“A clade is a section of the evolutionary tree – basically any branch, including all its sub-branches. A clade is a family of organisms, or living things, that are all more closely related to each other than they are to any other organisms.”
The above quote is the opening description from the Clades Prehistoric rulebook. The next, and closing, sentence of the introduction is “In this game you match cards according to their clades.” I have spent more time analyzing my opinion of that specific final sentence than I have spent writing some entire reviews. My final opinion on it (and I mean “final” by virtue of the fact I’m writing it down and trying to move on) is that it is both technically correct and somewhat muddling at the same time.
In both Clades and Clades Prehistoric players are trying to find “triples” among a field of 12 shared cards in the center of the table, and a single non-shared card in their hand. They are finding three cards that have more in common with each other than with any other cards; a clade.
That’s why I say the final sentence is technically correct. But the preceding definition of a clade, and the use of clades as a card element (I’ll get to that) made things very unclear for while.
There are 83 cards in the game, with each card having four qualities on it. Within each of the four qualities, there are three potential types, and the deck is balanced in such a way that any combination of two cards will have the ability to form a triple with a specific third card. Although that does not mean that all three cards are in play at once, or that they ever will be, it does mean that there will almost always be a potential triple somewhere between the shared cards and player’s personal card.
For lack of a better segway, below is a list of the qualities and types. the rulebook also adds a Science Note about each set.
- Sauropsids (reptiles and birds)
- Arthropods (bugs)
- One animal on the card
- Two animals on the card
- Three animals on the card
- COLOR (the Science Note reads: “The three colors represent that even among animals of the same type, individuals are unique.”)
To make a triple, each of the four qualities on each of the cards must be all the same as the other cards or all different from the other cards. All three cards can be Mammals or they all must be from different clades. Those same three cards can all be from a Water environment or they must all be from different environments. The same comparison is made for the Number and Color of those same cards.
When a player sees a triple on the table, they say “triple” and show the triple they see. If it is valid they take the cards for final scoring. If their triple is invalid, play continues as normal. (There is also an optional False Call penalty if you want to make the game more challenging.) If another player also calls a triple, the first player takes their cards, and the next player then takes theirs if the triple they called remains in play without the cards that the first player took. After any triples are collected the taken cards are replaced from the deck. When the deck runs out, players have a final opportunity to call for a triple from what is left in play. At the end of the game the player who collected the most cards wins. There are some rules for bonus points, which involve taking cards from the deck and placing them in your scoring pile. This can speed up the game slightly and adds an extra challenge by removing cards from being potential triples.
The rulebook isn’t always as clear as I might like, but once you get rolling it’s not a hard game to understand. As long there is someone to teach it, the age recommendation of 6+ might be ambitious, but not unreasonable. Seeing how much this game challenged my semi-regular 10 year old player (and me for that matter), their 7 year old sibling would have likely just gotten frustrated and quit. The multiple layers of pattern recognition left us scratching our heads at several points, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s intended to be a thinking game, so honestly, it’s kind of the point.
The thing I appreciated the most about the game is the conversation it created about sauropsids, dinosaurs, and birds. Besides just having science note sprinkled throughout the rulebook, there are Animal Infomation cards that identify, and give some talking points about, every creature in the game. It gives the tools to start educational conversations, without the game being blatantly “educational”. After all, there’s nothing worse for a kid than having to learn things for fun. But if they just happen to learn something along the way, hey cool.
The art is simple enough to remain consistent across all the animals, yet just detailed enough that you could clearly tell what you were looking at even if you don’t know the actual name of the animal (which is on those Animal Information cards I mentioned, by the way). The margin/background of each card not only show the color component of each card, but also a slice of the pictured creatures’ Cladogram (family tree) of their biological group. For example, the Mammals that live in the Water element are represented by three Pinnipedia. There is a branch leading to the Puijila at the bottom, and another branch, that further splits into two branches for the Enaliarctos and Valentictus above it, as they are more closely related. The next cards zoom in on the top branches with Enaliarctos and Valentictus, then zooms in again on Enaliarctos alone.
Clades Prehistoric opens a window into learning, while still being a solid game. There isn’t a huge amount of player interaction, which isn’t as much of a downfall here as it might be for other games and also makes the solitaire rules very easy to adjust to. Ultimately, Clades Prehistoric won’t be for everyone, of every age, but if you’re specifically looking for a family game it’s worth giving it a try. If you’re looking for a game to start a conversation in the classroom, this is definitely one to check out.