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Subject: A very engaging little game rss

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Mark Smith
United States
Maryville
Tennessee
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ARK

I was looking forward to playing this new addition to my collection, and was
*somewhat* prepared to teach it to the group (thanks to all for your patience).

In this latest game from Doris and Frank, players are competing to see who can
be the most efficient at getting animals of various types (Shy, Heavy, Slow and
Useful) and Provisions (of course) onto the Ark before the deluge hits. As
expected, the artwork on the cards contains plenty of Doris' distinctive and
whimsical illustrations, which really add to the fun, light feeling of the game.

But players shouldn't be fooled by the cute art. Getting the animals onto the
ark is a rather complicated effort. First off, the Ark is already afloat, and
is at risk of capsizing if you overload cabins on the port or starboard side.
Balance must be maintained at all times, and as you can imagine, this presents a
challenge in getting your "Heavy" animals on board.

Second, in addition to the scoring characteristics named above, the animals have
others that complicate the task of getting them into cabins. Each animal comes
from either a cold or warm climate, and will not share a cabin with animals from
the opposite climate (although certain animals from more temperate zones are
adaptable enough to share with both types). Obviously, you can't put a polar
bear in a cabin that you're trying to keep warm for the tiger. Likewise, you
can't store cold provisions with warm provisions.

Also, some animals are Carnivores, which can never share a cabin with an animal
that does not outweigh them, lest their new friend become dinner. Some animals
are Herbivores, which can not live in a cabin in which you're storing
provisions, for in such case the provisions would be eaten much too quickly to
provide sustenance for the long journey. Other animals are Omnivores, which can
share a cabin with neither provisions nor smaller animals.

Then you have the Shy animals to deal with. A Shy animal will not enter a cabin
that contains any Carnivore. Being Shy, they will also not enter a cabin
directly across from or adjacent to a cabin that contains a Carnivore. Once
they're in a cabin, they won't run away if a carnivore (which must be smaller
than them) is added, but finding a spot on which to put them is a little tricky.

Each cabin may contain at most 3 animal or provision cards. The Ark starts with
only 4 cabins (each containing one animal or provision). Each player starts
with 2 animal or provision cards in hand, and on each turn chooses to either
Draw Cards or Play Cards. If a player Draws Cards, they take their choice of
the 3 face-up cards into their hand, then draw the topmost card from the
face-down draw deck into their hand, then flip the topmost card from the draw
deck face-up to replace the face-up card they took.

If a player decides to Play Cards, they play cards from their hand to the ark,
observing all the restrictions spelled out above. A player may play 1 or 2
cards per turn, but if they are playing a Slow animal or loading Provisions,
they may only play one card that turn.

Should the 4 cabins the Ark starts with prove insufficient (which is
inevitable), new cabins may be added, and each player starts the game with 3 or
4 action chips that may be used for this purpose (and another important purpose
that I'll come to later). A player who wishes to construct a new cabin in order
to fit one of his animals or provisions on board pays an Action Chip to the
player on his right, plays the desired card, and takes their choice of the 3
face-up animals into their hand (I missed this rule the other night). A player
may construct up to two cabins per turn as long as she has the cards in hand to
do so and the action chips to pay for it, but all normal animal or provision
placement rules must still be observed.

Each time a player plays an animal or provision card to the ship, she scores by
adding one of their markers (cute little dinosaur figures...or are those
butterflies?) to the appropriate score card (Heavy, Shy, Slow, Useful or
Provisions). Certain animals have special scoring or other special abilities,
but this report is already about as long as the game itself, so I'll save those
for another time.

The game continues thus until the rains come and the rising tide forces a rush
to get the last few animals on board. Time in the game is measured by Rain
Cards. There are 5 such cards in the game, which are shuffled into the bottom
half of the draw deck. When the 2nd rain card comes up, each player may choose
a pet to bring on board with them. As this animal will presumably share its
owner's cabin, the Pet does not have to be placed into a cabin in the
conventional way, but rather is played face-down in front of the player and is
revealed and scored at the end of the game. Balance need not be observed, but a
heavy animal may not be selected as a pet, nor may provisions or an animal with
a special ability.

When the 5th rain card comes up, the End Game starts. In the End Game, no
further cards are drawn, and no more Provisions or Slow animals may be placed on
the ship (these things can't be rushed on at the last minute)! Anyone who wants
to play a card in the end game must pay an Action Chip to the bank. If you want
to open a new cabin in the End Game, you must pay an Action Chip to the bank AND
an Action Chip to the player on your right. All normal placement restrictions
still apply. Once a player passes, the game is over for them. Once all players
have passed, the game ends and scoring takes place.

In scoring, players first reveal their pets (if any) and score them in the
appropriate category. Invalid (heavy or "special") pets are not scored. Then
each category (Slow, Heavy, Shy, Useful, Provisions) is scored as follows: 10
points for the majority, 6 points for the runner-up, 2 points for all other
players with at least one marker on that score card. Ties result in split
scores, i.e. two players tied for first would get 8 points each, with everyone
else getting 2. Any unused action chips in a player's possession are worth one
point each.

Whew! Sounds like a lot, but once you get to playing, the game flows smoothly,
plays quickly with negligible downtime, and the rules (which seem fiddly at
first) are so well integrated with the theme that they make a lot of sense, and
become intuitive after a few initial stumbles. Our game started with several
playfully loud shouts of "NO" when a player attempted an invalid placement, but
having our violations thus negatively reinforced served to minimize recidivism.
We had a lot of fun with the game, and ended with a very close finish. Gail won
with some balanced scoring, coming in first or tied for first in 2 categories
and second in a third.

*Finals: Gail 23, Mark 22, Jennifer 20, Greg Lull 19, Paul 19*

**

*Ratings: Paul 8.5, Gail 8, Mark 7, Greg 6.8, Jennifer 6*


*
 
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