W. Eric Martin
This review first appeared on FunandBoardgames.com.
Parents like to play games with their children to help them understand the principles of fair play, learn how to win and lose gracefully, and boost their brainpower. But unless the game is decided entirely by luck, parents and other adults often feel they have to keep their own brainpower in check so as not to crush Junior's spirit game after game after game. Losing gracefully is fun only so many times, after all.
Luckily for parents—and others who want to overheat their hemispheres—there are a number of puzzle-type games on the market in which age isn't a factor in how well you play. Players both young and old have the equal opportunity to stare at these games in befuddlement and wonder which brain cells they forgot to awaken in the morning.
In Jungle Smart, players get to be animal trainers and simultaneously compete against everyone else to make the animals perform. The game comes with three magnificently tactile animals—a lion, a polar bear, and an elephant—a cardboard tile with two platforms depicted, command cards, and 24 position cards.
To start the game, you reveal a random position card and arrange the animals as shown, for example, with the bear on the blue platform and the lion on top of the elephant, which is on the red platform.
You shuffle this position card back into the deck, then reveal a new card. Each player races to figure out which commands must be said in what order to move the animals into the new position. The five possible commands are:
• Lo, which moves the topmost animal on the red platform onto the top of the blue one.
• Ki, which is like Lo but moves an animal from blue to red.
• So, which switches the top animals on both platforms.
• Ma, which moves the bottommost animal on the red platform onto the top of the red platform.
• Ni, which is like Ma but for the blue platform.
So starting with the arrangement listed above, which commands would make the animals match a position card that showed the lion on top of the elephant on top of the bear on the blue platform? The answer: "MaLoLo." With "Ma," the elephant jumps on top of the lion; the first "Lo" moves the elephant onto the bear; and the second "Lo" brings the lion over on top of everyone else.
Some position cards will be incredibly easy, possibly even a single command, while others will require six or more commands, and each puzzle has more than one solution. Instead of "MaLoLo," for example, you could have said, "LoNiLoNi." (Try to work it out for yourself.)
Whenever a player thinks she has a solution, she yells it out. She then moves the animals to show that her solution works—or she discovers that the animals have their own agenda and end up in some other formation. If she had the right command, she claims the position card; if not, she returns the animals to their original state and is out of the round, while everyone else keeps working on the solution. Once someone guesses the command, you flip over another position card and start a new round. Whoever claims the most cards wins the game.
While age isn't a factor in winning Jungle Smart, speedy logical thinking is—and some players will absolutely detest this type of game. They'll stare and stare until their puzzler is sore, and they still won't see how to move the animals. They'll curse and feel like dopes and mumble under their breath while some young punk runs the board, razza-frazza-no-good-kids-don't-know-their-place.
If someone's running away with the game, you can handicap them by not allowing them to use the "So" command. All of the position cards will still be solvable, but this restriction forces braniacs to think a bit longer. If this doesn't work, you move on to blindfolds and pokes in the ribs.
Jungle Smart won't necessarily be good for everyone, but it plays quickly and provides a good challenge for a mixed group of players.