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 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.
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.
Give it a try.