We sat down with Fantasia Games to talk and play through their ambitious (and icy) new Kickstarter board game.
We know very little about paleolithic life and, transported back there, would likely end up a sabertooth snack in a matter of hours. Endless Winter: Paleoamericans certainly delivers an avalanche of systems to navigate through, but leading our tribe in its frozen landscape proved to be a much warmer experience than you might imagine.
Endless Winter -- the Kickstarter to which is currently live -- sees players in the fur-lined boots of tribe chieftains, guiding the development of their peoples through generations. By recruiting tribe members and developing cultural skills, you’ll bolster your deck into a unique engine. Cards can then be spent on sending workers out to perform actions like hunting and resettling in new lands, or to claim resources and compete in the recurring Solar phase. The further you develop, the more powerful combinations you’re able to perform in a race to claim victory points over four rounds.
Mixing deckbuilding with worker placement, area control, set collection, and a heck of a lot more, Fantasia’s latest Kickstarter (designed by Stan Kordonskiy, creator of Dice Hospital and Lockup: A Roll Player Tale) is an ambitious beast. It aims not just to do a bit of everything but weave all its mechanics together into a finely knit tunic that’ll see you through the coldest of ice age nights.
We recently had the chance to dive into a few rounds of Endless Winter via Tabletop Simulator, wrestle with its many-faceted design, and discuss the pleasantry of paleolithic life with the Fantasia team.
“The truth is the lifestyle and details of Paleo-American people from 10,000 BCE are not entirely well known,” said a Fantasia representative. “They tended to be nomadic, leaving very little cultural lineage behind.
“With the minimum amount of information we have for these people, we needed to depend on [artist Mijajlo Dimitrievski] The Mico’s talents and abilities to express a variety of perspectives and attitudes: How did these people act? Were they happy or sad? How was their everyday life? All these kinds of questions were taken into account. At the end of the day, we are very pleased with how the game is presented -- and we truly hope that we honored these forgotten societies.”
The lack of Netflix might lead you to think the life of a Stone Age human would be pretty dull, but Endless Winter certainly won’t give you time to switch off. On top of recruiting cards to your deck, this frosty package asks you to balance your efforts between storing resources, hunting megafauna, burying tribe members, expanding and moving your camps, building megaliths, creating idols, and, well, we could go on, but we’re already running out of mental breath with this sentence. Suffice to say, crafting the greatest tribe of 10,000 BCE is far from an easy task.
Laying all of the components out on the table (albeit a virtual one in this case) is an overwhelming experience. One look is enough for even a seasoned board gamer’s mind to book a ticket on the brain-stress express. As such, Endless Winter is a game you’ll almost certainly need to set up in advance, coaxing players to the table with that oh so popular adage of “it’s simple once you get started!” That’s a reality that publisher Fantasia certainly hasn’t missed during playtesting.
“In demos we often see people get wide-eyed when they first take everything in,” the representative said. “But we’re confident how seamlessly it all comes together after just a turn or two. Part of that is due to how we streamlined the game in development; we cut out everything superfluous or hard to understand. We believe the game’s elegance allows players to feel more confident with its many options.”
If this is Endless Winter after cutting the chaff, we dread to imagine how complex the original design proved to be. Thankfully, once you get over that initial stepping stone of what on Earth to do with your first turn, things do get a little simpler. Individual actions are fairly straightforward. By playing cards and committing workers to one of the four core spaces of the central board -- recruiting tribe members, acquiring culture cards, establishing camps, and hunting animals -- you’re able to expand your influence across the many elements competing for your attention.
Our playtest wasn’t close to full game, but it did provide just enough time to see the constituent parts slot together and be left utterly baffled as to how best to approach the puzzle. Should you secure megaliths early to claim the bonuses on offer or wrangle powerful new warriors into your deck? Perhaps it’s best to take the mafia-esque burial action, siphoning the least useful tribe members from your deck and shovelling them under a pile of snow. They died of natural causes, honest. Most routes are competitive, but there are so many of them that you’re bound to be satisfyingly outpacing your friends somewhere at least.
What’s impressive is that even in such a short period, the way these aspects interlinked became quickly apparent and highly rewarding. Plonking down a megalith may allow you to draw more cards, letting you invest more workers into setting up a village that will score you powerful, round-end bonuses for the future. Provided, of course, that your friends’ tribes don’t get there first.
Get to grips with things and simple turns can spin into a whirlwind of progress as you chain a flurry of actions together for board-wide benefits. Or at least that’s what our playtesting guide demonstrated, while we continued to flounder over whether killing a Giant Sloth was more valuable than buying some body paint. Deciphering how well-balanced each path is and where to invest your tribe will be crucial to success. Though Fantasia reckons they’ve found a healthy balance between them all.
“There is no ‘fool’s errand’ in the game—meaning, a system that is disproportionately bad compared to others,” the Fantasia representative explained. “Developing the game’s economy around cross-pollinating systems is what kept things in check. Then, to avoid the pitfalls of point-salad games where ‘everything you do earns victory points,’ we tied the systems together. How much is a buried card worth? That depends on how many other buried cards you have -- and where your marker is on the Honor track. So how do you move up on the Honor track? By gaining Idols from other areas, such as Influence on the Terrain map, Megaliths, and Culture cards. It’s very circular and integrative.”
With so many avenues to explore, Endless Winter feels like a game that needs to be played several times (and likely with the same group) before you’ll really be ready to compete for those high scores. Whether it’s right for you will likely come down to how willing you are to experiment.
Get too caught up on how each area affects the final score of your first game, and you’re liable to end up waist deep in a snowfall of confusion. But dive headlong into the white unknown and Endless Winter’s paleolithic continent could provide the ultimate American dream as you toy with the interlinking genres in a race to riches. Just watch out for the mammoths while you’re at it. This isn’t the America you might be used to, after all.
The Kickstarter for Endless Winter: Paleoamericans is already in full swing. At the time of writing, it’s charged through its initial funding target and early stretch goals. If you’re interested in getting lost in the frozen North American tundra, you’ve got until November 17 to back the project.
We’d like to thank the Fantasia team for taking the time to show us the game and answer our questions.
When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Gloomhaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found gobbling up all the latest and greatest party games, then wondering why he can never find the time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deckbuilders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.