Food Chain Island review – eat your way to the top

Button Shy Games is releasing Food Chain Island on May 26 on Kickstarter, a 17-card solo puzzle game! In this Food Chain Island review, we’ll go through a brief summary of the game mechanics, components, and our separate points of view on the game.

Disclaimer: We offer Button Shy Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

We own a couple of Button Shy Games ourselves. The games they’ve published have always been fun, relaxing puzzles in a fantastically small package. They called for Print & Play reviewers, and we answered as fast as we could!

In Food Chain Island, you control the local wildlife in a small island in an unnamed ocean. You tell the animals what to eat, with the goal of having only one animal left at the end of the game. (That’s proooobably not very good for the island environment, but it’s a very small island, see? Only one recliner and margarita available.)

Food Chain Island play through summary

There are 17 cards in total in this solo game. There are 15 land animals, ranging from a Plant that Eats Nothing, to a Polar Bear that Eats the Lion, the Gator, and the Tiger. There’s also a Shark and a Whale to help nudge the land animals’ eating habits along.

In the basic game, you set out the land animal cards on a 4×4 grid in random sequence, face up. The two water animals are set aside where you can see and reach them easily.

On each of your turns, you move one of the land animals to “eat” another land animal. You do this by placing their card over the eaten animal’s card (therefore forming a stack under the eating animal).

In most cases, animals can only move one space orthogonally, so they can only eat those next to them.

The bat goes in for the kill…

Each card is also numbered according to their level in the food chain. They can eat animals up to three below them in the food chain.

Who can eat who?

In the image above, you can have the Gator (13) eat either the Lynx (10) or the Tiger (12). They can’t eat the Lion (14) because it’s higher in the food chain; the Rat (6) is also too far below the food chain. It’s not going to be enough to feed this hungry Gator!

In addition, when you move an animal to eat another animal, you also activate their ability listed in the bottom of their card. These special effects start out quite helpful in the early game. You’re still generally working through the lower end of the food chain, after all. But as you go up the food chain, it gets progressively more difficult.

Once you can no longer eat another animal based on your current grid, the game ends. If you’re left with just one animal, you’ve won the game! In most cases, this would be the Polar Bear; but there are card abilities that allow you to remove any card from the play area, so YMMV.

What do I do now? :(

Food Chain Island components

As we tested a Print & Play version of the game that was sent to us, we can’t really comment on the final game quality once it’s released after the Kickstarter. But we do have personal history with Button Shy Games’ Wallet line; and we can see the art on the P&P files we were sent. Because of this, we do have some assumptions of how the game will turn out.

The card art is beautiful. It’s whimsical and colorful, but also relaxing and charming. Each card is numbered to help with the eating rules, which is also reiterated helpfully on each card. (Shown here is a screenshot from the P&P file; we only had ivory cardstock on hand when we made our P&P, so the color is slightly tinted!)

The Wallet line which this game will be part of contains similar card games; all of them are housed in a beautiful plastic “wallet” that allows you to bring them around everywhere you go. Each card is also linen finished, beautiful and durable. I’m showing the Tussie Mussie and Sprawlopolis games below–the Food Chain Island game should be packaged similarly!

Her POV

I quite enjoyed this engrossing puzzle game! It was easy to grasp, and I slid into the game pretty effortlessly. I hardly had to read the rules, and it was pretty easy to teach it to someone else as well.

I settled in for a straightforward, cutesy game…and I couldn’t have been more surprised. During my first game, I was pleasantly surprised at how long it took me to go through the game. Maybe it says more about how I get bogged down by analysis paralysis; but there was just so many possibilities about which way to go in a game. I did not expect it from such a simple package.

I did find myself wanting a version of this game with square cards, though. There are definitely no issues with the standard poker size cards, but since we’re talking about grids, y’know…

I can also see this as a game that can be easily shared with the younger members of anyone’s family. The kid-friendly art is sure to be interesting to children; and you can definitely turn it into a short nature lesson ;)

Still, this is definitely a solo game worth your time!

His POV

This seemed like a very simplistic game–considering the easy set-up, cutesy animals, and its super easy rules. After all you’re only required to be the last animal standing by making your way down the food chain.

But after playing the game several times, I can definitely say that there is an interesting complexity with the game when combining the abilities of the animals and the caveat that the animals only have a particular diet that they prefer (specifically only a number of those below them).

Additionally, the mechanics of the game works well with its intended theme–I definitely enjoyed being a lazy polar bear who needs to rest after every meal.

Noms!

All in all, the game is like a fun puzzle with enough complexity to it that it makes you want to keep replaying the game over and over until you are able to successfully complete it. I will definitely recommend these to people who enjoy playing puzzles.

Food Chain Island review verdict

Disclaimer: We offer Button Shy Games’ games for local purchase in our online shop. While we promise to be honest in our assessment of the games we review, do take this into consideration as you go through our review.

Food Chain Island is one surprising package. An outwardly simple, straightforward game, it packs a complexity punch that is perfect for solo puzzle lovers. This turned out to be a strategically crafty game; animal actions that scale as you go up the food chain and eating limitations definitely upped the ante.

The simple mechanics, coupled with its cute, friendly art style make this even accessible for children. Parents who would want to turn this game into a teaching moment, rejoice! For younger kids, possibly some minor gameplay changes might be in order.

The small game footprint is a lovely plus. It’s easy to bring everywhere and get folks and kids to puzzle through the grid with you!

Button Shy Games’ Food Chain Island wallet game is definitely a worthy addition to anyone’s wallet! They’re launching this game on Kickstarter on May 26, and we’ll update this post as soon as they do. :)

Five for Five: Our Top Gateway Games

We all have different games that brought us “into the fold”, so to speak. I personally still like gateway games for the gems they are: quick setup and play, and honestly, I really need a bit of a light, in-between game when you’re doing some heavier games back to back.

I honestly don’t remember what my first boardgame (modern or otherwise) was, other than it’s probably either Ticket to Ride or Catan (as those are some of the first modern games my parents brought home)1. Dan’s first was Flip City, followed quickly after by crushing defeat at Kemet, which ironically made him fall in love with boardgames.

In no particular order:

Angela’s Five

Pandemic, where you race to save the world from four deadly diseases. This is always the first game that comes to my mind when talking about gateway games. I love cooperative games and think that they are a good way to ease people into modern boardgames. Pandemic is probably not the easiest coop out there, but I find the theme more accessible than something like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert and gives players more choices and agency.

Azul, for the pretty pattern-matching tiles. Azul is such a pretty game. The components are pretty, they feel great when you handle them and put them together, the gameplay fairly simple. But this prettiness is not just tile-deep: there is quite a bit of strategy in which tiles to get and keep from other players, that this seemingly peaceful game can be quite competitive after all.

Coloretto for the beautiful rainbow of colors you try to collect. I know it looks like I’m just moving into colors at this point, but Coloretto is such a hidden, understated gem. It’s a good intro to set collection, and comes in such an amazingly small package that it’s definitely one you can whip out at a moment’s notice because you had it on you all along! It’s easy to explain and plays out quickly, and once they’ve got the hang of it you can very easily do another round of the more complicated side. Win!

Werewords, where you try to find the secret word from the Mayor who suddenly has super limited speech. Another recent addition to our roster of games, I love Werewords ever since the first time I’ve played it with friends. I loved it so much I got my own copy as soon as I could. We could play this game endlessly, over and over. I personally love this over the more ubiquitous Werewolf, because there isn’t any player elimination, and you don’t have the whole awkward silence when playing with a group who don’t know each other2.

Dixit, for pretty cards and knowing what weird things your friends fixate on in pictures. An older game, and one that admittedly doesn’t get played as much as it used to with my groups, but I think it’s one of the best games to introduce to a family or group of established friends who hasn’t really started playing boardgames yet. It’s like in any game of charades where people who know each other so well would have an advantage–most groups I’ve played this with, they usually feel so awesome and get so invested in the game because of this, that it’s so fun to watch.

Dan’s Five

Clank! A Deck Building Adventure scratches that deck-building and dungeon-delving itch. This interestingly high-action deck building game has such a cool premise: steal the best treasure from the dragon and become the Master Thief. Dan’s family loved this game so much when he taught it to them that he almost missed a plane flight trying to finish a game!

Lords of Waterdeep, the classic fantasy worker placement game. Dan swears by this game, having easily taught this to his family and it does remain a classic there and elsewhere. There may be simpler worker placement games out there, but this strikes a good balance, and the theme is fairly accessible with even just a little fantasy exposure.

Potion Explosion, an analog Candy Crush. Don’t lose your marbles! This game feels so good to play with. And the theme? Teach it to anyone, and thanks to the popularity of games like Candy Crush, they get it immediately. So much that Dan has played with kids who have totally destroyed him in this game.

Century: Spice Road has merchant players plying the road to finish the most lucrative spice orders the fastest. The first Century game by Plan B Games is also the simplest and most accessible of the trilogy, and is good as a first peek for the kind of players who may really get into engine-building as a mechanic. It’s simple and satisfying enough as a deck- and engine-builder game that Dan’s mom immediately wanted to have another round as soon as she finished her first game of it!

Hardback, a new and modern twist on Scrabble. It’s a really easy game to get into since games such as Scrabble has been in circulation for a very long time, and in a way, it is a bit more forgiving because you can use any letter as a wildcard as well in lieu of points. The deck-building aspect also makes it more engaging than just drawing tiles in Scrabble.

So there’s our five. It was so difficult picking out just five, and no doubt after this is posted, we’ll end up thinking of other games that we should have put into the list instead. How about you, what’s your favorite gateway game to introduce to new people into the hobby?

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. And to pick which was my first boardgame ever is a bit difficult…probably something like Snakes and Ladders or such.
2. “So who do we think might be the werewolf?” *crickets*

The Ancient World (Second Edition)

The Ancient World, second edition

I’m a huge fan of Red Raven Games and Ryan Laukat. The first game I’ve tried of theirs is Above & Below, and since then I’ve been so enchanted with the art and general gameplay style that I’ve ended up with a number of their games.

The latest is the second edition of The Ancient World, a beautiful game where developing civilizations are beset by Titans–and they must be vanquished if they are to thrive and grow. This worker placement, card drafting, set collection game is beautiful and elegant and plays fairly simply but with a lot of thematic strategies to be made.

Playthrough summary

Beautiful player boards

The player who ends the game with the most influential civilization wins the game. However, the road to prosperity is wrought with danger–titans threaten the land, and in fact, every civilization starts the game with a titan threatening their cities. Players vie to build either the largest civilization or vanquish the most titans…or more likely, a careful balance of both. Buildings and titans award banners when built or defeated, the quantity and color of which form the basis for scoring.

Each player may do any one of four actions, taking turns to do one action until everyone passes:

  1. assign a citizen to a task
  2. attack a titan,
  3. build stored plans,
  4. and pass.

Each player initially has three citizens available to send to work, choosing between the following possible tasks:

  • Build lets you improve your city by paying for the construction of a new building;
  • Rebuild is important if you ended up with a titan rampaging across some of your buildings;
  • if you’ve reached the limits of your city, Expand allows you to add more space for more buildings;
  • and if none of the buildings on offer are to your taste, try to Explore other possibilities;
  • Learn nets your city some extra knowledge for coins;
  • and you can get more workers by Growing more citizens…
  • …which you can push to Labor a bit to gain some extra money;
  • If you’ve got a titan on your tail, you can add to your current military by Recruiting more, or…
  • …get temporary help by Drafting mercenaries.

There are no worker lockouts, exactly, though you cannot place a citizen of lower power on a task when another citizen (yours or another player’s) is already there.

If they decide to attack a titan, they can choose to attach the one threatening their city (this refreshes every round, if the city had vanquished theirs in the previous round) or one of the faraway titans on the board, after which they can take that titan’s remains as a kind of trophy. If the round ends and they have not killed the titan threatening their city, it may wreak havoc on their city’s buildings unless placated by offerings of ambrosia…but the titans grow every hungrier with each passing round and it becomes more and more expensive to placate them.

The game ends after the sixth round.

Components

The Ancient World tokens

One thing I’ve liked about Red Raven Games’s crowdfunding stage is that the upgraded components within the Kickstarter run are not limited to the “Kickstarter edition”–the Kickstarter edition is the retail edition. The same is true for The Ancient World–the components are premium for basically everyone, except that Kickstarter backers get to have metal coins free, which otherwise can be purchased separately.

Cardboard tokens are still provided (even for other tokens, not just coins), but otherwise we have custom ambrosia tokens and wooden tokens for the rest: citizens, scrolls, first player and round counter. As usual, I was stressed with making sure that the art stickers line up on the token while putting it on, but nothing too bad (a few might have been lopsided, sigh).

Titan dice

The dice are etched and feel amazing. It’s beautifully marbled and feels good to roll–almost makes one want to keep attacking titans!

Metal coins

The metal coins are just really lovely and feel beautiful. Prior to this, I’d only been able to try out the Near & Far metal coins from a friend’s copy of the game, but I’d been hankering for my own set of N&F metal coins since then. They come in denominations of 1, 3, 5, and 10, and can very well grace a different game, too.

The rulebook is pretty well written and organized well–it didn’t take long to understand how the game plays and we were off and running fairly quickly (erroneous start notwithstanding–that was totally our fault).

Her POV

Interestingly enough, The Ancient World fills an interesting niche in my gaming shelf that I had only until recently realized…I didn’t have any solid worker placement games. :O So I was extra excited to get my copy, and I’m pretty pleased with the gameplay turnout. The first time we played this, actually, we had a rule oversight and didn’t roll the titan die every time we attacked a titan (only when he’s rampaging the city), so we were pretty keen to try another game with the correct rules ;)

It’s a fairly friendly game since there are no punishing player lockouts, though it still pays to be careful when assigning workers. Money feels quite tight for us in this game, oftentimes we’re ending the game with juuuust enough, and we’re frantically computing if our resources can make our plans work.

I’d definitely keep playing this with the city-state ability variants–the various abilities feel quite balanced, and while it definitely points one’s gameplay toward a particular trend, it allows for a bit more strategy and some initial focus (which I always like having in a game).

His POV

First off to state the obvious, this is such a pretty game, from the game board to the components. All this put together, eases the players into the mysterious and wondrous setting called the “Ancient World”.

Secondly, being a fan of thematic games and having enjoyed the fantastical worlds created by Laukat, from Near & Far, to Megaworld, and other titles, this time we are set in the distant past. We are playing out the struggles of some ancient civilization to progress, in the face of the cyclical onslaught of Titans roaming their world and threatening the rise of these civilizations. Should they fight back or placate these forces of nature with gifts? This really reminds me of the sea monster that besieged the ancient kingdom of Aethiopia from the Greek myths.

The mechanics are quite easy to grasp, such as worker placement and set collecting, and overall, I really enjoyed playing the game, and with its various variant rules, really brings a lot of replayability.

Verdict

We’re pretty pleased with this game, and I’m chuffed to have this as part of my collection. Definite thumbs up! :) Have you played The Ancient World? What did you think of it?

Where to find board game groups in the Metro

Lorenzo il Magnifico / Photo by Angela Sabas

Dan and I had different board game beginnings. He started playing in Makati after his laptop broke down and he couldn’t get it fixed for a while; I had been playing board games with my parents since I was a kid.1 Until now, he owns a couple games (and those are with his family in the province); my own collection is small compared to other friends, but even as a kid we had a baul of board games to choose from. He wasn’t sure where to find board game groups; I grew up not realizing it wasn’t a common activity.

But one of the best things about board games is that it doesn’t matter when you get into it, or even why: when the game’s down, everyone just…plays. It’s a game. The important thing is that you are here with us now, and sharing in this experience, whether it’s a heavy euro or a party-style take that.

One thing I’m really happy about with this amazing resurgence and popularity of board games is that so many more people know, play, and/or are open about trying board games. I mean, playing Power Grid with your parents is cool and all, but having a variety of players to play with is always a good thing. I find I play games differently when I’m with different people, after all.

However, that can be quite the conundrum. I’ve lived in Singapore before and gone back to the Philippines, and both times I’ve found myself wanting to find people to play games with; Dan was in a similar boat when he moved back to Manila as well.

So if you’ve been wondering where to find board game groups here in the Metro, here are some good ways to go about doing that.

1. Get help from social media

I ran to social media for help, here in the Philippines. With Facebook being so ubiquitous, I did a search for board games and found a couple active groups. I threw caution to the wind and posted blind: are any game groups open to new folks joining in? That thread ended up not only for me, but for others as well. So many people commented that they were also looking for a group, are there any in their area, that sort of thing.

People were (and are) super welcoming. Pretty much everyone who was looking for a game there, got invites to various groups. There were free-for-all game nights to established groups of friends looking for “new blood”. Don’t doubt the positivity and friendliness in this community!

Here are a couple local social Facebook board game groups that Dan or I are a part of, if you want to check them out:

2. Ask your current communities and groups

In Singapore, Facebook groups were not very popular (or at least, not with the crowd I was usually with). I found groups there via online forums and communities that were not even game-related. I posted on a forum for Filipinos in Singapore and asked if there were anyone interested in playing board games, or have a group open for someone to join them, etc.

The response was definitely slower than my experience with Facebook just a year ago, but it was still a success. I met a fellow Filipina who was also into board games, and we met and played a few light two-player games. Shortly after that, I started joining her group of board game friends (who she had met through other interests as well). We even became organizers for a Meetup group for weekly board game meetups.

The best thing about this method is that you would (presumably) already have one other thing in common, other than board games. That would hopefully make it easier to meet up and bond through board games and whatever commonality you both have. The people I met through this method are still good friends of mine, we keep in touch even though I’m all the way here in Manila now.

3. Friendly local game stores and board game cafes

Don’t underestimate the power of your friendly local game stores (FLGS) and board game cafes. While it might feel rather daunting to come in completely cold, the people at these places are generally super welcoming and would love to help you find a group! They have their own communities and gaming regulars, and they may be able to match you up against a few groups who are either looking for, or welcoming of, new folks joining their game nights.

While recent years have seen a lot of cafes closing (sob), there are many more that would love to help you. They need us, after all ;) so don’t be afraid to come in and ask them if they know of any open groups. There are stores and cafes all over the Metro! Makati, Mandaluyong, QC, you name it, there’s probably a cafe or store somewhere.

4. Conventions

Try a con or two! I was super chuffed to find out there were board game conventions here in the Philippines where one might find folks sharing their love of board games. It doesn’t need to be specifically board game conventions; there have been a smattering of general game conventions that have sections for analog games. The best thing about this is that you can introduce your own friends to the games, and maybe you can then make a regular gaming group of your own!

It’s also a really good way to try out new games, or hard-to-find games. Lots of veteran gamers attend these to check out various games, so you’ll be in the best company!

We’ll be sharing cons and events that we go to here in the blog (where in an official capacity or just as participants!), so feel free to follow us to keep updated :)

And a final special mention

We are actually part of a group of local board game advocates that do hold a bunch of Open Game Nights across the metro, on a weekly basis. VariablePlay hosts these game nights. If you find yourself near these places, there will likely be a game night this week (whatever week it is that you’re reading this!) and you are always welcome to join. The current schedule is:

Visit the Facebook page for updates (and for the weekly board game podcast!) or send a private message to ask for help. Or message us, of course, and we’ll help :D

If we’ve missed out any any nifty ways to find board game groups to play with, let us know in the comments below ;)

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The usual Monopoly, Cluedo, Sorry, and other old classic games.