So I went ahead and printed/cut/sleeved all 100+ cards to try this out today.
How'd it go? Quite swell.
The interactions of Melding/Attacking/Culling/Strengthening/Laying Off were very interesting. They made for a rich decision space and lots of decisions every turn.
I mean, every time you melded something, it was a tough call whether to cull it down immediately into something more sturdy or leave the jumbled mess you started with.
The only part of the game I wasn't so keen on was the Action Cards actually. In Mystery Rummy I feel like they belong and give the game that needed twist.
In Wild Kingdom, the Meld Ranks and give and take of cards seemed to add more than enough Pizazz. The Action Cards on top just seemed excessive. It also caused a whole pile of confusion. "Just what does the Camo protect and from what?" "When can I Herd the dang Wild Animal again?"
I would consider playing a game with nothing but the Land/Sea/Air animal cards. Maybe still toss in a shut-out rule if you can complete a Rank 2 meld of each color or something.
I did appreciate the great ability to control your hand size. Drawing 1/2/3 cards left you with a lot of flexibility. And picking up the stack is always a gutsy move that brings tension to the game.
Overall, I liked it and thought it was worth the time it took to do the PnP.
Thanks for your thoughts on the game.
The action cards actually weren't part of my original concept. They were added later to make the card distribution fit exactly 2 ArtsCow decks (and because an animal battle just seemed to need a powerful lion card!). I ended up liking the variety they add to the strategy and the way they diluted the deck, making the melds slightly harder to initiate, but I can see where others might not feel the same way.
If you don't want to use the action cards, another option might be to just treat the cat cards as a regular fourth group to be melded, ignoring the action text. Because there are fewer of them, they are slightly harder to meld, but the melds are a little bit stronger because there's only one family. They would be scored as 1 pt each in the fields or in the hand, and you might require that you have at least one cat card in addition to the other animals as a condition for going out.
BTW, the one meld limit per turn was borrowed from Utopian Rummy (a game that anybody who likes rummy should check out!), so thank you for that inspiration!