Animals on Board (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Wolfgang Sentker, Ralf zur Linde
  • Publisher:  eggertspiele / Pegasus Spiele (Germany), Stronghold Games (U.S.)
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  8 and Up
  • Time:  15 – 30 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 5 (On the English/German First Edition)

AnimalsonBoard

Animals on Board hit my radar after Dale’s mentioned it in his Gathering of Friends posts. I read the rules, and it looked like a great “filler plus” game that my group would enjoy. I ordered a copy, and I’ve played it several times since. Animals on Board offers a clever mix of set collection and the “I split, you choose” game mechanic, and I could see this title being on the SdJ jury’s radar in the next few weeks.

The game has been released in Europe by eggertspiele and Pegasus Spiele, and the U.S. release will be by Stronghold Games, who is showing a planned release for May 25.

Animals on Board: Noah’s got a monopoly on pairs…

Each player has his own ark and wants to take as many animals on board as he can. Unfortunately, Noah has claimed a monopoly on animal pairs, even managing to get an “anti-pairing” law passed. As such, each player either wants single animals (which will be worth the points shown on their tile) or a herd of three or more (in which case each tile is worth five points).

Each player takes an ark, a break flag (used to indicate when a player has left the round), and 1 food crate (used as currency to buy animal tiles).

In a four player game, all 12 species are used; in a three player game, 10 species are used; and in a two player game, eight species are used. Each species has five tiles ranging in value from 1-5.

AnimalsonBoardTiles

Before the game begins, each player draws three animal tiles and keeps one. The remaining tiles are placed face up in the central play area. Animals are then drawn face up until there are 12 face-up tiles in a four player game; 10 face-up in a three player game; or 8 face up in a two player game. Additionally, one face-down tile is put out.

The round then begins. At the start of each round, the tiles in the center of the play area form one large animal group. Over the course of the round, this group will be divided.

On a player’s turn, he must either:

  • Split one animal group, and take one food crate. When splitting a group, a player takes one group of at least two tiles and forms it into exactly two animal groups. A player may only ever have five food crates in their supply.
  • Take one animal group onto your ark, pay one food per animal tile in the group, and drop out of the round. You must take the entire group, and you must pay for it in full with food crates.

If you’re not able to split a group, you must take an animal if you can. Your food crate supply and the number of tiles in your ark are public information.

AnimalsonBoardPlayArea

If, after any player’s turn there is one one player remaining in the round, this player gets a final chance to perform either of the above actions. The round then ends. If nobody has ten animals on board their ark, a new round begins, with the same number of face-up tiles and one face-down tiles being placed out as before.

The end game is triggered at the end of a round in which at least one player owns 10 or more animal tiles. At this point, pairs are discarded (blame Noah!), and each player must reduce to 10 tiles if they’re above that number.

AnimalsonBoardArk

Scoring then happens:

  • Each single animal is worth the number of victory points printed on it.
  • Each herd animal (i.e. each animal in a group of three or more) is worth 5 victory points (no matter the number printed on it).
  • Each remaining food crate is worth 1 point.

The player with the highest victory point total wins!  In the case of a tie, the player with the most different species wins. If there is still a tie, victory is shared.

My thoughts on the game…

I love the “I split, you choose” game mechanic, and Animals on Board uses the mechanism especially well. This game has all the hallmarks of a good family game: it is easy to learn — even non-gamers grasp it in a few minutes — but there are interesting decisions. The production value is solid, and the theme is fun. The gameplay is fast, coming it at about 15 minutes for my group. The game accommodates 2-4, and while I haven’t tried it with two players, it works equally well with three and four.

The fun is in splitting the groups and outfoxing (no pun intended) your opponents. Do you think they’re collecting pandas?  If so, then either split the pandas away from everything else, or try to pair them with low singles you doubt they want. Additionally, the decision on when to exit the round can be especially tough: players must strike a  balance on between snagging desireable groups and earning food crates by dividing other sets. There’s almost a press-your-luck aspect to Animals on Board.

While watching the moves of your opponents is helpful, there’s always a bit of mystery to the game. That one face down tile can cause hand wringing, plus you never know which animal each player grabbed at the start. There’s certainly a chance to outmaneuver opponents, yet the game remains friendly.

I’m looking forward to my future plays of Animals on Board. This game will work with a wide variety of different audiences, and I could see this title being a hit on the family gaming scene. It has enough depth and interesting choices to intrigue serious gamers, yet it is easy enough for anybody to play. The theme, production value, and mechanics combine to form an excellent “I split, you choose” and set collection game. I expect this title to be a regular start to the evening at my game group.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers . . .

Dale Y: As it stands now, this is my personal pick for the game to win the 2016 Spiel des Jahres. For me, it has the right balance of accessibility, ease of teaching/play, short playing time and attractive graphics that have been hallmarks of recent winners. As Chris notes, this game employs the “I split/you choose” mechanic to perfection.

The face-down animal in each batch gives a modicum of unpredictability to the game, and that little bit of uncertainty makes the game much more interesting because you’re never quite sure what your opponents are collecting (and conversely, if you have a face-down tile, no one else knows what exactly you are looking for!)

The game ends really quickly – and I’m not talking about just on the clock – as the game ends when at least one player has 10 tiles, the game might only last 5 or 6 rounds, and if you’re not careful, you could be quite surprised if someone unexpectedly takes a big group to trigger the game end.

After about five or six plays, I’m a big fan of this one, and I’ll eventually get a copy of this to bring home – the big question for me is how soon Stronghold Games will get their copies here in North America so that I don’t have to import it…

Dan Blum: I also like “I split you choose” but I’m not sure I’d say that this game uses that mechanism. The fact that the initial groups generally get re-split several times makes the game feel very different to me, and I agree more with Chris’ “press-your-luck” characterization. Unlike in most press-your-luck games, here it’s not about getting as much as you can but about refining what you get to be exactly what you want – taking tiles you don’t want is always bad and can be disastrous if you form pairs you can’t get rid of.

Regardless, I like the game; my only complaint is that the giant cardboard arks do not leave room in the box to store the other bits comfortably.

Larry (1 play):  Pleasant game, a little deeper than it appears at first glance.  You can be a little evil with the way you split the animals, but it’s so expected it doesn’t even feel malicious, so it’s “diet evil”, as my friend Anye Mercer used to say.  If I played more games in a family setting, this would be a good pickup for me.  Since I hardly ever do that, I’m fine if I never play it again, but I’d also be willing to play it as a palate cleanser between gamer’s games if it was suggested.

Craig Massey (1 play): Throw me in with Dale on the SdJ favorite bandwagon. Easy to teach and play, the game has all of the hallmarks of an SdJ winner.

Joe Huber (1 play): You know, I’m curious to play this with Dale & Craig, as it sounds significantly better – and more fun – than the game I played.  Which – worked.  So, while my initial reaction was that it’s not a game for me, I’m sufficiently intrigued as to try it again – but only with someone who loved it.

John P (3 plays):  I agree with both extremes here.  It certainly has the SdJ feel to it, though I’m not agreed that it will make the short list.  But for me I lean more towards Joe’s end of the spectrum.  I’ll play it if others want to but wouldn’t need to seek it out or suggest it.

Melissa Rogerson (1 play): Ooh yeah, this is a definite tilt at the SdJ, including the toy factor that we’re seeing so much lately. The artwork is great, the gameplay is fun and I will spruik it to my friends as Zooloretto meets Aber bitte mit Sahne. It’s good family fare and although our daughters are probably a bit old to need family games, we have nephews and a niece who love visiting our game collection, our cats, our daughters, and us (as a very distant fourth); I think it’s a keeper. Also a game that will work well for the PAX Australia game library, with relatively short playing time, accessible rules, lovely art and lots of opponent-cursing.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Dale Yu, Craig Massey, Melissa Rogerson
  • I like it. Chris Wray, Dan Blum, Eric Martin
  • Neutral. Erik Arneson, Larry, John P
  • Not for me…  Joe H.
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4 Responses to Animals on Board (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. The street date for Animals on Board is next Wednesday — May 25th.

  2. Pingback: New reviews online | Meeples' Corner

  3. Pingback: The Opinionated Gamers Prognosticate the Spiel des Jahres Lists | The Opinionated Gamers

  4. gschloesser says:

    Add me to the “Huber camp” here. I thought my one and only playing was decent, but nothing special. Certainly a nice family style game, but as a gamer, I usually want a bit more.

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