The Inquisitive Meeple reviews Camp Pinetop and conducts a short interview with its designer, Stephen B. Davies.
Camp Pinetop is a family/gateway/light euro-style game (we will just call it gateway game henceforth – with the most positive connotation you can think of for that label) for 1-5 players (both the solo story mode and the 5 player mode will be stretch goals in the Kickstarter campaign). Players are leading a group of animal scouts attempting to earn patches and be the first to be promoted from the starting rank of a possum to the wilderness veteran rank of the badger. You will do this with a mix of some set collection and engine building.
I don’t want to get too much into the rules, as you can always read the rule book yourself. However, some need to be explained to understand the review. On a turn, players do 1 of 4 possible actions on their turns:
- They can draw 2 supply cards ( or only 1 faceup wild card)
- They can draw a single supply card and move one meeple orthogonal on the board (to a different map card)
- Move one of their meeples to a map card and collective a patch (or upgrade a patch they’ve already collected)
- Place a new meeple on the board.
The core of the game, of course, is to collect (and upgrade) enough patches to level up to the rank of Badger Scout, to automatically win the game. To do that you have to collect supply cards with various symbols on them and trade them in at the right moment, to collect a patch. If you already have the patch, then you get to upgrade it. There are 3 patch types and each one helps you out in some way. Circle/green patches have a 1-time use power you use immediately, square/blue patches give you a new ability to use for the rest of the game and finally diamond/grey help you out by either letting you use one resource as another (wild) or by letting you pay once resource type when trading in your resources for a patch.
So how do you collect patches? This is one of the things that stands out different from other set collection/engine builder games. You have to move your meeple around a randomly generated map (generated at the start of the game) – and when you move over the map, the patch you cross (each map card has a patch on north, south, east and west direction of the card) is the patch that you can earn. Now you just have to pay the price that map card tells you via supply cards and then find the patch card in your stack of patch cards and place it in front of you. If it is already in front of you, you flip it to the advanced side and gain an even better ability. There is also another way to earn patches that don’t cost supply cards. At the start of the game, 4 Mastery Cards are placed on the table, if you can meet a requirement of a Mastery Card (like “Bushwacker: Have at least 3 scouts on edge of map cards”) then you get to choose 1 of the patches on the card and cover it up with a cube of your color. You do have a limit of 1 cube per master card, and it’s first come first serve as to which of the 4 patches you can get.
There are of course others rules, like how you pick up cards in the supply deck, what happens if you land on a card that has someone else meeple on it (you have to pay them a supply card), etc – but this is the general gist of the game outside how ranks work.
If you look above at the picture of the player board, you will get a general idea about how ranking up works. To Upgrade from Possum to Skunk I need to have in front of me either 2 circles, 2 square or 2 diamond patches. To move from Possum to Woodchuck, I have to meet the requirements there PLUS have 1 of my patches turned to its upgraded side (that is what the arrow with the 1 on it means), etc. You play until one person ranks to Badger, and they are the winner.
Stephen, thanks for taking some time out of your schedule and agreeing to do this little interview about Camp Pinetop. What’s the story behind the creation of the game?
Stephen: Of course! Camp Pinetop is centered around an outdoor summer camp, which is a theme that I’ve been wanting to make a game around for a long time. I was a Cub Scout when I was younger, worked as an arts and crafts director at a summer camp in college, and thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail right after school; so scouting, summer camps and the outdoors are close to my heart.
I ended up scrapping my first few attempts. Usually, when I shelve an idea I won’t end up returning to it, but I couldn’t let go of it – the idea of a game where you would collect patches was very appealing, and I was so drawn to the subject and visual design of it. So I kept testing ideas, eventually finding what was fun and rewarding and expanding on it.
Speaking of those patches. Perhaps the most unique thing about the gameplay is the idea of the direction you come onto a map card corresponds with a different badge (with each cardinal direction being a different patch). What inspired that?
Stephen: In an earlier version you could complete patches on cards that were adjacent to the one you were on. The problem was that it was too easy for a player to camp (forgive the pun) on a centrally located card, and I wanted them to move around and get in each others’ way more.
I get asked sometimes why traveling to the same place from a different direction would give you a different reward, but it makes sense if you think about it. A mountain has different trails leading up to the peak: the north face might be a technical rock climb, the trail leading up from the west might be through a thick forest, the south might require you to navigate across a river. Each gives a different experience and reward.
Let’s talk briefly about those earlier versions. What has big the biggest change or two from some of the earlier versions to now and what prompted those changes?
Stephen: There was a pick-up-and-deliver element early on that I got rid of. You would have to move tents out to areas on the map, which would allow you to start your turn there, as well as stash supply cards in those areas. So it was almost like you were running a supply chain from a base camp to more remote areas of the wilderness. It was more interesting in theory than in practice, though. It proved to be a pain to manage multiple piles of cards in different areas and was a stumbling block for a lot of people I taught the game to. I listened to what people enjoyed the most about that early version, which was collecting patches and completing the different adventures on the map, and cut out everything else.
Did any games influence you in the creation of Camp Pinetop?
Stephen: Well, this may hurt my street cred but gateway games like Ticket to Ride, Splendor and Forbidden Island certainly have. They are a gateway for a reason, and you have to admire the simplicity in their design and accessibility. But I’ve tried very hard to create a game that is not just easy to pick up but also has a lot of depth and replayability.
This was a theme-first game, so I also surrounded myself with a lot of content to draw inspiration from – I’ve picked up gadgets and manuals from thrift stores and read a lot of books. Two of my favorites are an old Boy Scout manual from the ’70s and a guide to orienteering from the ’50s. Last week I was listening to a Boxcar Children audiobook where they go to summer camp. Luckily it’s just me and my wife in the office, so I didn’t have to explain it to anyone.
One of the stretch goals or add ons in the Kickstarter will be the Nature Pack – which introduces animals and weather. How will this expansion work and what does it add to the gameplay?
Stephen: It will be an add-on, and one of the ways you can increase the complexity in the game. The positioning of the weather and animal tokens will either give you a boost or a penalty, depending on your position on the map relative to them. There is a deck that forecasts what is going to move, and so you will have to manage the risk/reward you want to take in getting too close. The weather was an element I had in an early iteration of the game but it wasn’t working at that time. Eric Alvarado at Talon Strikes was able to come up with something really clever and concise that fits in neatly with the current iteration. I have to give him most of the credit for the Nature Pack.
Talon Strikes Studios are the ones publishing Camp Pinetop. What has been your favorite thing about working with them?
Stephen: So, I just mentioned Eric – he was the one who played it at the most recent Unpub and signed it. But actually he was watching me develop it for a long time. Three years before I had submitted it to the Cardboard Edison Awards design contest, and he was one of the judges who evaluated it. He gave me great, helpful feedback. So I knew Talon Strikes would be able to provide fresh insight while we developed on it, while still understanding the evolution of the game. I also knew the quality of help I’d get based on his previous comments from the awards judging.
Finally, as we wrap up. What has been the biggest lesson you have learned as a designer from designing Camp Pinetop?
Stephen: The hardest challenge for me is always getting too attached to certain elements in the design, and that’s especially true with this design, which has had such a long development cycle. So the biggest lesson might be that you have to be ruthless and cut things that aren’t working, regardless of how clever or unique it is. That’s probably not news for most people, I think designers are told that a lot. I made it especially hard on myself though, since I was developing the visual design of the game as I went. I’d get attached not just to the mechanics but also to how I imagined it would look in the final.
In the end, there were things that I cut because they didn’t fit at the time that I ended up bringing back… so you never know.
The first time you play, the game can have an AP (Analysis Paralysis – or taking forever due to choices) feel since players are all looking at their cards, the table, and the Mastery Cards and deciding what patches/badges you want to achieve (and trying to figure out what power each of those patches gives you). However, once you start to learn what the patches do, you will have a good feel for the game and then the gameplay is MUCH faster by second or third play. Let me also say that the majority of my plays have been 2-players. Though I have played 3-player, and with 3-player there is more player interaction in having to pay your opponent a resource to go onto a space they are currently occupying. With 2-player, this is much easier to avoid.
- The powers that patches give you don’t feel overpowered but are well thought out to the gameplay
- When drawing cards, the draw deck is in the middle with face-up cards on either side. Players must only take face-up cards from one side (or a facedown card). This standout among other card drawing gateway games. Making it feel fresh.
- The direction you come on a map card matters in what badge you collect is a great twist to the gameplay.
- Both the Random Maps (and how collecting patches works) and the Mastery Cards can affect your strategy in the game, possibly making it different from game to game.
- That there are a number of map cards and you don’t use them all in every game, making each game setup slightly different, as all the map cards have different costs. So one game may have a lot of walking sticks out and not so many fishing rods you have pay, and then the next game maybe vice versa.
- The theme and art are great and unique.
Nays: I have only one negative with the game, it’s more of an annoyance than anything else and it may even be fixed with the final version (we shall see). That is – the 12 badge cards in the game that each player gets, if they get mixed up you have to sort them and make sure everyone has the correct 12 badge cards (that is 60 cards so go through to pull out 12 specific cards for each player). Hopefully, they will fix this by putting a tiny player color (paw print like player boards) on the bottom corner of the cards. Then I can sort through the 60 cards fast finding 12 of a certain color and handing them to that player.
Also, there is one very minor annoyance about setting up so that you have at least one blue tent card in the middle of the map. It’s not a huge deal, you just gotta remember that tiny rule during setup.
Final Thoughts: I have not played any Talon Strikes Studios games in the past, so Camp Pinetop is my first Talon Strikes game and I was very pleasantly surprised. Camp Pinetop kind of feels like a cross between Ticket to Ride and Splendor, with its own unique game twists. Now, you may think that marrying those two games, previously mentioned would make the game feel clunky, but that is not the case at all. It plays very streamlined and doesn’t show any hint of clunkiness in its gameplay.
The twists like of moving the scouts on the various maps and how those maps work (you get the badge on the side you cross), as well as, the gameplay of picking from only one side of the deck or the side of the map you cross on to mattering in gameplay, are extremely smart and fresh feeling to this type of game. I also really enjoy pulling off a combo with the Mastery cards, to win a game, it feels very satisfying (I have had this happen to me two different times thus far). Also, I want to note that Camp Pinetop also has a big game in a small box feel to it – that the game feels bigger than the box size may believe you to think. For example, Traders of Osaka (aka Traders of Carthage) from Z-Man Games would also fit in this category.
Those that follow me on social media, may know that this year we are gameschooling our 5th grader (using games in homeschooling) and this semester he has a 10×5 game challenge to complete. The very first game he chose for his challenge was Camp Pinetop (it didn’t take him to long to fill in his five plays). He seems to enjoy the game as well. Really and true everyone and anyone looking for a new gateway or family game should at the very least try Camp Pinetop, if not outright buy a copy. It’s a wonderful game.
The last word
The last word
Thanks to Talon Strikes Studios for sending us a preview copy for an honest review. As well, as Stephen B. Davies for the interview.
Talon Strikes Studios can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TalonStrikes
Stephen B. Davies can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBDavies
Camp Pinetop will be on Kickstarter on September 24, 2019.