Animal Kingdoms Review

You remember Zoobooks? Or those little three-ring binder animal fact sheet thingys?

Yeah, those!

I used to love all those things. I just couldn’t get enough about animals! I never really wanted to be a zoologist or anything like that, but I just sucked up any information I could learn about creatures of all shapes and sizes.

So when I see a game called Animal Kingdoms, I’m thinking that this is gonna be my jam! Plus the game is from Galactic Raptor Games, another venture from our friend Carla Kopp, so that also gives the game some promise.

Well, when I got the chance to play, it turns out my years of learning animal facts won’t really help me in this game. While there are beautiful pieces of animal artwork on each card, they don’t really factor much into how the game is played. But it doesn’t really matter, because this is a solid title that you need to pay attention to.

Hoot!

So I kept writing different descriptions of this game to try to sum up the story behind the game, but there was no real way to do so succinctly. If you really want to know, you can check out the product page. Honestly, the story doesn’t really come through and that doesn’t really matter, because this is all about playing cards.

Two to five players (or just one if you rock the solo mode) are given a handful of beautifully decorated cards. These cards come in eight suits that are numbered one to eight. Each has intricate, colorful designs of a different type of animal that almost have a mystical, tribal feel. 

But you gotta do more than look at these cards, right? Don’t worry, we’re getting to that.

Squawk!

The world of Animal Kingdoms is divided into five…. kingdoms. Over the course of three rounds, you will be playing cards that meet different criteria in order to place cubes of influence in those areas. The more influence you have, the more points you will earn at the end of each round.

But you can’t just throw down any card that you want. Instead, each region is given a rule at the beginning of the round that determines what cards can be played. Some rules are fairly straightforward – you can only play certain numbers or certain animals at that location. Other rules are a little more interesting – perhaps you can only play numbers that have not yet been played in that region, or maybe you can only play an animal that has been played in a neighboring region.

Playing cards is the best way to gain influence, which leads to the most points. But what happens if you don’t have any cards to play? Well, it’s time to rally! When you rally, you gain a victory point, after which you can discard as many cards as you want and then draw back up to four.

Players also have the option to withdraw, which means that they will not be playing any additional cards that round. The first person to do so gets to draw a bonus tile that may be worth big points, plus they prevent anyone from taking the rally action any longer that round. It’s important to time this move just right so that you maximize your points on the board while also ensuring that you get a little bonus for yourself.

Ribbit!

Once all the players have withdrawn, you check to see who has the most influence in an area. Points are awarded for first, second, and third place in each area. The points are randomly assigned from round to round, so what may have been a high value kingdom in the first round may be worth much less in the second.

There’s a really cool mechanic for ties that I won’t go into much here; however, it forces players to prepare for ties as the round is coming to an end. I really like this mechanic, as it’s something I haven’t really seen in the past. Usually it’s just something simple like “add the top two positions and split the points”, but this approach means that the game is always going.

It may be worth it to fight to win those ties, because the person who has the most influence gets to place a cube in the “Council” space of that area. This means that they will start all the following rounds already leading in influence in that area. This is another mechanic I like that adds some strategy to what might otherwise be a simple card game.

Play continues over three rounds, and whoever has the most points wins!

:: Deer Noise ::

If it’s not already obvious, I really like this game. I feel that it’s very well balanced while also being very accessible. I have brought this game to several meetups, and even in its prototype form, it has done very well. Players quickly learn the rules, set up a strategy after just a few turns, and fight over spots after just a few minutes. 

It also strikes a good balance of being competitive while also being a little laid back. The artwork and the theme work together to keep players from being overly aggressive, but the strategy that must go into defending and occupying your territory means you can’t let everybody off easy. 

This is truthfully one of those games that I could see myself playing over and over again while on a vacation or at a lake house or something. You can easily take breaks between rounds, even for long periods of time, and then come right back and know what you were doing. I also think that it works really well for gamers of all ages. You could easily have a 7-year old join a 70-year old in playing this game.

All in all, this is a high quality title that I believe deserves more attention than it’s getting. However, I think that can last a bit longer than other Kickstarter games in recent years. While trends and fads in gaming may come and go, games with solid, simple mechanics generally stick with you. And that is good news for Animal Kingdoms.

We were given a prototype copy of the game while it was on Kickstarter, but we do not believe that there are any major changes to the game. While One Board Family often receives free copies of games for review, we seek to provide neutral reviews of the games based on our experiences with them. You can pick up your own copy of Animal Kingdoms now through their online store.

Highs

– great artwork
– easy-to-learn and straightforward rules, but there’s still room for lots of strategy

Lows
– at higher player counts, it starts to feel a little crowded