2-6 players, Competitive, Animal Card Point Mashup
Designer: Mathieu Bossu
Artwork: Simon Douchy
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
Release Year: 2020
I’ll be honest, before I played this game I was fully expecting a super simple card drafting style game with animals. Nothing too fancy or complicated and certainly nothing that would burn my brain. Goodness gracious was I wrong. This game is the epitome of a simple strategic card game and one that will having you uttering, “whaaaaa?!” after you play your first game. Read on to see what I mean.
Overview of Gameplay
The game play is very straight forward. After you have a varying sized tableau of random animal cards displayed on the table before you, each player will be dealt a hand of six cards (five in a six player game). On your turn you will either play an animal card that is in your hand face down in front of you OR pluck an animal card from the tableau on the table to place face down in front of you, then replacing that freshly plucked card with one from your hand. This placed card will then get a mountain token placed on it showing that it CANNOT be plucked again. That’s it!!
So, here are the key take-aways from all this plucking and placing. Firstly, when you place a card face down in front of you, you are effectively adding it to your score pile. You see at the end of the game each player will flip their face down animal cards and whoever has the most of a particular animal will be the one to gain ALL the points for that animal and in case of ties the points are split. Of course you don’t want to JUST place cards from your hand either, you will need to manipulate the tableau in such a way to maximize those delicious animals. And this is where all the plucking comes into play.
When you pluck a card from the tableau you are not only maximizing your chance to score on the animal plucked BUT also the card you play from your hand to take its place is critical. By placing certain animals down you can help yourself out by increasing the value of animals and if you are extra clever you can also figure out ways to deny your opponents points from their animal cards they might be trying to score on. This will go around and around until each player has run out of cards in their hand, all five or 6 of them and then you will score. Whoever ends up with the most points wins!
There isn’t a game board to speak of as the entire game is comprised of cards and a few tokens. That said, the cards are of a fine quality. A little slick but they also have a good thickness to them so as not to warp and bend easily. The mountain tokens are pretty standard cardboard, a little thin but to be honest you only use these to mark which animals have been played so they work fine.
I love the little box! This thing is super small and very easily fits into those extra gaps you may have in your Kallax shelves or book case. It has a magnetized lid that has this very satisfactory SNAP sound when the lid closes. Inside the box there is a pretty generic insert that is split down the middle so you can split the decks up but also has a nice gap in between to store the tokens so you won’t need to use any baggies. Overall I am highly impressed with the box and insert, it just works so well!
Visual Appeal /Theme
Visually the game looks excellent with each different animal species having its own artwork. The colors are represented fantastically on the cards to not only differentiate them from each other but also give the game a kind of relaxing feel when playing it. The theme on the other hand is lacking any real depth. Yes, we have animals and I like how the name of the game is cleverly intertwined and YES, the scoring has a bit of theme embedded in it (lovebirds score by being paired up etc). But even with that I sit back and think that you could really just add ANY theme to this game play and it would work just fine. Of course that doesn’t really lessen this game by any means, in fact, it kind of excites me that other games using this formula might be made.
The rule book is little more than a slip of paper and based on the slim amount of rules in the game, it works! It clearly explains the two actions you can take with picture examples and on the flip side it has a nice explanation of each species scoring abilities. Super easy to pick up and play with these rules.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Player interaction is SO sly in this game! As I kind of touched on above, you can manipulate the tableau state to really screw over your opponents…BUT…..you never REALLY know just what animals they are trying to score do you? I mean, yeah you can try and keep tabs on what they pluck from the tableau to keep track but that really only works on the lower player counts. Once you get a full 6 player game going that is gonna be much, much more difficult. Ah yes, but there is another way……
I’ve found in the higher player count games you can effectively keep track of what players are working towards by just keeping an eye on how many of a particular animal card is still out on the tableau. At one point there was only a single Chameleon out so I just knew that someone was stacking those in their face down pile to score on. That method might work on some animals but other animals require a large number on the tableau to be worth more points and those are more difficult to figure out who is scoring on. Ok, so beyond my personal strategies I’ve found, the interaction is relatively low between players beyond the manipulating the tableau state. There is no trading of animals or strategizing with one another and the way you can stick it to a player by removing an animal is usually almost a secret thing. What I mean is that IF someone removes, let’s say, a wolf card and you are stacking those for points you REALLY don’t wanna yell out “NOOOOO!” and give yourself away.
But even still, with lower interaction the game plays as fast as 10 minutes! Even in a full 6 player game you can blaze through a game in about that same time, perhaps more for those AP sufferers out there. So, the low interaction doesn’t really come into play here since you can easily setup another game to play and get through many games in the same amount of time it would take you to play almost any typical board game nowadays.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I can tell you I had a blast playing both 2 player and 6 player. The game plays fast regardless, HOWEVER, I will say that if playing with a higher count you will probably only be able to focus on a single animal to score on. This creates an interesting dynamic that I’ve found where multiple players will tie. Unfortunately the rules state that ties are shared so be prepared to share victories. I played a six player game once that ended in a 3-way tie……it felt rather, meh at the end. Now, at two players the game felt much more intense. The game is built in such a way that you only use the number of different animal species cards equal to player count +1. So, you are usually always going to be fighting over the same species more than likely, the key is figuring out which and WINNING.
Replayability is huge here. There are 8 different species in the box and at the most you can play with 7 of them in a six player game. If playing a 2 player game you will only use three of them and each game you can mix and match different species to really change up the way you score. But beyond that, this game takes 10 minutes to play, and I can bet that you will want to play another game immediately after you finish the first one. That first game will be almost a wake-up call for you because balancing placing cards on the tableau and collecting cards in front of you is quite an interesting skill. Once you figure that out, the game really opens up to all the possible strategies. Every game I play, it just gets deeper and deeper.
Positive Final Thoughts
For the price and size of this game you get a WHOLE lot of game in this package. Don’t let the simplistic nature of this game fool you, it is one that just keeps getting cleverer every time I play it.
Negative Final Thoughts
My biggest and basically only gripe on the game is how ties are shared. I’ve found at higher player counts this seems to happen more often as well. I wish there was a more interesting tie breaker implemented.
The Bottom Line
VERY impressed with this game and what impresses me even more is the fact that I usually don’t like simple games. This is one that completely took me by surprise on how to take a simple idea and mash it up with a level of depth and complexity that just blew me away. And with how fast it plays, this is one that I will always be keeping with me to whip out as a nice starter game to my game nights.
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