Losing at Board Games: Release the Lions!

Animals in Gaming, Pt 1

by Jon Beall

WARNING: Cliffhanger ahead. 
Some background

When I was youngster in the suburbs of Washington D.C., I used to love going to the National Zoo with my family.  And by love I mean get really hyper and jump around trying to fit my already gigantic feet into the animal footprints scattered around the zoo.  Footprints which indicate that monkeys are that way.  That direction!  Come on, everybody, let’s look at the monkeys!!!

(Three exclamation points  were necessary in the preceding sentence to convey the level of excitement I had about seeing the monkeys.)

Are you still just as excited about seeing the monkeys?

I will neither confirm nor deny this.

What does this have to do with Losing at Board Games?

I’m glad you asked!  Yesterday the Political Mastermind and I were looking through our game collection, trying to choose a few games to play over Labor Day Weekend.  (We chose Canasta, Smash-Up, and Campaign Manager 2008.)

Campaign Manager 2008?  Isn’t that the game that you have never won? 

Yes.  Thanks for bringing that up. We were looking at our game collection, and I realized that we have a lot of games that feature animals.  Some of these games feature racing animals (Salmon Run), some of them feature zoo operation (Zooroletto), and some of them feature pulling tiles from the back of a giant stuffed monkey (the aptly titled Cheeky Monkey). I’m going to list a few of these games, describe them, and let you decide for yourself whether I have a subconscious desire to recreate zoo memories from my childhood by collecting an excessive amount of animal games.



The first game I’m going to discuss in this animal-themed column is Reiner Knizia’s Botswana.
Reiner Knizia is one of my favorite game designers.  I suppose this isn’t a difficult status for him to obtain, since he has designed over 500 games and is still working.

I opened Botswana for the first time, and thought: Is this it?
There are two spaces in the box.  One holds 5 copies of 5 different animals.  The other holds a deck of cards.

That’s it.

With the complexity of these components, I thought for sure the rules would take at least half a minute to digest.  This was accurate, and was a benefit of learning this game.  The Political Mastermind has patiently learned how to play a lot of games, and was grateful for a game that could be learned and played within 10 minutes.

How to play Botswana:

Brace yourself.  This is going to get intense.
The deck of cards features 5 different types of animals, and each animal has numbered cards from 0-5.  This results in 30 total cards (5 animals x 6 cards for each animal).

The deck is shuffled, and split between the number of players at the table.  The animals are set off to the side.


I pile the animals on top of each other.  I figure it is survival of the fittest and the animals can duke it out.

The Political Mastermind’s head will explode unless she carefully groups the animals by type.  If she has additional time because players at the table are making a cup of tea, she will organize the animals in patterns.


Regardless of what organizational method is used, the animals are set off to the side.

On each turn, a player plays a card, and takes whatever animal they want.

The game ends when six cards have been played in any animal type.  (For example, if there are six lion cards played the game ends.)


The most recently played card in any animal type dictates the score that animal receives for the game.  If 0 is the most recently played Lion card, then Lions are worth no points.  If 5 is the most recently played Elephant card, then Elephants are worth 5 points. The player with the most points wins.

Game Length

A round of Botswana takes about 10 minutes to play.  It features fun animals and simple gameplay (Gyphon Games suggests age 7 as a minimum age for this game). My experience is that games that can be played with 7 year olds aren’t as much fun for adults.  Botswana does not follow this rule.  The Political Mastermind and I have a great time with this game, and the minimum age of the players involved is 32.

Component Quality

The cards are textured and thick, and the card stock is flexible.  Gryphon could have tossed some generic glossy cards into the box and there wouldn’t have been much criticism of component quality. I was pleasantly surprised by the weight and quality of the cards, and wish other companies would take note that card quality matters – even for a casual game.

The animals are well modeled plastic animals.  They don’t feel like meeples; they feel like animals that could be part of a child’s toy collection.

The joy that the Political Mastermind has in lining up the animals parallels my own joy in playing a game where I can collect all the rhinoceroses!!!

Double Cliffhanger!


What games will I talk about next week?
Will my cat destroy all my game boxes?

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