For millions of kids, that means summer camp.
Both Andrew and I spent our childhood summers at outdoorsy camps: hiking, fishing, learning woodcraft and survival skills. At scouting camp, learning new skills can result in merit badges while you work towards your next rank.
Camp Pinetop is a game that captures the feel of a scout camp. Explore and collect themed merit badges to increase your troop’s rank in this game designed by Stephen B. Davies and published by Talon Strikes Studios.
How to Play
Set up the central area with a grid of map cards. Each map card shows 4 achievement patches, all of the same difficulty rating (green circle, blue square, gray diamond), and you’ll have a variety of options across the grid. Randomly choose 4 mastery cards and set them next to the map.
Once you’ve determined a start player (whoever went camping most recently), deal out supply cards. Each player puts a single camper somewhere on the board, and you’re ready to begin the game!
On Your Turn
On your turn, you may pick only one action: draw 2 cards, draw 1 card and move, move and collect a patch, or place a new camper.
Draw 2 Cards
If you choose to draw supply cards, be aware of restrictions. You may only draw from one side of the supply area and/or the deck.
If you choose a face-up wild card, that will be your only card for this turn.
But you may choose to clear out a set of matching supply cards (3 or more) before drawing, so you’re always left with a real choice of cards.
Draw and Move
Need to move a camper towards a new location? Take a single non-wild card from the supply (or draw blindly from the deck), then move one of your campers 1 space left, right, up, or down on the map.
Scouting is also about sharing! If your destination already contains campers from another player, give that player a card from your hand.
Place a New Camper
Need more campers on the board? Discard a pair of cards with matching tent symbols from your hand. Then place a camper on a map card with a matching tent symbol.
(You’ll need to share an additional supply card if the destination map card is already occupied.)
Move and Collect an Achievement
Achievements are the key to Camp Pinetop.
Move a camper to a new map card (up, down, left, or right). The camper crosses over an achievement patch as they enter the new card. To collect that patch, you must pay cards from your hand matching the supply cost shown at the bottom of the map card.
Once you’ve paid, take the matching achievement patch token and place it on the “sash” area of your player board. You now have the power specified on that token.
You can also upgrade achievement patches to an advanced, more powerful version on a later turn.
Mastery cards are a helpful way to get more achievement patches. During your turn, check to see if the requirements are satisfied for any of the 4 available mastery cards. If so, you get to cover any available achievement patch on the completed mastery card – and gain that achievement (or upgrade) immediately.
Each player can only accomplish the same mastery card once per game. But with proper planning, you might complete a chain of mastery cards in a single turn.
Winning: Achievements and Rank
The goal in Camp Pinetop is to reach the ultimate rank (“Badger”) before any other player. How do you advance in rank? By meeting the achievement patch requirements.
If you meet the minimum requirements on your turn, you immediately advance in rank – which also decreases your hand limit. Maybe you should try for those challenging gray diamond patches while you can still hold 6 or 7 cards!
As soon as a player’s troop reaches Badger rank, the game immediately ends, and that player wins.
Everything about Camp Pinetop shows a love of nature and nostalgia for scouting.
The aesthetic is like an old Boy Scout manual dug out of storage. The map tiles and supply cards mimic faded paper with a khaki background, while the player boards and badges are more vibrant. The little scout meeples remind me to be helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind as I move them from location to location.
The nostalgia turns up even higher when it comes to collecting the achievement patches. Turning in sets of cards is pretty intuitive, and I felt rewarded every time I added a new patch to my “sash” on my player board. Even better, I’d get an immediate benefit from adding or upgrading!
The look of the patch tokens threw me off at first – long sticks did not fit “merit badge” in my mind. But the more I played Camp Pinetop, the more I realized their utility: they’re easy to read and easy to flip over to “upgrade”. Unlabeled circular or square badges would have needed a player aid, so the stick format works much better here.
Even though they had no experience with scouting or merit badges, our kids enjoyed Camp Pinetop. But it was easy for them to get sidetracked into either collecting lots of easy patches or going for a really difficult “mastery”. Balance is key – you need to get campers out onto the board and earn all kinds of badges, or you’ll fall behind in the race for Badger rank.
When we played with a skilled gamer friend, we confirmed that upgrading the “Leadership” patch gives a discount for all future patches that was hard to beat. Now that we know that, I think we’ll all be going for that patch as early as possible in the future. This defined path suggests a little bit of game imbalance. It’s possible with even more plays we could find more of these imbalances.
Camp Pinetop comes with a solo campaign mode. There are a few minor rule changes, but you’ll still guide your camper(s) around the map and gain achievement patches. Every scenario gives additional challenges you’ll need to complete to win – before the deck runs out.
If you stick with it, you’ll gain insight into how to ration your supply cards and be more efficient in how you gain achievements – and you’ll find out what happens to Jimmy on his 8 days at camp!
Camp Pinetop is for players of all ages who love collecting. I love how all the achievement patches have special abilities – but some are distinctly more helpful than others. If you’ve got your patches and upgrades all planned out, you could be unstoppable in this game.
And that’s where Camp Pinetop is weak. There’s not enough luck here to mitigate the difference in skill between the adults who are good planners and kids (who generally are not). It definitely has a family game feel, but I can see kids under 12 easily becoming frustrated when playing with more skilled opponents.
I’d recommend Camp Pinetop for its fun theme, especially to adults nostalgic for the days when life was as simple as working on merit badges with your friends.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Camp Pinetop from Talon Strikes Games for this review.
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Number of Players: 1-5
Age Range: 8+
Playtime: 60+ minutes