After a bit of faffing with missing cards (having been told it was virtually impossible for any cards to be missing, well trust me to be the unlucky one!) I finally got to play Bear Valley, the Carl Chudyk exploration card laying game. I’m pleased to say that it was worth the wait. It isn’t a game that I’d say is a ‘must have’ as in if you don’t get this you’re missing something huge. But I didn’t expect it to be when I bought it. It’s fairly light, a filler, fun, frustrating in a good way and isn’t as complex as the (not so well written in my opinion) rule book makes it sound. That’s why I think I’ll do a mini run through video because it’s really quite simple but is explained in a way that left me slightly baffled a couple of times. With rule books I honestly think they should be written assuming the reader knows nothing, that’s not to say they don’t have to have complex rules, just write them like they make perfect sense. Anyway, back to the game!
What’s the aim? Well you’re trying to make your way to the destination camp, avoiding bears and getting lost on the way. The winner is the person who makes it back to camp first.
How do you play? You have a start camp card and end of camp card and lay down valley cards in between. In order to move you draw the wilderness cards which represent different landscape and include 2-6 pathways on each. On your turn you lay one card at a time counting out loud as you go until you decide to stop or cannot carry on, then you move your back-packing meeple to the last card you placed if you’re able. Cards can only be laid in a ‘brick wall style’ layout (Chudyk refers to it as a hexagonal layout, however bricks make more sense in my mind, but whatever floats your boat) Sounds fairly simple right? Only there are a ton of conditions (these take some time to remember, a little reference card per play would of been a handy addition to this game) and I won’t tell you all of you them but here’s some straightforward examples: if you lay down a card that cannot be attached to a pathway you are considered lost and cannot move from your current position until next turn. You cannot move across a card with another player on. If you decide to lay down four cards and the fourth card has four path ways you cannot go any further until next turn, and so on. If you lay down a mountain you have to stop after the next card you lay. If a bear card is the first you draw on your turn you can sneak past him, but if one is drawn on a second turn and so on you have to stop and go around him next time (unless you’re playing with the equipment and character cards). And that is the base game of Bear Valley!
The add ons: For more experienced gamers, playing with the add ons is essential. You can choose to use the equipment tokens so you can do more fun stuff as you explore like pick up gold so you can bribe another player to hop on their spot, pick up a picnic basket to evade the bear cards (a bear won’t eat you if sandwiches are provided!) and things like that. And when you add the character bonuses and drawbacks things get even more interesting e.g- Forrest is allergic to trees, so he can’t cross forests and refuses to pick up a machete *eye roll* but as a bonus he can take an extra turn if he lands on a fox card. So playing these add ons just makes the game play and decision making process more fun.
I enjoyed the press your luck element, I do love pushing my luck (both in games and real life!) so if you keep on laying cards to get closer to the destination camp you run the risk of drawing a card you can’t lay and getting lost (i.e stuck in the same place until the next turn) or running into a bear. I also lost more than I won because I kept taking the long way around (again very similar to real life!) it was a good laugh.
All in all Bear Valley was a most enjoyable game, plays in 20-30 minutes, and is just fun, and not to be taken too seriously. Like I said it’s not a ‘must have’ per se but it’s a most welcome addition to my collection and I shall really look forward to future plays.
The box art and the landscapes are really nicely illustrated. The images on the cards and the characters I wasn’t too keen on, they have this sort of video game animation circa 2001 feel, I’m not sure if that was intentional but it didn’t make too much sense to me. But as I said in my unboxing video it’s not the defining factor if a game is good.
It’s a 7/10 for me, I would recommend Bear Valley! More info here.