Galactic Raptor is a new indie publisher formed from two existing publishers, Weird Giraffe Games and Letiman Games, with Animal Kingdoms being their premiere title. Weird Giraffe Games is publisher of games such as the recently funded Kickstarter Dreams of Tomorrow and Fire in the Library and Letiman Games is known for Groves and The Neverland Rescue. With such a promising pedigree from its parent companies and the ever-creative mind of designer Steven Aramini, Galactic Raptor is sure to be in for a strong start with Animal Kingdoms!
Right off the bat artist Katy Grierson’s beautiful imagery brings this game to life and while Animal Kingdoms is a small box you shouldn’t let that fool you, there is a lot to sift through when it comes down to it. While I haven’t had the luxury of playing with a physical prototype the Kickstarter outlines everything you’re getting with the game. Tokens, cards, wooden bits, chits, and boards all come with the basic box. Even on Tabletop Simulator the game creates a presence that far exceeded my expectations when considering the size of the box. This presence was what first drew my eye to this project and the exquisite artwork demanded I learn more.
The Kingdom that is Animal Kingdoms
While this game does not have much thematic depth, the premise of the game is you are a leader of a house in the animal kingdom and as such you have garnered the respect and fealty of many other animals. With this earned trust you are responsible for expanding your reach throughout the entire kingdom while adhering to the decrees of the other territories. Controlling these other territories will require your clever use of the animals under your purview.
Set up for this game is fairly simple and quick, allowing you to jump directly into the game, but allows for a fair amount of variability ensuring each game will be different. All you need to do is
-Place the board on the table
-Assign each player a color of influence cubes and score tracker for the game
-Shuffle the two decks of cards and deal each player 4 cards from the Noble Beasts deck and then place 5 decree cards in their respective spots on the board.
-In addition to the decrees, each territory will have 3 scoring tiles randomly dealt to them and sorted in ascending order representing the points that can be scored in those territories at the end of an age.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The goal of the game is to use the 4 beast cards in your hand, each with a specific beast and a number value, to fulfill the decrees of the lands and thereby gain the most influence over that territory. The game is simple in presentation while still being elegant in its execution.
On your turn you may either play a card to satisfy a decree, rally, or withdraw. The majority of the time you will be playing a card each turn, but there may be times where choosing to rally because it automatically gets you 1 point and allows you to discard 1-4 cards may be the best choice for you.
At the beginning of each round each territory will have a new decree to determine how beasts may be deployed to that area. These decrees, at first glance, may seem fairly benign and easy to manage, however with 30 different possible options the amount of choices they create can cause for some very interesting game play. Each decree has a unique condition such as only cards with a value of 6, 7, or 8 may be played in a territory, but when combined with a neighboring decree that says you can only play cards from 8 to 1 in descending order, without skipping, knowing when to use those numbers becomes much more tricky.
In addition to the decrees, each territory on the board has a limited amount of spaces that can be filled by any player’s influence. While having the majority in any space will almost certainly be the most valuable to you, you can get points for having any influence in a territory, so knowing which spaces to control at any given time can be challenging. Because each territory only has a finite amount of spaces, whenever a player places influence on the final space of a territory it is called withdrawing. If a player withdraws by placing influence on the final space they are no longer able to participate in the rest of the round. Withdrawing first in a round, however, will give a player bonus points, but you will not know how much that is until the end of the game.
At the end of a round, also known as an age, players will score each Kingdom starting with the one with the fewest territories (blue) and continuing clockwise. The player who has the most influence in a territory will score points equal to the leftmost victory tile placed at the start of the game. Players with the second most influence will score 3 points and any other players with influence will score 1 point. Occasionally the most influence in a territory will be tied between 2 players, at which point a battle occurs. Battles are determined by both players playing a card from hand and the player who plays the highest value card will win the territory. Because of battles, it may be wise to hold onto higher valued cards to help you secure the territory at the end of the age.
Game Over Man!
The game is over when players have played through 3 ages and all points are tallied. All points, except for those scored by withdrawing first during previous rounds, are known ahead of time, which can cause an interesting tension given the fact that players don’t know what the value of their withdrawing first tokens are until the end of the game.
I had a lot of fun exploring the strategies of Animal Kingdoms and discovering the timing of when and where to place my influence. There were some particularly tense moments when I knew that if I couldn’t get the right card I would lose control of an area on my next turn and with the decrees changing up each round planning on a specific territory proved to be difficult. I got a chance to play the game solo and really enjoyed how clever the gameplay was for simulating human decisions through an AI.
My only real complaint was that the rules were a bit difficult to get through and so having graphics and how to play videos helped me sort through some of my confusion. The simplicity of the game was initially lost on me in my first read of the rules, but once I got into the game I quickly understood the game play. Despite quickly understanding how to play the game, the depth of strategy came as I played more of the game. While the theme of the game could essentially be anything, and I did not really feel like a leader of animals, I was able to look past this due to how beautifully the game presents itself
With the amount of variability in how the decrees are placed, the victory points are determined, which cards are drawn, and the relatively quick play time, I can see this game getting repeated plays for a long time. This is definitely a game I would show to a wide audience of players from casual gamers to those that prefer crunchy euros, and at $30 it seems like a great deal!
If you want in, back before January 31, 2019!