(2016 – Stronghold Games)
In 2009, designers Wolfgang Sentker and Ralf zur Linde teamed together to create Finca, a Spiel des Jahres and Golden Geek nominee, as well as the winner of the 2011 Hungarian Board Game of the Year. A Euro-style design that combined set collection with rondel-based movement, Finca (“estate” in Spanish) positioned players in the role of orchard farmers, harvest fruits and sending them to the market to sell. It’s a unique, clever design, and one worth trying if you’re interesting in tight, simple Euros with light strategy. Seven years later, Sentker and zur Linde have come together again to co-design a new game entitled, Animals on Board.
Animals On Board is set during the days before the biblical Flood. Although we’re all aware that Noah navigated the one and only Ark, a solo game wouldn’t be as entertaining; therefore all players are placed in charge of their own, individual Ark, with the goal of loading groups of animals on board (yup) before the Flood befalls. A group of animal tiles are placed together in the center of the table, and each turn players will be allowed to either divide this large group into smaller groups, or simply load a group onto their Ark spending collected Food Crates. Each animal tile contains a certain species type and number.
Once a player has loaded 10 animals into his Ark, the game ends. Players will score Victory Points based on the animal tiles in their Ark. But what is a game about the Flood without Noah himself? Oh yes, be sure that Noah has his own boat, and God has instructed him to load animals two-by-two. Therefore, players are required to lend him any pairs of species they have in their Ark. Players will then score their remaining individual animal species (species of 1 tile) and group of species (3 matching tiles or more), as well as any remaining Food Crates. The player with the highest number of Victory Points wins.
– Ark structures
– Animal tiles (#1-5 of each animal)
– Food Crate tokens
– Break Flag tokens
– Start Player marker
At the beginning of the game, each player receives one of the Ark structures. Throughout the game, players will attempt to collect animals into their ark. What’s neat about these structures are that they hold the tiles in place, therefore allowing you to your animal species (and quantity of those animals) at any time, while keeping them hidden from all other players.
There are a total of 12 species in the game, and 5 tiles for each species (numbered 1 through 5). All tiles may or may not be used in a game however, depending on the number of players. In a 4-player game, all 60 tiles are used. In a 3-player game, only 50 tiles are used, meaning that 2 species and their 5 corresponding tiles are removed from the game. And in a 2-player game, only 40 tiles (8 species) are used. The tiles that will be used for the game are shuffled together and placed face-down in stacks to draw from.
Next, a pre-game drafting phase will take place. Each player will draw 3 tiles from the stacks, choosing 1 of them to place into his Ark. After each player has chosen the one he’ll keep, the remaining tiles in hand are placed face-up in the central play area.
Each player receives a Break Flag token and a Food Crate token, which they’ll place in their personal play area. The starting player is chosen and receives the Start Player marker. Finally, all remaining Food Crate tokens are placed in a general supply near the Animal tile draw stacks. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
In Animals On Board, players will attempt to either gather individual animals or a herd of animals (3 or more animals of the same species) into their ark. Players will want to stay away from collecting pairs of animals (2 of a kind) onto their Ark, because at the end of the game, Noah will claim all pairs for himself. Each Round of the game consist of a Draw Phase, and an Action Phase.
I. Draw Phase:
If you’ll remember during setup, a number of Animal tiles were placed into the central play area. At the beginning of each round, all Animal tiles in this area are considered part of the same large “animal group”. However, throughout the round, these animals will be split up into smaller groups.
The Draw Phase occurs at the beginning of each Round, and consist of two steps. First, all Animal tiles presently here (those from setup, and those leftover from previous rounds) are placed close together to show that they are now part of the same, large animal group. Next, a number of tiles are drawn from the face-down stacks, depending on the number of players and based on the following:
– In a 4-player game, a number of tiles are drawn and added to the animal group so that there’s a total of 12 face-up tiles, and 1 face-down tile. Note that if there was already a leftover face-down tile from the previous round, a new face-down tile is not drawn.
– In a 3-player game, a number of tiles are drawn and added to the animal group so that there’s a total of 10 face-up tiles, and 1 face-down tile.
– In a 2-player game, a number of tiles are drawn and added to the animal group so that there’s a total of 8 face-up tiles, and 1 face-down tile.
II. Action Phase:
On a player’s turn, he can perform one of two actions. He can either divide one animal group into two animal groups, or he can remove an animal group from the central play area and place it in his ark. Let’s take a look at how each of these actions work.
1.) Divide a Group – When performing this action, the player must choose an animal group that contains at least two tiles (note that a tile by itself can count as its own animal group), then splits this group into two separate groups. The player can choose how to split this group, but each of the newly formed groups must contain at least one tile.
For instance, Player A decides to divide a group on his turn and chooses the animal group seen above consisting of 2 Elephants, a Monkey, a Camel, a Zebra, and 2 Tigers. He’s most interested in the Elephants, as he already has 1 Elephant in his ark. He’d like to eventually obtain both of these Elephants together, as obtaining only one of them would give him a pair, and thus lost to Noah at the end of the game if he doesn’t obtain another.
He decides to divide the group so that one of the groups contains the 2 Elephants and the Monkey, while the remaining group contains the Camel, Zebra, and 2 Tigers. Although he’ll have to wait until his next turn to obtain the group with the Elephants, he’s hoping that by adding a low valued monkey along with them will keep other from obtaining it before his turn comes around again.
After a player has resolved the division of an animal group, he’ll receive a Food Crate token. Food Crates are used to lure an animal group into your ark. When taking an animal group, you must spend a number of Food Crates equal to the number of animals in the group that you are taking. Note that a player may never have more than 5 Food Crate tokens at any one time. If he were to receive a 6th token on his turn, he’s actually forced to lose a token instead (leaving him with 4 tokens total). It’s also important to note that since a player can never have more than 5 Food Crate tokens, he can’t take an animal group from the central play area that contains more than 5 tiles.
2.) Take an Animal Group – As mentioned above, when deciding to take an animal group from the central play area, the player will need to spend a Food Crate token for each animal tile in the group. These tiles are then placed onto the player’s ark, hidden from all other players. As soon as the player resolves this action, he’ll need to place his Break Flag token on the top-right side of his ark to indicate that he has completed this round. Once a player has chosen to take an animal group, he will no longer take part until the next round begins with a new large animal group. The player to take this action first in a Round will receive the Start Player marker, thus making him the 1st player to begin the next round. Which is not necessarily and advantage. While the player gets to first choice on how the animals are divided, he’ll most likely not get first choice on taking a group from the central play area.
For instance, it is now Player B’s turn of the round. He will spend all 3 of his Food Crate tokens to take the group of 3 tiles, and places them into his ark so that only he can see them. He will then place his Break Flag token on the top of his ark to show the other players that his participation in the current Round is completed (seen below). Since he was the first player to take this action this turn, he’ll also receive the Start Player marker.
End of Game:
Once all players have taken an animal group, the round ends. There are only 10 available spaces for animal tiles in each ark. Once a player reaches 10 tiles, he must announce this to all other players. It is possible for a player to exceed 10 tiles on his turn, however any excess tiles must be places face-up in front of his ark. If at least one player has 10 tiles in his ark at the end of the round, the game ends. Otherwise, all remaining tiles in the central play area are combined to make one large animal group, and the Draw Phase for a new round begins.
Once the game has ended, Noah will inspect the arks and any pairs (exactly two of the same animals) are removed from the players arks. This includes any excess tiles in front of the ark. Next, players can add any excess tiles to their ark if there is now available room. If the player still owns more than 10 tiles, he can keep any 10 tiles he wishes on his ark (discarding the excess to the supply pile), as long as the final 10 tiles do not contains exactly 2 of a kind (there’s no tricking Noah!). This means that all remaining tiles should either be a single animal by itself, or a herd (3 or more) of that animal species.
– If a species only contains 1 animal, it is worth the printed amount on the tile.
– If a species contains a herd of that animal, each tile of that species is worth 5 Victory Points (ignore the printed amount).
– Each leftover Food Crate token is worth 1 Victory Point.
For example, Player B ends with the following animals in his ark. First, he’ll check for any pairs. He has exactly 2 monkeys in his ark, therefore he’ll need to remove these and give them to Noah. He can now count the remaining tiles for their Victory Point totals.
Since he has 3 zebras and 3 elephants, all of these tiles are worth 5 Victory Points each, instead of the numbers listed on the tiles. The fox and the turtle are by themselves, therefore the player will count the listed amount on the tile.
He will therefore score 15 point for the zebras, 15 points for the elephants, 3 points for the fox, and 3 points for the turtle. He’ll also score 2 points for his remaining food tokens. Totaled together, he has 38 Victory Points.
Animals on Board is a great introduction to the drafting mechanic and elements of timing. Since players only have 10 spaces in their ark and are limited to taking only one group per round, a game so simple to teach contains quite a bit of pre-planning and strategy. On top of this, add in the fact that any pairs you’ve managed to collect are removed from your ark before totally Victory Points. Players will need to balance collecting higher-end individual animals with attempting to gain 3 or more of a kind before the game’s end.
Because players collect only 1 food token when dividing a group, they’ll be taking this action much more than they will be collecting animals. Deciding how to divide groups becomes essential to how the game plays out, and the strategy in doing so will vary between the different player counts. In a 2-player game, players can directly control what is available to their opponent and it’s a bit easier to set themselves up for their following turn. Alternatively, those in a 4-player game are more focused on setting up multiple options for themselves, and may be required to change strategies in the middle of the game, depending on what is available.
Component-wise, Animals on Board is a stellar production. Tokens are made of think cardboard, and the arks themselves are both visually appealing as well as functional. I also enjoy that the maturity progression of a species correlates with the number on the tile. For instance, all #1 tiles contain artwork representing infants of that species, whereas the #5 tiles are the alphas. It’s not a representation that was needed, but adds a bit of flavor to the game.
Animals on Board feels like a perfect fit for a Spiel des Jahres nomination. It’s simple enough to teach to just about anyone (there’s only two actions to remember), is a great introduction to the drafting mechanic, and contain a solid amount of light-strategy to keep the more serious hobbyist entertained.