A to Z Gaming: Paleo

We attempted to unite our tribe of Stone Age humans in Paleo, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Paleo
Players: 1-4
Time: 45-60 Minutes
Designers: Peter Rustemeyer
Artists: Dominik Mayer
Publisher: Hans im Glück




Paleo is a card-driven cooperative game where players each control a group of people who are just trying to survive each day until they can unite their tribe by completing a cave painting. Each player navigates a number of activities during the day, deciding whether to pursue the opportunity in front of them or help another player with their challenge. There is death in every direction, so players have to be judicious in what they choose. If they can paint five panels of the mammoth cave painting before experiencing too many deaths, the players all win.

The game is set up with the boards, graveyard, work bench, and various tokens and resources placed in the center of the table. Players choose which modules they would like to play with, and add the mission card to the bottom of the home deck, location cards to the base location deck, and other cards to their appropriate places. Each of the people, dream and idea card decks are shuffled and placed on the home board. Five food tokens are also added to the home board — these are the only starting resource.

Each player draws two cards from the people deck and places them face up in front of them, taking any associated objects as appropriate (for example, some people come with a pelt or a torch). Each person shows a number of hearts — the number of wounds they can take before dying — and (usually) a skill, including spear, eye, or craft. Then play begins.

The game is played in rounds that each have two phases: day and night. At the beginning of the day phase, the location deck is shuffled and dealt out as evenly as possible between all players. Then, each turn, players look at the backs of the top three cards on their deck. They can optionally “turn in early” and exit the round. Or, they choose one to play and place the other two back on the deck in any order they choose. The backs of the cards show some general information about the location — whether it’s a woods, mountain, or river, for example, or a danger, dream or stranger.

Once all players have chosen a location, they all reveal them at the same time. The locations will each have one or more possible actions players can do, usually in exchange for something. For example, you might need to have two craft symbols and discard two cards from your deck to get some wood for the tribe. If, while discarding cards, you discard a red-backed location, one of your people must take a wound.

Many locations have an option to go help someone else at their location. In that way, you can pool your resources with another player to help the tribe. On the other hand, danger cards (which aren’t ONLY on the red-backed cards) must be dealt with, so any player who reveals one of those is unable to help other players that turn.

After all locations are resolved, players start again, choosing from their top three cards on their deck. This continues until everyone has either turned in or finished their deck.

During the night phase, first the tribe must be fed — one food for each person in the group — any shortfall results in a skull token being added to the home board. Then the missions for the chosen scenarios must be completed, or another skull is added for each one that is not fulfilled. Now another day phase begins.

The game continues until either the tribe has accumulated five skulls, and all players lose, or the five pieces of the painting have been obtained, and all players win.

We picked up this game just a few months ago, after I had seen a couple of reviews and play-throughs. I generally like coop games, and the theme and game play of this one looked like it could be fun. Plus, I liked that the game came with ten different modules which allow you to make the game harder or easier … and to explore new and unexpected things.

I’m loving this game. I enjoy the puzzle of deciding which locations to resolve — do you grab some quick food because it’s available now, or help another player collect some resources that can be used to craft a tool that will make our lives easier later? And when do you decide to face one of those hazards in your deck? Or maybe just take a wound to discard it and get it out of rotation for a little while.

We haven’t yet gotten to see all of the content, in fact. But soon!

How is it as a 2-player game? Paleo works great as a 2-player game! In fact, the rules caution to not play the four player game until you are more familiar with the game play. Some of the tasks are easier with more people cards on the table, but then you need to feed even more people by the end of the day. That can be hard with more players. Though, in fairness, I’ve only played this at 2 and 3 players so far, and it works great for both.

How about the art and component quality? The components are good — the resource tokens are shaped and painted wood, and the cards are decent. The tool shelf is cute, but it’s going to become annoying to set up I suspect — a bit like the tree in Everdell. The art? Well, most of it is great, and I like the style. However, all of the people in the game are white, which is a problem and not historically accurate. There is rumor of updated art that will correct this, and I’m a little sad that I won’t have the updated cards in my copy of the game.

Will this stay in my collection? Absolutely. I’ve really been enjoying our plays of this. It’s a good cooperative game where every win feels very close, which is how I like my coops — close enough that you could loose, but not so hard that you don’t ever win. I’m also looking forward to introducing this to my friends.

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