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Duck Duck Safari: Surprisingly good games in one small package

When I received a copy of “Duck Duck Safari”, and was told that this was a kids game (or actually 5 kids games in one), I largely believed that this was a throw away. I’ve never seen a combination set of games that actually had any merit. Usually it’s the same old tired games, or every game in the set is largely the same. Either way, not a game worth it’s weight in cardboard. So you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I found that Duck Duck Safari didn’t fit these stereotypes.

The set comes with five different games: Savanah, Hi-Lo Hijinks, Animal Hunt, Safari Sprint, and Herd. The first two, Savanah and Hi-Lo Hijinks, are both games slated for players 8 and up. Animal Hunt and Safari Sprint are both for ages 6 and up. Lastly Herd is intended for ages 10 and up. These weren’t exactly the age groups I was expecting when I was told it was a “kids game”, I was thinking 3+ and 5+. But hey! What do I know?

Each game really did have a very different feel to it. So it seems only fair I judge each one separately.  So here we go!

There is a story behind this image.  This is the image on the lion cards.  One of my players just never saw a lion in this, because the wing of the duck is up.  Instead she kept calling it a bunny, and we kept correcting her.  Eventually we stopped calling this by any animal name, and instead would put our arm above our head and limply waggly our arm.   So in game play when, we were calling out what we were playing this became the 4 of *waggles arm above head*.  It was silly and added to our game play experience.

There is a story behind this image. This is the image on the lion cards. One of my players just never saw a lion in this, because the wing of the duck is up. Instead she kept calling it a bunny, and we kept correcting her. Eventually we stopped calling this by any animal name, and instead would put our arm above our head and limply waggle our arm. So in game play, when we were calling out what we were playing, this became the "4 of *waggles arm above head*". It was silly and added to our game play experience.

Savannah:

Savannah is a game with elements of Sudoku. It’s a highly strategic game, where players take turns placing one animal card on a board each round. The cards can be placed on the board as long as they follow one of these rules:

1.) That row/column has only one type of animal, but each number is unique.

2.) That row/column has only one number, but each animal is unique.

3.) The animals and numbers in that row/column are unique.

For every tile in the row/column that you play your tile into,  you receive one point.  If a player sees any “dead spots” on the board, where no card can be played because it would not fit into one of the above listed rules, they receive an additional point.

Complicated, no? Ok, maybe not complicated on the level of Agricola or Sodbusters, but for a kids game, we found this to be rather complex, which we actually really liked and were rather impressed by. They didn’t dumb everything down, which was rather nice. Now whether this would be too complex for your average eight year old, I think will vary from case to case. In the end though, we actually really liked this game, even though we are much older then 8+. But we are big kids, right?  And the strategy and complex thought involved with logically deducing if a spot was dead kept us on our toes.

A game of Duck Duck Safari in progress at Gen Con 2010.

Hi-Lo Hijinks:

This game was more about managing your hand in a very mild stock market like way. A market is created by one animal card for each animal type on the “hi-lo board” in center of the table. Each animal duckie starts either on “Hi” or “Lo” depending on what their starting card value is (which is chosen at random). On your turn you can play a card on the stack for one animal. If the animal duckie is on the “Hi” side, you must play a card that is equal to or higher then the last card.  If the animal duckie is on the “Lo” side, you must play a card that is equal to or lower then the last card. If you can’t play a card that matches these rules, that’s ok, sorta. You play that card down on the board and then pick up the entire stack of cards under it, placing them face down in a stack that will potentially count against you at the end of the game.

After all players have run out of cards in their hands, the game is over and it’s time to count the score. If you have the most of a particular animal, those cards do not count against you. Yay!  This makes taking cards not necessarily a bad thing, but a very very big gamble.  The entire game has a fair amount of strategy in it, and resource management in it.  How do you play cards?  Is it safe to go ahead and take a stack in order to get more cards played out?  Or is it better to play it safe and hope someone else takes it?   This was another one that we were pleasantly surprised with, because it wasn’t completely dumbed down.  I think this one was  easier then Savanah, but not by much, you were still left with a highly strategic game.

Animal Hunt:

Ok, now we are inching closer to where I thought these games would be!   Animal hunt is a memory game… no wait… I mean a go fish game… no I mean a…. go fish memory game!  Even with this simple basic game, the designers spiced it up a bit.  Players do not merely turn over center tiles, or ask for cards from players, but instead they have the option to do either, or both.  Each player starts with a hand of cards, and a large grid of cards start out on the board, all face down of course.  On each players turn they can do one of the following:

* Turn over two cards on the table, and hope they match!

* Turn over one card on the table and hope it matches one in your hand.

* Ask a player for a specific card from their hand, and hope it matches one in your hand.

I had never seen this mash up before, but it really worked rather well, and believe it or not… kept the game interesting, even for us big kids.  Now I’m not going to say this was the most amazing game ever, but for a mash up of classic children’s games, I was relatively impressed.

Safari Sprint:

Well, this review couldn’t be all rainbows and unicorns, could it?  Safari Sprint, the one game in the box that I still feel is a throw away.  To me and my group, this game was dull, holding none of the interest that the previous games did.  It also had a bizarre rule with the doctor duck that just didn’t seem to make sense to us.  I think we were playing it correctly, but the doctor never had any impact what so ever.

In Safari Sprint, you are racing your animals around the board.  You use the numbered animal cards to determine what position your animal is in, and thus how far the ducky moves each turn.  The game became predictable, and down right dull.  Not to mention the rounds took a little bit of time, and the players were suppose to play three rounds to determine the winner, we were bored after one.

Now maybe there is someone out there that enjoys this game, but for me and mine, Safari Sprint won’t be pulled out again any time soon.

Herd:

Herd had the highest age recommendation among the five games, and thus was the one I thought would be the best.   There I go making assumptions again!  I can’t say that it was a bad game, it certainly beat Safari Sprint, but to me it didn’t live up to Savannah and Hi-Lo Hijinks.

Herd is a rummy variant, simple as that.   It does have a few unique elements, however.  Firstly, the only type of hand you can make is a run.  By that I mean that in order to lay down cards you must have all of the same animal in number order, for example, the 3, 4, and 5 of Monkeys.

Secondly, there are three ways you can get cards.  One way you can get cards is from a face down draw deck, nothing special to that.  The second way is much more interesting. There is a plain of face up cards, all of which are evenly spread out so you can see them all, in which trading can occur.  Trading must happen for the same numerical value.  So I could discard the 3 of monkey’s and the 5 of elephants into this trading plain.  I then must take 8 points worth of cards back out, so if I wanted to (and they were available), I could take the 2 of elephants, the 5 of tigers, and the 1 of lions back into my hand.  This helps you create those runs much more easily.  The last way you can get cards into your hand is far less pleasant and far less helpful.  At the end of each players turn, they pass one card from their hand to any of their opponents.

All of the duckies that come with this set.

Lastly, scores are tabulated by how many cards are in your runs.  You want points, and thus points left in your opponents hands do not count against them, as they do in traditional rummy games.  The instructions also state that you play to 60 points.  I think this score is excessive, as a round took us about 15 minutes to get through, and the highest score on that round was 10 points.  This just seems like it would take far too long to get to.

Herd wasn’t a bad game.  It’s a nice rummy variant.  I was just expecting something a bit more.  It seems to me like the age ranges on Savannah and Herd should be swapped.  Savannah was the far more strategic game of the two.

So that is Duck Duck Safari.  In the end I was really pleasantly surprised.  All of the games had a very unique feel:  A Sudoku style game, a stock market like game, a memory game, a racing game, and a rummy game.  And Ape Games, the manufacturer, did all of this with a minimum number of components.  I must say I am impressed by their resourcefulness!   For the price, this is a really great set of games, for your kids, or simply to expand your collection.  Not to mention it gives you another reason to play with cute rubber ducks.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Thursday, August 11th, 2011 at 8:25 am and is filed under Board Game Reviews, Memory Games, Resource Management Games .
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