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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers

by Ken Newquist / November 3, 2004
Cover art for the Carcassone: Hunters and Gatherers.

\Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers is a tile-based board game in which players assume the roles of hunters and gatherers attempting to glean resources from a prehistoric landscape. It's a great game for geeks, but it's even better for families.

The game uses a mechanic similar to the original Carcassonne game. The game "board" consists of 79 random land tiles, each of which can contain up to four kinds of terrain: forest, plain, river or lake. Players randomly draw a tile and then place it on an ever-growing board, always seeking to match up like terrains (forest with forest, river with river, etc.)

Players can exploit the resources on these tiles by placing hunters (which stalk the plains for deer, mammoths and aurochs) gatherers (who collect food from forests and rivers) and huts (which are placed on rivers or lakes and gather fish from an entire river systems).

Points are scored in a variety of ways. Gatherers score when the resource they are working is completed. For example, a player draws a tile with piece of forest and plain on it. He places a gatherer on the forest part, knowing that the forest isn't complete yet, but hoping to do so on his next turn. The next turn comes and another forest piece comes up, allowing him to complete the forest and score 2 points for each component of the forest.

The processes is similar with rivers, only in that case the player must not only connect two river pieces, but also a lake to a lake, or a spring to a lake. The player then scores for each water segment comprising the river system.

Hunters are placed on plains, but are a long term piece that only scores at the end of the game when no more tiles can be placed. Hunters score points based on the number of animals grazing on the plains they wander. The goal of players placing hunters is to arrange to have the largest plains possible, thus increasing the number of animals they're likely to score. Opposing players try to negate these hunters by placing tiles with tigers ñ which chase off prey -- or to block off the plains. Similarly, players can place "fishing huts" on river systems, and then score points for each lake with fish in it that is connected to the hut's river at the end of the game.

The game has several special tiles containing unique features, like a brush fire that chases tigers away, or a shrine that allows the player who holds it to automatically control the plain it is connected to. Others contain unique geographic structures -- like rivers flowing in unique ways -- that can be valuable expansion tools. These special tiles are connected to certain forest tiles that have a mountain with a gold nugget. When such forests are completed, and if a player has placed a gatherer on it, that player can score a special card.

The end of the game arrives when they are no more tiles that can be placed.

Good for Geeks, Good for Families

Like its fellow "German-style" games, Hunters and Gatherers has a simple, easy-to-learn game mechanic at its core. This makes it easy to hook new players into the game, while at the same time offering enough complexity to hold the attention of experience gamers. This makes it excellent for anyone looking for a new pick-up game for their gaming group, but more importantly, it allows gamers to share their hobby with their families.

Consider this: back in July, my friends and I got together for NukemCon, a three-day, at-home gamefest in which we played RPGs and board games from sun up to sun down. One of the Saturday afternoon slots was dedicated to Hunters and Gatherers. My wife Sue, seeing the game box and its puzzle like pieces, was intrigued and sat down to play it with us.

She loved it. Not only that, she loved it so much that we bought a copy of it for ourselves, and have now spent several Saturday nights sipping wine and playing Hunters & Gatherers in our family room. We've also played a game or two our daughter around and while the then 15-month-old Jordan was too young to understand the game, she did like placing the pieces on the table. She even started trying to line up the sides of the pieces after watching Sue and I do it. In a few years, I have no doubt that this game will become a family staple. As a husband and dad, I'm thrilled that I found a game that I can play with my family.

But this game also appeals to me as a gamer. Its combination of short-term and long-term strategy causes you to balance competing agendas as you way immediate point gains against the necessity of scoring big in the end game. It's all too easy to hold the high score for the entire game, only to be blown away by an opponent's superior end game.

Hunters and Gatherers components are solidly made. The game tiles are mead of sturdy card board that stands up well to abuse (particularly at the hands of toddlers, though they wouldn't survive a good gnawing).while the playing pieces are made from wood and painted with primary colors. This is a substantial game, and the quality of the components certainly enhances the game play.

Final Analysis

Hunters and Gatherers succeeds on every front. It looks good, it plays great, and its simple enough to be played by family members, but complex enough to entertain diehard gaming geeks. It's definitely worth picking up.

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