This zebra wants to stand on its head
I think most folks who play boardgames as a hobby will have come across the name of Reiner Knizia. He is possibly the most prolific game designer in history, and we have already written here about a few of his games: The Hobbit, Heckmeck and, one of our favourites, Loot. He has a reputation for games that are slick and abstract, generally with a pasted on theme. The latest game of his we have tried is Botswana, which is true to form in that it has a wafer thin theme, but it has a special, secret ingredient that lifts it to a new level: loads of toy animals. If you don’t like the game, you can play at zoos.
The game plays quickly and easily. You explore the landscape of Botswana, seeking out animals to
shoot spot by… umm… playing cards with numbers and pictures of the animals on. Then you get to add one of those cute toy animals to your collection. At the end of the game, each animal you own is worth points equal to the value of the most recently played card depicting that animal. That is the whole of the game.
In our first session, we had a two player game with just Miss B and I, then we were joined for another by S, who enjoyed playing. Miss B did OK, but said that we should play on another occasion before she made up her mind about it. This was clearly not a bad game in her eyes, but probably not great either. It is worth pointing out, however, the importance of ensuring, while setting up, that the zebras are separated from any predators in the area by a group of pachyderms which can prevent things turning nasty. Luckily we now have a system for ensuring this.
We have now had another go at the game and it went quickly and easily. I won both of the hands we played but the scores were close enough for there to be a little tension and Miss B was all smiles at the end of it.
To be played well, Botswana needs some planning ahead and occasionally bluffing, which doesn’t come particularly naturally to this six-year-old, but it still works well as a light game. I think the game’s biggest problem is that you deal out all the cards at the start of the game. In a two-player game this means that you have a starting hand of 14 cards (too much even for effective use of the card holder we have), which is awkward for little hands and hence Miss B was making face-down piles of cards on the table and looking through them on her turn. The number of cards in hand goes down quickly, so the problem reduces.
I reckon this is probably going to find its way into semi-regular play.
The verdict from Miss B (aged just about 6½): “I like the game, I like the animals, and I like how you play it.”
The game: Botswana (Gryphon Games), 2 to 5 players aged 7+.