SNAP Review – Ecosystem: Savanna
[Andrew] It started in the forests and streams, and then it found its way to the ocean. Now, when we see it, we see it roaming the African savanna. What am I talking about?
[Anitra] Is this some kind of dumb dad joke?
[Andrew] No! I’m so hurt – we’re here to talk about board games! In this case, we’re talking about Ecosystem: Savanna. And this is a SNAP review for it.
Ecosystem: Savanna is a card game for up to six players, adapted by Steve Schlepphorst and Daniel Davalos. It’s published by Genius Games.
Let’s pause for a minute here and point out that we did a SNAP review for the last game in this series, Ecosystem: Coral Reef. We’ll include the link to that one around here, somewhere.
Just like the other games in the series, this takes 15-20 minutes to play and it’s best for ages 8+. There’s a little bit of reading involved, and players do need to keep cards secret. But if you’ve played one of these games before, you’ll have a pretty good idea what’s up.
Let’s talk about the art in Ecosystem: Savanna.
So, Mesa Schumacher was brought on board to do the art for Coral Reef and her award winning art is on display here in Savanna as well. The backs of the cards all have this gorgeous African sunset silhouette, and the fronts are once again beautiful full color illustration. There’ are’s 11 designs across 132 cards, and you’ll never be mistaking one type for another during play.
[Anitra] Just like Ecosystem: Coral Reef had some differences from Ecosystem, there’s new changes in Ecosystem: Savanna. So Andrew, let’s talk about the mechanics in this game.
Each game is two rounds. At the beginning of each round, every player is going to get 11 cards.
Every player will choose a card from their hand simultaneously, then put it into their own grid, adjacent to at least one other card. When everyone has placed a card, they pass their remaining hand – clockwise in the first round, counter-clockwise in the second round. (We’ve seen this before.)
After each player has placed 10 cards, they’ll discard the last one.
At the end of the game, you will have 20 cards in a 4×5 grid, and it will be time to score. Hope you placed all those cards in a way that works for you!
Just like in the other Ecosystem games, each of the 11 card types scores in a different way:
Giraffes score you a meaty five points, but only if they’re next to a tree.
Gazelles are worth two points each, but the player with the most gazelles get a five point bonus. Of course, gazelles are faster than, say, lions, which lets them score first on the player sheet. Which is important, because lions eat gazelles.
Lions have to be next to grassland to score, and if they are, you flip over a gazelle (or a zebra) anywhere on your grid to score four points for that lion. But even flipped over gazelles are valuable…
Vultures, for one, are carrion feeders. Vultures above flipped-over cards in the same column, score four points for each flipped card.
And that’s only four of the eleven unique cards in this game. You’ll be creating an entire ecosystem in your grid (hah!), and whoever creates the most efficient one, scoring the most points, will win the game.
[Andrew] Well Anitra, we’ve played the Ecosystem games before, so we came into this with some expectations. What are some of those?
[Anitra] All of these Ecosystem games take a scientific concept and marry it with game mechanics to create something that’s both educational and truly fun to play. That’s a Genius Games staple.
[Andrew] After playing other games in the Ecosystem series, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect here. Different animals meant different scoring, but I wasn’t sure if it would feel different or if it would feel like we were playing the same game with a different skin on it.
[Anitra] Coral Reef didn’t deal with any of the problems those ecosystems are facing due to climate change or pollution, so we didn’t expect any of that here.
But let’s talk about what surprised us in Ecosystem: Savanna.
[Andrew] Well, the cards are still really small. I get it, it helps us build that 4×5 grid, it doesn’t entirely take over the table – although it’s close. So it’s kinda helpful, but it’s still surprising that the cards are so darn small!
[Anitra] And there’s still a lot of cards, which makes it possible for the game to flex up to six players, but just like the other games, we’ve had games at lower player counts where some of the card types never even showed up at all. I guess it’s just part of how the game works.
[Andrew] Ecosystem: Savanna is simpler than Coral Reef. In Coral Reef every card was part of some sort of food web, which had scores that needed to be collected differently, and then those scores compared to other scores… This game has none of that stuff. You just score each card from the top to the bottom of the scoresheet, and you end up with a final score.
[Anitra] I was kind of surprised at just how thematic this game felt, while scoring very differently than Coral Reef. It was actually really easy for me to remember things like: giraffes needed to be adjacent to a tree, and vultures score for already-dead animals beneath them. And of course, cheetahs are the fastest predator – so they score gazelles before the lions get a chance to.
[Andrew] I had a harder time with this – I had to see how everything fit together before I could remember which animal did what. But it all made sense, and I appreciated that.
[Anitra] It’s not exactly a surprise, but I’m glad to see that Ecosystem: Savanna includes the same mechanics for two-player and solo gameplay that we saw in Coral Reef, and they still work really well.
[Andrew] So, do we recommend Ecosystem: Savanna? Yes! The box says it’s for ages 8 and up, which is probably about right – but again, this is simpler than Coral Reef.
[Anitra] You could play this game with a younger child, although they won’t be terribly strategic. There’s a lot of scoring conditions to keep straight as you play. But they can still have fun placing out all their cards and seeing what happens.
[Andrew] Ecosystem: Savanna does a really good job putting the pieces of this ecosystem together. And the scoring timing combined with the position perks of the various cards do a really great job making sense of it all. And, let’s face it, you’ll have fun while you’re playing! (Yes you will)
[Anitra] This is a great game for parents and teachers who are ready to play along with kids. It’s also a great game to play alongside learning about the savanna in your science class. Plus, it’s small, and relatively inexpensive.
We’re going to give Ecosystem: Savanna 4 watering holes out of 5.
And that’s Ecosystem: Savanna – in a SNAP!
The Family Gamers received a copy of Ecosystem: Savanna from Genius Games for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
SNAP review music is Avalanche, provided courtesy of You Bred Raptors?
Age Range: 8+
Playtime: 15-20 minutes
Number of Players: 1-6