Game Buzz: Bear Valley

Time for a preview of a new game from one of my favorite designers:

image by BGG user Chris Schreiber
image by BGG user Chris Schreiber

Bear Valley is a new design by Carl Chudyk that is being published by Stronghold Games.  It’s a 2-6 player survival game that lasts around 15-30 minutes.  The object of the game is to cross a valley and reach the camp on the other side, all the way watching out for bears.

The game comes with 6 player cards, 15 valley cards, 79 wilderness cards, 6 player tokens, 8 gold tokens, and 18 equipment tokens.  To start the game, you lay out the valley cards so you form a river with a starting camp at one end and the destination camp at the end.  There are several possible map layouts based on the number of players and desired length of game.  Each player chooses a token and places it at the starting camp, and you’re ready to go.

On your turn, you will be able to move any number of spaces.  That is, except on the first turn – on your first turn, you may only move as many spaces as your turn order.  So if you’re first, you can only move one.  If you’re sixth, you’re maxed at six spaces.  However, on every turn after the first, you can move as far as you want (or can).

Movement works like this – you point to the adjacent space you want to move and say “One o’clock”.  You don’t move your piece until you’ve decided to stop.  If you’re able to keep moving, you point to another adjacent space and say “Two o’clock.”  And so on.

Movement is not quite that simple.  When you start, the only cards out there are the river, and you cannot move along the river.  There are bears there.  So, you’ll need to follow one of the exits (there are five on the starting card).  You’ll point to the exit you’re going to explore and draw a wilderness card, placing it at that exit.  Cards line up in a hexagonal pattern, meaning that two cards will touch each long side and each card can potentially be bordered by six cards.  As long as the new card has an exit that lines up with the one you used, you can move there.  If not, you have gotten lost and your move ends without you leaving your current location (you still place the card).

If there already is a card at the exit you’re using, you can traverse to that card.  Generally, only one player can occupy a card.  The exceptions are the starting camp, cards with hedges that split the card into two sections (one player can occupy each section), and cards with bridges (one player can be on the bridge and another on the ground).  Also, you can’t enter a space with a bear.  And if you ever enter a space with water, your move will end there (bears hang out by the water – you’re trying to avoid bears).  If you move onto a mountain, you must end your turn on the next card, or you must stop (but you’ll only get one move next turn).  You can’t backtrack while moving, though you can choose to end your move, and then retrace your steps next turn.

What do the times mean?  If you explore at certain times, different things will happen.

  • If you explore at 1:00 and draw a Bear card, you evade that bear.  You can traverse to a different card, or you can explore a new card, but you end your move after that.
  • If you explore at 2:00 and find a card with no exit lining up to your current one, your turn ends, but you can place your player token on the new card (you found a tunnel).  You can’t tunnel after evading a bear.
  • If you explore at 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, or 6:00, and the card has 3-4-5-6 exits (respectively), you have gotten lost and don’t move your player token.
  • If you explore at 7:00 or later and come across a card with 6 exits, you have gotten lost and don’t move (just like at 6:00).  Also, if you explore at 7:00 and find a bear, you have been eaten and are out of the game.

The game ends when one player reaches the destination camp.  The game can also end if all but one player get eaten by bears (you can be eaten if you ever find yourself in a spot where you cannot move).  If the wilderness deck runs out before anyone wins, the bears win.

There is also an advanced game that adds equipment and gold.  Equipment can be collected when ending your turn alone at the starting space, or when exploring an equipment space.  A canoe allows you to move along the river.  A machete allows you to traverse between cards through trees or a hedge.  A flashlight allows you to use a cave to move three spaces underground without counting time  or dealing with obstacles (the third space must be an explore).  A picnic basket allows you to traverse through a bear card (naturally).  A rope allows you to move from a bridge to the ground on a card, something you normally can’t do. There’s also a trading post where a player can trade gold or equipment for other equipment.

Gold is collected when you explore a gold space.  A player can traverse through a space containing a player with less gold, but can’t stop there.  If you end your turn in the starting camp while holding three gold tokens, you win.

This game appears to be quite different than other Chudyk games that I’ve played (Glory to Rome, Innovation, Impulse, and Red7).  It appears to be a bit lighter than some of his other stuff, though there is a lot going on.  There’s the usual weird terminology that you find in all of his designs, as well as the uncertainty of having to deal with what you draw.  The time thing it has going on seems a little strange, but that seems about par for the course for Chudyk – hopefully it will make more sense when the game comes out.  The only images of this game so far are the ones found in the rules, and it doesn’t give you a good sense of what the final bits will look like – I look forward to seeing some pictures of the actual product.

This will probably not be nearly as brain-burny as many of Chudyk’s games, but it does seem interesting.  I’ll be looking forward to giving it a try when it comes out (preorders are open now, and the game should be out in June).  Thanks for reading!

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