Legends of Sasquatches, Yetis, and other undiscovered creatures have fueled human imaginations for centuries—including my own. When I was young and we would drive through remote parts of Oregon, I would look at the endless stands of evergreens, wondering if Bigfoot was out there somewhere, roaming the forests. I remember being a little boy, sitting on the floor in front of the TV, watching programs on the History Channel debunking videos of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. I also remember staying up late one night, watching the movie The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, captivated by the unexpected elements of cosmic horror and atomic age dread. I still haven’t written the definitive Bigfoot novel, but I did recently purchase two board games involving cryptozoological creatures: Bigfoot and Avalanche at Yeti Mountain. Are these games as majestic as the creatures that inspired them?
Bigfoot is a game for two players, essentially a sophisticated version of the game Mastermind. One player takes on the role of a cryptozoologist attempting to locate Bigfoot’s hidden lair. The other player takes on the role of Bigfoot, trying to evade discovery. In each round of the game, the cryptozoologist player sets out two trails of clue cards. The Bigfoot player chooses which trail to take, and consequently, what types of clues to reveal. Then the cryptozoologist uses those clues to attempt to deduce the location of Bigfoot’s lair.
What does playing Bigfoot feel like? Well, what does “playing a game” feel like in general? You know when you’re halfway through a game of Battleship and you’ve narrowed down where you think the other person’s carrier is and you call out “A7” and you’re waiting for them to tell you if that’s a hit or not? Or when you’re playing Apples to Apples and you’re trying to figure out which card your friend will think is most “scenic” (“Ikea,” “Russia,” or “The Dump”)? Or when you’re playing Settlers of Catan and Sam just picked up five wheat so you declare a monopoly on wheat? Those moments of excitement define what “playing a game” feels like, right? You feel immersed and engaged, but you’re also relaxed because you’re having fun and enjoying yourself.
The point is, when you’re playing a game of Bigfoot, it definitely does not feel like you’re “playing a game.” You feel like you’re trying to solve a logic puzzle about solving a logic puzzle while another person is staring at you, hoping you mess up. It’s not like playing chess where there’s basically an infinite number of possible moves and counter moves. In Bigfoot, you know that there’s a finite number of moves. And you feel like, if you had a computer brain, you could figure everything out for sure. But you don’t have a computer brain. So you either have to pull out a piece of paper and make every turn last 10 minutes while you fully analyze the problem, or just hope you’re not making a dumb mistake because your tiny organic brain cannot fully comprehend all of the information in the game.
Avalanche at Yeti Mountain
Avalanche at Yeti Mountain is essentially SkiFree: The Board Game. If you don’t know what SkiFree is, just don’t tell me or it will make me feel old and outdated. In AAYM, the players take on the role of skiers trying to avoid a Yeti and outrun an avalanche. Each turn, players use cards to advance their skier. Then the player in last place chooses where to move the Yeti. Then the avalanche advances a predetermined amount of spaces, knocking out any skiers in its path. The winner is the first skier to reach the bottom of the mountain, or the last skier who hasn’t been flattened by the avalanche.
AAYM faithfully captures the spirit of SkiFree. It can be an extremely fun time. It can also be a frustrating test of your patience where it feels like you are crashing every two seconds. Essentially, AAYM is the polar opposite of Bigfoot. The only random element in Bigfoot is the order that the cards are drawn, and the rest of the game depends entirely on the deductive skill of the players. On the other hand, AAYM is practically a game of chance. You get choose which card to play each turn, but because you can never know for sure what cards other people are going to play, you can never really predict how many spaces you’re going to move. As a result, fully controlling your movement down the mountain is impossible.
AAYM looks like a game where you move your skier from Point A to Point B. However, if you approach it like that, it’s probably not going to be an enjoyable experience. You do have to be aware of your skier’s relative position on the mountain, but the fun of the game comes from trying to bluff the other players into playing a card that will make them crash. It feels a lot more like playing Skip-Bo than a sophisticated modern board game. But sometimes, at the end of the day, when you’re worn out from decision fatigue and you can’t stomach the thought of a demanding game, you just want to play something that’s quick, simple, and entertaining.
I love the silly, cartoony artwork in both of these games. It’s legitimately difficult to hate either one of them when they look like this much fun. Plus, if there’s anything as fascinating to me as Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman, it’s a board game with high quality wooden pieces. I love the wooden footprint tokens from Bigfoot and the wooden skier and Yeti pawns from AAYM. Unfortunately, the wooden tokens for Bigfoot were a Kickstarter exclusive item. The cardboard tokens included with the retail version of the game are tiny and sad in comparison.
Bigfoot looks like it is a much larger game than AAYM. Do not be deceived. The actual components of Bigfoot are small enough to fit in the AAYM box. In fact, the actual components of Bigfoot are small enough to fit inside the tuckbox included inside the Bigfoot box. The Bigfoot box is a receptacle for transporting air from a factory in China to your house that incidentally happens to include a board game.
Barriers to entry
In a really bizarre coincidence, Bigfoot and AAYM come in two of the most difficult to open game boxes that I have ever encountered. You know how safes and vaults are rated on the amount of time that it takes a burglar armed with ordinary hand tools to open them? For example, a TL-15 safe can withstand a typical attack for 15 minutes and a TL-30 safe can withstand a typical attack for 30 minutes. The lids on these boxes are so tight, this type of rating system seemed appropriate. For comparison purposes, I scientifically measured how long it takes to open the boxes of several popular board games:
Batman Fluxx: 1 second
King of Tokyo: 1 second
Star Trek Catan: 1 second
Ticket to Ride: 1 second
Then I measured how long it takes to open the boxes of these games:
Avalanche at Yeti Mountain: 12 seconds
Bigfoot: 15 seconds
15 seconds doesn’t sound like a long time, but when a game takes 15 times as long to open as normal, it’s unbelievably frustrating and annoying.
If I was forced to keep one of these games and throw the other one in the garbage, I would keep Avalanche at Yeti Mountain and trash Bigfoot. Bigfoot isn’t terrible. I can actually see myself playing it with my kids someday, with them as the cryptozoologist and me not trying to win, but just engaging in it as a fun way for them to practice logic and deduction. However, as a game to bring out with my wife, family, or friends, I would rather play Avalanche at Yeti Mountain. It doesn’t capture the experience of skiing down a mountain with visceral verisimilitude, but it is a viable value if you’re vying for a game with a vibrant, vivacious vibe.