Camp Pinetop (Talon Strikes Studios, 2020)

Date played: November 29, 2020

Basic details: 1-5 players; 60 minutes; competitive; solo mode included

Gist of the game: You are the leader of a troop of woodland creature campers who are exploring the great outdoors. Over the course of the game, players will collect patches and advance their ranks. The first player to reach the highest rank ends.

To begin the game, each player receives 4 campers, 4 mastery discs, 1 rank token, and a player board in their chosen color, as well as 12 achievement patch tokens. Players place their rank token on the Possum area of their player board (the lowest rank).

Map tiles are divided by color and a number of cards of each color, based on the number of players, are chosen and shuffled into a deck. The deck is then laid out as a 3×4 or 4×4 grid, depending on the number of players.

The mastery cards are shuffled and 4 are revealed and placed, 2 on either side of the map grid. Remaining mastery cards will not be used during the game.

Supply cards are shuffled and dealt. In a 2 player game, the first player receives 5 cards and the second player receives 6. The remaining supply cards are placed by the map grid and 2 supply cards are drawn and placed on either side of the supply deck.

In turn order, each player places one of their camper meeples on a map card. If a player places their camper on an occupied card, that player must give the player already on that map card a supply card of their choice.

On their turn, players may perform 1 of 4 possible actions: a) draw 2 supply cards from the deck, the face up cards, or a combination of both. Only one of the face-up cards can be a wild card. If at least 3 of the face-up cards have the same symbol at the start of their turn, a player may discard the 3 matching cards and replace them from the deck. The player’s hand size is determined by their scouting rank, and they may not exceed that hand limit at the end of their turn (but may have more than that number during the course of their turn). Until they receive a particular achievement patch, face-up cards must be drawn from the same side of the deck. b) draw one card and move one camper to a new location orthogonally adjacent to their current location. If they take a face-up card, it cannot be a wild card. If a player moves to a map card that is occupied, they must pay a supply card of their choice to the other player(s). c) gain an achievement patch. To do so, players move their camper to a new map card, causing them to cross over a patch on their way to the new tile. That patch is the one that the player gains after paying the supply cost. Once the player pays the supply cost, they place the achievement patch token on the right side of their player board. The player gains the power listed on the achievement patch (some have an immediate effect, others last for the remainder of the game). d) place an additional camper on the map by discarding a pair of supply cards with the same tent color. The tent color determines what map cards the camper is eligible to be played on.

To advance in ranks, players must meet the requirements for the number and type of achievements they must have. There are 3 possible combinations for each rank, but a player only needs to meet the requirements of 1 combination to advance. Once a player has the required achievements in their possession, they must immediately advance their rank on the player board. For the final 3 ranks, players will have to upgrade achievement patches to the advanced level by either meeting requirements for that patch again or by completing a mastery card.

During a player’s turn, if they meet the requirements for the mastery card, they earn or upgrade one of the achievements specified on the card. A player may only accomplish each mastery card once.

The game ends immediately when a player achieves the highest rank.

Color commentary: This game has surprising depth given the theme and artwork (cutely woodland creatures being cutesy). M in particular suffered a considerable degree of analysis paralysis on each turn. Wingspan might have caused him less anguish than this game did. M graciously let me win the first game, which we didn’t count toward our official tally, by not moving my campers from their current spot when he unlocked a badge. I had things set up to advance 2 ranks in 1 turn by taking 2 specific turns. I had gotten my upgrades out of the way early that game. In future games, I focused on diamond achievements, which were the most costly, but basically let you use any card as wild for a particular supply, and when upgraded, made cards cost 1 less of a particular supply. Doing this let me get more achievements faster, and also let me get my upgrades taken care of. There’s also room for a lot of variety here in terms of having 12 different map cards for each color, but only using 3 at a time. There are 12 mastery cards, but only a few of them seem especially useful for our strategies, as many of them require having multiple campers on the board and having those multiple campers be on the same map card. Using just one camper worked fine for me for most of the games we played.

Thoughts from M: This game has great artwork, and is a lot of fun. Advancing slowly through the ranks for most of the game seems advantageous because you can keep a higher hand limit. Moreover, because of needing upgraded achievements, only the second rank, Skunk, is especially hard to avoid, because for Skunk you only need 2 of any type of patch. I’m not sure if it makes sense to focus on one winning condition or wait a while to leave yourself more flexibility and openings, since there are 3 possible ways to advance to each rank. This game was a bit of a brain burner, and while I really enjoyed it, it was very frustrating as the more effort I put into coming up with a winning strategy, the worse I did. It became comical by the end.

Petra’s rating: 8/10
M’s rating: 5/10

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