Playing Time: 15 minutes
Review by Mark Jackson (6 plays w/a review copy provided by Haba USA)
Once upon a time, there was a yellow box filled with chunky wooden animal pieces. Between the whimsical components (gotta love the alligator building base) and the kid-friendly “knock-down” rule (you only have to keep two of the pieces you knock down), Animal Upon Animal became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic for Haba Games in 2005.
In fact, it was such a big hit that Haba released Animal upon Animal – The Duel in 2008, a two-player version of the game that involved a little more dexterity skills coupled with real-time competition and was more appropriate for ages 6+. (It’s also known in the gaming community as “the expansion pack for Animal Upon Animal” – two copies of this give you enough new animals to make for longer, trickier versions of the original game.)
But Haba wasn’t done trading off the goodwill generated by the original game. 2008 also saw the release of Animal Upon Animal: The Card Game… a nice portable dexterity game which probably the least successful of the series as it involves balancing cards rather than wooden animals.
Fast forward to late 2010… and Haba goes to the well one more time for a big box game based on the same theme, Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge. There’s still chunky wooden animals & a gator base in a bright yellow box… but there’s a new twist that makes for a different yet still enjoyable playing experience.
The large box is divided diagonally into 4 quadrants, each decorated with appropriate art (desert, river, forest, etc.) and a symbol which also appears on the die. Across one of the walls lays the balancing bridge of the title – which is not, as I first thought, actually a wobbling bridge. The animals are placed around the outside of the box, divided up between the various sections.
Evidently, the gator wants to make sure that the bridge is safe (he’s like the jungle version of a crossing guard lady) so he’s placed in the middle of the bridge. In turn, players roll the die and place an animal from the determined section onto the bridge – either stacking it or putting it next to an already placed animal. There is also a wild card (pick any animal) side to the die… and a bridge side, which requires players to shift one animal on the bridge.
Each player has three secret assignment cards that show three animals – your objective is to get those three animals to touch. (For example, if you had the bat/lizard/flamingo card, you could place the flamingo where it was touching a bat & a lizard to successfully complete your secret assignment.)
Assignments can be completed – even on another players turn! Completed cards are discarded… and the first player to get rid of all their cards wins.
Of course, with this many animals on the bridge, some are going to inevitably get knocked off. Whichever quadrant they fall into is considered their abode – and players may now use them when they roll the appropriate symbol. As well, the player who knocks animals over must take another assignment card as a penalty.
That’s it. Simple enough for a five year old to enjoy – silly enough to make a nice late night closer with gamers. The secret assignments make for a different game experience that I find equally enjoyable to the original game.
Some random thoughts:
- We found that 4 (or even possibly 5) cards is a better starting hand for older players, as the game can end too quickly with players with dexterity skills.
- You can use the number of cards dealt initially to handicap better/older players.
- The ONLY problem we’ve had with the game was playing with gamers – one of whom decided to knock the pyramid over to keep someone else from winning. Simply put: avoid playing these kind of games with those kind of people.
Added bonus for Animal Upon Animal fans: for a few years, buying two copies of The Duel was the only easy way to “expand” your game… and now, with 25 new animals in the box, you can nearly double the size of the original game with this one purchase. The animals in Balancing Bridge are slightly thicker (the same width as the sheep in Animal Upon Animal) but that doesn’t cause any problems when playing the game. (My older son & I played an Uber Animal Upon Animal, using a complete set of animals from the original game, The Duel & Balancing Bridge – it was a lot of fun!)
And an additional added bonus for parents: the new animals have already seen a bunch of solo play time with my 6 year old son, who uses the game to make up interesting (if bizarre) stories involving the cast of animals.
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:
Melissa Rogerson: Animal Upon Animal has been a huge hit in our household. We didn’t think much of Das Duell, other than as an expansion to the “real” game, and kind of sneered at the card game (admittedly without ever trying it). Looking forward to trying this one, though – and that Uber Animal Upon Animal variant sounds like it may have a place in our lives as well :)
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers:
I love it!… Mark Jackson
I like it…
Not for me…