Animalia has an interesting background, being designed specifically for an insurance company as a promotional item. This begs the question: What do animals have to do with an insurance company? Well, it seems that this Swiss company markets insurance for animals, which explains the theme of the game. Sadly, since the game was an exclusive for the company, it means that it is generally unavailable outside of Switzerland. A shame.
Designed by the team of Bruno Cathala, Sebastien Pauchon and Malcolm Braff, Animalia places players in the role of animal breeders seeking to present their finest collection of animals in shows over the course of three seasons. Players assemble a show of five animals, and collect medals based on assembling duplicate or unique animals. The player with the most medals over the course of three rounds is the champion breeder, and wins the game.
The deck of large cards depicts five types of animals: dogs, cats, horses, parrots and rabbits. Some animals are tops in their class, indicated by depicting elegance stars, while some animals are less-than-impressive, which is illustrated with a black “scallywag” stain. The artwork, penned by Mathieu Leyssenne, is delightful, and some of the best cartoon images I’ve seen in games.
On a turn, the active player reveals one animal card and either keeps it or passes it to the player on his left. That player then decides whether to keep it, or continue to pass the card around the table. As soon as a player opts to keep it, play passes to the left of the active player, who reveals a card and follows the same procedure. If, however, no one takes the card, the active player reveals a second card and has the same choice: keep them both, or pass them around the table. Likewise, if no one opts to take the two cards, a third card is revealed. If these, two, are not taken, the active player MUST take them, thereby ending his turn.
The game seems influenced by Reiner Knizia’s Medici, as each player may only possess five cards. Thus, deciding whether to take a card or collection of cards can be a tough decision. Ultimately, players are attempting to collect multiples of animals, as single animals normally do not yield medals. Further, presenting the most “elegant” ensemble earns bonus cards, which can be used to further enhance one’s animal assembly. The five card limit really does force players to make some tough choices.
Making one’s decisions even more difficult are the special cards, of which there is one wild card (an owl) and three “special ability” cards for each type of animal: thief, spy and prankster. The thief allows the player to steal an animal from an opponent, while the spy allows the player to rearrange the top five cards in the deck. The prankster may give a card to an opponent, who must place it into his collection. These powers can be quite useful, but since a player must possess two of a particular type in order to execute its power, it can be a difficult choice whether to take one or not when it appears.
Sadly, the special ability of a card is not indicated by a symbol. Rather, it is part of the illustration itself. It took us awhile to realize this, and it necessitates carefully looking at the illustration on each card. A symbol on the card would have made spotting its identity easier.
Once each player possesses five animal cards, medals are awarded. First, players determine who has presented the most impressive assembly by tallying the number of elegance points on their cards and subtracting one each scallywag. The player with the most points receives two bonus cards, while the player in second receives one bonus card. These cards can be used immediately to replace an animal in their collection, or be saved for a future round.
Players then receive medals. If a player possesses two or more of a particular animal, he receives one medal for each. A single animal earns no medals, unless a player possesses one animal of each type, in which case he receives five medals. Medals are animal specific, so a player who has three cats and two parrots in his assembly will receive three cat medals and two parrot medals.
All cards are returned, the deck re-shuffled, and another round is conducted. Three rounds are conducted in this fashion. After the third round, player will receive a bonus medal worth five points for each five medals they have a particular animal type. So, if Alison has five cat medals and ten dog medals, she will receive three “5 point” medals as a bonus. Players then tally their medals, and the player with the greatest total is named “Best Breeder” and wins the game.
While not a brain-burner or filled with deep strategy, there are some interesting decisions to be made. Deciding which animals to keep and which to by-pass can sometimes be tough – but never agonizing. While the special ability cards can be quite useful, one must keep a constant eye on the long-term goal of collecting medals in groups of five, thereby earning bonus medals at game’s end. This is essential, as these bonus points seem to always determine the ultimate victor.
Serious gamers will not likely find much here to entice them, but clearly the game is not targeted for that market. Rather, it is aimed at families, and in that market it appears to fit quite well. Sadly, unless you live in Switzerland or have a friend who does, you will likely be unable to acquire a copy. However, unless you are desperately seeking a light family game with an animal theme, you really shouldn’t lose any sleep over this situation.
Six of us vied for the coveted medals and title, breeding and displaying our animals. In the end, both Sheila and Alison managed to three groups of five like-type medals, thereby each earning three additional 5-point medals. They ended the game in a tie, which was broken in favor of Sheila as she had more animals of one type of animal. This victory does merit an “asterisk”, however, as on the final round there was only one card remaining to distribute as a bonus card. Alison allowed Sheila to take it, which enabled her to complete another set of five. I’ve written to the designer to determine how this situation should be handled.
Finals: Sheila 30, Alison 30, Greg 25, Gail 12, Rachel 12, Rhonda 11
Ratings: Sheila 6, Greg 5.5, Gail 5, Alison 5, Rhonda 5, Rachel 5
Really good review Greg.
Just a note for those reading the above report and trying to figure out how Greg was short of cards on the third round if all the cards are reshuffled between rounds. . . Between rounds, the deck is reshuffled, but those who won 'face down' cards from coming in first or second in Elegance (Stars - Scallywags) do not throw away their face-down cards, instead they get to keep them for subsequent rounds.
Since the deck has 36 cards, and ties for second place are friendly, there can be four cards removed from the deck each round (or more if a three way tie for second). This means that at the start of the third round, as we understood it, there could well be 28 cards left in the deck, which is fine for five players, but not for six.
In the future, I am not sure about playing this with six, unless we got something wrong.
This size viola da gamba is like a cello with frets. I started playing at age 48.
A quick fix for this when playing with six would be to allow each player to hold only one bonus card over between rounds.
I pretty much agree with the review, but I suspect I got a bigger charge out of the game. I originally found the artwork busy and confusing, but five minutes studying the deck took care of that. I note that the parrot "thief" has a shortened "mask", which looks more like an aviator's cap, and that the parrot "spy" has only a spyglass rather than the binoculars held by the other "spies".
I expect children will be really charmed by this game - I know I was!