requirements, though; to get there, you need Advanced Badges, as well. The number is indicated by the arrow.
End of Game
Play continues until one player hits Badger Scout; that player immediately wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference is just crowding and map density. You’re going to hit a lot more collisions at three players with four Campers each than you will at two players with one Camper each; that’s just the pidgeonhole principle, essentially. It’s not a problem, honestly; the congestion makes the game a bit more interesting since you have to decide what cards to give a player, which may overwhelmingly help them in certain spots. Though this runs counter to my usual, I do appreciate the game at higher player counts, since a fair number of the Mastery Cards depend on having multiple players in the same location, and at lower player counts that simply doesn’t happen (to the point where I’ve taken some Mastery Cards out of circulation at lower player counts). That said, I think it’s pretty interesting at any player count, but I may stick below 5 just to keep the overall playtime down.
- Know the Mastery Cards. I think this one’s pretty crucial. You need a plan for getting all four of those Mastery Cards pretty quickly, since they’re essentially rewarding you for things you are already doing. If you can do that, you can essentially 2-for-1 some badges, which will push you up through the ranks even faster. It’s a good deal, but you need to make sure that you understand the best way to synergize all of them. Otherwise you’ll end up duplicating effort or needing to take a lower-value badge as a reward; neither of those are particularly good options.
- Don’t rank up too quickly. This one (and the thing about Green badges) lost me the game when I first played. If you accelerate through the ranks too early, you haven’t built up enough skills via the badge engine part of your game to be able to quickly convert to the last rank. This means you have fewer cards in your hand but need to be able to discard 4 of them each to get the Black cards you put off until the end of the game. That’s not a great plan.
- Get some Black badges early. Like I said, they’ re expensive, but this is the time of the game when you should have the most cards in hand. Honestly, one of the first things I do is place my camper close enough to whatever Black badge space I can earn that I can swoop in on my first turn and take it. If your opponent is paying attention, they may try to stop you, but if that happens just draw cards for a turn to throw them off.
- Maybe don’t upgrade Black badges? I mean, you can, but I think that Black badges are usually the bottleneck for most players, since they require the most Supplies to earn. It’s probably worth it if you can do it early, but if you can’t, you risk getting a bunch of cards wasted because you can’t ever really recoup the loss.
- Whatever you do, don’t overindex on Green badges. This happens to a lot of new players (myself included) and it means that you don’t really have an engine. You get some pretty great rewards when you get Green badges, but they don’t really help you progress in the long-term. You need those long-term benefits in order to win the game.
- You can (and should) semi-block opponents by moving multiple Campers into the spaces that surround them. To move to those spaces, they would now either need a Trailblazing badge or they’d need to pay you. Paying you is really good, so see if you can sell them on that one.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Super cute art. I mean, it’s cartoony animals wearing people clothes; I love that sort of thing.
- Pretty low overhead for a game. It’s fairly simple to learn and play, which I really appreciate. I refer to it in a lot of ways as Ticket to Ride: Scouting Edition. Even the directionality thing is pretty easy for new players to pick up once they’ve played a few rounds.
- I think I have a soft spot for the theme, which is odd. I figured growing up in the Boy Scouts would make me hate this theme a bit, but I ended up actually liking it quite a bit? Who knows. It’s pleasant. I like badges; that might be the long and short of it.
- I appreciate the variability of the Map Cards and their Locations, as well as the Mastery Cards. There are many different ways to approach the endgame, even if I generally want the same badges on a pretty regular basis every time I play. We’ll see how the Kickstarter changes that.
- I really liked how each tier of badge had its own upgrades and utilities. Having 24 different badges you can earn (12 regular, 12 Advanced) is pretty awesome, all things considered.
- Forcing players to accept a smaller hand limit as they rank up is interesting. It’s a solid catch-up mechanism, but I wonder how it scales against all the abilities they have by that point? I definitely think you can Tortoise and the Hare it, where you lose to an opponent far behind you by stalling at the finish line (because it’s happened to me), so I don’t think it’s a particularly problematic direction to go in.
- Individual turns are generally pretty quick. You only really do one thing, so you stay pretty engaged.
- Seems expandable. I could imagine more types of badges or more locations being included, which would be pretty cool. I’m excited to see what direction the Kickstarter goes in.
- It seems like the Mastery Cards should have “recommended player count” on them or something. Some of them are just extremely difficult to hit at lower player counts and I’d rather just remove them from the game, all things being totally equal.
- The cards need a final pass through on edits. There’s some places where they could be written to be a bit less confusing; a lot of cards allow you to draw, but they don’t indicate whether or not you can take Wild cards, which might significantly change the way the game is played.
- Keeping all the Badges in memory and remembering which does what is hard for a lot of players, not necessarily new ones. This is a thing that really flummoxes new players. There are a lot of badges to remember, and they’re double-sided. You’ll definitely see some players struggle to remember which badge does what and which badges they already have / still need. Be a bit patient on your first game.
- I’m not convinced that there should be Mastery Cards that you can be locked out of. There’s one that’s reach Woodchuck Rank with only one Camper, and it’s possible for players to render themselves incapable of that by taking the Recruiter Badge, even if they don’t want the additional Camper. That seems like kind of a bummer. It would be nice if it had tiers of rewards based on how many Campers you had.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I like Camp Pinetop quite a lot! I think it’s a really cute, family-friendly game that’s got some interesting mechanisms for freshening up the classic sorta route-building / engine-building mechanics. When I first read the rules, I figured the badge earning mechanism would be a lot more confusing, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought. Or, at least, I didn’t find it to be all that difficult, and my players haven’t struggled too much with it either, which is nice. I will say that I think there are too many badges, but I would also 100% welcome more badges being added because I just kind of love badges at a deep abstract level and I am totally about games where you can collect as many of them as possible. This actually lost me my first game of The Grand Carnival (also getting reviewed this week) because I went for the achievements instead of the victory. Thankfully, getting the badges is all of the game, here, so I’m really in my element, which is very nice. As with all Kickstarters, I’m going to keep my eye on it and see how it turns out; it’s interesting to see how they grow and what goals they set, and I think this one is going to resonate with a lot of people. It’s got that nice spatial bit, some good engine-building, and an almost-route-building element, and those are three things that I like very much, so I figure it’ll be pretty popular with others, too. If any one or all of three things are up your alley, I’d definitely recommend checking out Camp Pinetop! I’ve certainly enjoyed playing it.