The dynamic duo of Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer, some of the most famous designers in the hobby, have created some incredible games during their careers, both together and independently. Their latest release, Savannah Park, sees players organising their safari animals to try and group them together while avoiding the 'bushfire' spaces.
Circle of Life
Savannah Park is an incredibly simple game to both learn and to teach. At its heart, it's a tile-placement game, where players are trying to group the different animals together in their park to score points. The longer the chain of one species, the more points you can score. Each player is assigned a park board and a unique cardboard holder with a set of animal tiles matching their colour. These tiles are then laid out in the park at random with their yellow side up.
On their turn, a player calls out any one of the 33 animal tiles in their park. Then, every player must flip that tile over to its coloured side and move it to a different space. Once it's been moved, that tile there for the rest of the game. To keep track of where the tile was, each player has a meerkat miniature to mark the space.
While the game is simple, the strategy that goes into each turn is impressive. To add to this logistical puzzle, there are three 'bushfire' spaces, which will scare off certain animals at the end of the game. This adds another level of challenge to the game to get everyone thinking. Players are constantly having to think five steps ahead and prepare for any number of possible variables to succeed. As the animal tiles are placed randomly at the start of each game, each game plays slightly differently, and players must adapt to succeed.
Just Can't Wait to Be King
As players simply take it in turns to choose a tile to move, Savannah Park plays just as well solo as it does with four players. The only real difference is that you have less control in larger groups. When playing in groups a game of Savannah Park can feel like parallel play, with each player focused more on their own board than their opponent's actions. Of course, there is room for another player to call a tile they think someone else might not want. However, when I played everyone seemed to simply keep to themselves.
While the gameplay itself is enjoyable and poses some fun challenges, the safari theme seems to fall a little short. Aside from the animals depicted on the tiles there isn't anything particularly 'wild' about the game. This is a little bit of a shame, but it doesn't stop Savannah Park from being fun to play.
In Savannah Park's rule book, there are details for a handful of gameplay variations to help shake up the base game. The first of these is a simpler variation that can be used when playing with children. This layout removes the 'bushfire' spaces and so makes play a little more accessible to any younger players. The second is a modular set up, where players place their own 'bushfire' and 'tree' tiles, to create a new challenge.
Players can set these down in any design they wish, but the rulebook contains some suggested layouts to get you started. This variation can help players make gameplay their own, which adds a more personal touch to the game. The final variation is the lions. Each player is given their own lion miniature which they place anywhere on the board at the end of set-up. If the player moves a tile onto the lion's space, they gain points equal to the number of animals on the tile. They then move the lion to any other empty space on the board. This variation adds in another layer of thinking to the game and can really help you rack up points.
Overall, Savannah Park is a fun game that is great for all ages. It plays just as well at four players as it does at one and it is incredibly simply to pick up. Thematically the game is a little weak, however, the actual design of the gameplay is really enjoyable and there's even a simpler variation for children. Kiesling and Kramer have made a game that anyone can learn and that everyone can enjoy. The games I played with my housemates were great fun and I think Savannah Park will be a great game to introduce to my friends.