Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Peter-Paul Joopen

ZOCH 2007

No. of Players:
3 - 5



Named after a famous archeological site in Spain, the new ZOCH game Altamira sends the players far back in time to become Hunters in the Stoneage. However, it was not the topic of the game which attracted first curious looks from bypassing players at the SPIEL convention at Essen, but the rather funny playing pieces. So, after using a flock of cute sheep in Haste Bock?, the people at ZOCH now have returned to rather traditional wooden pawns, but these figures have been given a face and a big tuft of hair which inspires the players to give their figures wild-looking hairstyles to match the pre-historic background. Together with the gameboard and cards (the artwork of which has been inspired by the cave paintings in Altamira), the playing components look great indeed, but let's now have a look at the game itself...


As starting preparation, each player receives a set of two of the hairy playing figures which will represent his Hunters during the course of the game. These figures are placed at the camp area at the middle of the gameboard, and each player also receives a set of six Location markers of the matching color. In addition, a deck of Prey cards (four different kinds of animals) is prepared and shuffled, and the topmost five cards from the deck are revealed and aligned next to the five prey spaces on the gameboard. Finally, the four different types of Weapon cards are separated by type and number (Weapon cards show either one or two weapons of a kind), and as a final step before the game begins one weapon of each type is placed at the Weapons market.

Each round of the game starts with a common phase in which the players secretly chose where they would like to send their Hunters. For this reason, each player possesses a deck of Location markers, showing the four different kinds of hunting grounds, the camp and a double marker. So, a player may chose a different location for each of his Hunters, or he may chose only one location and the double marker if he decides to send both of his Hunters to the same location. After all players have made their choice, the Location markers are revealed and each player places his Hunters according to his chosen Location markers.

According to the positioning of the Hunters the players now are allowed to manufacture weapons. So, each of the hunting grounds is assigned one of the four types of weapons, and for each Hunter a player has sent to a hunting ground he may take two weapons of the matching type. The denomination of the Weapon cards is up to the player's choice, so that he may take either two single Weapon cards or one card with two weapons. The situation is slightly different for each Hunter which remained in the camp, since here the player may take three different single Weapon cards of his choice.

Afterwards, the players are allowed to trade some of their weapons against weapons from the Weapon market. Thus, a player may add two weapons of the same type to the market in trade for one weapon of a different kind, or he may trade three weapons of the same type for two weapons of another kind.


When all players had a chance to trade weapons with the market, the game comes to its most important phase - the Hunting phase. Beginning with the current start player, each player now may decide whether any of his Hunters which have been positioned at a hunting ground actually will participate in a hunt. Pre-requisition for a hunting action is that an animal which can be found at the specific hunting ground currently is available at the five prey spaces. These prey spaces bear a number between "1" and "4", and in addition each animal card shows two types of weapons which are needed to hunt for the animal (called "primary" and "secondary" weapons). If the number of the prey space is combined with the weapon types of the animal, the players see how many weapons of each type they will need for a successful hunt of the specific animal. Still, this number only may be the minimum number of needed weapons, since much depends on the question whether only one of the players has sent a Hunter to the area in question. Thus, if only one Hunter is present, the player may hand in the required number of weapons and will receive the Prey card.

However, in most cases more than one Hunter will be present at a hunting ground, and now all of these players may decide to join the hunt. Each player who wants to join the hand first must reveal that he possesses the required minimum number of weapons by placing them openly on the table, but afterwards the players are allowed to add additional cards from their hand which they place facedown next to their revealed cards. These cards may either be cards matching one of the two weapon types printed on the prey card, or they may be one of the two other weapon types. Whereas a weapon listed on the prey card will increase the bid for hunting, the placement of an other weapon serves as a bluff in order to lure the other players participating in the hunt to place more weapons of the required types.

The placement of additional cards may be repeated several times until the active player decides that he wants to end the hunt instead of placing more cards. Now all the players reveal their cards, and the prey card will be won by the player with the highest number of primary weapons. In case of a draw, the highest number of secondary weapons will decide. The winner now takes the prey card and discards all primary and secondary weapons he has used in the hunt, whereas all other players who have participated retain their primary and secondary cards and only discard the cards which they might have used for bluffing.

After the active player has finished hunting with both of his Hunters, the next player in order become active player and may decide whether he wants to hunt with any of his hunters. However, before he makes his decision, all cards which remained on the prey spaces are shifted so that they occupy the prey spaces with the lowest numbers, whereas the now empty higher spaces are dealt new Prey cards from the deck. This way, there is a constant movement on the prey spaces, and the cards which have remained on the prey spaces for a turn or two will get cheaper.

When it comes it the determination of the game's winner, it is not just a matter of adding up the number of Prey cards each player has gathered. Instead, and additional level is added by the fact that the Prey cards have values ranging from one to three victory points, so that the game will be won by the player who first has reached a certain amount of victory points. Also, the first player who was able to collect animals of one kind with a value of at least three victory points will be assigned an insignia card which counts as two additional victory points in the final evaluation. For each of the four kinds of animals an insignia card exists, but their possession may shift during the course of the game if a player should gather more victory points of one type of animals than the current owner of the corresponding insignia card.

Although the most outstanding feature to be found in Altamira is the extravagant hairstyle of the playing pieces, author Peter-Paul Joopen has succeeded in combining well known mechanisms into a very harmonious final product. Both the secret assignment procedure for the movement of the playing pieces and the bidding mechanism which includes an element of bluffing by adding face-down cards can be found in other combination in other games, but Altamira derives a high degree of playing fun from the way these elements where combined here. So, we have a "double-level" of speculation both when moving the figures and when bidding for the Prey cards, but even this element of luck gets a small counterbalance by the fact that the players produce and trade weapons openly. Thus, a player may try to make a guess where his competitors might go if he remembers which weapons they have produced during the last round. However, this possibility to play Altamira with a strong mind for tactics gets less pronounced when five players participate, since this will push a player's knack for memorizing combinations to its limits. On the other hand, this gives less tactical players a winning chance as well, so that the game perfectly fits into the general philosophy of ZOCH to produce good family games.

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany