Have any of you seen the 2011 Matt Damon movie ‘We Bought a Zoo’?
It’s a movie about a man named Matt Damon who decides that the best way for his family to recover from the death of his wife, is to buy a zoo. It turns out that running a zoo is really complicated. Animals have a multitude of different requirements to allow them to thrive, especially outside of their natural habitats and Matt Damon certainly finds out that these challenges cannot be solved easily.
Nimalia is a 2-4 player card drafting game designed by William Lievin and illustrated by Pauline Detraz. In Nimalia you will be creating an animal reserve where all the animals can live and thrive in harmony. However, achieving balance in nature is no easy task, just ask Matt Damon.
Opening Your Animal Reserve
Setup for Nimalia is extremely simple. Lay out the score tracker so everyone can see it. This consists of 5 cards placed next to each other showing the numbers 0-49 and looping around a little landscape. It’s quite pleasant and I love that everything in the box is designed to fit on the same size cards so that it fits easily into the little box. Each player picks a little marker to represent them and places it on the 0 space.
Nimalia has 11 objective cards, the front and back of the cards showing different objectives. This gives a total of 22 possible objectives.
You will choose 4 objectives to use per game, picking one from each of the 4 colours. As the objective cards are double-sided, some objectives will never be used in the same game. I assume this is for balance and preventing certain combinations of cards which would not work well together or cause some confusion.
These 4 objective cards are tucked under a round tracker card which gives all the necessary details to keep track of the games progress using a clear and minimal design and a little round tracker token which you move and flip between rounds. This allows you to determine quickly, which round you are on, which objectives are being scored and which way to pass your cards when drafting.
This all takes a couple minutes and you will be ready to play, just draw 3 cards from the top of the animal deck for each player and get to creating your beautifully organised animal reserve. The rules suggest that you shuffle the animal deck, but we started ignoring that as the objectives change every game so we couldn’t see any reason to shuffle, which was a nice little time save.
Creating Animal Harmony
You will start the round with 3 cards in your hand, playing 1 and passing the others to an opponent on your left or right, determined by the round marker. You then play another card from your hand and pass and play until you have no more cards which ends the round.
The cards are split into 4 squares, each containing an animal and the environment it lives in. When playing a card, you must cover at least 1 of these squares on a previously played card and could cover as many as 4. You will be covering the animals on those squares and removing them from your reserve. You must also contain your reserve to a maximum size of 6x6 so space is tight.
You will be deciding how you want to place your animal cards, where to place them and which animals you want to cover based on the current objective in play. Each round of play has a different selection of objectives that you can score points for achieving. This constantly shifting target is really engaging and makes every round slightly different.
A game of Nimalia ends after 5 rounds and the final scores have been calculated. At this point you can look down upon what you created and think about how all your problems started when you decided to buy a zoo.
Who’s In Charge Here?
The objectives feel like when you get a new manager at work who comes up with a lot of big changes that they want to make so they look important in the eyes of the big bosses, and now it’s your job to make their vision a reality. They want all the gorillas next to a lake and all the pandas on the outside edge, only one penguin per column and definitely no giraffes. I tell them it can’t be done but they just say that I’m not seeing the big picture and wander off.
This might sound negative, but I love this about the game. It makes it so engaging, with you needing to be actively setting up to score for objectives on subsequent turns, whilst trying to achieve the current objectives and working out how to do both things, even when they clash. The objectives have different difficulty levels that allow you to tailor the game to your own challenge level which is a nice touch when introducing the game to new players.
I also want to say that having an objective that penalises you for having giraffes is very funny to me for some reason. Why do you dislike giraffes William Lievin?
Nimalia is a keeper. Me and my wife played this 6 times in a row on our recent holiday and had a blast. Every time using a different set of objectives and new set of problems to solve. We found that on quite a few occasions our scores were identical most of the way round, even when scoring on completely different objectives and it came down to the final placements to separate us out, which kept the tension up. My wife likes this as much as The Isle of Cats, which doesn’t mean much to you but it’s high praise, trust me.
I have finally walked a day in Matt Damon’s shoes and if I ever watch that movie again, I may feel more forgiving of the challenges he faces having bought a zoo.
An important note to add is the artwork of the animals is so cute, props to Pauline Detraz. They are all drawn as if you are looking down at them from above and seeing a squat little penguin and stubby legged giraffe makes me smile. Even more reason to keep them all and ignore the giraffe objective altogether.
If you like the look of Nimalia, you can buy it here! Let us know your thoughts on our socials @zatugames