Cardboard Children – Fauna

Mate.

Mate. I didnae even know there were that many animals.

Sometimes it’s good to look at a board game that has a little bit of an educational slant to it. Board games are great to play with kids, and there’s nothing better than busting out something that can broaden their knowledge while they play. And you can broaden your knowledge too. Because, most likely, you’re an idiot just like me.

FAUNA

Fauna is a game by Friedemann Friese. The bold Friedemann makes all sorts of games. Games where you get chased by monsters (Fearsome Floors), games where you are balancing on rolling logs going down a river (Fast Flowing Forest Fellers), and games where your head almost explodes as you try to work out how to most efficiently run some power plants (Power Grid).

But Fauna is a game that teaches you about animals. It points out animals you didn’t know existed and asks you questions about them. And it asks you questions about animals you do know too. And you’ll probably get most of the questions wrong. It’s not a game that makes you feel stupid – it’s a game that makes you go “Oh shit. Maybe I should learn a bit more stuff, because how long is a squirrel’s tail?”

Now, there are loads of cards in the game. LOADS. Hunners. And the cards are the real stars of the show. Each is beautifully illustrated with a different animal, and information on the animal’s habitats, weight, length, and length of tail. There are cards with a green border – these are the EASY cards – with animals you might know, such as a parrot. And then there are cards with a black border – far more difficult – with animals you might never have heard of, such as a Bavarian Horse Parrot. You choose which ones to play with whenever you start a new game.

As you reveal each new card, you keep it in the little card box all the cards are sitting in – this obscures all the facts, leaving the players with just the name of the animal and a photo. Then play moves round the table, with the players placing one of their seven little coloured cubes on either the large map that is on the board, or one of the board’s scales for weight, length or length of tail. This continues round and round until every player either passes or is out of cubes.

Now, this is clever – it’s a game about using your knowledge about animals to win points. Sure it is. But it’s also a game about guessing. Because it’s unlikely that you’ll ever know all the animals that will pop up in one game. So you have to use your head a little bit. A great white shark probably isn’t going to be living in the middle of Africa, right? It’s going to be in an ocean or something, yeah? Which one? You take a punt, place your cube. Now, this guess of yours will start to influence other players. “Oh, Robert thinks a great white shark lives right in mainland Russia. That’s surprising. Does he know something, or is he just an idiot?”

You score points for the correct placement of a cube – whether that cube is marking a habitat or a measurement – and you also score points for cubes placed adjacent to correct answers. So – get this – if you REALLY know an animal, you can cluster your cubes around what you feel is the right answer to score major points. You’ll also find during the game that players will start putting their own cubes beside the cubes of players they think are smarter than them. It’s amusing, because it’s rarely the case that anyone is that much smarter than anybody when it comes to obscure animal trivia.

This scoring system also means you can do a little bit of bluffing if you want. You could place a cube down somewhere that you know is a wrong answer, to try to drag other players into placing adjacent to you. And then you can go “SUCKA!” and put your other cubes where the action really is. If you’re right about it. Which you probably won’t be.

There’s a punishment for placing cubes in stupid places, though. If a cube doesn’t score, you lose it. Every round of the game you get one cube back. This lends a little bit of push and pull to the game, because you really do want to make some crazy bluffs and some wild guesses, but when your cubes start running low you have to start playing much more safely until your cubes start to tot back up again. It’s a lovely little dynamic, an example of Friese’s design sensibilities – little twists that make a game fun and tense at the same time, instead of one or the other.

And that’s really the game – you play to a points total, and show off your incredible lack of knowledge of animals. But the real game is in those little bid cubes – in how you cluster them, block with them, bluff with them. To win this game you need to learn how to play smart in a round that offers up an animal you have never seen before in your life. Those rounds are the crunch rounds where your cube placement is crucial.

I throw this to you though – even when you do come across an animal you do know well, do you really know how long its tail is? Good luck with that. Good luck, kid.

SUMMING UP

Fauna is a delight of a game. It will ask you difficult questions about animals, and yet you’re able to play it even if you know nothing. And you’ll definitely learn stuff. If you have kids, they will be fascinated with those cards. And they will love it when they beat the adults on key questions, which they almost certainly will at some point.

Learning should be fun. And Fauna is definitely fun. And learning.

And fun.

Give it a try.

18 Comments

  1. Mudface says:

    Stuff

  2. Thats no moon says:

    A really educational (and actually rather good) animal game is Evolution. Worth a look, Rab if you haven’t already.

  3. wraithgr says:

    I hate to mention a past review here (I also hate to start posts with “I hate to X but Y”, see what you’re doing to me?) but this seems like the opposite of the munchkin review–everything about a game given a positive slant when a major positive/negative is being ignored. In this case we’re underplaying the fact that it’s a trivia game (ok, unless you’re a zoologist but then it’s a game about your *job*, who wants to play that?) which limits the replay value and makes it much less likely to be enjoyable with people of different ages/education/experience/who don’t spend as much time on wikipedia as I do…

    • Bremze says:

      Did you even read the review?

      • wraithgr says:

        I did! Did you? Is there a point to your inane question?

        • Scurra says:

          Well the review is pointing out that it’s the exact opposite of a trivia game. Or, rather, that there are mechanics which make the trivia knowledge aspect far less important, to the point that a Zoologist would probably be at a slight disadvantage all things considered.
          I agree that there is an element of “well, when you’ve seen all the cards and remembered the answers, there’s no fun any more”, but there are enough permutations in this game for that to be less of an issue than in something like, e.g. Timeline, where there is only one datapoint to worry about so it would be feasible to remember everything that mattered.

          • wraithgr says:

            Where does he say that? Granted, he does say that this is a game about trivia in a very obscure sector–but that (at least to me) makes it even worse: you randomly guess at some obscure number, then people try to guess the number also; they might think you are right in which case they guess close to you, or that you were wrong in which case they take their own random guess. Of course, maybe you were bluffing (in which case you have a good idea of the number and we’re back to it being a trivia game, except the obscurity of the subject means that there is an extreme new player penalty which is one of the biggest flaws of trivia games to begin with). Then the number is revealed and you score points. Doesn’t sound like a good time to me but hey, ymmv.

          • Scurra says:

            But it’s not a random guess – it’s an informed guess. (That’s why I drew the parallel with Timeline, which is a game about guessing whether card X comes before or after card Y; you don’t have to know the exact date, just to have some sort of idea – and part of the entertainment comes from the wild inaccuracies of guesses, which tends not to come from standard trivia games.
            Hence the example Rob cited: you can make a decent guess that a shark is found in the ocean rather than on land. That’s hardly obscurity, is it? You might even be able to make a decent guess as to how big it is (or – as noted – how long its tail might be) You are not being asked for exactness, you’re being asked for approximations.
            In any event, it’s not a game in which one player makes a guess and the other players bet on whether they are close or not, which is what your reply (and, to be fair, Rob’s article) might suggest that it is.

          • wraithgr says:

            So if it’s an informed guess then it’s pretty much a trivia game… The “approximation” part isn’t enough of an innovation, other trivia games had multiple choice for example.
            Regardless, I think the original point of my comment stands: there is a decidedly positive slant to this review, just like there was a decidedly negative one for munchkin. I prefer the latter over the former, for sure, but I would prefer consistency even more…

    • Morph says:

      Munchkin you play maybe twice and you’ve seen every joke and you might as well not play again. Fauna you play twice and you’ve looked at maybe 12 cards out of 360.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Fearsome Floors
    Fast Flowing Forest Fellers
    Power Grid

    I guess there aren’t any words that mean “electricity distribution network” that begin with F

    • Boronian says:

      Well at least in German it begins with an F: Funkenschlag
      But that isn’t a translation for power grid or “electricity distribution network”.

    • Kefren says:

      Frazzle-Fuel Fields

    • Scurra says:

      How about Fiddly Fragile Financial Farce?

      (Don’t get me wrong – I admire Power Grid immensely, but a more fragile gamesystem I have never seen. Get even one part of it wrong, from auction administration, market refilling, or player order, and the game tends to collapse in a heap. Oh, and when everyone is roughly the same skill level, it most often comes down to the tie-break. But apart from those niggling little things, it’s a perfectly fine game. :-))

  5. Joshua Northey says:

    Has FF learned to write a ruleset yet? Both Power Grid and Factory Manager and First Sparks badly needed rules revisions/finishing and were not quite fully there yet when released. All of them get played with heavily modified (and frankly trimmed down) rulesets. The guy has reasonably good concepts for games, but the execution on the rules side is super lacking. He needs a logician or a technical manual writer to go through them with him prior to release.

    That said my wife and I play the crap out of Power grid once we got the rules to where we liked them.

  6. Morph says:

    Absolutely love Fauna, a great review.