- Designers: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
- Publisher: Deep Print / Pegasus Spiele
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 10+
- TIme: 30-40 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Pegasus Spiele at SPIEL 2022
A few years ago, Savannah Park was a big hit here – an easy going Take-it-easy style game where everyone tries to put their animals in nice friendly groupings for maximal scoring. Caldera Park is an interactive puzzle-game that achieves a perfect balance between strategic planning and luck. This, and its accessible ruleset, make it a great next step for anyone who enjoyed Savannah Park.
“Welcome to the wilderness of North America! Breathtaking mountain views and spectacular geysers await you. Vast forests and prairie provide habitats for native animals. Your task is to group animals of the same species together in families as large as possible. But large families are only half the battle: to score a lot of points, they also need access to watering holes and must avoid bad weather. A turn comprises two simple steps: First, one player chooses a feature (species or watering hole) and a terrain requirement from a limited selection. Then, each player must place one of their tokens showing that feature onto one of their park spaces obeying that terrain requirement. What seems no trouble at first grows more and more challenging and exciting as the available spaces become fewer and fewer. But it’s not only the choices of your fellow players that can disrupt your plans. There are also unpredictable weather tokens that you must take into account. After five rounds, the game ends. Then you score your most valuable family of each species and the terrains you completely populated.”
To set up the game, each player takes a park board and the box of tiles for that board. The 35 animal tiles are shuffled face down. They have varying combinations of 6 different animals, some with watering holes. Each player has an identical set of these 35 tiles. 7 tiles are drawn and placed along the top edge of the board to serve as your animal token display. Now, take the remaining ten tiles which should be your weather tiles. Place the sun tile at the left edge of the bottom of your board. Mix the remaining tiles facedown and place 5 facedown to complete the row at the bottom. Unchosen weather tiles are placed back in the box unseen. Finally, each player chooses one of their 6 weather tiles in their display and places it face up in any of the six misty weather spaces in their park. The action board is set up by putting the 7 action tokens in the row at the bottom, making sure to put the watering hole tile at the very right.
The game is played in 5 rounds, each with the same three phases:
1] Weather Forecast – choose one of your remaining weather tokens and place it face up on the next free weather space clockwise from an occupied one. In short, the sun tile is beneficial for you; all of the others are negative. The bad weather tiles will cause you, at the end of the game, to flip over all adjacent tokens which meet the criteria on the weather tile.
2] Action turns – there will be 7 turns, each with 3 steps
- The start player chooses an action token and moves it into any available terrain requirement space. If the start player wants to choose the watering hole action, it can only go in the rightmost “any space” – no other action token can go here. This phase determines what feature must be on the animal token placed this turn by all players AND what terrain requirement that placement of that tile must obey
- Each player then places an animal token in their park – if possible you must use a token which has the required feature (else take any token), and then you must place it in an appropriate landscape spot (else on any free space).
- All players draw a new animal token to replenish their supply row, then the start player marker passes to the left
3] End of the round – return all the action tokens to the bottom row, and play another round if you still have animal tokens in your display.
At the end of 5 rounds, all your animal tokens and all your weather tokens will be played to your board. The starting player marker can be placed on the scoring mnemonic on the action board, and scores can be recorded on the handy scoring sheet included in the box. First, you must Check for weather – look at each of the 5 bad weather tiles on your board, and flip over any adjacent tiles that share at least one feature with the bad weather tile
Next you score for completed features:
- Waterfalls – 4VP if you have covered all 6 of the waterfall spaces
- Mountains – 7VP if you have covered all 14 of the mountain spaces
- Prairie – 7VP if you have covered all 14 of the prairie spaces
- Forest – 7VP if you have covered all 14 of the forest spaces
- River – 8VP if you have covered all of the river spaces
- Geysers – 4VP per geyser that is fully surrounded by animals
Finally, you score each of the animal species, scoring for each the most valuable collection of that species. You calculate value by adding the number of animals in that collection by the number of watering holes found in that collection.
The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of most river spaces covered.
My thoughts on the game
Well, when I first heard about the game, I was curious to know just how much could be changed about Savannah Park, a game which got a lot of play here in the past year. As it turns out – there might be more differences than the same! Caldera Park turns out to be the more complicated and thinky sibling to Savannah Park. While the main emphasis of the scoring stays the same – making large herds and trying to get them to as many watering holes as possible; the method in which you get there is quite different.
Here, you aren’t told which tile to place on a given turn; rather you are given restrictions which you must meet if possible; and frankly, it’s better for you if you can’t meet the restrictions as then you have free rein on the criteria you can’t meet. While everyone has the same tile set, the way in which those tiles come out will be quite different.
In practice, this works out better for our group as it cuts out a lot of the AP and hate drafting of actions – as everyone’s tile hand is so different as well as desires on the board; it’s easier just to keep your head down and just worry about what is the best play for yourself rather than checking out what your opponents might need (or might want to avoid). Sure, at the end, there might be a few turns where it matters and you’ll look at everyone’s board before choosing – for the most part, we just stick to our own priorities; and this helps keep the game moving along at a nice clip.
The addition of the weather tiles provides a much more strategic option to the game then the fixed burning bushes of the original. Since all but one of the tiles will be a negative tile, you’ll constantly have to take the remaining possibilities in mind when you are placing tiles near weather spots. Or… you’ll just have to try to work around the weather spaces until their contents are revealed. As you will go clockwise from your initial placement, you at least know which weather space will be filled next, and you can try to avoid potential nerfed tiles that way.
There is a surprising amount of jockeying on the action board. While you know that all 7 actions will be done before the board resets; you might have a particular combination that you’re hoping to get (or hoping to avoid) – and there is a bit of a race element in getting the correct action chosen first. The key for me is finding which actions need to be chosen by myself and which ones I’d be OK leaving for my opponents to pick. The most strategic play that I’ve found is trying to void myself of a particular animal type in my hand – so that when someone else picks that animal in a later action, I can then play any tile I want in the chosen landscape feature. This has been the key to most of my higher scores; maximizing the times that I get to play the tile of my choice.
As I mentioned above, the majority of points still come from the herds; the max herd score is 36 (12 animals x 3 watering holes); but the bonuses for completed features still very often end up being the difference maker. It is not uncommon to have multiple herds scoring 27 points or more – the restrictions on placement aren’t that tough – but it can certainly be harder to achieve multiple bonus conditions.
The art is OK, but I do have a complaint that the theme of the art has been used at the expense of the functionality of the game. The babies do not necessarily look the same as their parents, and while this is probably correct visually, it does make it a bit harder to play the game.
You have 35 tiles to play, and this means you will have 7 or 8 empty spots at the end of the game; thus; it’s impossible to score all the bonuses; and if you are particularly skilled, it could mean that you score NONE of the bonuses… You have plenty of latitude to try to accomplish the bonuses at the start of the game – as many of the placements can be done with multiple different actions. A space might be a mountain, a river space and next to a caldera; thus you have three different action opportunities to fill that space. However, nearing the end of the game, you’ll have to watch the options to make sure you can close things off in the endgame. I’d be sure to count your board nearing the end of the fourth round to make sure that you know which bonuses are still achievable, and then considering focusing on those remaining possibilities in the final round.
This is definitely a thinker version of the game first seen in Savannah Park, and I have definitely enjoyed it. Does this fire Savannah Park? Interestingly, it does not. There are times and reasons where either one of these games would be the right choice, and as such, both of the sames will stay in the Gaming Basement for now; each awaiting the time that is right for them to hit the table.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Mark J, Simon N
- Neutral. John P
- Not for me…