One of my favorite board game mechanisms is the cooperative style of play, in which players work together to overcome a series of challenges. Numerous excellent co-op games have been released, and they tend to share a similar system: A player takes a turn and does some good things, followed by the game doing some bad things that complicate the player’s plans. This back-and-forth pattern is so common to cooperative games that I was surprised and delighted when a new game recently was released with a different style.
Paleo (1-4 players, age 10+) by Peter Rustemeyer requires players to hunt for food, gather resources and attempt to survive the harsh conditions of life in the prehistoric wilderness. Fortunately, everyone is working together to overcome the harsh elements. During the game, players will control a small group of humans who work to complete small missions, such as gathering wood or stones, hunting a boar for its meat and pelt, or building tools like spears or a tent to help with survival. To win the game, the players’ tribes must complete a cave painting, but dangers abound and interfere with this goal. Players could stumble across snakes lurking in the tall grass or get trapped in a rock slide. These dangers will damage the players’ humans, and if too many tribe members die, the game is lost.
Paleo’s unique cooperative game system is simple enough to learn. Each player starts with a couple of humans with skills to help with hunting, scouting or building. Then the action deck is assembled and divided evenly among the players. The back of each card pictures a location such as the river, the woods, mountains or the campfire. Additionally, some cards have red backs, which represent danger. On a turn, players draw the top three cards in their personal decks and pick one as a location to visit based on the images. While the image indicates what the player is likely to find, there is no way to be sure. In fact, players may choose a red card, because waiting too long to resolve a danger card can result in increased injury for your tribe members.
Once everyone has chosen a card, the cards are turned over simultaneously. Players may discover a berry bush ripe for the picking, a boar foraging in the underbrush or a cave-in. Players can try to resolve their own cards or work together as a group to overcome a wooly mammoth. Perhaps a player will use a torch to drive away a ravaging wolf or a special root to heal a wounded tribe member. Sometimes the group will not have the skills or tools needed to defeat a challenge and lose a member of the tribe to the ravages of nature. Only if the team works together will they be able to gather enough food to feed the tribe, build the tools needed to avoid suffering through cold nights and ultimately create the cave painting to win the game.
Life in 10,000 B.C. was brutal, and your tribe will struggle to survive a game of Paleo. Do not give up if your first few games end in failure. The game system rewards practice, strategy and communication. Once you have overcome a challenge, the game is not over. Paleo includes 10 card modules to add to your deck. Each new module increases the difficulty of the game and presents new goals to reach. With so many special challenges, Paelo promises to provide fresh gameplay for years.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the co-author of “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy West. You can send him your questions about tabletop games at email@example.com.