I will admit that I didn’t have high expectations going into Cro-Magnon. A party game utilizing a prehistoric man theme just didn’t seem that interesting. Cro-Magnon seemed like just another generic party game that was trying to use its’ theme to stand out. After reading the rules though the game started to intrigue me a little. While it didn’t really have any truly unique mechanics, it looked like it had an interesting mix of mechanics from other party games. After playing Cro-Magnon I will say that it is a solid but unspectacular party game.
How to Play Cro-Magnon
Players decide if they are going to play individually (recommended with five or less players) or in teams. Each team chooses a playing piece and places it on the start space. Each team also chooses a tribal card, reads it out loud and places it in front of themselves.
Playing the Game
The oldest player will start the game. The oldest player’s tribe begins their turn by acting out the “YooDoo” action from their tribal card. The tribe will then turn over the timer and take the top card. Using their current form of communication the current tribe tries to get the players from the other tribes to guess the word from the card. If one of the other players correctly guess the word, the current tribe takes the next card and tries to get the players to guess the corresponding word on that card as well. Once during their turn the current tribe can skip one of the cards they drew. When the timer runs out the tribe’s turn ends. The tribe then performs their “YooDoo” action again and scoring is conducted.
The current tribe will get to move their playing piece forward one space for each word that they got another player to guess. The current tribe will lose one of their spaces if they didn’t perform their “YooDoo” action. The current tribe can earn a maximum of five spaces on their turn. In addition to the current tribe, all players who correctly guessed one of the words get to move their piece forward one space for each word they guessed correctly.
Throughout the game the tribes will be moving through the different evolutionary stages of prehistoric man. A tribe’s current evolutionary age will determine how the players in that tribe can communicate words during their turn. During any age players are able to use three words to help guide players in the right direction. Players can use “naga” if the players’ guesses are off-track. They can use “yaga” if they are close to the correct word. Finally they can say “binga” if a player has given the correct answer.
1st Age (Red Spaces): Players can only mime and grunt to get the other players to guess the top word on cards.
2nd Age (Yellow Spaces): Players can only use the clay to get the players to guess the second word on cards. Players cannot make noises or mime but can animate the objects they create with the clay.
3rd Age (Orange Spaces): Players need to describe the third word on cards using only the words on the “primitive language” sheet. Players cannot mime or use any other words or sounds.
4th Age (Green Spaces): Players can only use the charcoal stick and paper to draw the bottom word on each card. Players are unable to write letters/numbers, talk, or mime.
Winning the Game
The first team to reach the finish space wins the game.
My Thoughts Cro-Magnon
When you look at Cro-Magnon it kind of feels like the designers found four different party game mechanics that they liked and combined them together with a prehistoric theme. These four mechanics that the designers decided to use form the four ages of the game. While all four ages share the same objective of getting the other players to guess a word, the tools available to the players differ between the ages. As these four ages are pretty distinctive, I think the easiest way to break down Cro-Magnon’s gameplay is to look at each age individually.
The first age is basically Charades. You need to mime out the word to try and get the other players to guess the word. If you have ever played Charades or one of the many other games with basically the same gameplay, you already know what to expect out of this age. I really didn’t have any strong feelings either way about the 1st age. I have always thought Charades was a decent game but far from one of my favorite games.
The second age takes your typical word guessing game and adds Playdoh/clay. Instead of acting out the word you need to use the clay to create a physical representation of the word. This mechanic is more original than Charades but it also has been used in other games including the 1993 game Claymania. While not highly original, it was either my favorite or second favorite mechanic in the game. For some reason it is fun using the clay to represent words.
The third age is the one potentially unique mechanic in the game. In the third age players are given a sheet of basic words. The players can only use that list of words to describe the word on their current card. While there is a decent chance another game has used this mechanic, I can’t think of a game off the top of my head that has used a similar mechanic. Outside of maybe the clay mechanic, I thought this was the best mechanic in Cro-Magnon. The idea of having to describe a word using only simple words is actually a pretty interesting mechanic. While it is kind of easy to describe some of the words using the primitive language, with other words it can be quite challenging. This challenge makes the mechanic pretty fun.
The thing about the primitive language mechanic is that it shows a lot of potential but it is not perfect. The biggest problem with the mechanic is with the word sheet itself. While I give the game credit for somewhat sorting the words, I think the designers could have found a way to make it easier to find the word you are looking for. Unless you are really familiar with the sheet, you might spend a decent amount of your time looking through the list trying to find the right word to help describe the current word. I also think the word selection could have been a little better as there are some words that you would think would be on the list but aren’t. The mechanic is still enjoyable though and is interesting enough that I wonder what a game would look like if it focused entirely on this mechanic tweaking some things to fix some of the issues.
The final age is basically Pictionary where you have to draw the word. The only real difference between this mechanic and normal Pictionary is that you use a crayon/charcoal stick to draw the picture instead of a pencil. This makes such a slight difference that I have no problem saying that the fourth age is just plain Pictionary. Not really having a strong opinion either way on Pictionary I don’t really have much to say about the final age.
Basically when you combine the four ages together, Cro-Magnon kind of feels like you get four different party word games in the box. In particular Cro-Magnon reminds me a lot of Cranium as Cranium has mechanics similar to three of the ages in Cro-Magnon. This makes Cro-Magnon a decent but very generic party game. While it is not a highly original game, you can have fun with Cro-Magnon. I wouldn’t consider it to be a good/great party game but you can do quite a bit worse.
When I first started playing Cro-Magnon I was a little skeptical of the prehistoric man theme. The theme just seemed kind of cheesy and I didn’t really think it would work for a party game. After playing the game I have to say that I was a little surprised by the theme. While the theme is not fantastic, it actually works pretty well with the game’s mechanics. The idea of different ages of communication is a clever way to theme around forcing players to use different forms of communication throughout the game. The instructions even explain what each age of the game is supposed to represent in the evolution of prehistoric man. The artwork and components also do a pretty good job supporting the theme. While the theme is not a reason to purchase the game, credit needs to be given to the designers for actually giving a solid theme to a very generic party game.
While Cro-Magnon is a solid party game, it does have some issues.
I think the biggest problem with the game (outside of not being highly original) is the fact that not all of the cards were created equally. The problem with the cards is that some cards are much easier than others. With some words it is really easy to get a player to guess the word. On the other hand some words are so difficult that I honestly don’t know how anyone would ever be able to describe them with the form of communication they are required to use. The problem with cards differing so much in difficulty is that getting easy words plays a role in whether you win or not. A lucky player may be able to beat out a player that actually played better. I don’t like when these type of games add unnecessary luck due to some cards being easier than others.
The second biggest problem with the game is with the scoring. The scoring is decent but it has some problems. With how the game is structured it had to reward both the current tribe and the tribe that guesses each word. If the tribe that guessed the word wouldn’t score any points there would be no reason for the players to ever try and guess the words since they would just be helping another player/team. With the guessing team being able to score as many points as the current team, there is no reason not to try your hardest guessing words.
The biggest problem with the scoring system involves the end of the game. When a tribe is only a couple spaces away from winning the game, there is no reason for the other players to try and guess words since they will just be helping the current tribe win the game. When you get to this point the tribe that is in the lead is basically forced to score their last few points on other tribe’s turns. This won’t be much of an issue if the players don’t take the game too seriously but it could become an issue if the players are competitive. If the players decide to take advantage of this loophole, I think it could significantly hurt the game.
The third issue I had with the game was with the “YooDoo” actions. I think these actions were added to emphasize the prehistoric man theme but they mostly just make the players look silly. As they don’t really add anything to the actual gameplay, they feel pretty unnecessary to me. If you are playing the game with children or adults that like to make fools of themselves, these mechanics are fine. If you are playing the game with adults though, I think it would probably be best to just ignore these actions as they really don’t add anything to the actual gameplay.
The final issue I had with Cro-Magnon is with the components. I actually don’t have any real issues with the component quality as the components are solid but unspectacular. I do have two issues with the components though. The first is the fact that the game for some reason includes a timer with rounded ends. The problem with the rounded ends is that the timer keeps falling over. To prevent the timer from falling over one of the players will likely have to hold it down.
The bigger problem with the components is with the cards. The game comes with 135 word cards with each card being double sided with a word for each age on both sides of the cards. At first this seems like a decent amount of cards. The problem is that the game ends up repeating a lot of the words on more than one of the cards. A word might appear in the first age on one card and then it will also appear in a different age on another card. I have to wonder how many actual unique words are included with the game.
Should You Buy Cro-Magnon?
When you first look at Cro-Magnon you don’t see a lot of original mechanics. Cro-Magnon kind of feels like a compilation of mechanics from other party games. The game has four main mechanics and three of the mechanics are featured mechanics in other party games. The only unique mechanic in the game is the idea of using simple words in order to describe another word. Despite not having a lot of originality I enjoyed the clay and simple word rounds. The other rounds are okay but nothing special. Cro-Magnon does have some issues though which include the cards not being balanced, the scoring system can be manipulated by competitive people, some of the mechanics make you look silly, and the game doesn’t have as many different words as you would expect. Basically Cro-Magnon is a solid but unoriginal party game.
If you have never really been a big fan of these type of party games, I don’t see Cro-Magnon being any different. If you already have party games that have similar mechanics, I also don’t think it is worth picking up. If you really like this type of party game though I think Cro-Magnon is worth picking up.