The woolly mammoth is back! Guide your mammoths across Pleistocene Park, trampling the invasive trees and making room for wildflowers and grasslands.
What Is Mammoth?
Mammoth is a tile-laying game from Soaring Rhino Games for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 30–45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $40 for a copy of the game. Based on the theme and complexity of the game, I think 8 and up is about right.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
- Game board
- 4 player trays (not shown in prototype photos)
- 52 Octagon tiles
- 2 Octagon Research Center tiles (for cooperative game)
- 40 Square tiles
- 72 Small Biocycle tokens (18 each in 4 player colors)
- 48 Flower tokens (12 each in 4 player colors)
- 4 Mammoths
- 4 Animal tokens
- 4 Baby Mammoth tokens
- 8 Goal cards
- 14 Action cards
- First Player marker
- 4 Penalty tokens
The board uses an octagon-and-square pattern, which is uncommon: most tile-laying games I’ve played use either squares or hexagons (or occasionally triangles), because they tesselate by themselves. Mammoth breaks the mold a little by having two primary tile shapes, which also makes you think a little differently about adjacency. The tiles themselves are brightly colored—red, yellow, green, and purple—and each color has its own pattern, so you can distinguish them even if you’re color blind. I had some players remark that it seemed a little too colorful for terrain, but thematically it represents fields of wildflowers, so that works for me. Each tile also has paths on it, and these are a lighter red color—it would be nice if the paths were a more distinctive color than the color fields.
The mammoth tokens are adorable: chunky, square-ish plastic mammoths that are fun to move around on the board. An early prototype I saw at Gen Con last year had plastic pieces for the baby mammoths and animals as well, but I think these are being replaced with cardboard tokens in the final version. The baby mammoth is basically just a one-time-use extra turn, so it doesn’t really need an entire plastic miniature. In fact, many players forget that’s what it’s for, and I think a token that just has a “2x” on it or something may be easier to remember. The animal token is placed on a path on the board, though, and the red player’s animal can be particularly easy to lose once it’s placed on the colorful tiles. Maybe the player colors can also be adjusted to make visibility better.
How to Play Mammoth
You can download a copy of the rulebook on the Kickstarter page, as well as watch a How to Play video.
I’ll explain the competitive rules in detail, and then explain a little about the cooperative mode below.
The goal of the game is to score the most points: expand territories by placing tiles, and extend the path of your animal.
Shuffle the octagon tiles face-down to form a supply, and place the square tiles nearby.
Give each player a player tray, with the following components in their player color: 1 mammoth, 1 baby mammoth token, 1 animal token, 12 flower and 18 biocycle tokens. 1 flower token is placed on the scoring track. Each player also takes 4 octagon tiles from the supply.
For 2–3 players, randomly place octagon tiles face-up in the spaces marked on the board.
On your turn, you will place a tile and score points. You may optionally place your animal token (if you haven’t already) or use your baby mammoth to take another turn (once per game). At the end of your turn, you draw a new octagon tile.
Place a Tile
You may place either an octagon from your hand, or a square from the supply. The squares are double-sided, and you may choose any available square to place.
If your mammoth is not currently on the board (as in the beginning of the game), you must place a square tile and place your mammoth on it. (You may not play in the center square on your first turn.) Otherwise, any tile you place must either grow your own color grouping or your path. You may never place a tile that combines your color grouping to another player’s, so if multiple players have mammoths occupying the same color, those two areas may never be connected to each other.
Your color grouping is the contiguous color area that your mammoth occupies—you may place a matching color adjacent to that area. Then, you move your mammoth to the same color on the new tile. If you can move to the new tile without traveling through another tile to get there, then you place a biocycle token on the tile you just left, and score 1 point. If your new tile extends any color groupings that do not belong to you, then you place flower tokens on the tile in those color areas, scoring 3 points per flower.
Each tile has at least one path on it, and your path is the one that your animal token is on, if you’ve placed it. When placing a tile, you may place it so that it extends your path, even if this does not grow your color grouping. You still score flower points as usual, but you do not move your mammoth or animal. Paths will score at the end of the game.
If you still have your animal token, you may place it on a path on the tile you just placed, as long as that path doesn’t connect to somebody else’s animal. Once placed, your animal will not move from that path for the rest of the game.
At the end of your turn (after you have drawn a replacement tile), you may flip over your baby mammoth token to take an additional turn. Your baby mammoth may only be used once per game.
If your color grouping is ever completely surrounded, whether by your own tiles or another player’s, then you remove your mammoth from the board and immediately score 1 point per tile (squares and octagons) in your color grouping. On your next turn, you will restart your mammoth on a new square tile.
The game ends when the last octagon is placed on the board. Players will score 1 point per tile for the color grouping their mammoths currently occupy. The player with the highest score wins; ties go to the player with the most flower tokens on the board, then the most biocycle tokens on the board.
There is a 4-player team variant where two teams compete against each other. It’s basically the same game, but each team shares a score marker.
The cooperative mode uses the action cards and goal cards: you shuffle and draw one “color” goal and one “path” goal, setting those face-up next to the board. The action cards are drafted each round, and will restrict the type of action you’re able to do on your turn: you might have to play an octagon to grow your own color, or you might be able to place an octagon to grow another player’s color. If you can’t play your action when it’s your turn, then you lose 2 points and take a penalty marker.
The goal of the cooperative mode is to fulfill both goals and score enough points to meet the sum of the two goal cards. For instance, the color goal will require you to meet certain requirements pertaining to a particular color; the path goal has some requirement about paths, like a minimum length of path, or connecting two research station tiles with a path, and so on. Each goal card has a point value, and your final score must match the sum of the two point values.
Why You Should Play Mammoth
Before I get into the gameplay, I think it’s worth remarking on the background of the game. The Kickstarter video is atypical because it starts off by talking about the science: specifically, that scientists from Revive & Restore are currently trying to re-engineer the woolly mammoth, and that Pleistocene Park is a real place in Siberia where they hope large grazing animals can combat climate change. One of the pledge levels includes a signed copy of Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich, and a portion of the game’s proceeds will go toward the Woolly Mammoth Revival project.
I like the way that the game conveys the theme of the game: the background of the board shows a dense forest, and the mammoths (and the animals, which represent various types of megafauna) are trampling down the trees and making room for the grasslands and wildflowers. (I have to admit that we were calling the biocycle tokens “mammoth poop” when we played.)
Mammoth has some fun twists on the tile-laying genre. Aside from the use of octagons and squares that I mentioned earlier, the game also forces you to consider how much you want to help another player with your tile. If you extend a color field that’s not your own, you get 3 points—that’s more than you get for extending your own and more than another player will get for that color if it’s theirs. If you also manage to extend another player’s color area so that they’ll have to travel farther the next time they place a tile, then you also cost them the point they would have earned from dropping a biocycle token.
However, players do score points based on the size of their color area, so you don’t want to lose out too much on that potential source of points. Plus, when you place a tile, you must extend either your color group or your path, so you can’t just go around placing tiles that exclusively extend other color groups. And while it may seem ideal to grow an unclaimed color field so that you score the 3 points without helping another player, you have to beware: at some point a player will get surrounded and respawn their mammoth, and if you’ve built up a large color area somewhere, you may have just handed somebody a pile of points.
Knowing when to close off your area and respawn can be important, depending on whether there’s a good place to make a new start—and how quickly other players may be attempting to claim the same spot. Another wrinkle is that, since you can never connect areas or paths between two players (unlike, say, Carcassonne, there can be a race to get to certain spaces on the board because you might be able to prevent another player from placing tiles there. In some cases, I’ve seen players spawn on the same color as another player, just to force a confrontation somewhere.
The paths can be a little trickier to remember, but it’s important to claim a path early enough that you don’t get shut out. And the earlier you claim a path with your animal, the more flexible your turn can be, because you can extend your color group or your path (or, if possible, both). The only risk is that if you place your animal early on, other players may be able to cut off the areas where you could extend your path. Since you can’t move your animal once it’s placed, that can be a costly mistake.
The baby mammoth gives you a double turn once during the game. This can be quite powerful when used at the right time. For instance, you could close off your color group and score for it, and then use your baby mammoth to respawn right away in an advantageous spot. My only complaint is that “baby mammoth” doesn’t really tie thematically to taking an extra turn, and so a lot of players forgot what that tile was for until somebody else used it.
The cooperative game seems quite challenging to me, though I admit I’ve mostly been playing the competitive mode. Not only do you have to meet both goal cards, but you also have to score the minimum threshold of points while you do so—and you’re restricted in what tile you can place based on the cards drafted. There are some restrictions on communication in order to prevent any single player from controlling the whole group, but it does seem like the sort of puzzle that will take a lot of coordination (and maybe some luck) in order to succeed—a bit like actually reviving the woolly mammoth in real life, I suppose. When I first saw the research station tiles (used only in the cooperative game), I was a bit confused about why they coexisted with prehistoric mammals—but the revival project explanation makes sense now.
If you enjoy tile-laying games and you like the idea of reviving the woolly mammoth, Mammoth is an intriguing game with a cool tie-in to actual scientific innovation. For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Mammoth Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.