Use Noble Beasts and win the five kingdoms!
Can you control the five kingdoms? Use the Noble Beasts that have pledged themselves to your cause to help win over the realm, while adhering to the Decrees of each land.
Animal Kingdoms is a game for 1-5 players designed by Steven Aramini and published by Galactic Raptor Games. A game takes about 45 minutes, regardless of player count, and is playable by children ages 8 and up.
Assemble the five-sided gameboard, representing five kingdoms. Shuffle all the Noble Beast cards and deal four to each player. Place a random Decree card face-up on each kingdom.
Shuffle the orange “first place” tokens face-down, then place three tiles in each kingdom. After that, arrange the tiles in a kingdom from lowest value to highest.
Each player gets influence markers in their color and a matching score marker. Place three of the “first to withdraw” tiles (facedown) and “battle modifier” tiles off to the side.
How to Play
Animal Kingdoms is all about gaining influence in the five kingdoms. Each round, called an “age”, proceeds from player to player until every player withdraws.
To place one influence token in a kingdom, you must first play a card that matches that kingdom’s Decree. Decrees are restrictions that come in a variety of styles, from basic rules (lizard or tiger) to conditional rules (alternating even/odd), rules that are conditioned on the neighboring kingdoms, and even a few rules that have you looking at all four other kingdoms.
After you’ve played the appropriate card, place your influence token and draw a card. If you claim the capital city (with a crown), you immediately withdraw from the age. The first player to withdraw gets a special “first to withdraw” token in each age, randomly selected (worth 2-5 points).
Instead of placing influence, you may “rally”, giving you a single point and a chance to ditch a terrible hand of cards. But you can only rally as long as no other player has withdrawn.
End of Age Scoring
Once all players have withdrawn, the age ends. Examine each kingdom and determine who has the most markers. That player gets the lowest available “first place” point token for that kingdom. Players with less influence still get points (3 for second place, 1 for third).
If there’s a tie for first place, the tied players do battle. Each player simultaneously reveals a card chosen from their hand. The higher card wins – with the exception that a “1” will always beat an “8”. The loser(s) of a battle gain a “battle modifier tile”. These tiles can either be used in a future battle (to add +2 to a card value), or saved for an extra point at the end of the game.
If there is an influence marker in a city’s “capital”, it gets moved to one of the two “council” spots – remaining there for the rest of the game. (How’s that for a nice bonus?)
After scoring, remove all influence markers from a kingdom (except the “council”). Then remove Beast cards and the Decree. Shuffle Beasts back into the deck and make sure all players have four cards. Deal out a new Decree for each Kingdom and begin the next age.
After three ages, the game ends. Players add their “first to withdraw” bonuses and any remaining “battle modifier” bonuses to their scores. The player with the highest score wins.
At its heart, Animal Kingdoms is an abstract area-control game, albeit a very pretty one. We found the Decrees were easy to understand. The value and benefits of tactical withdrawal were clear as well. However, the elegance of the core gameplay is weighed down with extra bits (first-to-withdraw tokens, Battle modifiers, etc.) These keep the game balanced, but place a higher mental load on the players to remember.
Because of all the fine details, a quick reference guide would be very helpful. Nearly every game, I found myself checking back for how to award second and third place points, and how Battle modifiers worked.
Other than that, we love Animal Kingdoms. The art drew in our artist child, the simple-but-fair rules hooked our gamer child. It feels very “adult” in theme while staying very approachable for kids to play.
The board layout keeps the areas well organized, and the only hidden information is the four Noble Beast cards in each player’s hand. It’s easy to talk and play, since you don’t need to fear losing your place. And the five kingdoms seem to be just the right amount to keep players from paralyzing indecision.
The solo mode, designed by Carla Kopp (Weird Giraffe Games), is a satisfying puzzle that will challenge you to think a few steps ahead. At the same time, it feels like playing against a real person (although the AI can ignore Decrees for placing cards, giving it a distinct advantage).
Animal Kingdoms hits all the right notes. Katy Grierson‘s art is gorgeous, the rules are (mostly) intuitive, and the ever-changing Decrees and first-place point values keep it interesting. We highly recommend it for families with older children, especially since it works equally well at every player count from 1-5.
The Family Gamers received a copy of Animal Kingdoms from Galactic Raptor Games for this review.
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Number of Players: 1-5
Age Range: 8+
Playtime: 45 minutes