What in the Wild?: Catch Frogs Without the Mud
Explore the relationships among North
American wildlife in this educational
This review was written by guest contributor Karen Lagunowich.
“Can we play another one?”
“Sure. Another short one or should we try a longer one?”
“A longer one!”
Four of my children (ages 12,11, 8, and 6) and I played What in the Wild? for two-and-a-half hours straight and did not once say “do we have to play it again?” In one double-deck box, we found five different game plays for a variety of ages.
Published independently by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the overriding goal of this educational game is consistent throughout: learn more about creating habitats for Michigan’s wildlife.
The simplest of the five games is a basic memory-match game played on a 6 x 6 card grid. Flip over two cards at a time and try to make a match of similar resources, similar species, or have one card meet the need of another card.
This is a great way to familiarize yourself with the cards and get a feel for how the cards interact with each other.
By the time the biologist (dealer) has flipped over every card in the deck, the wildlife club members (players) make as many complete habitats as they can.
As the biologist flips over cards, the members slap the cards they need to complete a habitat. Start by slapping a species card and then continue slapping resources that your species requires. Be quick, or another member might take your resource…but not too quick, because if you slap the wrong one there is a penalty to pay!
WARNING! If the kids playing this get along relatively well, play on! We, however, needed a full-on zebra-striped referee to end battles over who actually slapped the card first when it wasn’t obvious who was on the bottom of the stack.
This version plays like the Match it! game, but without the memory aspect and you are trying to make groups of 3 instead of 2. Eight cards are laid face-up on the table and players take turns to make the most sets they can until the deck runs out. A little strategy is needed to manipulate the cards into the most sets possible. Some of the rules were a little vague for this version of play so we made some of our own house rules.
Just like Group It! is a like a more advanced version of Match It!, so is Build It! to Slap It! Here you are again trying to make complete habitats by matching food, water, space, and shelter to a particular species. This time it isn’t such a race as you have to build your habitat in your hand before laying it down similar to Rummy. You can also build off your neighbor’s habitats for shared points. First player to get 12 points wins.
You’ll need the whole table or a large floor space for this version. Working together, each player tries to empty his hand of 5 starting cards before the boss’s deck (draw deck) is gone. Cards are laid on the table so each side of a species card matches with one of the possible resources. When play is done, you are left with a giant puzzle-map of a habitat.
My kids all agree that this version was their favorite. Even though they lost against the boss, they wanted to continue the game just to see if they could map out the entire deck of cards.
As a former science teacher and current homeschooling mother, I can see this game having a place on the shelf in either place. When you get to that chapter in your science book about food chains or ecosystems, pulling this game out to play would be more memorable (and thus more beneficial) to the children than simply reading the textbook.
A game of Slap It! in the back of the classroom would be a great short time filler for a few students who finished their work early. One of the longer games of Build It! or Connect It! could be a great way to spend an indoor recess. The simple reward of getting to stand up and place a card down in the middle of a lesson creates those memories that stick.
While my kids aren’t going to pull What in the Wild off the shelf for a Friday night game, they would certainly choose it over a regular science lesson!
Wildlife for All Ages
Although gameplay is recommended for ages 5+, even our 2-year old had a good time looking at the pictures and naming the animals! But since the goal of this game is primarily education, we scored Family Fun as if it were a classroom game.
The artwork on the cards is bold and clear. My only quibble is that the layout of resource names would be better suited on the left-hand side of the card, like the resource cards, with the symbol at the top for readability when holding it in your hand (as a right-handed player).
This beautiful deck of cards can also be used to make games of your own. Take the deck with you on a nature walk and see how many of the cards you can find, pull all the species cards out and see who can make the longest food chain, or a war-style game of who eats whom? I bet you could think of some other ways to use these wild cards…give it a try!
The Family Gamers received a copy of the What in the Wild? standard game from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for the purposes of this review.
What in the Wild?
Number of Players: 2-7
Age Range: 12+ (younger for Match It!)
Play Time: under 30 minutes