A Review of Paleo, Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and Initial Impressions

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Paleo is a cooperative game for 2-4 Players: it’s set in a “paleolithic time” (read: era of cavemen or stone age).  It’s currently up for the  Kinnerspiel Des Jarhes (see here) award in 2021.  (EDIT: It won).  Interestingly, especially in our cooperative blog, that all three entries for the Kinnerspiel are cooperative games! Micromacro and Robin Hood (the other two: see here) are also cooperative games!  What a glorious era to love cooperative games!

We’ll take a look at Paleo here!

Unboxing

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Paleo has a really nice minimalist aesthetic with lots of white space: see above.

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The basic resource components are pretty nice (just not Lost Ruins of Arnak nice) with wood components for the wood, food, and stone. The wood dice, however, seem extra cool. See above.

A lot of this game is in the cards, but it’s not a legacy game (usually the STOP! cards are reserved for legacy games). In this case, the game is all in the cards, but you never “destroy forever” cards. During gameplay, you will however discard cards to the graveyard so they out of the deck for the rest of the game. See the graveyard below.

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Paleo is all about combining basic cards and two modules to form a “deck” of cards. These cards are what the players will be “exploring” and turning over.

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See the cards above: the backs of the cards give you “hints” about what the cards will do, and you turn them over to see what you can actually do! Since the game is all in the cards, you want to be careful not to look at too many cards at the start of the game … you don’t want to spoil the surprises on the cards! Note that the cards are very nice linen-finished cards!

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Everything else in the game are cardboard components: See the three main boards above! See the heart, skull, and tool tokens below.

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Overall, the components are nice enough. They are all very easy to read and have the same minimalist look/feel with the white theme.

The workbench, although it looks cool (see below), is one of the most annoying components when it comes to set-up and tear-down!

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Sure, it looks great above, but building it was messier than it should have been. It barely had a 10th of page to describe how to put it together:

You can barely see what it looks like! The next page has a completed picture, but its still not great at showing it:

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That’s fine, because once it’s built … it does look cool. But wait! How do you put this away? I am pretty sure they thought about it (because it does fit in a very particular way), but did they document it? Nope! Are you supposed to take it apart to fit in the box????

No, you just have to make sure you put the rules UNDER the insert, and NOTHING else on the right side and it just BARELY clears the lid!

You might think this is a minor thing, but when you are putting it away, it can be very frustrating! So, learn from my experience: pull the bottom part off of the workbench, put the rules and extension rulesheet under the insert, clear the bigger part and make sure the workbench sits JUST SO (see picture above).

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Overall, the game looks good and has a consistent look-and-feel: the cards are linen-finished and easy to read, the tokens are easy to read, and the wooded resource tokens are nice. The workbench looks cool, but is annoying the pack back into the box.

Rulebook

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All the rules are there and the rulebook works fine. But I feel like they skimped in a few places. The components list is just a sliver at the stop of the 1st page:

The set-up is next and works well enough:

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The rest of the rulebook works okay, but again, I feel like they were skimping. This game has a lot of iconography: where do you go to see iconography? Isn’t there usually a summary on the last page with the iconography? Usually on the back page. Nope, somewhere in the middle.

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Look, it’s not a big deal, but I felt like the rulebook has “let’s cram as few pages as possible into the rules so we can save some money”. That’s fine, I understand, but I felt the rulebook could have been better.

Like I said, the rulebook worked and it was fine. This is just a minor nitpick, but since Lost Ruins of Arnak (see here and here) and Ares Expedition (see review here) had such wonderful rulebooks, it’s a little harder to deal with. Especially since The Lost Ruins of Arnak is ALSO up for a Spiel Des Jahres award!

Solo Rules

By default, Paleo DOES NOT follow Saunders’ Law: it has NO Solo Rules!  See the box cover above!  The main reason (I think) for lack of solo rules is that one of the main features of the game is that you can choose to “help” another player on your turn:

In the card above, the player can either choose to hunt the Mammoth (if he has the resources, which is unlikely) OR he can help out one of his neighboring tribe-of-cavemen!  The little “hands-shaking” symbol is the sign for “help your neighbor” in this game.    This is a central mechanism in the game (for balance, for fun, for winning), so you must play with it! 

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All this means for the solo player is that the solo player simply takes the role of two tribes of cavemen!  See above!  Tribe 1 has a Scout and a Guardian.  Tribe 2 has a Hunter and a Scout.  Each tribe plays a card separately, like it would in a 2-Player game (note the second tribe has just played “At Home” to the right).  The only difference is that the solo player must make all the choices himself. 

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It can be  little daunting to play 2 Tribes as a solo player, but you can really feel the need for the cooperation when you play.  (I tried playing a solo game with just 1 tribe … it was miserable and I immediately stopped).  

I really think the rulebook could have included a simple sentence:

A solo game of Paleo plays exactly like a 2-Player game,  where the solo player plays both tribes of cavemen separately

Initial Impressions

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The game looks good on the table.  The game really does feel like you are exploring: you choose a card based on the back of the card (like a hint from the environment) to play every turn.  After all players flip their card, then each player (in Player Selected Turn Order) chooses a card to play.  But there’s so much more to the game:

  • You can get Visions (which help you choose what you will do next)
  • You can get Ideas (for “tech” to build: wood and a rock? A spear of course!)
  • You can avoid Bad Cards!  All hands are “littered” with Bad News, and you have to know when and when NOT to avoid the bad news cards!
  • You can build tools!  Using the ideas you had earlier, you can make them real!  Make a REAL Spear!
  • You need to feed your tribe!

This is a Euro cooperative game.  What do you I mean by that?  The game is all about getting enough resources to get stuff done, but as a group.  Cavemen need to get ideas (one type of resource) to build tools (another type of resource) using wood and stone (yet another type of resource).  Where this game differs from other Euros is that it strongly encourages cooperation through the help mechanic!   Players work together to get resources.

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A “win” is getting the entire cave painting built!  A “lose” is getting 5 skulls (see above).  As the game progresses, there are many opportunities to get cave painting pieces: for example, defeating the Mammoth below gives a piece!

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 The game really does feel like you are exploring.  Since cards go to the Graveyard after you have “defeated them”, there is a clock running!  Thematically: you killed the Bull Mammoth (above), got his meat, and he’s not coming back!  At some point, you will run out of cards to keep the cavemen alive!!!  You must explore to survive, but a some point you must figure WHAT you need to do!! That’s part of the fun of this game: you don’t know exactly “what” you need to do to survive until you have gone through the deck a few times (in a typical game, you go through the deck many times).

You must explore to find out what you need.

Conclusion

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In the end, I liked Paleo as a solo game (even though it doesn’t have solo rules). It sometimes feels like you don’t have a of choices as you explore, as you can only see the backs of the cards and you don’t even know what you need at the start of the game! BUT, this was thematic as an exploration game! The more you get to know the modules you are playing, the more predictive your choices can be! And once you flip the cards over, there are still interesting choices to make! Are you a good neighbor or do you overcome your own challenges? And the game has some replayability, as choosing 2 of 10 modules (A-J) per game gives you (10 choose 2) = 45 combinations.

I see why this game was a Kinnerspiel Des Jahres nominee! It’s pretty fun, looks good, and has some unique mechanisms and ideas I haven’t seen elsewhere. And Paleo really does encourage cooperation with the way the cards are revealed and resolved with Player Selected Turn Order allowing players to choose (as a group) how to play! Paleo really captures the feel of cavemen exploring and trying to survive.

Addendum

We just finished RichieCon this weekend (full report next week), and I was hoping to get Paleo to the table with some groups.  It just didn’t happen, even AFTER I explained “Hey!! Paleo just won the Kinnerspiel!”  I’m not sure: I wonder if the theme was offputting?  Maybe the art on the cover wasn’t appealing?  Just a quick note that maybe you might have trouble getting people to play with this with you, despite the Kinnerspiel award …

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