I’ve taken many opportunities over the past few months to sing the praises of Animal Kingdoms, a family-friendly card game released in April 2020 by Galactic Raptor Games. I didn’t know what to expect when I received the preview, but I was tremendously satisfied with the game’s beautiful artwork, light but engaging mechanics, and easily teachable rules set.
I’ve been very excited to watch the company turn the game into a nice little franchise, launching a Kickstarter for a roll-and-write title, as well as refitting another Kickstarter title with new artwork and thematic elements. When I started to see information about the campaign for Kingdoms of the Deep, I knew it was a title that I needed to check out.
Despite my love of the original game and my excitement about the other titles, I was a little nervous about this one for a variety of reasons. However, every single one of my concerns was addressed as we played through this title. I can now say definitively that it’s a game that I’m happy to have on my shelf.
Under the Sea
My first concern was that Kingdoms of the Deep was just going to be Animal Kingdoms but underwater. That is far from the case, as the two titles have very little in common beyond their beautiful artwork.
In KotD, each player takes on the role of an underwater faction of animals, seeking to control and influence different underwater territories to become the “ruler of the Underwater Realms”. This theme of control was also present in Animal Kingdoms, but it makes a lot more sense in this title, as area control is one of the major mechanics.
The play area is randomly generated each game using hexagons that represent the six different types of ocean terrain. Over the course of several rounds, players will use cubes placed on these hexagons to represent their increasing influence over the different areas.
Each player is given a set of six cards that represent the different actions that they can choose from each round. Each action influences the… influence?… in different ways. Bolster and Deploy, for instance, allow you to add more of your influence cubes to certain areas of the board. Move lets you… well, move your cubes around. Players will use these plus the other actions (which I’ll talk about later) in order to accomplish certain goals that will gain them victory points.
Many veteran gamers will quickly find a rhythm with most of the mechanics, as they’re similar to many other area control games. However, I believe new gamers will quickly learn the ropes, too, as each of these actions is very straightforward, and each goal is very clear. There is much less iconography than one might find in other area control titles, allowing for players to learn and understand the rules more quickly and easily.
Stormy Waters Ahead
Given the simplicity and laid back nature of Animal Kingdoms, I initially expected Kingdoms of the Deep to take a more “friendly” approach to area control than other titles. I was quite wrong.
When players choose where they will send influence cubes, they will usually select the spot that will earn them more points during scoring rounds. However, this also means that you’ll be reducing the points that other players are receiving. While there might be room to spread out at the beginning of the game, you’ll all soon be fighting for pieces of terrain.
You’ll have a couple of actions that will aid in this fight. First, you’ll have the ability to Upgrade your other actions, allowing you to place and move more influence on a turn. The second is a little more interesting, and a little more sinister. Using the Shark action, you’ll have the opportunity to remove other cubes from the board. I guarantee you’ll get some angry glares from other players each time you use the Shark action. Just remember, turnabout is fair play…
As I said earlier, I had a few concerns going into the game. One of them was my worry about the game length. Rounds are progressed as players use the final action, “Reset”, to take all of the actions cards that they had used previously back into their hands. If someone uses this action on a turn, a marker is moved along a track to advance towards the end of the game. This track also triggers scoring opportunities, so players must be careful to time their reset cards correctly.
I initially worried that the game would go by too fast, as players would be resetting all at different times. This worry quickly swung the other way early in the game, since players were all choosing to reset at the same time. However, everything eventually balanced out, and I would say that we had about 18-20 turns over the course of the game. This pacing worked really well, as it allowed people to make progress towards a lot of scoring opportunities while also requiring everyone to make choices since they couldn’t do everything they wanted.
I also appreciate the pace of the scoring. At the beginning of the game, three different scoring cards are randomly selected, each of which features instantaneous benefits and scoring trigger benefits. These cards give players some guidance as to what they should be aiming for from turn to turn. I appreciated that they changed as the game went on – players have to be careful not to sell out to one type of scoring to the point that they are set up for failure for future scoring mechanics.
Players continue to take actions and seek to gain influence until the marker reaches the end of the track, at which point the last scoring card is triggered, and whoever has the most points wins!
Beautiful, Briny Sea
A few of my other concerns for the game continued to dissipate as we wrapped up our playthrough. After the first two scoring sessions, one player was way out ahead, and I feared that this game wouldn’t allow for anyone to catch up. Much to my satisfaction, that player ended up in 3rd place, as they were in a bad position to meet the requirements of the final (and most lucrative) scoring card.
I also was concerned that this game would be too family-friendly, like Animal Kingdoms, and not have enough “bite” (is that a Shark pun? probably…). But this game does a very good job of providing some very solid gameplay within the scope of simple mechanics.
In the end, I had a very good time with Kingdoms of the Deep. It’s easy to learn, it has dramatic moments, and it’s a pleasure to look at. If I asked who I would recommend this game to, I would say that it would make a nice addition to many family game shelves. If you don’t enjoy a little “take that” in your games, or if any of your friends or family are sore losers, then you may want to steer away. But if you can tolerate a little bit of back and forth with your opponents, then I believe you can certainly have a great time with this game.
You can back Kingdoms of the Deep now through February 11, 2021 on Kickstarter.
A prototype of the game was provided for this coverage. Components and rules covered in this preview are not finalized. Read more about our preview policies at One Board Family.