In Dawn of Mankind, from Tasty Minstrel Games, the 2–5 players will be guiding the members of their pre-historic hunter/gatherer tribes as they grow from childhood to tribal elders. You'll be collecting and using fish, fruit, tools and hides; you'll be developing skills that increase your productivity and/or score you points and you'll be creating primitive art and artefacts that, again, will give you points. You're in a race with the other players to be the first to reach 60 points.
The columns on the game board represent the different stages of life. The game setting predates Shakespeare's As You Like It, so designer Marco Pranzo has given us four rather than seven ages of man: childhood/teen/adult/elder. You start the game with one of your tribe member meeples in each of the ready areas for the first three ages (ie: all except elder). Subsequently, when new meeples are added (through birth) they all start in the ready area for childhood.
Gameplay is simple: on your turn, you advance your meeple to one of the tiles connected to the ready area in which the meeple is standing. You then get to take the action indicated on the tile. In some cases that will just give you certain resources (which you mark on your individual board) but the majority of tiles will require you to expend specified resources in order to get a reward. If your route from ready area to tile takes you through a childbirth icon, you get to place out another meeple in the childhood ready area (subject to the limitation that you can never have more than three of your meeples in this area). If (moving from adulthood to elder) the route takes you through an art icon, you can 'create art' (exchange the resources specified on one of the four displayed art cards for a set number of victory points).
Only one meeple can occupy each individual ready area position, so choice at set up can be critical, as your meeple's starting area will dictate the path available to it from cradle to grave. The paths overlap, however, so you'll often find two or more meeples potentially competing to reach the same tile. If a tile is already occupied, it doesn't block your meeple from going there but your meeple will bump them on to the next ready area. That means that any time you move to an already occupied tile, you'll be helping an opponent. With higher player counts, that's an inevitable part of the game: it injects a to and fro rhythm to the play and is part of the fun of Dawn of Mankind. We found that with just two players, however, (as set up in our Board's Eye View photo), players were much more reluctant to give a boost to their opponent. At any point (usually when your meeples are all out on tiles and are all waiting to be moved on to the next ready area), you can choose to Rest. This moves your meeples on and also gives you the option of exchanging food for victory points or sacrificing both food and some victory points to birth an additional tribe member. Tho' this can seem a comparatively expensive way of increasing your tribe, given that the births along paths are free, there are in-game and end-game scoring bonuses for the number of tribe members in play, so Rest births can turn out to be a good investment.
Art in Dawn of Mankind is by Kwanchai Moriya and Katie Welch, and the tiles are all double-sided so there is some variability of set up so that games aren't always exactly the same. TMG have packaged the game in a reasonably compact box, which is a plus, tho' we'd have preferred a rules booklet rather than a large folded rules sheet, which is inevitably prone to wear and tearing.
We've had a lot of fun playing Dawn of Mankind, tho' for us the game was at its best with 4 or 5 players. Even with 5 players, a game takes less than an hour. The end can come quite abruptly tho'. At first, players will be only very slowly racking up victory points but a player can reap a suddenly large number of points by claiming the art bonuses as they move to elder status: a couple of well-timed pieces of cave art can be enough to push your previously modest score through that 60-point winning target. When someone hits the 60-point target, the game ends there and then (no finishing off a round), which does mean there's a first-player advantage. It is just possible that the person who is first to hit 60 will not have the most points when all the final score bonuses are tallied but we found the 'immediate end' rule meant it was unlikely that another player's score would top that 60 points. Life in the Dawn of Mankind could be brutal :-)