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Subject: Don’t trust Happy Feet, don’t play against Ecologists rss

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David G

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This is a review in the form of a session report. Whenever I buy games, I thoroughly research them on BGG. There are some really good reviews of this game, and I found plenty of information to realize that I would probably love this game. But you never really get a feel for the game until you’ve played once or twice. So here are my thoughts on our first game.

We received Fauna for Christmas, and our friends Heather and Neil joined my wife Janet and I for our first game. Heather is an ecologist, so even though we were playing with the more difficult black cards, she was the one to watch. I felt like I was in a fortunate position, sitting directly to her left.

Card 1: Aardwolf
Lesson Learned: Take a couple gambles
We learned the rules with this first card. The game is very simple to explain and to play. I was surprised at how much pondering was involved. It took us about 15 minutes to lay down a dozen cubes. (Our speed didn’t increase much with future cards – we played 6 cards total and must have been at the table for 70 or 80 minutes.) I tried to have my bets planned out, but on multiple occasions I found myself holding up the group while staring at the drawing, thinking ‘how long does that tail look.’ Heather would hold her hands out, trying to get an idea of the sizes. There was a fair amount of table talk. Let me be clear – there wasn’t a sense of boredom while other people planned their moves. We were generally engaged the entire time, although on occasion the conversation would wander while one player stared hard at the picture and the map. Only Heather had heard of the aardwolf, and she had never seen one. In the end we all played too few cubes, we all earned 10-20 points, and nobody lost any cubes. We learned that it’s OK to take a guess or two and lose a cube or two because you don’t always bet all of your cubes, and you immediately recover a lost cube before the next round anyway.

Card 2: Black Browed Albatross
Lesson Learned: Don’t succumb to GroupThink
Appearing in 35 areas, you only receive 3 points per correct guess on location and no points for adjacent spaces. (There is a chart for points in the rules book, and I would announce how many points things were worth with each animal, but I think it would be helpful to make a card that can stand at the end of the table for everyone to see.) With 35 areas, we figured the Albatross must be in every single ocean and sea zone. Suddenly there was a race to cover the oceans with cubes. Boy, were we wrong. They’re found mostly in the southern hemisphere, and all throughout South America, Australia, and Southern Africa. But none of us guessed land zones. In hindsight, we realize this was not so smart as they are birds and have to nest somewhere. We all played all of our cubes, and we all lost at least a few. Neil lost 4 cubes, which was likely the reason he came in 3rd place.

Card 3: Walrus
Lesson Learned: Don’t trust Happy Feet
I was first, but wasn’t sure if they were up north or down south, so I guessed on size. Janet immediately played Alaska. Heather then played Antarctica. Janet is from Alaska, so I decided to trust her and guess Canada and other northern areas. I surged ahead, and gained enough points to take a good lead that would last up to the final card. When we flipped the Walrus and discovered they were only in the northern hemisphere, Heather complained that she had seen one in Happy Feet! We all decided the Happy Feet character was an elephant seal, and that it’s probably best not to trust a cartoon anyway. I am a member of our local zoo, but this is the only animal of the 6 that I can say I’ve seen.

Card 4: European Ground Squirrel
Lesson Learned: Guess the adjacent
Found in only 3 areas, all of the European spaces filled pretty quickly. Fortunately for all of us the squirrel is similar in size to our common American ones, and we all did well. Janet scored a few extra points with her last couple cubes by placing them in the Mediterranean and Baltic Seas. The seas? Each of them was worth 4 points for being adjacent.

Card 5: Boulenger’s Asian Tree Toad
Lesson Learned: Apply strategy
We had no idea how big the toad was, or where in Asia it might be. With a bit of a lead over Heather, I didn’t take any chances. Instead, I placed my guesses next to hers figuring I’d at least be close. None of us placed very many cubes. When we flipped the squirrel, the points were basically a wash. One of my guesses counted as an adjacent to Heather’s hit, and on another she was adjacent while my hedge bet next to hers was in the hit zone. We decided the game was similar to roulette, except that you’re taking turns betting.

Card 6: Aardvark
Lesson Learned: Don’t play against an ecologist
We figured this would probably be the last round. I was on 92 points, and Heather was just a bit behind. I’ve heard of aardvarks, but don’t know anything about them. Turns out they’re huge!!! I was thinking they were about the size of my cat. Don’t they eat ants? Turns out they weigh more than my wife! I thought something that strange looking had to be from Australia. Turns out they’re from Southern Africa. If I had been smarter, I would have guessed they were from the same area as the Aardwolf (fact: they weigh 7 or 8 times as more than the wolf!) I placed all 6 of my cubes, and received a whopping total of 2 points for choosing an ocean zone adjacent to South Africa. Heather got over 20 points for the easy win.

Additional Thoughts:
Between us we have 7 kids. Game time is precious. We set the kids downstairs watching Wall-E, and when I brought out Fauna there was a bit of a sigh about playing an educational game. We all enjoyed the game, but it was less gamey than what we normally play (Puerto Rico, Stone Age, etc.) We’ll see them again in a few days, and I’ll bring Fauna. I am interested in their reaction, if it will hit the table a second time in a row. I’m positive it will hit the table plenty of times in the future, though. I think the kids will enjoy this one.
We played the (harder) black cards. Looking at the green cards on the reverse side, I have seen all 6 and 2 of them in the wild. I’m not sure how much that would change the game, though. For instance, one of the cards is a moose. I’ve seen moose in Alaska, Canada, and here in Colorado. I have a very good sense for their size and weight and tail length. But looking at the info on the card, I’m not sure I would have guessed northern Asia, and I certainly would never have placed a cube on Japan. The only obvious difference in the game is that there would be far fewer lost cubes and more competition over obvious placements.
With my kids, I would have a big advantage. The oldest is 8, and wouldn’t be as savvy in his guesses. I can make an educated guess based on my knowledge of geography that an Asian tree toad would probably be in the south. However, in a few years, if they show any interest in animals, they’re probably quickly overtake me in this type of game. We joked that if the cards were dinosaurs, my son would put us all to shame.
There are a ridiculous amount of cards in this game. If I decided to throw out the (half) used cards, I still don't think I would ever run out of cards to play with.
And finally, I will never ever forget what an aardvark looks like or where it lives. After the scores were tallied, we were on Google and YouTube, looking at photos and videos. Next time I’m at the zoo I’m looking forward to seeking them out.
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john guthrie
United States
silver spring
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we also played the black cards with our kids because there seemed to be a distinct advantage for adults playing the green cards.
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Mark M
United States
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(There is a chart for points in the rules book, and I would announce how many points things were worth with each animal, but I think it would be helpful to make a card that can stand at the end of the table for everyone to see.)

The same chart also appears printed on the board - at least in the Foxmind English version of the game.

Thanks for writing this up. Very entertaining take on how the game goes.

I gave this to my daughter, who will basically only play animal themed games, for Christmas. This game has definitely been the most used gift over the entire holidays. We have had great fun with it and except for our youngest (11), the kids all easily grasped the relative value of the "bets" and adjacency advantages. We now have been guessing the weight, tail length and body length of most animals we come across! A great game that awards educated guesses, but doesn't require any true knowledge. My animal loving daugther (14) does manage to beat us pretty regularly though.

Edit: Also agree with the roulette comment. I thought the same thing. One of my official "jobs" is to scrape the "wrong" cubes into the scrap heap. Very much reminded me of the chips being scraped in roulette.
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