Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A review of Fauna...

Okay, everyone, who wants to play a trivia game about guessing the weight, height, length, and natural habitats of various wildly obscure species of animals? Oh. No one? Right. Well, what if I said this animal trivia game was invented by Friedemann Friesse, the brilliant man behind Power Grid, Black Friday, and other modern classics of Euro-gaming. And maybe I should also mention the gameplay bears some similarities to that other great trivia game Wits and Wagers. Would that convince you? Still no? Perhaps you should read on and learn more about what I think is one of the most enjoyable trivia games to ever be published.  And it just happens to learn you tons about animals while you play it.

The version of Fauna we have been lucky enough to play is the latest from Montreal game company FoxMind and is the English-language version of the original German game from 2 years ago. The components are simple, excellently produced, and do exactly what they need to do. The board and cards are well-illustrated and I really can't complain about anything. This is a high-quality production of the kind you'd expect from Days of Wonder or Queen. The rules booklet, too, is quite well-done and covers a lot considering how simple the game really is.

This is an easy card?!?!?
So how does it work? Well, players have six betting cubes and play a series of rounds until someone reaches a pre-determined amount of points dependent on the number of players. Every round starts with a new player and an animal card is revealed by that player. Well, really only partially revealed as the top half of the card shows a picture of the animal and states how many areas on the board are the natural habitat for the animal and whether you can bet on it's weight, height, length, and/or tail length. The bottom half contains all the answers to these questions and so stays hidden until the end of the round. Once players know what they're betting on, each person in turn places a cube either on the map where they think the animal resides or on one of the squares corresponding to wight, height/length, or tail length. This goes on until all players do not want to play any more betting cubes and have passed. And then the answers are revealed and this is where the real cleverness begins. 

Every player who placed a cube in the correct natural habitats of the animal score points (more or less depending on how rare the animals habitats are) and the players who are in a region adjacent to one of the natural habitats almost always score points as well.  Similarly, players who guessed the right characteristics score big points and those adjacent to the correct answers on the scales also score some points.  So it seems like you should just throw down all 6 of your cubes in as many spots as possible, right?  But here's the tricky part - any cubes which don't score (on or next to a correct answer) get taken away temporarily and you only get one back at the beginning of every round, given that you'll always have a minimum of 3 to bet with.  Oh, nasty.  So now one wants to be a bit more careful with their betting cubes as they could lose half their cubes on a rather obscure animal on one turn and then not have the cubes to bet when they know all the correct habitats of the animal in the next round. 

So what seems like a rather childish game of animal trivia ends up turning into a tight little game of pushing-your-luck, betting wisely, and still knowing a bit about animal biology.  It's not deep but with 4 or 5 players (the sweet spot, in my mind) a player has to decide the most important places to bet before the spots get taken by other players.  The tension in choice can almost feel a bit like during the worker placement phase in Caylus, although much, much less painful.  So there is some strategy to the placing of the bets but knowledge plays a factor as well.  The game has the same lovely feeling that Wits and Wagers gives, of not needing to know every answer to be able to play well.  In fact, you can often bet cubes close to the "smart" player and score at least for adjacency points.  Of course this backfired in our last game when the world traveller amongst us had us all convinced that jaguars roam the savannahs of Africa and we all ended up losing our cubes (they reside mainly in South America, dontcha know!)  She was thinking of cheetahs.

Honey badger don't give a #@%$!
I can't say enough about this game.  I've played it a few times now and every game has been a lot of fun.  The rules are simple, the betting and revealing of answers is suspenseful, and you end up learning more then you ever needed to about the common garden snake.  There are two levels of difficulty (obscure vs. RIDICULOUSLY obscure animals) although we haven't bothered with the tough ones yet nor will we anytime soon.  I have had one or two people not so impressed with the game due to the trivia aspect so this may not be a hit for everyone.  But if you like Wits & Wagers or random trivia or even just the occasional episode of Planet Earth, I think you will love this game.  It only takes about 45 minutes, plays great with up to 6 players, and it's a total joy and if I had my way, it would be in every classroom across the country.  It's the type of game with major mass-market appeal that actually deserves to be flying off the shelves of every department store because it's so good.  And it's definitely one of my top games so far this year.


  1. This came up on my radar and was something I was interested in as a family game for the holidays coming up- Wits and wagers has always gone over really well with my family so that's what drew me to this - but what do you think the reply value is on this game - how quickly are you burning though the cards in a game. thats my only down side to trivia games , I feel like I always want to know if there is an expansion coming before I get it. Great write up as usually.

  2. Well, we average about 5 or 6 animals a game and there are a good 120+ cards with different animals on each side. I think it'll last us a good while. And thanks!

  3. I played this at GenCon 2011 and loved it. My buddy was also concerned about replay value but was told the game would have to sell very well to warrant an expansion. There are a lot of cards and I think by the time you would get through them, you will have forgotten a lot of information from ones you've already played. The animals are extremely obscure.

  4. Eric, when you hype a game you do a great job of it. I'm going to compare opinions now . . .

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