Dale Yu: Review of Savannah Park

Savannah Park

  • Designers: Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling
  • Publisher: Capstone Games / Deep Print Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Capstone Games

savannah park

Kramer and Kiesling are one of the best known design duos in our hobby.  Their partnership goes back over 20 years now – I think the earliest game I can remember is Haste Worte? Later games include back to back SdJ winners in Tikal and Torres.  And to further bolster their credentials, don’t forget that Kramer has 2 SdJ wins on his own (Top Secret Spies, Auf Achse) and Kiesling recently got his for Azul.   They have had a constant design presence, with seemingly at least one game a year from their partnership.   Last year, the team came out with Renature and Paris, both of which were well received here, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of exposure due to COVID delays and pandemic isolation.  But, their track record speaks for itself; when you see the K+K combo on a box cover, there is a very high likelihood of a good, or even great, game being contained within.

This year, Savannah Park is the K+K release that I was most looking forward to – in this tile arranging game, players are trying to create the most beautiful wildlife park by arranging their animals in a pleasing manner.  Each player starts with a player board, which has mostly empty sand spaces, but there are a few tree spaces, fire spaces and grassland spaces.  Each player takes their 33 animal tokens and they are randomly placed (sand side up) on the board leaving the three bushfire spaces and the six tree spaces empty.  Each player has their own set of 33 tiles, identical in whole to each of the other players, with only one instance of each tile in the set.  On the tiles, you will find combinations of animals (zebra, rhino, antelope, ostriche, giraffe, elephant) and possibly watering holes.   While the sets are identical, the players will randomly place the tiles on their boards leading to a different arrangement on each board.  Each player also has a meerkat marker that they place in the corner of their player board, and each has a scoring marker that is placed on the 0 space on the scoring board.

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A starting player is determined, and this will rotate with each turn of the game.  There are two phases to each turn.  First, the starting player will choose one of the sand colored tiles from their board.  All players find this tile on their own board (again, likely in different positions), picks it up and the places their meerkat token on the space they removed the tile from.  Next, all players now flip the tile over (so that it shows player color) and each places the tile in a valid destination – that is an empty sand space, an empty tree space or an empty grass space.  Once the tile is placed, it is not moved for the rest of the game.  Once you have placed the tile, put the meerkat back in the corner of the board – it’s role is simply to prevent you from placing your tile back in the same location where it started this turn.  

That ends the turn, and the start player rotates to the next player clockwise and the process of choosing a tile, locating the tile, and then flipping it/moving it to a different location is repeated.  Continue this until all 33 tiles have been moved.  Then it is time to move to the scoring phase.

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Before you tabulate points though, you must first resolve the bushfires.  (There is a track on the scoring board which you can use to help you complete all the different steps of the end game process…)

First, look at the small bushfire (the one with one flame), and in the six spaces directly adjacent, any tiles that have exactly one animal on them are removed from the board.  Next, do the middle bushfire (with 2 flames) and remove all the adjacent tiles with exactly two animals shown on them. Finally, remove any tiles with exactly 3 animals which are adjacent to the large bushfire.  These tiles are removed from the game and thus will not score any points. Now, count any visible grass spaces (1VP) and tree spaces (3VP) and mark your score accordingly.

Finally, you look at each of the six species of animals and you score the single most valuable herd for each species.  The value of a herd (found on contiguously adjacent tokens) is equal to the number of animals of the same type multiplied by the number of watering holes on those same tiles.  Thus, if there are no watering holes on the tiles in a herd, the value is automatically zero!  You can only score one herd per species.

The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most free grass spaces at the end of the game.

My thoughts on the game

Well, as you could probably tell from the opening, I’m a pretty big fan of Kramer and Kiesling – and I think I was predisposed to liking the game.  I have always enjoyed these call-and-play games where everyone gets the same tile and then has to deal with it – starting with probably Take it Easy at first, and most recently with My City.  Here, while each player has to work with the same tile, the overall possibilities of tile placement will be different for each player.  You only have so many open spots to choose from at any given time, and the positions of those will likely be different on each board given the random setup of tiles at the start.

The scoring is easy to explain, and much of the game (for me, at least) revolves around trying to get spaces open where I can grow two or three herds to maximum size.  This is most easily done when it is my turn to designate a tile for play – I find that I more often choose a tile not for the animals on it but rather to expose a space that I want to be able to play a tile on in the near future. But of course, YMMV, and it’s hard to have a specific plan in mind when you generally can’t control the tiles your opponents will choose… The watering hole tiles often are the most important ones to place – because without these, you can’t score a herd at all – and these are usually the exceptions to my location rule just described.

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The artwork is well done, and this makes it nice to easily identify which of the 33 tiles is being called out for a round.  My only quibble with the tiles is that the blue player may have a harder time scoring because the color of their tile causes the watering holes to blend into the background, making it a lot harder to see them accurately.  We have solved this by only using blue when we have a full complement of 4 players, and then making sure that a veteran player uses the blue tile set when we are forced to use it.

There are also a few variants included in the rulebook.  First, you can play with a different starting setup – where players take turns choosing a location of the bushfire and trees. Each player should have the same setup, but it will at least be different from the base game.  There is also a variant that uses a lion token, which starts on an empty space, and everytime you play a tile on the lion’s space, you score one bonus point per animal on the tile, and then the lion is moved to another empty space.  This one seemed to make the game more fiddly that I liked, but my companions seemed to prefer this variant.

Thus far, I prefer the base game as it is simple, streamlined, and very appropriate for most any gaming situation.  The scoring is not super intuitive for young gamers, so while it is otherwise good for small kids, the multiplicative scoring may be a bit much.  But, for middle school and up, this is a great fit for families too.  While Capstone Games started with only crunchy and lengthy games, their recent forays into the family game market look good with both this and Juicy Fruits for 2020…

savannah park components

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, James Nathan
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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