This showed up in the mail last week along with its companion game Greenland. I made the mistake of unwrapping it and trying to read through and learn with players sitting at the table. What a foolish thing to do. It’s by the same dude who did High Frontier, my favorite-favorite brainmelting all-day slog.

It’s a teeny box! For heaven’s sake, you’d think it would be uhhh…a filler, you know? But that’s not what’s in the box. It’s a serious, science-y game.

The whole time I’m reading the rulebook I’m like gawwwd this feels problematic. But it’s all rooted in what I understand to be pretty well-established science about the evolution of our species. But, like, most of the game is centered on the males: what they hunt, their sexual practices, beating on each other, and marrying/acquiring “daughters” that then help your tribe evolve. The game’s economy revolves around three types of vocabularies each species (Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, and Archaic) is developing. Certain combinations of “words” (chits in one of the three colors) unlocks major breakthroughs and allows your tribe to evolve. It’s bananas and difficult and, just eyeballing the game, prone to the same fuck-you design style as High Frontier.

It doesn’t care if you don’t understand something. It doesn’t care if you didn’t roll well. It doesn’t care if you drew poorly. Evolution is brutally efficient at weeding out weaker tribes, right?

Can’t wait to play it but it’s a spicy meatball.

16 thoughts on “Neanderthal”

  1. Oh, this game is so good. I’ve got the same edition right now. And while I don’t always agree with Phil’s interpretation of science/psychology, the game play itself is fantastic.

    If you can get through it all, Rhado has a pretty good high level overview, followed by a few turns. Takes about 1.33 hours to get through and Rhado seems to have had a lot of caffeine before he recorded. – Neanderthal Gameplay Runthrough

    It’s the previous edition but the concepts are all the same.

    I’ve gotten 1 solo game (all 3 races) and 1 two player game in. It’s complex, deep and you don’t really feel like you’re moving the meter towards victory until the last few turns. But boy is it good.

  2. Paul Beakley Sounds about right. 🙂 Rhado does a lot of “I can do this! Er… wait, can I do this?” Which I pretty much echoed on my first game.

    It kinda feels like an entire game of edge cases to me. But not in a bad way.

    On another note, I really want to give High Frontier a try, but may have to wait until SMG gets it back to Kickstarter.

  3. Paul Beakley From the living rules:

    B4 “Dirtside” 5

    B5 “Ersatz Bernal”, “Ersatz Bernal Stack” 6

    B6 “Felony”

    I may have just drooled a little. In a good way though.

  4. Funny, when I read it I thought how interesting it was that it was all centered on women.

    As I understand it, the game is based on the idea that human cultural evolution was stagnant until our minds developed sufficient vocabulary to develop protolanguage, after which we went from 200,000 years with the same 3 tools to a cultural explosion. One of the cornerstones of this theory is that women were the keepers of vocabulary. That they essentially invented language. Hence the entire game is about the women who give you access to things all of whom are unique, and the generic men who just slot in as interchangeable husbands.

  5. Right, it is! But like…you’re acquiring daughters. To help your tribe evolve.

    It’s not like…badly problematic. I mean jeez, it’s pretty much what the science says. And I don’t think it implies anything necessarily about one sex being dominant over another. It’s just an interesting set of stuff to have all lined up in one game. I’m learning a lot.

  6. Neanderthal is heavily influenced by Julian Jaynes’ Bicameralism, which is… controversial science. – Bicameralism (psychology) – Wikipedia

    From a game standpoint, I recommend starting with Greenland. It’s more straightforward, and you’ll learn some basic mechanisms that are transferable to Neanderthal, which takes the basic Greenland mechanisms and adds the “brain game” on top of it.

    I confess I think of the two, Greenland is the better game 🙂 It’s still capricious, brutal and unforgiving though. It’s an Eklund game after all.

  7. Ivan Vaghi yes, the women as the repository of culture concept (which also features in Greenland) is not part of Bicameralism. Not sure of the inciting scholarship there.

    Interestingly, Greenland 3rd ed (which I also just received) has new solo/coop version that centers around matriarchy.

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