It’s not often you get a game in the mail which has a story attached that wouldn’t look out of place in an animated movie. Imagine an island where all the humans have inexplicably disappeared without notice, leaving behind absolutely everything including their beloved pets. Now, we all know that animals will do their level best to survive in any given situation, but what happens if they become super-intelligent? How about if they manage to learn how to use what the people left after them in order to create traps? If that sounds good to you – and face it, it does – Deserted Animals may well scratch your itch.
On first inspection you may think this is just a kids game but be assured – Deserted Animals is no joke. This is Darwin’s idea of Survival of the Fittest distilled into board game form, where you’ll need to best your opposition by getting more food than they do in a bid to simply live. Interestingly, there are a few game modes that twist the main rules a little, but for the purposes of this piece I’ll be mainly focusing on the delightfully cut-throat Survivor mode where play ends once someone hits 20 hunger points on the track that surrounds the Catan-esque board.
Set up is quick with all hexes that make up the island placed face down bar the central tile (a sludge one that should ALWAYS be in the middle) and your randomly selected starting location. Once you’re good to go, turns comprise of combinations of three different actions which can be done in any order: Moving sees you shift to an adjacent hex, Pick Up lets you grab a card corresponding to the tile you’re on, while Use allows you to… well, use the cards you have to either help you out, attack others or (perhaps the most fun part) create stuff.
The card play is pretty much what drives the game. Food and Water will help out with your hunger, First Aid deals with injuries… the kind of stuff that you’d expect. However, it’s the cards that can be combined to make things that will require the most thought from players. There are six resources that can be used (wood, metal, leather, duct tape, seeds and matches) which, when spent in the right amounts, bestow great powers upon your wee beasties. You’re essentially scavenging for stuff to create rarer items, but managing to pull off such a feat is actually quite satisfying.
For example, the previously mentioned First Aid cards are pretty rare but you need them to survive. If you’re injured in the game you’ll get hungrier quicker, but with no First Aid at hand you could well be on the verge on losing within a few turns. However, manage to throw together two pieces of Duct Tape and some Leather and boom! You’ve got a makeshift bandage that heals you! Yes, it’s very silly, but it works. Kind of. Other things you can do include cooking your meals (combine Food and Matches) to improve their value, or two pieces of Wood and some Metal can come together to create a spear – ideal for a ranged attack!
Oh yes. Attacking. Not only is this a game where you’re looking to steal as much food away from opponents as you can, you’re also attempting to be as aggressive as possible. Many cards contain weapons that allow you to attack someone else if you share their space, while a couple (including The Rock – could someone at BebryGamez be a wrestling fan?) let you fight from afar. Success results in injuring your enemies, hopefully leading to your victory.
I say hopefully because there’s also another element to deal with in Deserted Animals – the terrifying Wild Boar. If a card is revealed showing one of these awful swines, a Boar spawns on the central Sludge tile; all others also on the board will move. These Boars are a nightmare as spaces they occupy cannot have cards taken from them, and if you don’t manage to defeat them nigh on immediately you will end up injured… and that’s not what you want. Ambush cards can also screw you over, as can traps left behind by other players. Considering you’re playing as a bunch of previously domesticated animals, things get nasty on the island in no time at all…
As I mentioned earlier, despite the cutesy looks this really isn’t a game for children (or indeed anyone who takes offence at being singled out for attacks). The path to victory will always involve at least a little agression so if you have someone in your game group who doesn’t take kindly to such activity – seriously, don’t break this out with them. You really do need to throw yourself into the spirit of the Deserted Animals, doing what you can to survive. Of course, the random nature of what you get from the card stacks can also screw you over, but what is play without a little chaos? This element of chance can be mitigated in your choices of what you’ll do with the cards that land in your hand, but games can happen where you’re stuck with nothing of use. Optional rules can be brought in that allow for trading and such stuff, but the basic game can sometimes feel a little harsh, especially if you’re new to the island.
All in all, Deserted Animals is a good game but not great – it’s certainly entertaining to play, especially with a group that enjoy getting into the experience of attacking each other, but I feel that it needs a bit of polish to elevate it to something I’d like to bring to the table more often. The extra game modes add some replayability, but I would have liked to see a few more options in the box that allow for more card combinations. Perhaps later down the line BebryGamez could expand the game a little, letting players tweak their creations in more ways to help themselves and hinder others. For now though, Deserted Animals gets a tentative “try before you buy” from me for most gamers, and a slightly higher recommendation if you really enjoy messing about with your opposition.
Deserted Animals was released by BebryGamez in 2012 and was designed by Reinis Butans. Between two and eight players (best with three or four!) can attempt to fight for survival with games taking anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours depending on how many are playing and when game mode you’ve chosen.