Spotlight on Games > War Games > Summaries
Origins: How We Became Human
Notes on play for the Sierra Madre board game
Thu Jan 10 23:29:55 UTC 2008

Deck Composition:
Card counts of various features in the three decks:
Card Type Era
Total cards 30 35 37
Climate Change 3 2 1
Public 4 14 19
  Info 1 4 5
  Culture 1 5 5
  Admin 2 5 9
Elder Gain 11 11 4
Double Elder Gain 0 0 4
Fecundity Decrease 18 18 11
Double Fecundity Decrease 0 2 3
Animal Naturalist 1 4 3
Plant Naturalist 2 6 2
Resource Extract 0 6 8
Barbarians 0 3 1
Footprint01: 4 max 3: 4 max
Metallurgy2: 1 max1: 2 max7: 3 max
Maritime4: 1 max5: 2 max2: 3 max
Energy003: 2 max
Immunology1: 1 max5: 3 max6: 4 max
  • If you have elders and can get into Era
    II significantly before opponents, there's
    a good chance to pick up a fair number
    of public cards cheaply in the Era II deck.

  • For Fecundity Decrease, The Era II deck
    is better than the Era III.

  • If you want climate change, most of
    them are in Era I.

  • Energy advances require Era III (apart
    from domestication).

Where Units Come From/Go To:
· Brain unit cleared:  goes to Innovation (population if full)
· Last Brain unit cleared:  goes to 1st dark age on reverse of card
· Elder Loss:  comes from either producer or consumer side, native or guest worker, player's choice
· Elder Loss:  goes to Innovation (Population if full)
· Elder Gain:  comes from Innovation (Population if full)
· Map Loss:  goes to Innovation (Population if full)
· Map Gain:  comes from Population
· Metropolis formed:  comes from on map unit in area
· Guest Worker Gain:  goes to same side it came from
· Guest Worker Loss:  goes to Innovation (Population if full)

Victory Point Calculation:
Innovation Number + Population Number + EITHER number of Elders OR Combined Public card ranks indicated for your faction (find these on back side of brain card)

Player ending the game does pay the price for doing so, i.e. his chaos losses are applied just before the game ends.

Hand Size:
One plus rank of your best Information card in play is the number of cards you can keep between turns.

Card Play Limitations:
  1. It is legal to play a card from an Era more advanced than the playing culture's.
  2. It is not legal to discard a card (if possible). If the card cannot be played for its left side, it is played for its right side.

Combat Notes:
  • If otherwise tied, superior Metallurgy level wins.
  • An attacker who arrived by crossing a sea or strait is considered to have a Metallurgy of one less.
  • A loss results in the units being removed from the map.
  • A tie results in all the involved units being removed from the map.
  • Victorious attackers end their move.

Siege Notes:
  • A siege occurs whenever an invading unit is on any of the points of the hex in which the metropolis lies and the player declares one or the defender's footprint is exceeded.
  • Defense strength of a city is equal to the number of migratory units in the hex plus the player's Footprint level.
  • To this 1 is added if the defender has Metallurgy superior to the attacker; otherwise 1 is added to the attacker.
  • If the defender loses, his Metropolis is replaced by one of the attacking units and also the defender has an Elder stolen (called a Guest Worker) unless attacker's Elder pool is already full, including the just captured Metropolis.
  • A failed siege has no effect.

Siege Situation:
Q. Suppose I have a footprint of 2 and another player has footprint of 3. He comes in to the hex of one of my cities with 2 units (which is ok for him since 3 units = no starvation). Now, at the end of my turn, do I lose my city due to starvation ?

A. Yes, the city is lost due to starvation. Per the siege rules (phase 6), the other player can successfully besiege the city, and take it over, if he has a number of besieging units greater than the footprint of the defending metropolis. In this case, on his turn, he has a number of besiegers equal to the footprint, so nobody wins the siege. However, during starvation (phase 7) on your turn, the besiegers have stripped the countryside, so to speak, and the city dies.

Stability Roll Necessary in Era I?:
Q. In Era I, does stabilization ever apply? You are not yet on to the flipped brain card so you don't have dark ages and golden ages. Its a real bummer to lose half your units on the board especially since they go to the Innovation track!

A. Stability Rolls do apply in all Eras, including Era I.

Stability Effects Applied in a Dark Age?:
Q. If you are in the dark ages on the flipped brain card do you still suffer the effects of missing the stability roll? You can easily get into a cycle where you have only 1 action (1 innovation) a turn usually with nothing you can do to improve your situation and eventually you miss your stability roll again which sets you back by removing units on the board back to the stability track that you have been trying to clear!

A. The effects of chaos do not differ if one is in the golden age or dark age. To avoid going into "deep chaos" (declines that last 2 or 3 turns), one should keep cards in reserve.

Effect of Chaos on Public Cards:
Q. Let's say I have 3 cards in hand (with a value 2 Information Card in play). Now when I go into chaos, I must flip that card. What should I do with the cards in hand ? Can I keep them until the next turn ?

A. If you go into chaos and invert your only information card, then you have a maximum hand size of one. You do not lose your extra cards immediately. At your next Phase 3 "Play Cards Down to Hand Size", you then choose which cards to discard.

Gaining Cards in a Dark Age:
Q. Can you gain face up cards while in the dark ages? Or do new cards come into play supressed until you are in a golden age?

A. While in dark ages, one is vulnerable to Revolution, but other than that there are no special rules for the dark ages. Thus one can gain face-up public cards while in the dark ages. Also, it should be noted that going into chaos during a golden age can advance a player into the next era, whereas going into chaos during a dark age merely stagnates the player.

Disease: Which Neighbor Gets Sick:
Q. Suppose you have more than 1 neighbor. In case of disease, how is it decided who gets sick?

A. If you get a disease, you choose which of your neighbors gets sick. This should have been specified on page 10, but was not. But this is how it was always done during playtesting.

Animal Domestication: Chart or Rules?:
Q. The rules say with a modified roll of 3 or 4 in an animal domestication attempt with less than 5 players the animal goes extinct. The chart printed on the board says that with a 2 or 3. Which one is correct?

A. The chart on the map is correct.

Domestication Fails in 5-Player Game:
Q. The rules state what happens with a failed domestication in a game with fewer than 5 players, but what about in a full game? There seem to be two possibilities: (a) players need to provide their own markers or (b) the rules does not apply in this case.

A. The rules and the map legend specify that extinctions occur if less than five players are playing. If five players are playing, then there are no special rules, and thus no extinctions occur.

No Elder to Lose:
Q. What if you gain a Public card because you are the current player with no one making a bid, but you have no Elder, yet the card instructs you to lose an Elder?

A. The rules don't say explicitly (unfortunately), but the Elder loss icon on many Administration Cards was intended to signify that the player who gets the card suffers an Elder Loss, even if he gets it by default. The rules for Elder loss (page 8) say that there is no effect if the player has no Elders.

Losing Cities = Losing Elders?:
Q. Let's say I have exactly 5 cities on the map and 5 Elders at the moment. When I go into chaos, I lose 2 of my cities. So now I can only have max 4 Elders. Should I also lose one Elder ?

If one has more elders than metropolises, then one is not able to perform an elder gain. But one does NOT lose elders if one has more elders than metropolises. So in your example, you have 5 cities and thus lose 2 from chaos. You keep all five elders, but you cannot gain any more, since you are over your maximum. This is explained on the cheat sheet, and also on Page 8, on the explanation and example for "Elder Gain". Note also, if one is hit with "Globalization", then one also must lose any Elders that cannot be supported by the number of metropolises.

Slavery Restrictions:
In any era, prohibited are Migration, Domestication and Sabine Raid. May not have any metropolis and at most one Elder. Acculturation is only allowed with Slaver (may not be accultured by others; Slaver may acculture if both have equal cultures).
If in Era I, prohibited is Naturalist.
If in Era II, prohibited is Revolution.
If in Era III, prohibited are Trade and Urbanization.

Other Slavery Notes:
  • Slaver and Enslaved are set to the same footprint, whichever is higher.
  • Both share the other's Infrastructure gains or losses.
  • Enslaved can place population only on spaces of Slaver city hexes.
  • Enslaved escape if (a) they perform a barbarian raid on the Slaver or (b) Slaver goes into Chaos or becomes enslaved. First, if it was (b), any units lost to Chaos are replaced by Enslaved units from his Population track. Then, regardless of the reason for the ending of slavery, the Enslaved are in instant siege of all the Slaver metropolises they inhabit and all of their guest workers are instantly returned to their Elder pool.

Timing of Action derived from Public Card:
Q. If someone gets a public card with an action, does he use the action immediately, or is it just another action listed to his possible actions? If so, is it a Phase 1 or a Phase 5 action?

A. The action listed on some public cards are called facilitated action, see page 7. A facilitated action grants the player the ability to perform this action, in its normal phase. Thus, if "silverback" is facilitated on one's Pharaoh card, one is able to perform the silverback action (which is an innovation action).

Actions Not Compulsory:
Q. Are the population actions compulsory?

A. Actions are never compulsory. (The rules on pg 4 and 12 say "may perform"). Icons on cards are also optionally applied, except as specified on page 8 (Elder Losses or encephalizations).

Innovation Track: Changing It While Using It:
Q. If the innovation level is changed during one's phase 1, does the new number apply immediately or only the number at the start of the turn?

A. According to the rules for Phase 1 (top of page 4), "A player may perform a number of Innovation Actions equal to his innovation Number, which is the number on the rightmost vacant slot of the innovation track at the beginning of the phase." Therefore, the innovation number is established first, and does not subsequently change for that turn.

Population Track: Changing It While Using It:
Q. Similarly, in phase 5, if the population number changes, does the new number apply immediately or only the number at the start of the phase?

A. The rules for Phase 5 (top of page 12) are similar to the rules for Phase 1, and specify the Population Number as defined at the beginning of the phase.


Chaos Level Too Low:
Q. The only way to go into chaos (to enter a next age) is to fail a stability roll. Correct ? If you have a good administration card, this means use almost all your population on the board, right ? Or is there a way to flip this administration card ?

A. The only way to go into chaos is to fail a stability roll. Sometimes one wants to fail this roll, in order to advance into the next era. In these cases, a good administration is a liability. It makes the population stable, yet stagnant. There is no way to invert the administration card (other then to go into chaos). So, in order to drive your complacent civilization into chaos, you will want to wantonly grow your population, perhaps also perform a baby boom and/or one or more silverbacks. Even better is to perform a Revolution, if that is possible, which subtracts two from the stability roll. Do not forget beforehand to accumulate cards in your hand to help you quickly recover from chaos.

Chaos Level Too High:
Q. My Chaos threshold is 3 which means that there is a good chance to plunge into Chaos every turn and lose all my units that way. (I'm in Era 1.) I would like to decrease the Chaos threshold but I'm not sure how I do it. I thought that the unit depopulation would place the lost unit in population but the rules don't say that.

A. There are lots of fecundity decreases in the cards. If you are lucky and get the first stability card (administration), you are out of chaos for quite a while (getting a +2 modifier). Try to pull cards often and use fecundity decreases often.

How to Reach Energy Level 2:
To get to Energy Level 2, one needs to innovate or imitate the horse collar, waterwheel, or pulley/lever cards. One needs a footprint of two for the first two, or four for the last one. Alternatively, one needs to develop biofuel, the sites in North and South America are best (jojoba or peanut lamp oil), although the sites in the Pacific and Mediterranean are possible (whale or olive lamp oil). The rules allow multiple attempts at these sites. Certain cards, such as steel fineries, give advantages in refining biofuel, (and make the refinement of oil slightly possible).

However, resource extraction does not often require a footprint of 3 (agriculture). For making resource extractions, one needs to use of the following: forge blast furnace, glassblowing, potters wheel, steel fineries, ceramics kiln, copper battle axe, coinage, iron plowshares, iron bloomeries. These have few requirements.

There are only a couple of cards that need a footprint of 3: public baths, soldering, silk loom weaving,

Energy-conferring cards:

Era I: 0
Era II: 0
Era III: Horse collar, Levers & Pulleys, Waterwheel (all max 2)
Era IV: Vulcanization, Steam engines (both max 3), Power companies, Auto manufacturers, Oil companies (all three max 4)

Timing Move to Era II:
Q. How soon should you move to Era II? I believe we moved too quickly and didn't have the resources to fare well there.

A. According to the strategy guide on page 2: "Don't advance to Era II until you have an Elder and a metropolis, plus a footprint of stage 2." Era II (the bicameral age) was mankind's least stable period, and Era II is the toughest era to play in the game. (It's also a good idea to have a fairly high innovation number, 3 or higher.)

Q. Is there any point in continuing a 2 player game if one of the player becomes a slave early?

A. Being a slave can actually be a good thing. You get 'free' advances, and are protected from a lot of nasty stuff. Your playing may not be so exciting for a time, but woe to the slaver when you eventually break free! I have not had it happen in a two-player game, but in a 3 or 4 player game, we've actually had the slave victim end up winning.

Reaching America:
Q. How is it possible to reach America?

A. Unless the ice age reverses, there is no way to get past Alaska in Era I. In Era II, it can be reached using galleys, or Haymaking (step 2 on the Immunology track) to cross the tundra.

Why not Advance?
Q. If someone is at a golden age in Era II and fails a stability roll, why would he not want to advance to Era III?

A. One should always advance to Era III if one can, because it seems better than Era II. However, the requirements for left side play are higher in Era III than II, so there is a small downside to this advancement, if one has low infrastructure.

Track Management
Q. Any tips on keeping innovation up and fecundity down? The single action to ransack a fecundity down and then play it during phase 3 seems slow ...

A. There are many players who complain how hard it is to keep innovation high and fecundity low. This is the tempo of the game: how to make fewer (but bigger-brained) babies. I have only a few tips. Try to ignore tempting infrastructure increases in favor of fecundity decreases. Keep fecundity decrease cards in reserve, for recovery from chaos. See the tips on page 2 for gaining elders, which helps keep innovation high. Go to higher eras: The higher the era, the more fecundity decreases there are. This is particularly true for the (as yet unpublished) Era IV deck, which has birth control, the pill, abortion, etc.

Why play Negative Cards?:
Q. Why would one want to bid for a card (or play the left side of an idea card) that has an elder loss and no other effect?

A. There is no reason to play the left side of a card that has only an elder loss. But sometimes one has no choice. These cards are in the deck to represent the bad side of unrestricted growth, or low technology expansion: such as pollution, and soil salinization.

Stopping a Leader at the Auction Block:
By keeping a Cultural Diffusion (eyeball) card at the top of one's discard pile, it's permitted to bid on cards that are more advanced than one's era.

In addition, players can expend Elders to increase the value of a cooperating other player's bids.