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Reviewer: Chris from Essex
ANIMALS ON BOARD
Ralf zur Linde & Wolfgang Sentker 2-4 Players aged 8+ Pegasus Spiele / eggertspiele
Noah's Ark is a subject that really lends itself to a game designer's imagination but despite this very few designers have actually come up with a really enjoyable game with long term playability. So in all honesty I approached ANIMALS ON BOARD hoping it would break the trend but not daring to believe it would. Then when a friend told me he could show me how to play in just a couple of minutes I thought, "oh dear, here we go again; anything that can be dismissed so quickly and learned so easily isn't going to go the distance". I WAS WRONG!
ANIMALS ON BOARD is indeed a very fast learn, is indeed easy to play, but instead of having no longevity it is a game that is going to be a regular start-session and/or end-session 20 minute game for the foreseeable future. The game mechanic is so simple it's a wonder it's not been used before (or if it has I haven't come across it). There are 60 animal tiles featuring 12 different animal species in sets of 5, numbered 1 through 5 and showing the animals from babies through the steps of growth to adult. The other components are 20 Food Crate tiles, 4 Mini Arks (tile holders) and 4 Flags and a start player token.
Depending on the number of players you use all, or a designated number of the cards, removing full sets as necessary, and then shuffle the cards being used and create any number of stacks (yes the rules say any number but commonsense should prevail) from which the players each draw 3 tiles, plus everyone is given a food crate tile. From the three cards they are dealt the players each select one and place it facing them on their mini arks. The other two cards from each player are positioned face up (except one tile which is face down) in the centre of the table forming a block, making it up to the required number (according to the rules). This block can be of any shape as long as all players can see the all the tiles.
In turn, the players have a choice of 2 Actions; you can split ONE of the blocks on the table into two (at least 2 animals per new block created), or you can take one of the blocks and drop out of the round, putting the animals from the block onto your Ark. Splitting a block will gain you a Food Crate but selecting a block will cost you Food Crates - you cannot take a block of animals if you cannot afford to feed them. The rules for Block splitting are very well thought out, plus this is a vital mechanic of the game as it is actually more than splitting, it is rearranging the block before you split it and that is where the gamer in you has to take over; split for you or split to screw!
ANIMALS ON BOARD reverses the collecting 2 animals of each species on the Ark idea, in fact if you only have 2 animals of the same species on your Ark they are discarded and count for nothing. However, having more than 2 animals (aka a Herd) of a species, or even a single animal from a species, on your Ark, scores you VPs, as does not using all your Food Crates (which in itself is something that takes a lot of doing).
This is a game about decisions and making them at the time that is best for you. It is also a game about sticking it to the other players. It is also a game about sticking it to the other players even if it means taking a little hit yourself. It also has a gameplay that is so very simple, works a treat and is so very clever that it just makes you wonder whether you are missing something or doing something wrong because it all just seems so right and so good. Putting it simply, this game is a thinking-player's game that can be played in less than half-hour.
Alexander Jung's illustrations are superb and give the animals facial personalities on the cards, the rules and on the box, the card holding personal mini Arks are made of strong heavy card and can be put into the box still assembled when the game is over; in fact everything is built for constant use without tearing, bending or fraying. The only component that doesn't quite hit the high score are the Food Crates where the artwork is just okay, although the idea is good and they do the necessary task they need to and the quality of the card is still top notch.
This is a game that kids love, families enjoy and gamers can see past the niceness to the grittiness. If you are a board games player who is going to GenCon Indy or to Spiel in Essen then set your sights on ANIMALS ON BOARD and make sure you bring at least one copy home with you; I say "at least one copy" because this game will make a super present for any games playing friends (or family) you have. Plus it is only £17.99 from www.boardgameguru.co.uk (plus postage) which is ridiculously inexpensive for how good this game is.