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Serengeti - A race for life


Rogue Marechal


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G@mebox author Ralf Togler writes about the game:

One of the most important regions in Africa for the recovery of many animal populations is the Serengeti ecosystem. But it is at risk like many other regions on the continent, because of the climatic change and of course all the other dangers from humankind. As nearly all other regions in the world of today, the Serengeti is managed by gamekeepers and it is hard task to control all the different populations. But it is worth the effort.

Serengeti that's also the name of a small card game from HAL-13, a new publisher from UK. At the moment HAL-13 consists of two people: Rogue Marechal, the game designer of Serengeti – A race for Life and Katia Filipovic, the illustrator of the game. In other words you can say, that the game is self-published and so it is hard to find it in any shops. I personally found the game at the SPIELdoch convention in Duisburg, Germany this year. I was attracted by the simple, but skilful illustrations of the cards without knowing anything about the game. But now it is here on my table and I take more and more pleasure in playing the game.

Serengeti – A race for Life is a deck-builder for two players, but one of the unusual kind. Our starting hands consists of 5 trail cards for acquiring new cards from the “market”. The market, called supply in the game, is build up by 8 different animal stacks, each containing 9 identical animals and a rock. At the setup each of these stacks is shuffled, so you do not know at which position the rock will be found. A rock prevents a player to take a new animal from this stack unless he uses a special power. Secondary five revealed rocks are also one of the three conditions for the end of the game.

Each round of the game begins with the drawing of an event card, all of them with negative effects for the players. In the one round it may be forbidden to take cards from one of the animal stacks, in another round players will be forced to add a scorpion card to their discard pile. Those scorpions are not really useful, because they kind of clog our deck and – if we cannot get rid of them – force us to move a marker on a competition track - that lies between the two players - one step towards the opponent. This competition track is balanced at the start of the game, but each step the marker is nearer to a player results in one victory point for this player at the end of the game.

Before we have a closer look at the victory conditions, let us see what we can do with the animal cards: Each card in the game has two functions when it is in our hand. Either you use one of the two effects of the card or you use the card for “paying activation” costs for an effect of another card you want to use. The eagle, for example, can be used to draw a new card from your deck as a free action. Alternatively you could expend one of your other hand cards to use the eagle for searching your deck or discard pile for a scorpion (with the result that the scorpion will be eaten by the eagle and can be returned to the supply).

Another example: Lions are very impressive animals, both in reality as in the game. By expending four other cards as the activation costs (yes, that's really an expensive action, considering that you start each turn with only five cards), the lion can be laid to the savannah, next to the competition track. Lions at this position are no longer part of your deck, but at the end of the game, the player with more lions in the savannah gains 3 extra victory points. Of course there is also an animal to scare away lions from your opponent again (the elephant). Alternatively a lion can be used to move the marker on the competition track one step towards you. Unfortunately you also have to add a carcass to your discard pile, another useless card (unless you can use the effect of a hyena in a later turn) that will produce a loss of 2 victory points at the end of the game for the player with the most carcasses in his deck.

I could go on with monkeys, giraffes and lizards. But I think you already have a rough idea and can see that the animals are very different. Indeed it will take more than one game to fully internalize the various effects of the cards and to find a strategy to win the game.

But in contrast to a lot of other deck-building games finding a strategy is not enough in Serengeti – A race for Life. The reason for this is that at the end all animal types are scored separately. There is exactly one victory point for each animal type for the player with the most animals in his deck. As a result, you must not only follow your own strategy, but you have to keep track which animals your opponent has already taken. One more animal is enough to get the victory point, so there is no use to collect masses of lions or eagles or antelopes.

Serengeti – A race for Life is a good debut for Rogue Marechal and his HAL-13 publisher. The game seems to be well balanced, although players who know the game have considerable advantages over new players. The rules are understandable and easy to grasp. At one point or another you can see that HAL-13 still lacks the experience of a big publishers. For example it needs some time to interpret the symbols on the cards that describe the available effects. But for me this does not spoil the good overall impression of the game. I can recommend the game for players who love deck-building games, look for something beyond the mainstream and like to have a small game box you can take wherever you want.

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Copyright © 2018 Ralf Togler & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany