Neanderthal, Phil Eklund

I’m taking you way way back, to 43,000 BC Ice Age Europe in fact, to talk about…Neanderthal!

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I acquired Neanderthal well over a month ago and have played it several times since. I didn’t want to post about it until I formed a solid opinion. We had a game this afternoon and I’m afraid to say I’m still struggling. So at this point I thought I’d write about it anyway, because it’s such an interesting game.

It’s a 2015 small box game, which I love. A box hardly bigger than a coaster is crammed full of discs and cubes, an intense little rule book (with a huge amount of notes in the back on the subject matter) and a ton of cards chock full of text, images and symbols. It took a while to get to grips with the rules, it’s not badly written there’s just a hell of a lot to take on board. As with most games, when you start playing it through your objectives become clear, but it’s one of those games that leaves me, much like Cro-Magnon (wo)man, scratching my head at points saying ‘whaaaaaaat?’ or ‘whyyyyy?!’

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You start off with your chosen cave man, hunters and ‘vocabulary’ discs. You have a north row and south row of ‘biomes’, cards depicting various prehistoric creatures and tools, to be hunted, invented or taken as trophies. You spend turns revealing event cards that are also female (or daughter) cards. First they tell you if there’s a blizzard, a catastrophe, if there’s global warming or cooling (which rearranges the biomes) and you roll for your tribes elders to see if any er…die. You then bid to claim the daughter card which will allow you to achieve certain goals. The winner of that card must remove the vocabulary discs bid so that she matures and only then can she use her ability.  You do this by hunting on the biome cards, to give you more family members and free up vocab discs in different areas (on your daughter card or your main character card for example) . This phase is achieved by dice rolling (the required numbers are outlined on the biome cards) so it all gets a bit luck based at this point. Depending on what you roll and which creature you’re hunting, you can end up losing half your hunters to a tusky predator. The last phase is using vocab discs (if you are able, this is where the daughter cards come into play) to place knowledge into your character’s brain. This can unlock various abilities. If and only if you get all 6 discs into the brain then you can flip the card and ‘go tribal’ allowing for even more interesting actions, like the inventing tools and gaining animal trophies. Wow. There’s a lot going on here. I could continue or go into greater detail but I’ve pretty much told you the basics of what to expect.

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I think the problem I have with Neanderthal (which may not be a problem for someone else) is that it’s so damn hard to get to the tribal stage, I’ve only got that far twice, both times we were only one card away from the end of the game. It’s hard. I think if you played Neanderthal many times, probably over a course of days then you could crack it. As yet I haven’t found a good strategy. It’s not the kind of game you can pick up and play after a few weeks and it all falls into place again. You have to relearn it rather than build on your existing knowledge. Or maybe that’s just us!

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The reason it’s hard to form a good strategy is because so much of it is luck based, due to dice rolling and the random events. Which very much tallies up with the theme itself. It just becomes increasingly frustrating when I’m not getting anywhere fast. But I like it. I look forward to playing it and I want to crack it. It just feels too much like hard work. Hats off to Phil Eklund, it’s a hell of a smart game. It’s the frustration of not achieving the necessary because you made a lousy roll, when you want to do all the cool things that the game has to offer, but rarely get the opportunity to do so. This game can also be integrated with it’s predecessor Greenland (Neanderthal is a prequel) but for now….I think i’ll skip it. More Info

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