Wildlife preview

As mentioned before, I bought Wildlife Friday and managed to play it the same night. Here’s my preview, based on that one game.

The main reason why I bought Wildlife was the cheap price. Reason why I chose Wildlife instead of other cheap games was mostly the name of Wolfgang Kramer on the cover. I had done my research and thought that it was probably going to be at least a fairly good game.

One negative thing I had read was the lower production standards. I agree — Clementoni isn’t exactly on the same league as Hans im Glück, Goldsieber, Alea or other major publishers. The component quality is a bit low: tokens are difficult to separate, player cheat sheets are on paper and the card material is strange flimsy and thin plastic.

But really it isn’t that bad. The tokens look fairly good when separated. I wouldn’t use the German cheat sheets anyway. Cards are ok when put in protective plastic sleeves — for Wildlife, I got some new mini sleeves which are also heavier than the cheap sleeves I usually use. And the cards look great, I like the pictures a lot. The board isn’t that great, it’s a bit plain (and I don’t want mountains to look like plains, ha) — Franz Vohwinkel and Doris Matthaus won’t need to be afraid quite yet…

But, what about the game, then? It’s about evolution. Players control their species in the dawn of time, when mammoths, bears, humans, eagles, snakes and crocodiles fight for survival. Basically, the game is a area majority game like El Grande. However, here’s the catch: each species has a level of adaptation for each area type. Snakes, for example, can do anything in the desert. In savanna and forests they can’t do anything and in other area types something in between. They can, however, adapt. It only takes one card to give the snakes the ability to move in savanna. Adapt most and you will have best shot to victory.

There are also abilities to buy. Intelligence allows the player to play an extra card each turn, defense, attack and mobility are basically combat skills while food ability gives steady income of victory points. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough abilities for all. There’s a nice balancing factor: if you want, say, intelligence and there’s none in stock, you take one from the player with most points.

Each turn, players play three card actions (and more with intelligence). These cards are what drives the game. Fortunately each player has a hand of ten cards, so the luck factor isn’t huge. One of the cards must be auctioned each turn, more can be sold if there’s a need. There are few different types of cards. Terrain cards are the basic stuff. There’s some for each terrain type and playing one allows you to do something you can do in that terrain. You migrate, expand or attack. Migrate is simple movement of tokens on board, expand means taking a tile from your supply and placing it on the board. Attack is the same as expand, but instead of empty place, you’ll place your tile to replace your opponents tile. That can only be done in a full area — if there’s a single empty space, you can’t attack. You can’t kill for fun in this game, at least not all the time.

Other cards include adaptation, abilities and events. Adaptation cards lets you evolve one step and ability cards lets you take an ability. Event cards either harm your opponents or help you. Finally, there are wild cards which can replace anything but an event card.

Players can also use their abilities. Intelligence gives extra actions (which are effective on the same turn, so there’s usually no reason to grab one if you can, especially if you’re behind in score track), food gives you two victory points each turn, defense lets you stop an attack on each opponent turn, mobility lets you exchange the places of two tiles, one of which must be yours and attack gives you an extra attack each turn — without the restriction of full area. There’s only one attack ability available, two defense abilities, three mobilities, four intelligences and five foods.

Finally, each player has a free migration and the possibility to convert food tokens to points. Food tokens are the money used in the card auctions and can be converted to points with a ratio of 3 food to 1 point. In auctions, you can overbid and convert score to food to pay your bids with the same ratio. All these actions can be done in any order.

Then the scoring. There are 12 areas on the board and when an area is filled, comes a small scoring. A scoring token is placed on the area and player who placed the last tile gets the number of points (3-5) that was revealed under the scoring token. If that number is marked (areas 4, 8 and 11), a big scoring is done. In big scoring, first each area is scored. Monopoly gets 5 or 4 points depending on if the area is full or not, shared areas give 3/2/1 points. Then biggest herds score, 10/7/5/3/1 points. There’s some potential for heavy points! Most adaptations, abilities and food tokens score 4 for the most, 2 for the second most. The game ends either after the 11th area is filled or when one player places their last tile.

The game supports two to six players. I have only played it with four, once, so I can’t say much about that. It was fun with four players and I suppose more players won’t hurt it. With two players the game might be a bit boring. There’s a downtime problem, but it’s not as bad as it could be. There are auctions each turn so there’s something for each player each turn. Still, watch out if your group is prone to analysis paralysis and you hate downtime.

After one game Wildlife seems like a fun game. It’s similar to El Grande in mechanics, but feels a bit less serious and dry. The length (might well take two hours with six players) means it won’t hit the table every time, but I’m sure I will enjoy it in the future — I expect it to reach at least my five games played list by the end of the year, possibly even ten playings.

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