Palaeo Diet: Eat or be Eaten is a stand-alone set of gaming rules for recreating prehistoric animal hunts on your tabletop. The game models a time when humans were not yet in control of the world around them, when the landscape could just as easily give succour to a struggling tribe, as it could cripple a thriving people.
Designed with solo and multiplayer games in mind, players take on the role of the hunting party while an integral response mechanism means that beasts react in different ways in different situations.
In an unforgiving world, the choice is simple – either eat, or be eaten.
Our ancestors hunted mammoths with nothing more than stone and wood. We have to settle for the occasional video game, or if you are like me, some dice and miniatures.
Palaeo Diet is a hunting simulation game that pits players against a wide assortment of prehistoric creatures and even the occasional mummy. This is not a board game but rather a ruleset, so players must provide their own miniatures and gaming terrain. If you don’t have the time or money to paint metal or plastic minis, you can print and use paper minis instead. There are several examples of the latter on the game’s BoardGameGeek page.
The original ruleset came out in 2017, with publisher Ganesha Games later releasing two supplements that expand on the rules. The core game puts players in the furry boots of cavemen hunting mammoths, cave bears, and a variety of other Ice Age megafauna. The first supplement, Palaeo Diet: Fireside Tales, features a series of linked hunting scenarios loosely based on the labors of Hercules and includes new rules for animal behavior. The second supplement, Palaeo Diet: Pulp, adds modern firearms and includes behavior rules for dinosaurs, letting gamers play out “lost world” scenarios. It also adds human cultists, mummies, and kitties to the mix.
What you need to play
Palaeo Diet can be played with 15mm or 28mm miniatures. (I play with the latter. All the photos here are from my games.) If you play with 15mm minis, you’ll need a 2’x2’ (60cm x 60cm) play area. If you play with 28mm minis, you’ll need a 3’x3’ (90cm x 90 cm) area. You’ll also need model terrain to represent woodlands, hills, lakes and other landscape features. One thing you won’t need–and something that separates Palaeo Diet from many other miniatures games–is a ruler or measuring tape. All measuring is done using three measuring sticks of predetermined length: short, medium, and long. The exact length of each is determined by the scale of miniatures you use.
Players also need at least five six-sided dice (d6), with two dice a different color than the others.
Players can choose a hunting scenario from the book or create one of their own. Palaeo Diet can be played solo, cooperatively, or competitively. Most scenarios have players working together to bring down big game, but a few have the players working against each other to be the first to meet some goal. Unlike other miniature games, head-to-head combat isn’t the point here.
All models have three attributes, although player-controlled characters rarely use the first. “Savagery” determines how likely an animal is to inflict damage on a hunter when it attacks. If an animal rolls a number equal or greater than its savagery on a single six-sided die (d6), then it scores a hit against a hunter. The lower the savagery, the more dangerous the animal. “Resilience” is the minimum number a hunter must roll on a d6 to wound an animal. The higher the resilience, the harder the animal is to wound. “Bulk” is a model’s hit points. For example, all humans have a bulk of two, meaning a human hunter can take two hits before he or she is removed from the game. Bulk is also used to determine the amount of “meat” on each animal for campaigns tracking how much game your tribe has brought down.
Building a hunting party is simple. A typical hunting party consists of 2-8 hunters, with the maximum number determined by the number of animals in play. Players need to determine what weapon each character will use. Your basic hunter is armed with a spear, which allows the figure to attack animals up to short distance. Some hunters can be equipped with bows that allow them to attack up to one long distance away but at a -1 penalty on attack rolls. Hunters with clubs like to get up close and personal, which is dangerous but conveys a +1 bonus on attack rolls. A hunter can also carry a torch to start brush fires that drive animals to kill points. (Fire has its own special rules that I won’t get into here.) If you play with the Pulp supplement, hunters can carry pistols, rifles, and other modern weapons, which are more powerful but produce loud shots that alert animals.
Your hunting party can also include dogs that follow a set of specialized rules for activation. Mutts can be helpful allies but they don’t always do what they’re told.
Palaeo Diet has an optional system for assigning random personality quirks that affect gameplay, called “traits.” Some traits are helpful. For example, a hunter with a “healer” trait can heal other hunters. Other traits hinder gameplay. A hunter with the “timid” trait is less likely to attack. The Pulp supplement has traits that are more appropriate to a modern setting (“modern” here meaning late 19th to early 20th century pulp stories). I almost always play with traits as I find they add a lot of personality to the models and make the game more fun: In one game, my leader rolled the timid trait, so I imagined him as a loudmouth who liked to boss other people around but rarely got his hands dirty.
Playing the game
Gameplay is simple yet contains a nice amount of player choice. Players activate hunters one at a time, in any order they choose. When rolling, a player must choose to roll one, two, or three d6. However, if a player rolls three dice, the third d6 must be a different color than the other two. This is the “stressed” die. On normal dice, a hunter receives one activation for every result higher than 1. Each activation allows that hunter to perform one action, such as move, attack, start a fire, etc. On a stressed die, the hunter gets an activation only on a 4 or higher. Every failure (1 on a normal die or below 4 on a stressed die) gives the closest animals an opportunity to activate, which they do before the hunter. In addition, an injured hunter must use stressed dice starting with the second die–that is, if a player rolls three dice for an injured hunter, then the player rolls one normal die and two stressed dice.
Players must also decide how fast a hunter moves. A hunter that moves long or medium can cover a lot of ground quickly but is more likely to trigger animal activations. A hunter that goes the stealthy route and moves short is unlikely to alert prey but will take a long time to reach his or her target. Many hunting scenarios must be completed in a set number of turns, so playing it safe and always moving slowly isn’t necessarily the best option.
Animal behavior is determined by rolling a die. Players look up the result on a chart, which plots the die value against the current situation the animal finds itself in. An animal is likely to stand still or only move a short distance away if there are no nearby hunters. But if hunters are close or attacking, the animal will either flee or attack, the latter more likely with giant herbivores and predators. Palaeo Diet doesn’t have rules for individual species but rather provides charts covering broad categories, such as “apex predators,” “giant grazers” and “herd grazers.” This means players don’t need to hunt down a specific miniature for an animal but can use whatever they have.
There are other rules that I have not covered, like those for terrain, but by now you should have the basic gist. If this all sounds complicated, it isn’t. Palaeo Diet is one of the simplest rulesets available for miniatures gaming and a good place to start for beginners to the hobby. I play it quite a lot, in part because the game is quick to set up and tear down. Set aside some table space, put out some terrain, roll up some traits for your hunters, and you’re good to go. I’ve played straight mammoth hunts but I’ve also gamed more fantastic scenarios, like a Valley of Gwangi game pitting cowboys against dinosaurs and an Indiana Jones-like adventure featuring mummies. At the time of this writing, you can get PDFs of the core ruleset and two supplements for under $30 U.S. The largest hurdle for many people will be the time and expense of finding and preparing appropriate miniatures and terrain. But if you are willing to put up the investment, you can’t go wrong with Palaeo Diet.
- Palaeo Diet uses a modified version of Ganesha’s Song of Blades and Heroes system for fantasy games. You can learn about about Palaeo Diet here.
- Finding miniatures of the appropriate size for prehistoric animals can be difficult. There are a few dinosaurs in the Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder lines of plastic minis. My collection has been built up over many years from various sources. Older Safari dinosaur toys work for 28mm gameplay, although Safari’s newer models have grown in size and now look Godzilla-sized compared to 28mm humans. Many of my miniatures, including the pictured mammoths, come from Acheson Creations’ Primaeval Designs line. You can find digital files for dinosaur miniatures online if you own a 3D printer, or you can order print jobs, with Etsy a good source for printed minis.