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This is an Australian game about our fabulous Australian wildlife. The Standard game set features 48 cards for 12 animals (4 cards per animal) from Australia's semi-arid, forest and ocean habitats. To my disappointment there are no kangaroos, though all my other favourites (koala, platypus, wallaby, wombat etc) are there and attractively presented. There are 3 player mats which feature pictures of these 3 habitats, where the cards are played during the game. The game also features cards representing Threats (such as introduced feral animals, pollution, etc) and Management Strategies (such as killing and trapping feral animals to education programs and government policy to reduce pollution) to counter those threats. Add-ons are available for Red Centre, with 16 cards for 4 animals from Australia's large central desert, plus Tasmania and the less well-known Australian Alps (much to my own surprise, coming from England originally, I learnt to ski on Australian slopes. I thought Australia was just big and hot!). Each add-on includes 3 copies of the habitat mat, plus new threats and management strategies related to that habitat.
The idea is to breed healthy populations of native Australian animals in each of the habitats. To start a breeding population you must place a minimum of 2 cards for any one animal; individual cards can be added subsequently. A hand ends when somebody goes out, or when you've been through the deck twice. You score points for the animals in each of your habitats, with minus 5 for empty habitats and minus points for the value of cards left in your hand. Rare animals are worth 2 each, others only 1. Get all 4 of an animal and you double your points for that animal. Animals in habitats can be lost to threats if not protected by a management strategy. You earn a management strategy of your choice for each multiple of 8 points worth of animals currently in your habitats (but ignoring doublings for sets of 4 animals).
A partnership game is possible with 4, 5 or 6 players. The 4-player game works well, though we had problems with the 5 and 6 player games (see below). Partners share a habitat mat and get the same individual score each.
The game is nicely themed, well produced--and uniquely Australian (I don't suppose too many Europeans see cute little bunnies as a major pest, or cats as a threat!). The rules are straightforward, and structured at 3 levels. We used level 2 rules, ignoring the level 3 melding requirement that a player's or partnership's first placement must be 4 animals. A game ends when a player or partnership, gets to 100 points.
How does it play? With 6 players we tried playing our first game with a hand size of 9 (8 for standard game, plus 1 for each add-on used) as per the rules. It didn't work, as both the discard pile and the draw pile quickly ran out and the rules didn't explain what to do if this happened.
We tried again, but with a smaller hand size (6 is good). This worked much better, with people making comparisons to Canasta (but much simpler). However, the general feeling after one hand was to leave it there and to try the Standard 4 player game at a later date. It still didn't click, but it didn't seem like a total write-off either. A little tweaking might make it a tolerable light card game.
With 5 players playing the partnership game, one player plays solo with this position rotating each hand until a winner is declared. Generally, players weren't too keen on this game mechanism though it is workable.
I've since played it a half a dozen times and I do find that it works better with fewer players (4 or less), or by using a smaller hand size for larger numbers of players. The game would appeal to younger players, as well as older players looking for a light card game flexible enough to be playable in partnerships or as single players.
So, not a game in the big league, but worthy enough of your consideration (especially if the theme appeals to you as it did to me).