In Endangered you take on the role of a conservationist. Your goal is to work together to save an endangered animal from extinction. At the same time, you must campaign and lobby international ambassadors to persuade them to take action to protect these wonderful animals. Can you keep these animals away from the brink of extinction for long enough to get the international community on side? It’s not going to be easy, but with teamwork and communication, you may just do it.
Endangered is a co-operative, animal conservation-themed, dice placement game from designer Joe Hopkins and publisher Grand Gamers Guild. The game is live on Kickstarter until April 26, 2019. I got my hands on a preview copy of this unique, and very enjoyable game. Sorry Pandemic, your days may be numbered.
What’s the deal?
Endangered uses a modular system of various animal scenarios. The base game comes with two re-playable scenarios; the Tiger and the Sea Otter. Straight out the box, you are essentially getting two games for the price of one. Joe, the designer, already has a long list of other modules to add.
As I only had a preview copy of the game I won’t talk much about production quality and components. Take a look for yourself over on the Kickstarter page to get a better idea of what the final production version should look like.
Before I even opened the box, I was struck by the beauty of Beth Sobel’s cover artwork. Accompanied with the title and the tag line “A Game of Survival", you know exactly what you are getting into. I salute Joe’s choice of theme, he didn't want to go for one of the stereotypical options. Has it worked out? Let's see.
In Endangered you take on the role of a conservationist. You can be either the Philanthropist, the Zoologist, the TV wildlife host or the Lobbyist. The fifth player is available as a stretch goal. Interestingly, each character has two unique abilities to choose from, allowing you to make strategic choices before the game even starts.
Set-up is very straightforward and there is built-in variety with each animal scenario plus randomness during the player set-up phase to boost replay-ability. After I’d read the rules through, and our first round was done, we found the gameplay to be simple to follow and the rules easy to understand. There were a couple of sticking points I’d expect to get ironed out before production. On my second playthrough, I taught the game with no issues.
The number of rounds adjusts depending on how many people are playing, keeping the game a good length at any player count. Yes, like most co-operative games it’s not quite so fun at two, but that’s to be expected.
You get a sense of the time Joe put in to researching the thematic aspects of this game and then fitting them into the mechanisms when you look at the decks of cards. Each character comes with a unique set of action cards. We aren’t limited to a single special ability here like other games of this ilk. Just like in the real world each conservationist is bringing their own set of skills and abilities to the table. As you will see, this binding of theme and gameplay is found throughout the game.
On their turn, the player rolls their dice and places them on the actions they want to carry out. One possible action is to add more action cards to the available tableau. This means that the actions available to all the players are constantly evolving. Every time you play Endangered you will have a different set of available actions. This adds a level of replay-ability and strategic interest that just doesn't exist in most co-operative games.
To use an action the player’s dice pip value must be the highest number placed on the card. As the player doesn't remove their dice until the start of their turn, the dice from previous players can block you. It’s such a simple concept, but straight away it creates a situation that forces you to communicate and think ahead. Is it in your best interest to have the player who rolled high numbers go next in order to remove their dice from the board? Should the player with the most useful special ability go instead? If a card is blocked, is it worth playing a second copy down?
The offspring phase can result in increasing the population of your endangered animal, the more individuals you have, the further away from extinction (and losing the game) you are. The destruction phase is essentially the reverse. The more destruction on the board the more chance of population loss and the closer you are to losing.
The impact phases is just plain mean at times. Players turn over and resolve a card from a deck unique to the scenarios' animal. Joe has researched the types of issues that face each individual species and created a set of cards to symbolise them in gameplay. Unlike other games where similar cards only affect you once, some of the impact cards stack leading to even worse situations unless you take steps to deal with the threat. Just like in the real world, these problems don’t just go away if you ignore them.
Should You Back Endangered?
With Endangered, Joe Hopkins has created a clever and unique co-operative strategy game. Every part of Endangered is well thought out, every thematic aspect is well researched, and every mechanism considered and balanced.
Co-op games are hard to get right and Endangered seems balanced. In the limited number of plays I had, nothing seemed overpowered or broken. The game is tough but not too hard so as not to be fun. It always seems achievable, right up until the moment you look at the destruction stack to find all the tiles are gone and the game lost.
Nothing in Endangered feels fiddly, all the mechanisms are smooth, and you can quickly move through all the phases of your turn. The time investment in the game goes into discussing what approach to go for.
The negative comments we had were around component design. The animal and destruction tiles seem too small for the squares on the board. The grey and brown dice were too similar for my colour bind friend either leading the wrong dice being picked up. We would have liked the tiles to be bigger or even better, the board could be smaller to save table space which can run low with lots of action cards out. The hexagonal player markers didn’t sit neatly on the year tracker marker, they looked messy stacked up and were knocked over a couple of times. We also would have appreciated a player aid as there are a number of steps to remember and we often skipped phases. Of course, this was a preview copy, I don’t know if these will change for the final production copy.
I also understand the theme won’t be to everyone's taste. I initially felt the idea of persuading ambassadors to save animals didn't excite me. But when you are playing, and you experience what you need to do to win the game, it makes much more sense. Endangered surpassed my expectations.
Gameplay and experience wise, I found the game very hard to fault. Everything just works. We really enjoyed playing Endangered, the theme was perfect for us and it is a genuinely good game. Endangered will suit those of you that have finally come to the conclusion that Pandemic has had its day, and feel Dead of Winter is too long. Maybe you are a gamer looking for a gateway for your non-gaming friends. Or maybe you want a strategic game where you have to work well as a team to have a chance of winning. Endangered stands on its own two feet as a unique take on the co-operative board game genre.
Endangered gives you a lot to think about. Every action you take has a reaction somewhere else. Maybe not straight away, but sometime, in the end, that choice you make could win or lose you the game.
Endangered is live on Kickstarter until April 26, 2019.