Symbioz was designed by the tandem of Francois Bachelart and Christophe Pinard. It is playable in about two hours by 2 to 4 players, and was published by Unicorn in 1995. The rules are in French.
What You Get
I like the box illustration: whimsical and not overdone. The game claims to be the ‘first extra-terrestrial game sold on Earth’. Those crazy Frenchmen. The board is glossy and pretty well laid out with minimal illustration, but what is there works fine. There is a lot of cardboard, and perhaps there could have been a better distinction between pink and orange, and the smallest bits are VERY small. There are a bunch of plastic stands to hold bits upright, so first setup takes some time slotting in the critters, but makes the game look pretty cool.
The game also came with two seeds, which were part of a contest: a rather clever idea. You had to grow the seeds then identify the resultant plant for a chance to win a prize. Nice. Anyway, the game looks pretty spiffy when set up. I like the illustrations on the counters quite a bit, but some ‘Titan-like’ variation among the poses would have been a nice touch, but overall very satisfied.
What You Do
Symbioz is played over a maximum of 12 turns. There are 4 phases per turn, wherein each player plays consecutively each phase. The goal is to gain control (grow a Symbioz) in a specified number of regions on the board.
You start with three types of creatures: 60 plants (called ‘Zerbs’), 25 birds (called ‘Crapits’) and 6 carnivores (‘Kroguls’). At setup, six Zerbs are put into three regions. Each region has space for 12 Zerbs, when it is then considered full. There is no limit (except ability to eat) for occupation of spaces by Crapits and Kroguls.
The first phase is a purchase phase. You get ten ‘points’ to buy critters. Zerbs cost1, Crapits 3, and Kroguls 5. There is no saving of points: use ‘em or lose ‘em. New creatures have to be placed in areas you already have creatures, and no more than 2 Zerbs purchased per area. There is one exception: no purchased Zerbs can be placed in the central ‘fertile’ areas. These can only be stocked in the next phases.
Now, the game gets going. There is first Zerb multiplication. Each set of 4 Zerbs multiplies and adds a Zerb, and this Zerb can be placed in any adjacent area. This follows with the Kroguls phase: each Krogul must eat a Crapit, even of its own color, and then spawns a new Krogul in that or an adjacent area. If it cannot it, it is removed from the board.
Finally, the Crapits reproduce: each Crapit needs to eat a Zerb, and every area with two Crapits of the same color produces a new Crapit.
You now check to see if you have any areas where all twelve Zerb spaces have the same color Zerb: if so, this is marked with a Symbioz marker, and the area goes out of play. When you get 3 Symbioz, you win, else whoever has most after 12 turns with a tiebreak based on population.
What I Think
I’d always had my eye out for this one, but it wasn’t until my friend James said how good it was did I actively track it down. And, boy, am I glad I did. What a cool game. No random elements and a lot of decisions. The expansion mechanisms are really good (only by reproducing into adjacent areas), and the eating of the Kroguls before the Crapits is nothing short of brilliant. This simple thing makes the game work. The board area is not large, and you wonder before you start why it would be so tough to grab and win early: well, our second game in we understood. There is room for some clever manipulations to make sure bad things don’t happen like your own Crapit eating the last Zerb you need to get your Symbioz. The Krogul limitation is something to be careful of. As a downside, players on opposite sides are not able to affect each other much, and fighting on two fronts pretty destructive, so action tends to form along either a clockwise our counterclockwise direction, with a preference due to clockwise player order.
Still, the whimsical illustrations, extremely simple rules but challenging and intense gameplay with an appealing theme all add up to make this a secure fixture on my game shelf.
Any comments/thoughts 5 years on ? Has it stood the test of time ? How is the replay value ?