(Rio Grande Games – 2012)
Before man invented Settlers of Catan, and thus sprung open a gateway for many of us into the hobby we know today, there was another invention that greeted our elder kin with much fanfare. The invention of fire. In Cavemen: the Quest for Fire, first time designer Dan Cassar has combined card drafting with other mechanics such as tableau building, resource management, auctioning, and unique card abilities. And while most games use a starting player marker as a way to minimize turn order advantage, Dan throws in a twist. Owning the first player marker allows you to go first, yes. But the owning player is the only one allowed to win the game.
The object of Cavemen is to be the first tribe to invent Fire. Players will work to improve their tribe by recruiting new members, hunting animals in order to feed their tribe, explore for new caves to house additional members of the tribe, and developing new inventions to upgrade certain aspects of the tribe. The first tribe that can successfully invent Fire while controlling the Conch shell (first player marker) will automatically win the game.
– Starting Tribe Decks (comprised of 1 Leader, 1 Hunter, 1 Cave, and a game Summary card)
– Draw Deck (comprised of Cavemen, Caves, Beasts, and Inventions)
There are 4 main types of Cards in Cavemen: the Quest for Fire. Cavemen, Caves, Beasts, and Inventions. Each of these types of Cards appear in the central Draft Pool and can be gained by players during the game.
There are 5 different types of Cavemen that are available to a tribe. A Leader (which each player starts with to begin the game), Hunters, Explorers, Thinkers, and Elders. Each type of Caveman provides unique bonuses and abilities. Each of the icons for these bonuses are shown along the left side of each Caveman Card.
Each Leader provides 1 Hunting Point, 1 Invention Point, and 2 Forage Points (I’ll explain what each of these Points can do in a bit).
Each Hunter provides 2 Hunting Points (show along the left side) and can be purchased for either 2 Food, or 1 Tooth. Hunters are used for hunting Beasts from the central Draft Pool.
Each Elder provides 1 Invention Point and 1 Forage Point, and can be purchased for either 3 Food or 2 Teeth.
Cave Cards range from small (Swamp, Desert, Forest, and Hill) to large (Jungle, Mountain, Lake, and River). Small Caves provide space for 2 additional tribe members, and can be purchased from the central Draft Pool for 2 Teeth. Large Caves provide space for 3 additional tribe members, and can be purchased from the central Draft Pool for 3 Teeth. Remember, that if there is an Explorer in the tribe, a Cave can be purchased for free because of the Explorer’s bonus Exploration ability.
There is a large range of Beasts in the game and each provide an certain amount of Food and/or Teeth when successfully hunted (noted on the left side of the Beast’s card). The tribe must have a combined amount of Hunting Points that match or exceed those listed on the Beast (noted on the right side of the Beast’s card) in order to hunt it. Once hunted, the Beast Card is discarded from the central Draft Pool and the tribe collects the Food and/or Teeth that it provides.
Inventions are unique, ongoing abilities that a tribe can develop. Each Invention Card has an Invention Cost (noted on the right side of the card) in which a tribe must have a combined amount of Invention Points equal to or greater than this cost to obtain. These cards remain in a player’s tribe for the remainder of the game.
For instance, Player A’s tribe has a combined Invention Point total of 5. He chooses to purchase the Storytelling Invention Card from the central Draft Pool since its cost is 4 Invention Points. For the rest of the game, Player A’s tribe will have +1 Invention Point for every 3 Caveman Cards in the tribe.
A player’s tribe will win the game by inventing Fire. This Invention Card is a special card that requires a large amount of Invention Points to obtain, depending on the amount of player’s in the game (10 for a 2-player game, 9 for a 3-player game, and 7 for a 4 or 5-player game). Fire can only be invented if the player also holds the Conch shell first-player marker.
At the beginning of the game, each player will take control of 1 of the 5 tribes. Each tribe starts with 1 Leader, 1 Hunter, and a Cave that provides room for 4 Cavemen. Cards in a player’s tribe are always placed face up in front of the player so that all other player’s may see them. All Cavemen Cards, Caves, Beasts, and Inventions (including the Fire Invention) are shuffled into 1 large Draw Pile. Each tribe starts with a certain amount of Food depending on the amount of players in the game (9 Food each for a 2-player game, 8 for 3-player, and 7 for a 4 or 5-player game) and 4 Teeth.
You’ll notice that on each Caveman, Cave, Beast, and Invention card, there are stone marker symbols displayed on the bottom left corner of each card. These will be used in determining the Start Player at the beginning of the game as well as determining Casualties when hunting (which I’ll go over later). Before the game starts, 1 card will be drawn from the Draw Pile until one of these stone markers matches that found on one of the starting Hunters in a player’s tribe.
For instance, Player A has a icon on his starting Hunter that shows 3 small stone markers, while Player B shows 2 stone makers. The top card of the Draw Deck is drawn and is the Styracosaurus Beast card that also shows 2 stone markers in the bottom left corner. This means that Player B will receive the Conch shell and go 1st to start the initial Round.
There are 5 Phases in Cavemen: the Quest for Fire.
1.) Draw Phase – During this initial Phase of the game, the central Draft Pool is established. At the beginning of the game, 1 card is drawn from the Draw Pile for each player in the game, plus an additional 5 cards (so in a 2-player game, 7 total cards will be drawn). These cards make up the central Draft Pool for that particular Round. At the end of each Round, 3 Cards will remain in the central Draft Pool, and 1 Card per player will be drawn, plus 2 more to complete the central Draft Pool for all Rounds after the 1st.
2.) Conch Shell Phase – During this Phase, players will bid on who owns the Conch shell for that Round. The Conch shell provides two bonuses for the player owning it, however it is more costly to do so. First, the player that owns the Conch shell gets to go first that Round, as well as a 2nd time once all other players have taken their turn. So basically, the owner of the Conch shell gets 1 extra action than everyone else.
The owner of the Conch shell is also the only player that is allowed to invent Fire, so owning this is vital to winning the game. Player’s will take turns bidding Teeth on the Conch shell. Once all players have passed, the highest bidder will pay that number of Teeth to the resource pile and obtain the Conch shell.
3.) Feeding Phase – I mentioned that having the Conch shell is more costly to the player owning it, and that is because not only does that person need to pay Teeth to obtain it, but also must pay a larger amount of Food while controlling it. During the Feeding Phase, players must feed their tribe. All players that do not have the Conch shell must pay 1 Food token to feed their entire tribe, no matter how many Cavemen are present in the tribe. The player that owns the Conch shell however, must pay 1 Food token per Cavemen in their tribe, so owning the Conch shell can become quite expensive as player’s tribes evolve and expand throughout the course of the game.
So for instance, Player A’s tribe is seen above. During the Feeding Phase, if Player A controlled the Conch shell, he would have to pay 4 Food tokens to feed his tribe since he has 4 Cavemen. If he did not control the Conch shell however, he would only have to pay 1 Food token total.
If a player is unable to successfully feed his tribe, he must discard 1 Caveman from his tribe, but is not required to pay any Food to feed the rest.
4.) Action Phase – This is the main section of gameplay and includes 5 possible actions that a player may take. Each player may take only 1 of these actions (except for the Conch shell owner, who gets an additional action once all other players have finished their actions). Starting with the Conch shell owner, players will take 1 of the following actions:
Recruit – The player may recruit a Caveman to his tribe, by paying the required Food or Teeth of a Caveman Card from the central Draft Pool and placing that card into his tribe. Remember that there must be space (represented by Caves) in the tribe in order to add the Caveman. Either the required Food or Teeth are paid for the recruitment of the Caveman, never a combination of the two.
Hunt – The player may take a hunting action, by choosing a Beast Card in the central Draft Pool to hunt. A player’s tribe must have the required amount of Hunting Points designated on the Beast Card in order to hunt it. Once the Beast is hunted, the player receives the resources shown on the left side of the Beast Card and then places the Beast Card into the Discard Pile.
Before the hunting action is over, the player must determine if any Casualties were involved in the hunt. The player draws the top card of the Draw Pile, and if the stone markers on this card match any of the Cavemen in his tribe, 1 Caveman (excluding the Leader) must be discarded from his tribe. It does not have to be the Caveman with the matching stone markers, but it can not be the Leader either.
Player A’s combined Hunting Points between the Leader and 2 Hunters in his tribe is 5. He chooses to Hunt the Velociraptor from the Draft Pool since this Beast requires 3 Hunting Points. He would then gain 2 Teeth tokens and 2 Food tokens. Player A must then draw the top card off the Draw Pile to determine if there were any casualties during his hunt. The stone markers on the Cavemen in his tribe are 4, 4, and 1. The stone marker on the top card of the Draw Pile is a 2. This stone marker does not match any of the markers in his tribe, therefore he does not have any casualties for this hunt.
Invent – The player may choose to develop an Invention. In order to add an Invention Card from the central Draft Pool to the tribe, a player’s tribe must have the required amount of Invention Points shown on the card. This invention is then placed into the tribe, and its bonus ability will stay with the tribe for the rest of the game. If Fire is invented using this action, that player has won the game, but remember that Fire can only be invented by the Conch shell owner.
On his next turn Player A decides to take the Invent Action. Between the Leader and Thinker in his tribe, he has a total of 3 Invention Points. He chooses to Invent a Stone Axe from the Draft Pool (requires only 1 Invention Point). This Card is then added to his tribe and it will give him +1 Hunting Point for each Hunter in his tribe for the remainder of the game.
Explore – If a tribe contains an Explorer, that player can choose to use its special Exploring ability as an action, in which they may place a Cave Card from the central Draft Pool into their tribe at no cost.
Player B has maxed out his room for more Cavemen and needs to add another Cave to his tribe. There is a River Cave in the Draft Pool that would normally cost 3 Teeth tokens to obtain. However, Player B has an Explorer in his tribe and can thus add this River Cave to his tribe for free.
Forage – If a player decides not to take any actions based on the Cards that are in the central Draft Pool, he can always choose to Forage. By totaling up the combined amount of Forage Points (apple icon) from the Cavemen in his tribe, that player will take that same amount of Food from the resource pool. This is an quick way to gain a large amount of Food when needed.
5.) Discard Phase – After all action have been taken, the person to the right of the Conch shell owner will choose and discard all but 3 of the remaining cards in the central Draft Pool. If the Fire Invention Card was left over however, this card is shuffled back into the Draw Pile and is never discarded. If the Draw Pile runs out, the Fire Invention Card will stay in the central Draft Pool for the remainder of the game, while a new Draw Pile is shuffled from the remaining cards in the Discard Pile.
These phases continue Round to Round until a player is eventually able to invent Fire and win the game.
The first thing I’ll touch on is the worthy attention that needs to be given to both Mirko Suzuki and Claus Stephan, the artists for Cavemen. Each Card in the game is presented with a clay-mation type design, and is quite beautiful to look at. It reminds me of Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit cartoons. You’ll also notice that each Caveman is performing the particular action they are titled with. For instance, all Hunters are carrying Spears, Thinkers place a hand to their head pondering, etc. Also, the design decision of using carboard Teeth and Dinosaur drumsticks as the resources in the game is appreciated. Red and white cubes could easily have been used and succeeded, but there’s something about these components that pull the theme together.
The game itself is light on rules (easy to catch on) but provides a pretty unique strategy. I say unique, because you can delve up all the strategy in the world on loading up your invention score or upgrading your tribe. But if you can’t obtain the Conch shell when you need to, all is for naught. Caveman: Quest for Fire is quite a balancing act, and you’ll find yourself basing your strategy around your opponents tribe and resources as much as your own. Because of this, I find a 2 player game to be the tightest of the bunch, though 3-5 plays just as well. There’s just a bit more going on all at once in a 3-5 player game, with having to keep everyone else in check.
The tableau racing element is something fans of Race for the Galaxy should enjoy. It’s intriguing that Teeth are the hardest resource to come by, yet is what’s needed to control the Conch. And controlling the Conch shell is powerful (gives player’s an extra action), but can cost larger tribes a ton of Food. You can load up on Thinkers to gain enough Invention Points to invent Fire, but you’ll need additional Caves to support them. And unless you have tons of Teeth to obtain Caves with, you’ll need Explorers, which also costs quite a bit of Food. Which leads up to the best way to gain Food….Hunters. All in all, the game is quite balanced in its approach. While Caveman: the Quest for Fire combines a card drafting mechanic with a tableau racing element, it’s the victory condition surrounding the ownership of the Conch shell and the strategy revolved around the timing of obtaining it, that makes this game quite unique.