Full disclosure: Galactic Raptor Games sent me a prototype copy of Animal Kingdoms so that I could write this preview.
The Kickstarter campaign for Animal Kingdoms can be found here.
What is Animal Kingdoms about?
Animal Kingdoms, designed by Steven Aramini and published by Galactic Raptor Games, is a light, fast-playing area control game in which players vie for influence over five different kingdoms. The game takes place across three rounds, or ages, and scores are calculated at the end of each age.
To place influence cubes and attempt to gain control of territories, players must play beast cards—each of which depicts a specific animal and bears a number from 1–8—in accordance with decree cards that shift from age to age. For example, you might have to play a card showing the same beast as a card from a neighboring kingdom, or only be able to play even- or odd-numbered cards in a specific territory. These changing parameters force players to think through their options carefully. (If you do get stuck, you can choose to "rally," which allows you to discard cards from your hand, draw back up, and gain one victory point.) Players who win a territory receive a randomized number of points that increases in later ages. Second and third place players receive 3 and 1 points, respectively. If there is a tie for first, players must battle by choosing a card and playing it facedown. The highest number wins, with one exception: An 8 can be defeated by a 1.
Animal Kingdoms also allows for a bit of long-term planning. The final space in each territory is a capital city. By putting an influence cube there, you withdraw yourself from the round. However, you also get to place a cube on that territory's "council" for future ages, meaning you will begin the next round of play with a slight numerical advantage there.
How does it play solo?
Animal Kingdoms has a solo bot co-designed by Steven Aramini and Carla Kopp, who has also designed solo bots for Stellar Leap, Fire in the Library, and Dreams of Tomorrow. True to form, Carla has created another bot that is challenging and that requires minimal upkeep. On the bot turn, you'll draw a card and place an influence cube according to the number on that card. Depending on the difficulty level you choose (it's adjustable!), the robot may also get "bonus cards" that allow it to place extra cubes. The bot is also a tough opponent in battle—it gets to draw three cards to try to defeat the one you play. I've found this bot to be a fun opponent so far!
Things I like about Animal Kingdoms
I have grown very fond of Animal Kingdoms during my time with the prototype, and there is very little about it that I don't like. The game is both quick and strategic, the art is stunning, and the solo bot is satisfying. This is exactly the sort of game I can imagine playing with my game club students, but also on my own at lunchtime. I'm generally a fan ofCarla Kopp's bots, but the bot she designed with Steven Aramini for Animal Kingdoms might be my favorite one yet.
Possible concerns about Animal Kingdoms
If you are looking for a heavy game, or one with no dependence on luck, then Animal Kingdoms may not be for you. Depending on the cards it draws, the solo bot is always a challenge, but will sometimes chain together a lot of cards that make your life very difficult. The results of battles are also random. This does not bother me, especially because Animal Kingdoms plays so quickly, but I figured I'd mention it.
Should I back it?
I'm certainly going to. The game is fun, and the price is right—about $30 for the game, including shipping, or $45 if you want the deluxe edition.