I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever properly grown up. Sure, I’m a lot bigger than I was when I was seven, but in my head – like many of you, I imagine – I’m still a kid. I believe that if you’re into games, especially as an adult, you have to retain some element of childishness – after all whenever we sit around a table, we’re playing, and to play is something inherently childlike.
Now, while I’m a fan of many different types of games, from cube-pushing Euros to the plastic minis of many an Ameritrash release, sometimes you need a palate cleanser, something simple and fun that doesn’t require a lot of thought. Dexterity games are great for this – beyond a steady hand and nerves of steel, most of the time you’ll be golden. However, the great dexterity games are few and far between; I can think of Bausack and Villa Paletti, and there’s always Jenga of course…
As so often happens, we must look to Germany to find something that fits the bill, but this time our attention should go to the kids game experts HABA and their bright yellow boxes filled with fun. While Tier auf Tier (known in English as Animal Upon Animal) may be aimed at the smallest of players, it is the perfect package for anyone seeking a challenging dexterity game no matter what their age.
Each player (up to four) is given a selection of brightly coloured, chunky wooden animals at the start of the game. A single piece, the crocodile, is placed in the middle of the table where everyone can get to it, the first player is handed a lovely big red dice and we’re ready to go…
Turns are quick and packed with pressure, particularly later on in the game. The die is rolled and, depending on the result, an animal will be added to the stack in the middle in some way. Should one or two dots appear on the die, the instruction is simple: add that number of animals from your selection to the pile, heaping them on top of the crocodile. The Speech Bubble sees your opponents deciding which of your remaining animals you’ll get to add to the menagerie while the Hand lets you pass one over to another player. Rolling the Crocodile means you have to slide any animal so it remains of the table so it touches either end, extending the area for everyone to play on top of.
To win you must simply be the first to get rid of all of your animals but – of course – it’s never that simple. Your turn doesn’t end until the next player actually picks up the dice, and should your actions result in any animals tumbling you’ll need to add two of them (your choice) to your stockpile, the rest going back to the box. This makes getting rid of the lot a bit more difficult but far from impossible, and as games will generally last only a few minutes even a disastrous series of events are quickly forgotten.
HABA games are renowned for their fantastic construction and Tier auf Tier is no exception. The animal pieces are massive, cute things, solidly crafted and made to last for years. As you’ve read, the rules are simple and anyone can play and yes, you’ll invariably have a very different experience depending on how old you are, but whether you regard it as a pleasant little time-waster or a challenging first step into the world of gaming, it deserves a place in your games pile. Grant yourself the chance to really play – you won’t regret it.
Tier auf Tier is a HABA production that was originally released back in 2005. Since then, another seven games have been released in the series, all of which can be mixed and matched (aside from the Card Game which is a different kettle of fish altogether). Designed by Klaus Miltenberger, between two and four can play with games taking ten to fifteen minutes at most.