Posted by: gschloesser | August 5, 2011

Lost Valley

Designers:  Tobias & Roland Goslar
Publisher:  Kronberger Spiele
3 – 4 Players, 1 – 1 ½ Hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

Exploration games are appealing for me, even though I haven’t been very fond of several of them.  So, when I heard about Lost Valley, I was interested and was happy to play the game at the Gathering of Friends in April.  Sadly, that experience wasn’t very good, but a large part of the reason was that we misplayed an important rule regarding when the game ends.  After learning of our mistake, I was interested in giving the game another try.  Subsequent playings have greatly improved my opinion, revealing a game that while not fantastic, is still fun to play. 

The game is set in the western wilderness, with players exploring the land in attempts to find riches … gold, that is!  The board forms as players push into the wilderness from the trading post, with discoveries being made along the way.  Players can find gold in the river, in the mountains or even inland, but to successfully extract these precious nuggets requires the expenditure of valuable resources.  Mines must be built in order to extract the gold from the mountains.  Canals must be dug to reach the inland gold.  Plus, players must have a ready source of food in order to survive the harsh conditions.  The game is a contest to acquire the required resources, put them to good use and grab as many gold nuggets as possible.  The player who can do this the most efficiently will become the stuff of legend.

Before I describe the game in a bit more detail, a word or two is in order regarding the components.  Cardboard.  Lots of it.  Mountains of it.  In fact, when I opened my copy, the box was filled with loose bits, which had come loose from their frames during shipping.  According to the contents list, there are nearly 250 pieces of cardboard included in the game.  Just sorting these pieces is a major task.  Fortunately, they are well illustrated and easy to separate. 

Each player begins at the trading post and will venture forth from there.  A major river passes the trading post and will form as players explore the wilderness.  Players move along the edges of the diamond-shaped tiles and whenever they reach the edge of a tile, new tiles are revealed and placed.  The river forms a bit quicker, as these tiles are placed whenever a player is one space away from it.  Being able to place the tiles can be a considerable advantage, particularly the river tiles.  Since travel across the river is impossible without a canoe, a player will often place these tiles so that any gold and food locations are on HIS side of the river.  Further, the tiles can be played in a fashion to form gaps that are filled with the triangle-shaped tiles.  These tiles usually contain mother lodes of riches, from gold to food.  It is a wise idea to place tiles so that these gaps are formed.  Selfishness is a virtue in the Lost Valley

Each player begins the game with a player mat that houses the items he will find, purchase and carry.  One’s carrying capacity is limited, which forces a player to utilize his resources in attempts to acquire gold and other resources.  A player can increase his carrying capacity by purchasing a cart, but this, of course, does force a player to use some of his previously acquired resources.  Plus, it does require the player to make a journey back to the trading post, which can be time consuming.  Players do begin the game with several items, which is enough to get them started on their journey. 

A player’s turn is generally quite simple.  When moving on foot, a player moves one space from a tile corner to an adjacent tile corner when moving inland.  Movement along the river is a bit faster, allowing the player to move two such spaces.  Players may not cross the river, unless in possession of a canoe.  A horse increases inland movement to two spaces.  However, a player may NOT combine two forms of movement in one turn.  Movement is slow, which is one of the problems I have with the game.  More on this later. 

If during or after movement a player finds himself at the edge of the map, or within a space of the last river tile, he will place new tiles.  As mentioned, the player can position these tiles as he desires until all of the spaces around his marker are filled and he is now more than one space away from the last river tile.  Many tiles contain the location of river gold, mountain gold, food sources (fish or animals) or event markers.  The appropriate counters are placed face-down on these spaces.  

Finally, a player may perform one action (two if they expend a whiskey token) during his turn.  He may perform this action before or after moving.  The possible actions are numerous, and include constructing mines, sawmills or nets; mining for mountain or river gold; hunting for animals; fishing; cutting down trees; etc.  Performing these actions usually costs resources.  For instance, in order to build a mine, which is required before a player can mine for mountain gold, the player must spend a tool, a food and a timber.  Once he begins mining, he must expend another food and another timber.  Costly.  To acquire these items requires additional actions, which must be performed on subsequent turns.  For instance, in order to acquire timber, a player must be adjacent to a forest hex and spend his action cutting down a tree, which yields one timber.  Building a sawmill will increase this output to two timbers per action.  Timbers are large, however, and consume much of a player’s carrying capacity.  

I also mentioned that a player needs food in order to build the mine and then dig for gold.  Food is acquired either by fishing in the river, which must be done by the fish symbols, or by hunting animals, which must be done on the tiles that depict the animal symbol.  This requires the player to move to those spaces and then use his action to fish or hunt.  Fishing yields one fish, unless the player has previously constructed a net at that location.  Hunting can yield up to four pieces of food, but requires the player to roll-off against the beast to see if the hunt was successful.  Odds are it won’t be.  The odds can be increased by the use of a gun, but that must be purchased way back at the trading post.

What I just described usually takes numerous turns to accomplish.  One must move to all of the appropriate spaces and perform the required actions over several turns.  While figuring out the optimal sequence can be interesting, the actual execution of this sequence can be tedious and time consuming.  I call this mechanism the “one step forward, two steps backwards” syndrome.  It is very similar to the mechanism utilized in Goldland, a game which I played numerous times and do not particularly care for.  To its credit, though, I do find the options more varied and interesting in Lost Valley

There are numerous tools which can ease a player’s tasks and increase his production.  These include carts, canoes, guns, dynamite, fishing poles, axes, sieves, etc.  Most of these must be purchased back at the trading post, which can take several turns to reach.  There is the possibility that another trading post will surface during the game, but its location may be equally as inconvenient.  Again, we have the tediousness of trekking all the way back to the trading post to acquire the necessary tools.  

All of these goods cost money, and the currency of the wilderness is gold or goods.  When players mine river gold and mountain gold, they take one (or more, if using dynamite in the mountains) of the counters from the tile.  River gold counters will depict from 1 – 2 gold nuggets, while mountain gold will yield 3 – 4 nuggets.  No change is given at the trading post, so use your wealth wisely.

A player wins the game if he manages to get 10 gold COUNTERS (not nuggets) back to the trading post.  Otherwise, the game will end when the ice flow reaches the trading post.  Ice flow?  When the final river tile is placed, the spring tile is placed at its end.  Once all of the land tiles have been placed, an ice block will appear at the spring and begin moving downstream towards the trading post.  At the end of each player’s turn, a die is rolled and if a “5” or “6” is the result, the ice moves downstream one tile.  When the ice reaches the trading post, the game ends and the player with the most gold NUGGETS is victorious.  This is a neat mechanism and acts as an indeterminate timer, ticking down to the end of the game. 

To be sure, there are aspects to the game I do not enjoy.  The game can grow tedious as players must continuously move back and forth between hexes in order to acquire the necessary resources to accomplish their goals.  This is time consuming and slow.  Further, when constructing items such as mines, sawmills or nets, other player can reap the benefits of your labor.  So, after a player constructs a mine, he will usually find himself in need of an additional timber and/or food to begin digging for gold.  While he is off acquiring these items, it is usually easy for an opponent to swoop in and grab a gold counter or two before the other player returns.  This can be frustrating.  Trying to find the correct space to construct a mine or sawmill so that you will be able to enjoy most of the spoils can be very tough and, again, time consuming. 

I also don’t enjoy the long treks back to the trading post to purchase goods.  This is VERY tedious and unexciting.  Sure, the second trading post MAY surface and POSSIBLY shorten this journey, but there is no guarantee.  

In spite of these factors, I still find myself interested in the game.  All of my games improved over the disappointing experience I had with my first play, which is encouraging.  Exploration games can be fun as there is a certain degree of excitement at watching the map develop before your eyes.  Trying to find the “sweet” spots wherein you can mine and acquire the necessary resources without excess movement is challenging, but often beyond your control.  Choosing which materials to purchase and which to forgo is part of the decision-making process, and does offer a wide range of possible paths to pursue.  Thus, the game does have a somewhat different feel to it with each playing. 

Some will find the game too fiddly and plodding, sort of a throw-back to games of the 70’s & 80’s.  The too-brief rules also don’t help.  In spite of these potential downsides, however, my ultimate verdict is that of a decent game that will likely see a playing or two a year.  It is not the pinnacle of exploration games, but it is much better than other offerings in this genre.

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Responses

  1. I liked the exploration part of the game. It was a lot of work and time to collect the materials needed to trade for better things or feed yourself or build mines or just grab uncovered gold from other mines but who said gold mining was easy? 7/10


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