Anyone for mammoth?

Over the last couple of weeks I've had another fresh idea stuck in the head. This isn't the most original idea I have ever had, but it is what it is, and if I worry about originality all the time I will never get anything done. The aim is to get some practice in, right? Learn the craft, make lots of stuff, and eventually some of it will either be good or I will hopefully learn how to make it good.  I don't know yet if this is potentially good or utter crap, but I do not that it is not good right now.  It is, however, no longer purely in my head, which is a relief.

So the idea is for a game of building and developing a prehistoric tribe, starting with a ragtag bunch of hunters and gatherers and hopefully growing them into a settled and organised proto-civilisation with farms, permanent buildings, and the beginnings of culture.
Not much to look at right now. Also not much to play. But a thing, nonetheless.
Mechanically, I've been working on this as a deckbuilding game where you expand your tribe by adding families, specialists (people like hunters, fishermen, builders, etc) and technologies to your deck, combined with a board game where you move and expand
I can actually pin down the main inspiration for this: listening to a Ludology podcast about deckbuilding games (and when they were discussing games that blend deckbuilding with other elements) the day after listening to John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme (a sketch comedy show on the UK's Radio 4) which had a sketch about prehistoric hunters and gatherers.  Funny how things work out sometimes.

My first attempt at this game was to start scribbling on flash cards, an approach that I usually take for card games.  The idea is that I can get a subset of the cards required very quickly and start figuring out whether or not the basic idea is viable with a quick solo playtest or two.  Then, if it looks OK, I can either make more cards (or modify the ones I have) or get onto the computer to start putting together a more complete set using NanDECK, my go-to tool for card prototyping.  This is all part of the "fail faster" approach: get something, anything, to the table as quickly as possible and start working on the problems that inevitably turn up right away; and if the whole thing is fundamentally flawed, I stand a chance of spotting that sooner rather than later.

The problem is that this time, I started making the cards and then hit a wall.  I was just totally stuck and those ideas that seemed so clear in my head beforehand turned to incoherent mush.  So was it the idea that was stupid, or was I going at this the wrong way?

I decided that it was probably (at this stage at least) that I needed to be a bit more methodical at this point, so I opened a text document and wrote down my thoughts so far and then started listing cards that I thought should be in the game (starting with "hunter" and "gatherer") and what each should do.  So hunters and gatherers gather food, obviously. As a result we need something to do with the food; each turn your tribe needs food according to its size.  Hunters can gather large amounts of food, but with some risk (still need to figure out that risk), while gatherers have lower returns but are safer.  Then how about having farms? Take some setting up but allow for steady production of food.  Perhaps the tribe starts nomadic, so can move around (using a "nomad" tech card?), but can later settle (trade the nomad card for a settle card?), allowing for farms and potentially other developments...

And so on.  Soon I had a good list of cards and some idea of how to proceed, so I build myself a spreadsheet of a subset of the cards (the ones I judged would be usable for the first few turns of the game), including first-pass text for the effects of the cards (I left a couple blank because I reckon I'll figure out some of the details later), acquired some roughly appropriate icons from game-icons.net to cover the cross-card support plans I had, and threw together a basic NanDECK script to assemble the cards.  Very soon I had a deck of 36 cards for my first test.  For a board I did a bit of scribbling onto a sheet of hexagons, then having grabbed a few bags of wooden cubes from the stock I was ready to go.

Unsurprisingly the game was really quite dull.  But mechanically it seemed to be not-too-bad for a first pass.  The biggest problem so far (aside from the fact that the game seems rather less than gripping) is that I am using markers for the various sources of food so that they can be depleted as they are used, but I don't yet have any way to replenish the resources.  It would seem right that, even after you have grabbed all the nuts and berries in a woodland, there should be something else to forage later on.

The idea I am working with at the moment is to have a separate deck providing events, many of which would be an instruction to replenish food supplies in some way.  There could also be some negative events which cause problems for everyone (like a wet spell causing some of everyone's food reserves to spoil, for example) to spice things up.  And this suggests another idea, that there could be separate event decks for summer and winter, with the summer deck being mostly positive and providing more food, while the winter deck is mostly negative.  We can then have different decks being drawn from, depending on the stage of the game.

So that's where I have got to.  I'm working on a basic event deck (just doing happy summer type stuff to start with) and am nearly ready to try the game again to see how this goes.  Another couple of rounds of development and I'll hopefully be ready to ask the Long-Suffering-Wife to play a few turns and tear it all apart.  Looking forward to that...


  1. couple of ideas
    if your hand consists of 2 gatherers, 2 hunters and move card, play the cards to gather the food until it runs out, then play the move card

    tech advance tree lets you trade one person and a move card for a farm - which then sits in the province and gives gatherers +x food

    Edward :)

    1. Hi, and thanks for the ideas. It's great to have a couple of extra thoughts swirling around in the mix. :)

      My initial thought is that explicitly comboing 3 different kinds of cards might get a bit fiddly, but it's cool to have hunters and gatherers teaming up sometimes.

      As for farms, I was thinking that there would be a "Farmer" specialist that you can develop instead of gatherers, but other than that, having the farms "permanently" on the board and providing food on a regular basis is about what I was wanting.

      Thanks again!