I’m not a wargaming expert and truthfully, I’ve only played a single game (MESBG) in much depth at this point in my hobby career so I am reluctant to call this a review. The point is more to share what I thought was interesting about a game that I plan on playing in the future in the hopes that it is useful and inspiring to others. I should also add that this is the first truly indie game I’ve ever bought and I’m quite frankly used to the production quality that Games Workshop offers. There are so many indie games out there that look fun and I’d probably try if I had a regular opponent (Frostgrave, Dracula’s America, and Burrows and Badgers to name a few) but alas, I’m limited to solo-friendly games.
Which is actually the perfect jumping off point for this game. Palaeo Diet is designed primarily to be cooperative and solo. I think it would also make for a great convention game once those return after COVID as the rules are fairly straightforward and the cooperative nature make it easy for a group to jump in and play. What is also nice about the game is that while it is technically a historical and can do a pretty good job of representing what our ancient ancestors coped with, it can also be more pulp-y and fun. Truthfully, we only know so much about this period of time so you can really go with whatever feel you like and the rules will support it. If you want to have cavemen duking it out with T-Rex or other apes, this game can make that work!
Truthfully, I’ve never been particularly interested in the Paleolithic period of history and am certainly not well-read on the subject, however, I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and there is a science museum there that features a lot of Ice Age bones and even areas where you walk through an ice age environment with giant plastic animals of that time period. While I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for that museum (it hasn’t changed almost at all in my 34 years of life which I’m saying as a criticism), I think it did help bring to life for me how big a Woolly Mammoth is and what a Giant Sloth looked like so in that sense, this setting is vivid in my mind. When you add to that, the fact that the game is not miniature or terrain heavy, you’ve got something that sounds and fun and easy to get into.
What do you need to play? – Not a lot. The rulebook for Palaeo Diet which is $10 for the PDF at Wargamevault.com or the paperback version is a bit more at the print-on-demand service lulu.com. In terms of miniatures, you’ll need 4-6 early human minis and a varying amount of beasts for them to hunt. I’d say it could be as few 5-6 or maybe 10-15 for a small to medium-sized game. Terrain is also necessary but the nice thing about terrain is it can be just about anything. Ice terrain would like great but grasslands and jungle terrain work just as well. After all, Neanderthals spread pretty far and wide when they roamed the earth. Some fire markers are also helpful but other than that, you’re pretty much good to go. This is a huge appeal for me and I would think for other gamers. Any game you can start with a small cost and time investment is worth a look as there aren’t many options like that I’d say.
Rulebook Content – The rulebook is 58 pages but the size of the pages is not too big so the rules are long as long or complex as that might initially sound. Below is a look at the contents of the book for those who are curious.
After reading through the book, I felt like it was pretty easy to grasp the rules and there was just about the right amount of detail. For example, all of your prehistoric people have the same statline though they might have a trait to help distinguish them from others. There are three different types of weapons they can have with minor differences in terms of how they function in the game. There is a good amount of randomization in terms of how many actions the early humans can take and both good and bad things can happen as they hunt for food due to the randomization. They can even have dog companions to help chase down animals and to give the game an added strategic wrinkle and unpredictability (if you have a dog, you know what I mean here).
My only complaints about the rules are that movement is done completely on the meter system (this is going to get me some snarky comments from everywhere outside of the US, I know) and I will have to make some kind of special measuring sticks for the game because the measuring devices here aren’t easy to read in terms of millimetres. I also thought that the fire rules while thematic and appropriate looked like it could be a bit of a pain to track. Fire can move around and spread which is thematic but I’ve found this to be annoying in past games like Mansions of Madness so I’m curious to see how it plays and wouldn’t hesitate to avoid using in my games if I don’t like it.
Other noteworthy things about the game is that beasts will mostly do their own thing when left alone but they will react based on certain actions like being attacked or approached by your hunters. There is a good amount of randomization here and the game accounts for different types of animals as you can see in the picture above. This basically functions as the AI you’re playing against but because your foes are animals it is not only thematic but easy to use. It also gives you the versatility to use whatever types of beasts you want in your game. You could even have a game where an African tribe hunts things like lions, elephants, etc. if you wanted.
Of course, one of the biggest concerns of any game is what are the scenarios like? While I was surprised that two of the ten are not actually cooperative and would be harder to play solo but eight scenarios isn’t bad and most of them have pretty strong theme like one where you’re trying to steal pups from wolves or early canines to raise them in your tribe. The scenarios do not require very much specific terrain or minis so they’re flexible just like the rest of the game system.
There are also some nice campaign rules where your tribe can become hungry if they lose or become stronger after a successful hunt. It is light compared to some games but I think it meshes well with the overall game and I like the complexity level and the relatively small amount of things to track between games. There are a few examples of how you can link the scenarios into a campaign or a season. I’d love to see more detail on this in a future release (I think the next supplement for the game covers this in more detail). It is worth mentioning that there are two additional releases for the game, including one with rules specifically covering Pulp games.
Overall, I think the rulebook is nice for the cost. The production quality is minimal but there are some fun, cartoony drawings that are of a good quality. A few more would be great but that is not a criticism as I’m sure the budget for this book was tight. I didn’t see any typos and the writing seemed clear to me. The most important test was did I want to play the game more or less after reading Palaeo Diet: Eat or Be Eaten? And the answer to that is I look forward to playing it more. Palaeo Diet is what I was looking for/hoping and reading it confirmed my excitement for playing the game.
My plan is to get some of the Savage Core minis for the humans which look fairly nice and like they’d be fun to paint. For beasts, there is a great resource on the net that shows producers of 28mm animals. There aren’t tons out there but there are certainly more than enough and while they’ll be gaming pieces (and obviously not as high quality sculpts as say Games Workshop), they should definitely be evocative of the setting and be easy to paint up. I might even be able to mostly dry brush them which is always a huge time saver. I don’t know exactly when I will take my next step in acquiring minis for this game but since they will be coming from the UK/Europe, I expect it will take some time to receive them and it may be a month or two before you actually see more Paleolithic painting action here on the site. You can be sure though that the beasts of this era will not be able to rest for long! 🙂