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Subject: K.I.S.S. Board Game Review #2: WildLife rss

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Brad Musil
United States
Shawnee
Kansas
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K.I.S.S. Board Game Review #2: WildLife
(Reviewed May 18, 2012)


MISSION & PHILOSOPHY
-Mission
I don't seek to provide a rules overview or a detailed synopsis of game play; instead, I simply aim to relay my personal experiences playing the game so that others can decide whether to play and/or buy the game.

-Philosophy
Keep it simple silly!


ANALYSIS
Let me begin by saying that I’m a Wolfgang Kramer fanatic. I know that he can be a rather divisive designer, so I thought I should point that out upfront. I can’t think of one Kramer game I’ve played that I haven’t liked (much love to Michael Kiesling as well!). In fact, he’s co-designed each of my two highest-rated games (Torres (#1, 9.3) and El Grande (#2, 9.2)) and he’s designed (or co-designed) a plethora of other titles that I’ve rated highly (Hacienda (8.5), Tikal II (8.5), Colosseum (8.3), Mexica (8.3), The Princes of Florence (8.3) and Tikal (8.2)). All in all, I currently own 13 Kramer games, with the 13 games scoring an average rating of 8.25. Needless to say, I was excited when I got my hands on WildLife in a trade last year, especially since the theme sounded intriguing (although a lack of convincing theme-integration has always been the knock on Kramer), it was fairly well-rated (it currently stands at 737) and it was reviewed favorably by BGG users (e.g. Tom Vassel: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/80202/review-wildlife). This game had a lot to live up to, but, as it turns out, this is not one of my favorite Kramer games. Admittedly, my view of it may have been unduly tarnished by a particularly bad experience, and there are still some good things to be said about the game.

Surprisingly, I find that the theme—namely, the evolution and adaption of legendary species (e.g. humans, crocodiles and mammoths), and their struggle for power and survival—is fairly well implemented here. As you’re forging the destiny of one of these species, you’re constantly thinking about how you can out-maneuver KILL your adversaries and dominate as much territory as possible. Make no mistake about it: this is a mean territory control game (which I happen to like). I think this game does territory control pretty well, so if that’s your kind of thing you will probably like WildLife.

I also like the nuances of scoring with respect to these territories. Territories are immediately scored after all of their spaces are occupied (“minor scoring”) and at pre-established points throughout the game (“major scoring”), and what makes the scoring of territories particularly interesting is that players are rewarded for increasing their dominance in particular regions. In other words, you are given some points for occupying the second or third most spaces in a region, more points for having the most and even more points if you can garner a small (you are the only one present in the territory but you do not occupy every space) or large (you are the only one present in the territory and you occupy every space) monopoly in the territory. This, in turn, generates a difficult strategic dilemma for players: invest heavily in fewer areas or expand to more territories. Throw in the “largest herd” scoring and the bonus points offered for leading in various categories (e.g. having the most food and having the most Adaptation tiles), and you have ample opportunities to generate points for your species. I, for one, like a variety of scoring options, but this can often lead to analysis paralysis in games (although I don’t believe it does in this instance).

I think that the customization of species is cool, too, and I like the versatility in terms of strategy that this yields. I also like the incorporation of auctions on every player’s turn, as it keeps players feeling like they are constantly involved; this is a good concept, and I’m surprised that it isn’t implemented in games more often. This game offers some tough tactical decisions, and those who enjoy having to react to ever-changing circumstances will likely appreciate this aspect of the game. Players must adapt to encroaching enemies, to the cards they’ve drawn and to what cards are put up for auction, among other things.

The components, including the box and box art, are very nice and of good quality. I especially like the quality of the Wildlife cards, which play such a prominent role during the game. In my opinion, everything component-wise is pretty high quality, sans the box insert. The insert works (i.e. it will store and secure the game’s components), but it’s annoying in that it gives you the impression that it was custom-molded for the game when this is not, in fact, the case. If you’re like me, this will initially lead you to spend some time trying to figure out where each component is supposed to be stored, until finally you realize that the insert was not actually designed specifically for the game (or, if it was, it needs to be much more obvious what goes where...usually there’s a crib sheet for this or it’s listed somewhere in the rulebook). This isn’t a big deal, it’s just slightly annoying.

There are a couple of more significant problems, however. First, the game is a bit of a chore to learn. It will likely take you a game or two to really get the game, and if you’re playing with lots of people while learning it…look out! This learning curve is due, in part, to a couple of less-than-clear rules; check out the review by user rayito2702 for a good depiction of one such rule ambiguity regarding point-for-food trades: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/154314/a-broken-game-of-wild....

Another negative aspect of the game doesn’t actually affect me that much, given that I’m usually limited to 2-player games in my face-to-face gaming experiences, but it will be of significance to those who regularly game in larger groups. I played a 6-player game over Christmas, and my experience was awful! In fairness, I think this was partially a reflection of the people I was playing with (four non-gamers who were learning the game for the first time, and one gamer who was learning it for the first time). The downtime was a killer. Let me tell you, I gained an even greater appreciation for the auctioned action that is part of each player's turn. Henceforth, I will gladly play this with 2-4 players, but I’m not so inclined to play again with 5+, especially if others are just learning the game.

Another point worth mentioning pertains to the Intelligence Ability cards, which allow you to play an additional card (i.e. execute an extra action) each turn you have them. My main gaming buddy, Daniel, finds this card very annoying, to the point that he rarely wants to play the game anymore. He feels that this card requires mindless tit-for-tat (i.e. each turn you spend at least one action stealing one of these cards from your opponent). To a degree, this tit-for-tat feeling can apply to all of the Ability cards, but it’s especially evident—and only really problematic, I feel—with respect to the Intelligence card. There has been some discussion on this topic already—for instance, see the following review by user wtrollkin2000: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/94649/is-intelligence-worth-.... Some have argued that this issue does not (or should not) pose a problem for experienced players, but I will say that I think there is something to Daniel’s complaint. However, it’s not a significant enough issue to dissuade me from playing. Still, because of this issue, I can’t help but wonder what the game would be like without the Intelligence cards. If they do present a problem, why not just remove the Intelligence cards from the game? Personally, I think the game would still be just as compelling, but I’m curious to hear what others think about the removal of them, particularly more experienced players—are Intelligence cards essential, or are they just a hassle?

I agree with Vassel, who says that “the game suffers from a bit of fiddliness,” but I don’t attribute this fiddliness to the pieces you have to move during game play or to the different scoring opportunities you have to monitor, as he does. I don’t have a problem with either of these—once the game is setup there’s really not that much moving of pieces and I have no problem with a game that affords me lots of scoring opportunities (some might, I suppose, but I don’t). In my view, what does seem fiddly is the setup for the game. There are a lot of little tiles (i.e. the Adaptation tiles) to sort and stack prior to the beginning of the game, and that is slightly annoying.

If you’re a fan of Kramer games, then, by all means, don’t hesitate to purchase this game, as the game is different enough—both thematically and mechanically—from his other games to justify doing so. I am certainly happy to own the game, and many have suggested (e.g. in replies to other reviews of the game and in comments on the game) that this is their favorite Kramer game. It is not, however, my favorite game of his, and if you are just getting to know Kramer games, I would recommend looking into some of the aforementioned titles instead. Alternatively, if you’re not a big fan of his games to begin with, I’m not sure this game will do much to change your mind.


SUMMARY
Good
-Interesting theme
-Theme is well-implemented
-Auctions on every player’s turn keep everyone continuously involved
-A tactical delight

Bad
-Painfully slow with more players
-Setup is a bit annoying
-Some rules could be more precise
-Some tit-for-tat


NUMERICAL OVERVIEW
-Components: 7/10 (good quality, but Adaptation tiles could have been bigger—they feel fiddly as is)
-Theme: 7/10 (the theme-integration isn’t too bad, and it’s as good as I’ve seen in a Kramer game)
-Game Play & Mechanics: 7/10 (good, solid mechanics, and the game flows nicely with fewer players)
-Analysis Paralysis: 6/10 (this can be a problem for non-gamers, but I don’t think it’s an issue for more serious gamers)
-Strategy: 7/10 (there is some strategy involved, but this game is more about…adaptation!)
-Tactics: 9/10 (you must constantly make adjustments based on what other players are doing in the game, as well as the cards available to you)
-Luck: 7/10 (there is some here (I’d say more than is usual for a Kramer game), given that the game is largely driven by the Wildlife cards that you draw; however, you can exert some control over this via the auctions on each player’s turn, provided you have the food needed to bid effectively)
-Weight: 2.5/5-Medium-light/Medium (the game can be a bit difficult to learn, but once it clicks it’s fairly straightforward)
[note that I prefer medium-light/medium weight games, so these weights are naturally viewed more favorably in my ratings of games]

OVERALL RATING: 7.8/10
(some perspective: 129 games rated; average rating: 6.68; highest rated: Torres: 9.3)


To see my other reviews, please go here: http://muscleboardgames.com/?page_id=10
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