Dale Yu: Review of Nimalia


  • Designer: William Liévin
  • Publisher: Lucky Duck/La Boîte de Jeu
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Lucky Duck Games

Says the rules: “In Nimalia, you will create the most beautiful animal reserve, in which all the animals will live in harmony. But achieving such balance can be a massive headache, so you will have to be clever enough to design a reserve that best meets the needs of all the animals!”

I first got a chance to play this game at the recent Gathering of Friends, and then a review copy appeared in the post, and this little game has hit the table a number of times since then.   To start the game, you must first set up the objective cards; they come in 4 different colors, and you must choose one of each color to place next to the Round card.  The colored outlines on the Round Card tell you where to put each color card, and the lines on the card help you see which cards are scored in which rounds.  The objective cards are rated in difficulty from one to three leaves; so you can modify the challenge in your game by choosing different objectives.  You can also leave it up to luck and draw randomly!

A score track is constructed and the scoring markers are placed near the start of the track.  The deck of 60 Animal cards is shuffled to finish preparations; each card has 4 spaces on it, in a 2×2 grid, showing some of the different biomes as a background.  There is an animal on each of the spaces as well as possibly a river running through the space as well..

The game is played in five rounds, following the same pattern.

1] Build your reserve (placing cards).  To start each round, players are dealt 3 Animal cards, and all players secretly and simultaneously choose one to play.  The unchosen cards are passed to a neighbor (the direction of the pass can be found on the round marker on the Round card).  When you play a card, all cards other than the first must cover (i.e. sit on top of) at least one space on a previously played card – and your entire reserve can be no larger than a 6×6 area.  You always place your cards on top of existing cards, never underneath.  You are allowed to rotate the card as you like.  Once the first card is placed, the cards from your neighbor are picked up, one of those is chosen and played; the remaining unplayed card is again passed and that card will be the final card played for the round. 

2] Score points – Look at the Round card to see which of the scoring cards are in effect for the current round.  Apply the scoring metrics for those two or three cards and then move your score marker accordingly on the score track.  

3] Setup for the next round – move the Round marker to the next round number, making sure to flip it over to change the direction of passing. 

The game ends after the scoring of the 5th round.  There are no end-game scoring bonuses.  The player with the most points wins, ties broken in favor of the player with the most animals of the same type in their reserve.

My thoughts on the game

Nimalia is a tiny game – coming in a 5.5 x 5.5 x 1 inch box, and there is a lot of game in this little package!  I really like the puzzle-y nature of the game as you try to play cards that not only score for this round’s cards but also hopefully set you up for the later scorings to come!  You really have to try to pay attention to each of the four different scoring criteria as each is scored in three of the five rounds – it would be very difficult to succeed in Nimalia if you completely ignored one of the four objectives!

I like the way that your animal reserve grows incrementally with each card adding upon what was played earlier.  It is really important to remember that you will be covering up at least one square of your board with each successive play.  You might have a nice scoring situation set up that you will later have to partially cover with a later card.  In the later rounds, it is also helpful to remember that you can completely cover another card (or any 2×2 area) with the new card.

There is obviously a drafting mechanism used in the selection of cards each round, but as all players share the same objectives, I have found that I am usually not overly worried about hate drafting against my neighbor.  For the most part, I’m just looking for the card that best suits my strategy, and only considering what my opponent is doing as a tiebreaker if I have equal options.  That being said, even with identical scoring objectives for all players, each player might choose a different path trying to specialize in cards for specific objectives – so it is worthwhile to track what other players are doing.

Even with some monitoring of what your opponents are doing, the game plays lightning fast.  The box gives a 30 minute time frame for the game, but our games around here are really coming in closer to the 15-20 minute range.  After all, there are only 15 card plays total in the game; and you only have a choice of card in ten of those plays (as the final card in each round is simply given to you by your neighbor).  Yet, in that time, there is a fair bit to think about.  Again, there is a nice challenge trying to meet both the current scoring rules as well as preparing for the future.  This is simplified a bit in the final round as there are no future rules to worry about; and this also makes the drafting faster as there are some cards which simply have no value at all and can just be passed on.

The rules are on a single fold-out sheet, and really there aren’t a lot of things to consider in the play – choose a card, play it, then score at the end of the round. The graphics are nice, and I like the visual of the growing animal reserves on the table as the game progresses.

Nimalia has been a great find this Spring, and my group has enjoyed playing it so far.  The different objectives can definitely change how you approach the construction of your animal reserve as do the varied combinations of the objectives. It is an excellent filler game at the speed that we play it, and there is quite a lot of game in this tiny package.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan B. (1 play): I like what the game is doing, but the suggested set of scoring conditions for the first game was kind of dull since so many of the cards just don’t matter. If that won’t tend to happen with randomly-chosen scoring conditions then I expect I will like the game. If it often happens then I’m going to end up neutral on it.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, Steph H, Dan B. (maybe)
  • 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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