Game Review: Camp Pinetop – Solo Play

camp pinewood game boxIt’s the doldrums of summer and you’re just hitting the tween years. You could stay glued to your gaming console but your folks have a better idea: It’s time to head up in the mountains for summer camp! This year, like every year, your goal is to earn all those cool achievement patches and be head of the camp, loved and admired by all!

Well, I can’t send you to summer camp but the fun 1-5 player game Camp Pinetop is the next best thing, offering a fun family game themed around that prototypical summer camp experience. Can’t round up some other campers? No problem, it has a pretty slick solo mode too, with eight separate scenarios to play through after which you can boast that you are indeed an expert, having earned all the achievement patches!

Camp Pinetop started out as a Kickstarter game, designed by Stephen B. Davies and produced by Talon Strikes Studios. They kindly sent me a copy of the game to try out and that’s what I’ll be discussing herein: Camp Pinetop solo play. To fully get into the spirit of things, I encourage you to grab the lanyard making kit, forget to bathe and wash your hands for a few days and whip up a partially cooked meal of hot dogs and baked beans on a paper plate, along with a can of your favorite soda pop. You don’t even have to write letters home; the solo scenarios each feature letters home from Jimmy to Mom and Dad! The scenarios get trickier and more complex as you go, so scenario 1 – First Day of Camp – is a good place to start.

CAMP PINETOP – SOLO SCENARIO 1 – FIRST DAY OF CAMP!

The game in solo mode is essentially about worker placement: you try to earn specific patches while moving from area to area on the camp map. In this first scenario the map is randomly assembled from 12 of the 35 map cards. You also have a supply deck consisting of 55 cards, 9 of which have been sequestered in a secret reserve pile, and you start out with three cards in your hand and four more facing up in the draw pile:

camp pinetop solo play game review - layout

I’ll talk about each area in more detail, but starting at the top and going clockwise, it’s the 4 x 3 map for First Day of Camp, four supply cards in the draw pile, a small reserve deck, a larger supply deck, the solo play instructions, the three cards in your starting hand, the player board flipped for the matching solo play scenario and, piled on the top left, all the achievement patches flipped to the basic side, ready to be earned. Look closely and you’ll see one of the four red camper tokens already on the map at Tin Can Cabins.

I know, I know, it’s pretty hard to see what’s going on in that pic, so let’s zoom in and examine each area more closely, starting with the solo player board…

camp pinetop solo play game review - player board solo side

Since I’m playing scenario 1, only the top portion of the center is relevant to my tasks. Deciphering the symbology, I need to attain three round, three square and three diamond achievement patches, and three of them need to be advanced achievements. Down the left side are patches, generally not used in solo mode (though you can go through seeking to gain expert level and earn them as you go, if desired). The right side is much more important, it’s a list of every circular, square and diamond patch. You can see that there are four of each: To win this particular scenario, I only need to earn 3 of 4 in each category.

Key to understanding this game is that each achievement patch grants you different powers and capabilities. You can see this here:

camp pinetop solo play game review - achievement patches

As you play the game, you’ll realize that some are tremendously useful – I’m a huge fan of Orienteering and make attaining it my #1 priority – while others are one-time value and, while helpful, don’t offer quite as much additional power overall, like Resourcefulness. Each of these achievement patches has a more powerful advanced ability you earn the second time you earn the patch. That’s an advanced achievement!

Why are some green with a red edge and others grey? The grey replace the more standard multi-player achievements and are exclusively for solo mode. So in a multi-player game, Backpacker, Resourcefulness, Recruiter and Camping offer very different capabilities. The red is because I’ve opted to play the red camper in solo mode (you’ll realize that the camper tokens match). Make sense?

It should all start to come together when you look closely at the map itself:

camp pinetop solo play game review - map cards

Each map card has four patch icons, each representing a different path onto that particular spot (you can only move horizontally or vertically). The cost of moving into an area is shown on the lower left, and the type of map location is denoted by the icon on the lower right. For example, I can move onto Tin Can Cabins if I have one red oar and two green axes, whereas moving to South Fork Dam only costs one blue fishing pole and one red oar. The fourth possible supply required for moving into some map spots is the tan walking stick, as shown on Sebastian’s Spot.

Here’s what’s important: When you move onto a map square, you have to pay the cost of the destination and then earn the achievement patch on the destination card. In other words, if I did move from Whoopsie-Daisy Bridge to Tin Can Cabins, say, I’d have to pay a red oar and two green axes, but I would earn that terrific Orienteering achievement patch.

Now you can see why the Orienteering patch is so valuable, I hope. It’s described as “Choose between the badge crossed or the badge directly across” and it lets you choose which of the two patches you want to earn each time you cross into a new location. This means that you can attain expensive diamond badges by moving off of the map square and paying the less expensive cost of the adjacent location. Sounds simple, but it’s a game changer when playing!

The only thing left to examine are the supply cards and there are four types, as already indicated: Red oars, green axes, blue fishing poles and tan walking sticks. Four are always face up in the draw pile:

camp pinetop solo play game review - game draw pile

The pocket knife is the best possible supply card: It’s a wildcard and can be used as any of the four others to complete a set.

The game is afoot, camper! Each turn you either draw a card, move onto a map location and discard a card (without attaining an achievement patch), move onto a location while paying the cost and earning the achievement patch, or discard two matching tents (the grey, blue or green circular tent icon, notice that every map location also has one) to add another of your cabin mates onto the map in a matching spot.

For example, consider the below. I’m on Tin Can Cabins and want to move down to The Nimbus Range to earn the red oar diamond achievement patch:

camp pinetop solo play game review - how to earn an achievement patch badge

The Nimbus Range costs a blue fishing pole and three tan walking sticks, but I have that in my hand! So for this turn I move to Nimbus, discard the corresponding supply cards from my hand and earn the Canoeing achievement patch, which is really helpful because it lets me subsequently play any one supply card as if it were a red oar!

That’s it. Collect supplies, spend them to move around the map attaining achievement badges, then utilize the additional capabilities of your achievements to accomplish the goals of the particular scenario. Remember, for First Day of Camp, it’s about earning three circular, three diamond and three square achievement patches and then leveling up three of them to be advanced achievements.

The challenge is that there are a finite number of supply cards and once you can’t replenish the draw stack, you’re done and you’ve failed. Sorry, little buddy, time to go back to your cabin, think about what you could have done differently, and try again tomorrow. Don’t worry though, I’m sure tonight’s mac & cheese extravaganza will cheer you up plenty!

A bit further into this scenario, here are the achievements I’ve earned:

camp pinetop solo game review - achievement patches

I’ve earned Backpacker, Cartographer, Orienteering, Trailblazing and Canoeing achievement patch, and have even leveled up the Canoeing patch, which now lets me pay one less red oar when earning an achievement patch. Not too bad. Two round, two square, one diamond and one advanced, about half-way to my scenario goal!

Yet further along…

camp pinetop solo game review - further in the game

I have all but one achievement (missing one square patch) and have already leveled up three. I also have three of my campers on the map and a nicely diverse hand representing one of each of the supply cards plus a pocket knife wild card. So where should I move to earn that last square patch and win the game? Easy, I’ll earn Leadership by moving from Tag-Along Treehouse to Tin Can Cabins, paying a red, a green and the wild card. In fact, however, I don’t need to pay the red oar because I have advanced Canoeing, and since I also have the Forestry achievement patch, I can use any other card as a green axe card, so I in fact pay a green axe and a tan walking stick to earn Leadership and win this scenario!

Whoo hoo! Seconds on ice cream for everyone in cabin 13 and a great story for tomorrow’s letter to Mom & Dad.

THOUGHTS ON CAMP PINETOP, SOLO EDITION

There’s a lot to like about this solo game and the overall theme is terrific. I did go to summer camp and I do remember camp counselors, making lanyards, fishing, whittling and hiking around in the dusty SoCal foothills. The game has a puzzly feel to it in solo mode too, where you really do want to plan ahead. Pay really close attention to order in which you achieve your patches and it’ll make a world of difference in gameplay. Since everything’s randomized, however, I did encounter some scenarios where almost every map card required red oars, for example, but I had randomly pulled most of those out of the supply deck, leading to long stretches of draw, discard, draw, discard, all while realizing I was wasting valuable play time but literally couldn’t do anything else.

Some of the more advanced scenarios can be a bit tricky to set up too, and it’s a smidge disappointing that all the cool Kickstarter stretch goal add-ons are for multi-player games, not for the solo game mode. Finally, Talon Strikes Studios made a common mistake when designing its solo game: It created solo rules that rely on you having already read the multiplayer rules. Far superior is to have it as a completely standalone solo ruleset for people who might only want to play the solo variant or just want to start with solo and move to multiplayer later.

Still, this is a keeper, and the fact that it is a fun and unique theme just adds to the game. It’s simple to explain and as soon as I can round up a few fellow campers (do I entice them with free bug spray?) I’m eager to try out multiplayer. But solo play will keep me busy for quite a while, some of the scenarios are way more tricky than they initially appear, particularly if you end up with a poor run of cards and tough map layout!

Camp Pinetop, from Talon Strikes Studios. 1-5 Players. $49.98 at Amazon.com

Disclosure: Talon Strikes Studios sent me a copy of Camp Pinetop for the purposes of this review. Thanks!

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