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. :)

Sprawlopolis review – a tiny brain burner

Sprawlopolis was a chance find back when Button Shy Games ran their Kickstarter last year. I was on a Kickstarter boardgames spree, and it was affordable and looked interesting, so I took the chance and backed it. In this Sprawlopolis review, we’ll go through the basic mechanics of the game, components, and each of our POVs on how it plays.

In this brain-burning solitaire/cooperative game, 1-4 players are the city planners and builders intent on making the city of Sprawlopolis the best city possible. But each city is unique in its requirements, thanks to variable objectives that change each game.

Sprawlopolis play through summary

Before the start of the game, players choose three cards from the deck of 18 cards, and flip it over to reveal variable objectives, which have numerical values attached to them. The score the group needs to reach at the end of the game is the sum of the revealed objectives’ value.

A card is also chosen as the first “tile” in the game.

After that, each player is given a hand of three cards. The first player chooses a card from their hand and connects it to the city laid out in front of the group, in the same orientation as the starting tile.

Each city card has four blocks. When connecting a card to the city, one may place the card wholly adjacent to the card, half adjacent, or cover one or two blocks from the card (never underneath a card already placed, and never fully covering an existing card).

Base score: zero (sadly)

After choosing a card and playing it, players pass the remaining hand of two cards to the next player. They then draw a card to top up their hand to three, and choose a card to play from his hand.

Play continues until no cards are left, and scoring begins:

  • -1 point for each road (so connecting roads are best)
  • + number of blocks in the largest block of one type (so having blocks of the same type of building connected to each other is best)
  • + variable objectives’ score

If you meet or exceed the total of the variable objectives, you win the game!

Sprawlopolis components

Sprawlopolis comes with 18 linen-finish cards, and a nice plastic “wallet” to store all the cards in (and the in-game expansions cards too). The cards feel durable, which is good since the wallet won’t fit sleeved cards (I tried with premiums). Included is a tiny rules leaflet which fits inside the wallet as well.

The cards have clear art and design, with the blocks on one side and variable objectives on the other, for a total of 18 variable objectives for the entire game in varying combinations. It definitely helps maintain the game’s small footprint! I’ve brought this game along in my purse many times and it takes up so little space, it’s fantastic.

Her POV

This is a surprising brain burner! I’ve played this with casuals and hardcore gamers and the hardcore gamers themselves have commented on how challenging the game can be. We’ve had lucky games where the combination of the objectives synced well and we were able to meet or slightly exceed the target score, but get a challenging set and…well, we’ve had a few games where our final score was negative!

Initially I was thinking that this would be a good gateway game, especially since it’s so small and easy to whip out at a moment’s notice. But over time, I’ve realized it’s not as “gateway” as I assumed it was, due to the variable player objectives. Possibly doing fewer objectives, or hand-selecting the easier ones, would be key to making it easier to grasp for new players.

Lastly, this Sprawlopolis review isn’t complete without mentioning the fact that there are several built-in expansions that came with the game. The replayability of the base game is great as is, but if you want to spice things up, try playing with Wrecktar rampaging in the city, or starting with Points of Interest, or fix your city’s Construction Zones as they come up.

His POV

Who knew that a game that can basically fit in your wallet can have so much value? At first glance, one would expect that the game is designed for new or casual players, but don’t be fooled, dear reader. This game has given me and my friends many instances of “analysis paralysis” in trying to figure out the best possible placement of the cards to score the most points. Additionally, due to its relatively short play time, we would keep on playing again to beat our earlier scores (especially if it was negative).

Being a fan of city building games in its many forms, such as Sim City, Cities: Skylines, Prison Architect, Quadropolis, Suburbia, etc., it was easy for me to like this tiny but meaty game. Especially with its many optional scenarios, this game definitely gives the most bang for your buck.

Sprawlopolis verdict

Small footprint, super mobile, great replayability, and tons of fun–what’s not to like? It’s a fantastic wallet game and definitely one of the must-try games from Button Shy Games’ wallet games line.

Also check out

If you liked Sprawlopolis, also check out these following games:

Black Sonata review – is the Dark Lady a keeper?

I picked up Black Sonata by Side Room Games when they ran their Kickstarter last year. In this Black Sonata review, we’ll go through a brief summary of the game mechanics, components, and our separate points of view on the game.

Black Sonata review

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room 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.

In it, you are pursuing the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets through London, trying to catch a glimpse of her to gain clues to her identity. Get enough clues, the right clues, and you may be able to piece together who she is and finally confront her. Black Sonata is a hidden movement, press your luck strategy game for one player, or a cooperative group.

It was my first “solitaire” game purchase, though the game can certainly be played as a cooperative one as well. It originally was available as a print and play game, was a 2017 Golden Geek nominee, and revolved around Shakespeare–I was hooked, and I couldn’t resist backing.

I’m very glad I did. It comes in a small box, easy to bring around, has amazing components and a relaxing color theme, and is an interesting puzzle all on its own. Dan and I always marvel at how clever the Dark Lady movement is.

Black Sonata Dark Lady token

Black Sonata play through summary

You start the game by 1) choosing a Dark Lady card, face down, which would be the lady you need to find, and 2) arranging the stealth deck to build the order of the Dark Lady’s movement across London. The front of the stealth deck cards contain eight letters along the top and bottom, seemingly at random, which you arrange in alphabetical order to build out this hidden path the lady takes.

On each round, the Dark Lady moves first, which is represented by moving the top card of the stealth deck to the bottom of the deck and moving the lady to an adjacent location on the map that contains that symbol1.

After that, you are free to do any one of four actions:

  1. Move – you can move to an adjacent location, and “unlock” the location if you have not done so yet (you get a free clue if you unlock all locations)
  2. Search – if the Dark Lady is in the same location as you are, you can search for her2
  3. Use a Fog Card – over time, the stealth deck will also fill with Fog Cards which make the Dark Lady more difficult to find–but using a Fog Card may also assist you in your search (…or drastically make it more difficult)
  4. Pass – you can opt to stay in your current location and do nothing, essentially just letting the Lady move again.
Black Sonata keyhole

Searching for the Dark Lady entails taking one of the limited Fog Cards and slipping it underneath the stealth card that is topmost (so that you hide the card below, and then combining the topmost stealth card with the location card (with the keyhole). You flip this card over, and check through the keyhole if the lady is visible through it. If she appears in the keyhole, you have glimpsed the Dark Lady and you can take a clue from the clue deck. Afterward, she flees–and you move the stealth deck forward by how many clues you have obtained, essentially skipping several hidden movements that she takes to flee.

The clues take the form of symbols–deduce all three symbols in the Dark Lady’s card, and you have successfully figured out the identity of the lady3. In addition, each Dark Lady card contains clues to the other ladies, in the form of her similarity to the lady you are trying to find.

Black Sonata Dark Lady cards

Once you have deduced all three symbols and are ready to unmask her, catch her one last time to confront her and win the game. But make sure that you don’t dally–using up all your available Fog Cards or taking too many revolutions of the deck will lose you the game as well, and she will be shrouded in mystery forever (or until the next game).

Black Sonata components

This is one example where Kickstarter really shines as a channel for publishing a game like this. With this game being available as a Print and Play game, “official” components like these are pretty much what you back the Kickstarter for. And they definitely delivered.

I love the aesthetic and the feel of the final components. It’s light–both visually and in weight, giving the game a relaxing, country-style feel. The wooden components, from the pawn to the tokens and the Dark Lady silhouette tokens feel good to the touch and is definitely a beautiful upgrade over the Print and Play tokens available. The cards feel great, linen-finished and with a good thickness to them.

I especially love the way you peek through a keyhole in the card to see if you’ve spotted the Dark Lady. That is such a cute, cool way of doing the check and gives a bit of suspense especially for us (we usually have one person do the stealth deck and another manage the location deck, and the latter always does the keyhole-checking).

Black Sonata keyhole

I’ve also checked the available free Print and Play file and it is definitely playable, so you should give it a whirl if you’re interested. In addition to this, while I have not made this PnP game, I love the way they’ve laid out the PnP–it’s one of the better laid-out ones and is a true PnP you can print and get done right at home with just a few common household stationery tools.

There also needs to be a special mention that Side Room Games also included a beautiful booklet on the historical background behind Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, which is worth a read and a definite plus.

Her POV

I was definitely impressed when I received my copy of the Kickstarter box. It was sturdy, components are amazing, and it just felt right. I proceeded to play a couple times right then. The rules did confuse me for a bit (we seem to keep forgetting how the fleeing Dark Lady mechanic exactly work whenever we haven’t played the game for a while, and have to reread again) but that was the only hiccup.

But the game is just. so. clever. The puzzle itself (and the rng of which clues you get, etc) is definitely worthwhile, but even how one goes about getting those puzzle pieces is ingenious. The peeping through a keyhole, the Dark Lady’s multiple paths through London, the way you can adjust your game’s difficulty–everything is very well thought out and cleverly put together.

The normal difficulty is pretty balanced–it’s pretty equal how many times we find her versus not, and we always have a good time discussing the game afterward: what worked, what screwed us over. The symbol puzzle is interesting on its own, but getting too many 0/2 clues and it becomes really hairy.

His POV

I am generally a fan of hidden movement games, such as Fury of Dracula, Scotland Yard, Specter Ops, etc.. These games usually require a group of players, trying to figure out where the “culprit”, played by a different player, is. Never in my wildest dreams, have I ever conceived that a game from this genre can be turned into a solitaire/solo game4.

Like a broken clock, I would like to reiterate what Angela kept saying once again…this game is really clever. From the way how the Dark Lady moves, to finding the right combination to figure out the Dark Lady, the game is just so darn clever5 in how everything works. That is why, when we finally figured out who the Dark Lady was after multiple games, it was a really satisfying experience.

We really enjoy playing this game, even though it needed a few play throughs at first to figure out how everything works6. Additionally, the gameplay is quick enough that squeezing in another round after losing or winning, almost always becomes the case for us.

Black Sonata review verdict

Disclaimer: We offer Side Room 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.

A hidden gem, this understated game is one that will definitely stay in my collection. It fills that literary and puzzle itch, and has afforded both of us many satisfying endings to a chill night out.

The best part is that it is available as a free Print and Play over at BoardGameGeek. Check out the game and try it yourself, or get the premium copy over at the Hey Meepling online shop! Let us know what you think in the comments below. Have fun!

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. some movement variants may have the lady stay in the same location, which makes the game slightly more difficult
2. technically, you can search even if she is not in the same location, but what would be the point?
3. the clues actually do relate to the actual woman in history
4. If there are other solitaire hidden movement games, let me know.
5. one more for the road
6. unlike the game, we are not that clever apparently