We finally got to try this game out after watching some Youtube how-to-play videos and me going through the rulebook lots of times. It’s very much a Phil Eklund joint: the rulebook gives no shits about teaching you how to play the game, and is packed with edge cases that reflect scientific accuracy with no thoughts toward mere mortal concerns like playability or understanding what even is going on.
The game itself is super interesting! You just have to have the fortitude to take it on in the first place. Reminds me a lot of his approach in High Frontier: if you can afford the entry fee, you’ll find a compelling game on the other side.
I played Cro-Magnons with harem-holding sexuality. Yeeeeeah. It’s a thing! Each game, you’ll have one of three reproductive strategies matched up with your race or species or whatever. Harem-holding lets my “husbands” (meeples assigned to protect your “daughter cards” — it just keeps going!) move from daughter to daughter, fending off suitors and protecting them during blizzards. There’s also pair bonding (the daughter card won’t even “activate” until it’s married to a mature tribesman) and promiscuous (you can get babies, ie new meeples, in a different/faster way than the other two strategies). Your reproductive strategy is largely there to tell you how to earn victory points at game end, and to tie up your “vocabulary” (the little colored discs) based on the strategy’s Male Parental Involvement: some strategies apparently tie up lots of your vocabulary in taking care of your kids, and others don’t.
The subject matter is pretty interesting and thoroughly footnoted. It’s kind of on the reader, though, to dig into it if you want and figure out where these evolutionary theories are in contention. High Frontier, at least, is mostly interested in the physics of exoglobalization, with a small dash of political speculation. This game presents big swaths of evolutionary theory as undisputed. If you’re interested in the game, just know that there are in fact many disputes. It’s cool. You’ll still learn a lot.
Gameplay isn’t really hard but the rulebook is no help at all. And there are a million little exceptions, most of which appear on cards or the little cheat sheet but some of which don’t. An early misreading of a rule in our first game led to everyone’s cohort being decimated by “chaos” (in-fighting among the tribesmen), where that’s not supposed to happen until you have whole lot bigger tribe. It’s also heavily random (again just like High Frontier) so you can’t really take a lot of pride in smart play nor beat yourself up too bad for poor play. Just strap in for the ride and see where it takes you. Maybe you’ll end up with a harem! And maybe you’ll systematically murder tribesmen from other species who are trying to mate with your women.