Posted by: gschloesser | August 12, 2011

Totem

Design by:  Phillipe des Pallieres
Published by:  Queen Games
2 – 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

This was a relatively recent Queen release by Phillipe des Pallieres that I had heard absolutely NOTHING about.  My buddy Ted Cheatham took a chance and ordered a copy in our latest Adam Spielt order.  The game does have some cool looking bits and the premise held promise.  Upon initial reading of the rules, however, we had our doubts as the system seemed a bit strange.

However, we did get into it fairly easy.  Players each take control of an American Indian tribe.  Each tribe consists of both males and females in several categories:  children, young adults, mature adults and elderly.  The idea is to grow the tribe so it becomes the largest and healthiest.  This will allow the player to add a piece to his tribal totem pole.  Once a player reaches 6 levels on his totem, he claims the victory.

The game is played in phases.  First, players may cast spells on themselves (increased fertility, increased hunting prowess, good health, etc.) or their opponents (sickness, famine, etc.).  Each player may cast as many spells as he has levels on his totem.  He can cast additional spells, but each additional spell forces him to remove one of his food supplies (“burn a bird“, as we called it). Spells are cast in secret by placing a token face-down on the cottage it will affect.  Players know that you’ve cast a spell on one of their three cottages, but aren’t sure which spell.  There are counter-spells, but the correct one must be cast on the proper cottage in order to cancel out the effects of an evil spell.

Next, all women-folk of child-bearing age give birth IF they were housed with a male.  One male can service a teepee full of women (gee … this sure is sexist), resulting in a tired, yet very satisfied male.  In the absence of a spell which pre-determined the sex of the offspring, the sex is determined by taking a child token and flipping it.  Kind of a ‘heads for boy, tails for girl’ kind of thing. Fertility spells result in the entire cottage bearing twins.

After births, the great hunt begins.  All males (except the grandparents … or ‘Old Geezers’ as we affectionately referred to them) go on the hunt.  For every five males, a kill is scored, resulting in the receiving of a food token (a bird).  Certain spells can increase the take or reduce the take.

Then, everyone must eat.  Each bird feeds five family members.  If there aren’t enough birds to go ’round, then people starve.  However, elders were well respected by Indians, so they must eat first.  Thus, those starving are usually the younger family members, the ones most needed for producing children and hunting.  Aaarrrgghhh.

Finally, everyone ages one level (unless the ‘fountain of youth’ spell had been cast):  children become youngsters; youngsters become mature adults; mature adults become geezers; and geezers …. well, geezers die.

After the results of any other spells are revealed, including the nasty ‘sickness’ spell which wipes out an entire cottage, everyone adds up the number of family members left in their village.  The player with the highest total gets to add another level to his totem IF he has at least one geezer left alive.

Play then proceeds to the next turn and the cycle continues.

After the first round of our first game, I thought that this was going to be really light-weight and frivolous.  However, we all began using our spells to aid our village, attack our opponents and attempt to insulate ourselves against attacks.  The game took a more wicked turn.  Also, it became abundantly clear that proper resource management was critical.  An abundance of children meant that more food had to be gathered to feed everyone.  Only men could gather the food (did I mention that this game was sexist?) so it was critical that most of the births be boys.  However, one must also have enough females in order to continue to give birth.  With opponents casting ‘sickness’ and ‘infertility’ spells, this became a tough problem.

I mentioned earlier that players can cast for free as many spells as they have levels on their totem. Any additional spells cast forces the player to use up valuable and very scarce food tokens (“burn a bird”).  Thus, once a player gets a lead in totem levels, it becomes extremely difficult to catch that player.  This is compounded the further along the game is as food becomes scarcer and scarcer, so opponents cannot afford to … or may not even be able to … use food tokens to cast additional spells.  Thus, the game does seem to suffer from a major flaw in that once a player gets a lead, it is extremely difficult to catch him.

The game was more enjoyable and challenging than I originally thought.  The resource management skills of balancing births, children’s sex, food and spells can be tricky.  However, the game still falls into the ‘light-weight’ category, but has enough ‘meat’ to make it worthwhile.

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Responses

  1. I remember this one slightly. My notes say “Hard to catch up”. I rated it a 5 of 10. That is all.


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