Home > house rules, review, variant > Lascaux: an underappreciated and overlooked gem

Lascaux: an underappreciated and overlooked gem

the game
Lascaux (3-5 players, 25 minutes, ages 6 and up) is a push-your-luck bidding-and-set-collecting game by Dominique Ehrhard and Michel Lalet, published by Phalanx Games. It has apparently been re-released with different artwork as Boomerang.

the story
I first came across Lascaux when my local FLGS was having a markdown sale on items they were having a hard time selling: $12 for a game that lists for over twice that. I’d never heard of it, though, and it didn’t work for just two players, so decided to pass on it and do a bit more research. I came home, fired up the internet, got on BGG, and started to read. This review by SusanRoz explained both the game and the bidding mechanism well, made the game sound interesting, and ultimately caused me to want to buy it.

I probably should have called the store to have them set it aside for me, but I figured I’d go down there again tomorrow anyway, so why not wait? ‘Cause they’d sell it in the meantime, that’s why. :-(

I looked around for a couple months trying to find a good deal on the game online (comparable to what I’d passed up locally), couldn’t find anything, and eventually broke down and bought it at full price. I’m glad I did.

the overview
Lascaux is a tight, fun, clever, and tense little bidding game that uses the same bidding mechanism created by Michael Schacht for Mogul (a game I just ordered from a seller on eBay) and subsequently adopted by the more popular No Thanks! It’s a very pleasant little filler that offers plenty of tough decisions in a short time-frame.

the play
How does the game work? The basic idea is that players are trying to collect cave paintings with pictures of six different animals on them, trying to have a majority in one or more of the six animals by the game’s end. It’s a bidding game, where players either put a chip in to “stay in” or take all the chips out to pass. When a player passes, they have to put a marker with their symbol on it in the center of the table — this creates a record of who passes when, as markers are stacked one on top of the others until all players but one have passed. Players then get to claim cards in the order they dropped out: last to drop out goes first, obviously, followed by second to last, third to last, and so on. The first to drop out chooses last.

What makes the game interesting is that each of the cards has two colors of hands on there (don’t ask me why there are hands on the cards, just go with it). So a picture of a mammoth might have both pink hands and yellow hands, and a picture of a buffalo might have both green and pink hands. Players don’t bid on the animals they want to collect, they bid on the colors of hands that are on the cards. What’s more, the color that each player is bidding on is (a) chosen before the bidding round starts and (b) kept secret from all other players.

You know what other players are bidding, in other words, but you don’t know what they’re bidding on. You might be trying to go after the same cards, and you might not. This makes for a tense little game, since the only player guaranteed to get what she wants is the player who stays in the bidding until the bitter end.

the mistake / variant
The first time we played, we got one rule wrong: we played with concealed cards, and this made it more of a memory / guessing game, as opposed to a perfect information game. I prefer it with open cards (I have a terrible memory), but it works fine either way. I can imagine it would work better in some groups with concealed cards, either to encourage card-counting or to discourage analysis-paralysis.

the gist
The game has been a hit every time I’ve brought it out, working just as well with five players (the game’s limit) as with four. I haven’t tried it with three. In my opinion it’s a game that will appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike.

The components are very nice, with bits of polished shell for money counters, thick card stock for markers, and high-quality cards. If I have one complaint about the game, it’s that some of the pictures on the cards are a little hard to distinguish from one another at a distance, and this slows the game down a little. From what I can tell, Boomerang corrects this problem.

I guess the other potential negative is that it can be very hard to come back if you run yourself out of money, but players usually only make that mistake once. Like other bidding games of this sort, you have to choose your battles wisely: go all in when you have the opportunity to get a bunch of cards you need, but pass early sometimes to build up your cash.

the conclusion
All in all, I’m definitely glad to have it in my collection, and I certainly don’t mind having paid full price for it. If you should ever have the chance to buy it at half price, though, I have a bit of advice: DON’T HESITATE.

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