Open Seat Gaming: Kickstarter Preview – Animal Kingdoms
Disclaimer: This preview is from a reviewer’s copy of the game that was provided by Galactic Raptor Games to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.
Game: Animal Kingdoms
Publisher: Galactic Raptor Games
Designer: Steven Aramini
Artist: Katy Grierson
Main Game Mechanisms: Area Control / Area Influence, Hand Management
Number of Players: 1 to 5
Game Time: 45 minutes
"In Animal Kingdoms, each player takes on the role of a house leader, battling to gain control of the five kingdoms. Cards in your hand represent noble beasts that have pledged their allegiance to you. Over the course of three ages, you must deploy your beasts to the various territories – making sure that you adhere to each kingdom’s decree – to try and improve your influential position in the kingdoms. The house that gains the most influence by the end of the third age is declared the one true leader of the realm." ~From the Publisher
Each age, or round, players alternate playing cards to each kingdom following its decree (such as certain animals or ranks, only odd or even cards, cards that must match facets of other cards in play, and many more) and placing a marker of their color in that kingdom's area. Each kingdom has a different amount of spaces for markers and once the last one is filled no no more cards can be played to that kingdom (and the finishing player retires from the round).
The markers are used for area influence, with the player having the most influence at the end of the age scoring points. If there's a tie for most influence, the tied players have a War-like showdown with cards from their hand. At the end of the age, the decrees are changed out, the finishing markers for the kingdoms (up to 1 per player) get moved up and are a permanent addition to the owning player's influence in that kingdom, and the remaining markers are cleared and returned to the players. If it wasn't the 3rd age, a new age begins and play continues with the player currently in last place.
Review: Spoiler alert: I freaking love this game. From the moment I saw it at the Weird Giraffes/Galactic Raptor booth at PAX Unplugged, I fell in love with the design, and I didn't even get to play it until this preview copy showed up at our front door.
The art for this game is absolutely out of this world. I don't believe I've ever seen any of Katy's work before this title, but she knocked it out of the park. Each of the animals are realistically drawn, but they have adornments that help to add to the fantasy of the game. The colors pop off of each card and draw you into the game. The cards are really well designed, they're really simple to comprehend at a glance, the iconography is colorblind friendly, and the graphic design layout is pleasing to the eyes.
While not specifically a Weird Giraffes title, Animal Kingdoms continues with Carla's commitment to making games that are easy to learn, but super deep in terms of strategy. It's also not surprising that it was designed by Steven Aramini, who was one of the designers for Sprawlopolis - the only game that all three of us - Sarah, Scott, and I - put on our top 5 games from 2018. Sprawlopolis fits in that "easy to learn, but super deep strategy" game category as well. This approach to game design and development is vital in a hobby that is continually expanding and bringing new people into the fold - it makes games more approachable, while still appealing to those who have been into hobby gaming for an extended period of time.
When I read through the rules, my first reaction was, admittedly, "that's it?" It seemed so darn simple out of the gate. But then, Sarah and I started playing the first time and the layers just started opening up to us. Figuring out when the best time to withdraw from a round is one of the most difficult decisions in the game. Do I withdraw early, and hope it forces my opponents out soon after? Or do I hold out to try and have clear area majority in the more populated areas, while also giving my opponents a chance to come out ahead? There were definitely moments where we had a little bit of analysis paralysis when we were first learning the game - those went away over multiple plays, though.
One of the absolute genius ideas of this game is the idea of "rallying." Plenty of games have the option to discard cards and replace them - and some games have that as an action. But, in a game where every single card that you play is important, you're likely going to hesitate if that takes up your whole turn. So, they made it a little more enticing by giving you a point, which makes up for "missing a turn" so to speak. Not only that, but not allowing anyone to rally after someone has withdrawn is also a really important part of the game - otherwise, people can go forever. I never thought that discarding and redrawing your hand could be such a big deal - but in this game, it is, and they thought about that!
The variability in the decrees (and the fact that they switch between rounds and games) are astounding. Each decree is different in terms of style and difficulty - some of them are super easy to add to, whereas others make you think a little bit before playing a card there. Every game feels different because every decree is in a different spot in each game - there are endless combinations, and that makes the game that much more replayable in the long run.
The only "issue" I had with the game (and gosh, I feel like I'm being nit-picky here) is that I wasn't super fond of the prototype score track. It goes 1 to 10, from left to right across the bottom of the board, and then you have to go all the way to the left again for 11. It may be because I play a lot of Carcassonne, but I definitely prefer a zig-zag design for score boards. This complaint is, likely, more because of my preferences rather than actually being a problem.
In short, Animal Kingdoms comes out of the gate swinging. Carla (from Weird Giraffe Games) and Dan (of Letiman Games) are no strangers to the game design and development world, but their first title under the Galactic Raptor banner is definitely one that can't be missed. If you like area control games that don't have your "typical" themes (battles, etc), and you're looking for a family-friendly title that is easy to teach, Animal Kingdoms should be your top choice.
Kickstarter Information: Animal Kingdoms is on Kickstarter right now! You can back the standard edition for $29 (shipping included for US backers). The Deluxe Edition, complete with Animeeples, is $45 with US shipping included. There are also a double Deluxe Edition level for $80, and an FLGS level. It's on Kickstarter until February 1st, so back soon!