After recently traveling to Yellowstone National Park, we decided to break out ‘Yellowstone: The National Park Wildlife Survival Game.’ It was produced by the Avalon Hill Gaming Company in 1985 for 2-4 players and presumably sold at the National Park’s gift shops in the good old days. Long out of print, I picked up my copy from a thrift store, but you should be able to find an inexpensive copy online.
Each player is one of four animal herds that each have their own unique abilities. You move from your herd’s Winter range area to your Summer range area and back again. While doing so, you try to collect as much food as you can before going back to your Winter area. However there are also seasonal events and predators within Yellowstone that will slow down your progress.
Yellowstone is played clockwise around a table and player turns are broken up into 3 steps. First you roll two dice and refer to the current season’s event chart and apply the effect. Second, you move your herd with a movement point allowance system that is limited to a total of 10 spaces. Finally you roll two dice to activate a predator, if the predator is on the board you may move it to attack or block another player’s herd. While you contend with “random” events you will need to figure out how to maximize your movement and utilize predators as tools to gain victory.
The game itself is quite simple to learn but it can be difficult to master. The moments with the most tension are generally when all herds converge on the area near their Summer ranges. The reason for this is because only one animal can occupy a single space at a time. This can result in some vicious choke points for some players and can really slow down their progress. Your tactics can change drastically depending on what path your opponent chooses to take.
There is a second rule set included for a short introductory game. The short game is extremely simple and only involves the movement of your herd, you ignore the seasonal event chart and predators. I would recommend starting off with the short game rules and slowly integrate features from the normal game. For example; play short game rules then add in Coyotes, once your comfortable with that play normal rules with only Coyotes, and so on. The nice thing is you can kind of customize the game to get your most enjoyable experience.
While playing as the Bison herd you are at a significant disadvantage and this is a major flaw in the game. The other herds are at least 9 spaces away from their Summer range, while the Bison are 11 spaces away. This guarantees that the Bison will almost always lose and makes them unplayable for the most part. You can house rule that the Bison move 11 spaces on their turn instead of 10, and this kind of alleviates the problem. There are probably other solutions you can come up with to counteract this problem.
Overall, Yellowstone is an easy to learn and enjoyable game. The moments of tension around the Summer range areas provide great puzzles for each player. In addition, player turns are generally quick and allow for a shorter game length, especially with short game rules.
There can be some issues with the abundance of predators in a normal game, and the game may get a little long. Also, it’s unfortunate that Yellowstone has such a glaring fault with the Bison herd. However, both of these issues can be addressed with some house rules and customizing the game to fit your interests. In general, Yellowstone is a nice and simple themed family game that can demonstrate how cutthroat nature and Yellowstone National Park can be.