10 Great Animal Games (Article by Chris Wray)

I’m from a family of people who love nature.  Since theme can draw non-gamers into games, I tend to buy a lot of games featuring animals.  I know it isn’t the most popular theme, but it is one with broad appeal.  Everybody has themes that turn them off: I’m skeptical of playing space-themed games, for instance.  But I don’t know that I’ve met anybody who says, “I don’t like animal themed games!”

Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory.  I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc.  In this case, I picked a theme.  We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.  We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists. 

The Methodology

For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 games that featured animals.  I said it wasn’t enough that an animal was just part of a game: they had to be a significant part of it.  Board Game Geek has an animals category, but users of that site have basically modified it so that anything remotely containing an animal gets included.

Anybody could add to the list assuming they were going to vote for it.  Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games, and they could give one game 15 points, one game 14 points, all the way down to giving one 6 points.  We all put our votes into a spreadsheet.  We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.  

We had 14 OG-ers vote, and 45 different games received votes.  

To get on the list took a minimum of four writers rating the game decently well.  That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.

Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze.  Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.  

Without further ado, here are 10 Great Animal Games

Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List): 

15.  O Zoo le Mio

14.  Hive (1 Bronze)

13.  Evolution (1 Bronze)

12.  Barenpark

11  Frank’s Zoo 

#10 – Dominant Species

48 Points, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Chad Jensen

#9  – Wingspan

50 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Elizabeth Hargrave

#8  – Animal Upon Animal

54 Points, 1 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Klaus Miltenberger

#7 – Snow Tails

61 Points, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Gordon Lamont and Fraser Lamont

#6 – Habitats

74 Points, 1 Bronze

Designed by Corné van Moorsel

#5 – Reef Encounter

77 Points, 1 Gold

Designed by Richard Breese

#4 – Wildlife Adventure

89 Points, 2 Gold, 1 Silver

Designed by Ursula Kramer and Wolfgang Kramer

#3 – Agricola

92 Points, 3 Gold, 1 Silver

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg

#2 – Zooloretto Family

100 Points, 1 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze

Designed by Michael Schacht

(We included Aquaretto for purposes of voting.)

#1 – Fauna

111 Points, 3 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze

Designed by Friedemann Friese


Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:

Chris Wray:  Fauna — an animal-based trivia game — absolutely deserves to be on top of this list!  My brother (who studied wildlife conservation) loves animals, but he isn’t fond of games, but nonetheless, he is willing to play Fauna with me every year on my birthday.  The game is a brilliant creation from Friedemann Friese that inspired other games, including Terra and America.  Fauna has become a bit hard to find in the US, which is unfortunate.  I’d LOVE to see a new version with some of the changes Friedemann Friese and Ted Alspach had made in America.  

My votes that didn’t make the list went to Animals on Board, Cardline Animals, Coloretto, and Fabled Fruit.

Larry:  This is probably the toughest category for me that we’ve done.  In fact, I needed the help of the rest of the group to even come up with 10 animal games I like!  My favorites just don’t tend to include the cute li’l critters.  Two of my top 5 made the list:  Agricola and Snow Tails.  Habitats and Reef Encounter were also in my top 10, but I’ve never even played Fauna (it doesn’t sound at all appealing to me) and I strongly dislike Dominant Species.  The other games in my top 5 were Dungeon Petz (they’re not monsters, they’re pets!), Caravan, and Hive.  I love animals, but I guess I don’t love animal games!

Melissa: I missed the voting on this, but I’m glad to see some favourites on the list. If we’re looking for games about animals, Fauna is hands-down the winner. I’ve played it with children and adults and – possibly my favourite – in large groups, as teams of two or three. It’s been great with gamers and with people who don’t often play games, so hits many delicious spots. Agricola – well duh. The animal breeding (and the sliding – and punitive) scoring makes this a great implementation of an ‘animal’ mechanic that successfully connects theme and mechanisms. And how is Animal Upon Animal only in eighth spot? We have it in almost every flavour, and I’m still devastated to have missed the collectable rhinos and pigs. My “not on the list” mention: I believe I’d have to hand back my Aussie passport if I didn’t mention Squatter and the 180+ tiny sheep heads here.

Matt: Plenty of my favorites on the list, with the big exception of Evo.  Even putting it down as my #1 wasn’t enough to get it onto the list. It’s a great game with not too much take-that, and the auctions tend to keep it balanced.  I’ve pimped my game out with plastic dinos from the dollar store.   Glad to see Reef Encounter there as it’s a solid game and the theme (you’re growing coral) is truly unique.  I wanted to vote for Primordial Soup/Ursuppe as it’s another top game theme-wise for me, but I wasn’t sure if it was animal or not (protista? bacteria?)  I guess with my the love for Evo/Primordial Soup/Evolution it’s clear I like to play games where my little guys grow in abilities over time.  (Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not a fan of Dominant Species – maybe not enough little powers/abilities….)  I feel like Agricola is cheating – I don’t think of it as an “animal” game, but if it does qualify I’m happy to see it highly ranked.  I enjoy Fauna, but wouldn’t have put it as my #1, although I do have to give it props for its accessibility.  

Mark Jackson: Zooloretto/Aquaretto is a personal favorite – btw, there is a way to play the two games together with six players if one was so inclined. :-)

Habitats is substantially better than the SdJ game it inspired (Nova Luna)… and Corne has another great zoo game (O Zoo le Mio/Zoosim) that is worth your time.

Note: while the original Animal Upon Animal is great, I prefer Animal Upon Animal: Here We Turn, which adds a turning and tipping platform as well as the rules requirement to make animal noises.

Tery: Whether or not there are animals in the game doesn’t really affect my likelihood to buy the game, nor does it affect my enjoyment one way or the other. Sure, animeeples are cool and all, but it’s just a component. I like good card art in general, but I am not swayed one way or another if it includes an animal.

That said, I do agree with most of the list that we ended up with. I am not a fan of Fauna; I can appreciate why others like it, but it falls very flat for me.   

I am a fan of Habitats. It’s got a fair amount of strategy packed into an easy to teach, easy to learn game, and it works well with all the numbers of players.  I

I see Matt’s point about Agricola not quite being an “animal” game, but I am still happy to see it listed here; Agricola and many of Uwe Rosenberg’s other games (Fields of Arle, Feast for Odin, Le Havre, Caverna and Nusfjord) have animal mechanics as part of the game play. I enjoy all of them, as in all of these cases it fits well to the theme of the game. 

Fraser: Glad to see Fauna, Animal upon Animal and Agricola on the list.  As Melissa mentioned Squatter should have an honourable mention too. :-) 

Fauna is a great game, suitable for all sorts of people – young and old, gamers and non-gamers and is actually a good bluffing game too in many situations.  Tier auf Tier (aka Animal upon Animal) has been a family favourite for years (we highly recommend buying two copies of two player versions and adding them to the base set).  Frank’s Zoo has also got a lot of family play over the years.


Past Articles in the 10 Great Series:

10 Great Worker Placement Games

10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia

10 Great Roll ‘n Writes

10 Great Ticket to Ride Maps

10 Great Games of the 2010s

10 Great 2-Player Games

10 Great Card Games

10 Great Deduction Games

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3 Responses to 10 Great Animal Games (Article by Chris Wray)

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  2. huzonfirst says:

    So as a postscript from that one guy who proves Chris wrong and says “I don’t like animal-themed games!” (well, not much), I will say that the best pure animal-themed game is Snow Tails, which is also the only pure racing game that I love. I think it’s an extremely clever and elegant design and the courses they provide with the title are wonderfully evil. Great game by the Gordon and Fraser Lamont, who, for a while there, made a career out of designing animal-themed games.

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