Dawn of Mankind board game: A four-sided review

The Dawn of Mankind¬†board game is a 45-60 minute euro style game for two to five players. While the box says for ages 14+, I’m sure younger gamers (say 12-ish) will easily get the hang of it.

As the name and art suggest, it has a prehistoric theme. But nothing like the box suggests, this is very much a thinky, puzzley euro – not a rip-roaring action adventure. Instead you’ll bravely lead your hardy clan of Neanderthals through an exciting flowchart of actions (in a good way…).

In the nice small box (about 9x6x2-inch) you’ll find a rules sheet, game board, five player mats, 64 wooden pieces, 100+ cardboard tiles/chits and 57 cards. The wooden pieces are a little fiddly and ornate for their size, but nicely made. And the rest of the components are of the kind of high quality we’ve come to expect from TMG.

The graphic design is clear throughout. While what art there is doesn’t get in the way of the game play, despite the game’s small footprint. Overall, it’s a really solid package and at less than $40 seems reasonable value for money. While the box is small, it really is packed full of components. But is it also packed full of game?

(NOTE: To get this live before Essen Spiel, I only had the chance to play with 2-3 players. If I have further thoughts playing with 4-5, I’ll amend post-Spiel)

Teaching the Dawn of Mankind board game

This is a straight points race. Once a player hits 60, the game ends immediately and a few end game points are added (high score wins). Turns are taken in clockwise order, with a player either using a meeple to do an action; or resting them all.

The game board really is a flow chart. After initial setup, your clan meeples start on the left (as a child) and move to a teenage, then adult, then elder space. Before shuffling off this mortal coil to return to your stock (to begin the circle of life once more). You can choose one of three ‘child’ spaces to start in, each of which leads to three of the five teenager spaces. Those point to two of the six adult spaces, and those to 2-3 of five elder spaces.

To move a meeple to an action space, it must be in a ‘ready’ area – a paddock just past each action space (or at the start of the board) – and one of your meeples can’t already be there. Moving into an action space occupied by someone else’s meeple shunts them forward into the next ready area; giving them the chance to move again. But if all your meeples are either in limbo (not yet on the board) or on an action space, you must use the rest action to move all those on action spaces to their next ready area. You can use the rest action at any time though (it may be strategically sound to end your turn while still having actions available).

Most action spaces either grant you resources, spend them (to get other ones, or babies, and/or victory points), or educate you. Education rewards you with ‘progress cards’, which give you abilities to differentiate you from the other players. Many paths moving from ‘teen’ to ‘adult’ pass a baby icon, allowing you to add another meeple to the start of the board from your stock. While all ‘adult’ to ‘elder’ paths pass an art icon that again allows you to trade in some resources for victory points.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: It’s quite hard to do Dawn of Mankind justice here, due to the nature of its spreadsheetiness. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. It probably sounds as if everyone is just doing the same thing over and over. But somehow, it doesn’t feel like that to play. Resources are always tight, someone is normally in the way, and there’s a common threat of being beaten to the things you want. Also, each of the 19 action spaces is reversible; having an alternative action on each side. This adds a solid level of replayability – but it’s a shame the actions can’t be fully randomised to create a completely different board each time.
  • The thinker: For a game of its length, I enjoyed the blend of tactics and strategy. Once you see the layout, education options (only five of eleven are available each game) and art cards you can start planning. While there’s not a huge variation in what tiles do, the scarcity of an action can be hugely important. So part of planning is deciding ‘essential’, ‘like’, ‘back-up plan’, as you won’t get it all your own way. Setup sees you place a meeple in each of the first three columns, so you’re straight into the action. You can add a child, get educated or take an adult action in turn one. This is the kind of thinking gamer’s filler we need more of.
  • The trasher: While getting the jump on your opponents and manoeuvring for free action bumps offers a little, this is largely a spreadsheet euro. The race to points endgame mechanism also works nicely, with a few spaces offering juicy bonuses for those wanting to rush the game rather than build an engine. But its still a flowchart. There’s nothing wrong here, but you’d think The Dawn of Mankind would hold a little more jeopardy. Fine, but not for me.
  • The dabbler: While it initially looks like there’s loads going on, Dawn of Mankind is very easy to pick up. And while all the actions are simple, you see people play so differently. I swear one person never rested – they just kept breeding and having their meeples knocked out of action spaces lol. And while there are only two available option for each space, it can make a big difference. You may only have one ‘study’ space – making it hugely desirable. While another play may see three ways to study, but no ways to trade resources. I wasn’t optimistic going in, but ended up enjoying it a lot and will request it in the future.

Key observations

I usually respond to low scoring critics from BGG here, but I got a very early copy – so at time of writing there aren’t any. I’ll come back later and look at any criticisms. For now I’ll just air a few component gripes. Don’t get me wrong: generally, I think it’s beautifully put together. But I guess that makes the little niggles stand out.

The game has a rules sheet, rather than a rulebook. It amounts to a roughly A2-sized sheet folded by nine. One side has all the rules, the other all the reference sheet stuff for the action spaces and cards. I presume this was done to save money, but the result is annoying and unwieldy. Even two/three sheets (one reference, one rules, maybe another for setup) would’ve made a big positive difference.

The wooden components have been divisive. While everyone likes shaped meeples and resources in practice, there comes a size when practical outweighs picture perfect for many. Here, at the 1cm range, my larger-fingered and clumsier friends start to struggle. And often the meeples simply don’t stand up properly. They’ll be fine for some, and you can always swap them out – but we’re getting to the point where publishers will have to start putting tweezers in the box.

Meet ‘drunk’, ‘lazy’, ‘acrobatic’ and ‘probably the right way up’ meeple

Conclusion

Alongside games such as 1906 San Francisco, it has been pleasing to see some genuinely interesting and well-designed euro games coming along in properly small, portable boxes. And by genuinely interesting, I mean they stand up against bigger box rivals – they’re not just punching at their own weight.

I’ve really enjoyed my first few plays of Dawn of Mankind. It sets up fast, makes you think, genuinely plays in an hour (tested at two and three-player) and you get straight into the action. It’s a definite keeper for me and I’d advise anyone who likes light euro games to give it try.

* I would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing a copy of the game for review.

* Follow this link for 150+ more of my board game reviews.

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