I wrote this preview for The Games Shop in Melbourne, which became the first store in Australia to stock the game. It's great to see exciting games like this coming out of the southern hemisphere, and I'm really looking forward to seeing more from ShilMil.
For this preview in its native environment (with pictures!) visit:
It’s always inspiring to see a new team of board game designers break onto the scene with their own self-published games. It’s even more inspiring when their games are actually good!
SchilMil Games is an independent production company run out of Auckland, New Zealand and founded by its two designers, the eponymous Julia Schiller and Amanda Milne. After their inception in 2011, SchilMil’s first two games have just now hit the shelves in the spring of 2012. In the card game category, SchilMil offers “Raid the Pantry,” a tactical collection game about cooking exotic meals. For board games, they bring “Komodo” to the table. And the table is better for it.
At first glance, Komodo has a familiar format. The game map is constructed by using variable tiles in a similar fashion as games like Carcassonne. Unlike these games, Komodo’s tiles are malleable, and a variety of action cards allow players to do things like rotate tiles that have already been played. Fans of visually precise tile laying games might be hesitant about Komodo, since its tiles do not bear the same restrictive placement rules as something like Tantrix. Since water doesn’t have to touch water, sand doesn’t have to touch sand, and so forth, the board tends to look more jumbled than the clean, meticulous lines of Tantrix or Carcassonne. The lack of restriction opens opportunities in gameplay, though. Players can block each others’ progress with a ferocious ease, but are typically held in check by a desire to claim a large plot of land for themselves.
Players will compete to capture portions of the budding territory by playing animals in any region large enough to support them. In this way, the game also resembles Zooloretto and it’s refined successor Aquaretto. SchilMil’s website does reveal that the game was originally planned as a zoo game. In its current form though, Komodo’s plot revolves around biologists trying to preserve as many rare animals as possible before a meteorite strikes the South Pacific. In this theme, Komodo scores another success.
By offering photo-realistic components that highlight many rare or even endangered animals and by enforcing the theme of preservation, the game speaks an environmental message without hammering the audience over the head with it. Rather than making a game that is about environmental responsibility, Schil and Mil have made a game that is about territory management and strategic moves, with the ethics coming as a side effect. Too often, games that attempt to make a statement sacrifice gameplay for their message, resulting in a lacklustre experience that comes across preachy. Komodo is, above all else, fun. It is entertaining, challenging, and full of variety. And after twenty minutes of looking into the soft, fuzzy eyes of a quokka, you will start to wonder how many of these critters are still in the wild, and how many would really survive if a disaster was ever to strike their home.
At the moment, The Games Shop in Melbourne is the only location outside of New Zealand to carry SchilMil’s games, but with a product this tight I have no doubt that they will soon find a foothold in the larger board game market.