RUN ANIMALS, RUN!! is a 2-4 player game about animals trying to survive in the face of encroaching urbanisation and habitat loss.
I think it’s a really interesting theme, and that’s what made me want to try this game by @taiwanbgdesign who kindly provided me with this review copy.
The game’s cover is certainly quite striking and idiosyncratic: featuring crying animals and the subtitle “Zoo of Depression”. Your average nature game this is not.
The gameplay is simple. Each player picks one of the seven species of Taiwanese animal to play as. Each species comes with its own little deck of cards which determines what they can do on a turn. You also start off with a mission card, which shows what resources must be collected to complete it. Once you’ve collected the resources, it’s scored and you take another mission card. The first to collect 20 victory points worth of mission cards wins.
Turns consist mainly of moving around the map and collecting resources. Each species deck is only around 5 or so cards, and once a card is played, it’s discarded and only redrawn when you successfully complete a mission. If ever you run out of cards before completing a mission, you have to remove one of your animals, to represent them being unable to find enough food to survive, which then lets you refresh your cards.
The tension of trying to plan when you’ll refresh your cards, and ensuring that you’re able to get the resources that you need to survive before you run out of cards is at the core of the gameplay. If ever all of a player’s animals are removed, that species has gone extinct and the game ends.
At the end of each round, two dice are rolled. One determines what will happen: either some of the resources on a tile will be refilled or the tile will be developed: turned from its natural side to its urbanised side, and the other die determines to which of the 16 tiles this will happen. If a tile is selected that is already deforested, a large grey block, representing a concrete building, is placed on the tile, permanently covering a resource slot.
It’s quite dramatic: watching this idyllic, forested world gradually become urbanised, and seeing animals die out because they are unable to find the food they need. It has a strong ecological message that hits home. Depressing though it may be, it’s good to see a game tackle the unfortunate reality of what mankind is doing to the natural world.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that the way the animals are drawn: with simplistic, yet charming illustrations, really heightens the sense of sympathy that you feel for them as they struggle to survive. It feels, somehow, that if the illustrations were more realistic, or cutesy and in colour, some of that drama would be lost. I think the game’s look really helps with its message.
The game does have a few short-comings. On a turn, you’ll often simply move one animal one space or pick up one cube, which often doesn’t feel satisfying or compelling. This makes the gameplay feel quite simplistic, and I wish they’d leaned more heavily into making the species play more differently than each other. The bears, for example, have a card that can expel other animals from their space, and they are the only species in the game that can do this. But they only have one card in their deck that can do it. It would have been nice if their entire deck was focused around that mechanic. Making each species play very differently from each other, such as in the asymmetrical gameplay of Root or Vast by Leder Games, would have made the game more mechanically compelling, rather than just thematically compelling. There are certainly interesting things about the gameplay: the core mechanic of knowing when your hand of cards will refresh is an interesting thing to consider, I just wish they’d turned that dial up slightly.
But those short-comings aside, it’s a game with a strong and important message, and one that you don’t see much in games. Often when a game has a nature theme, it’s handled in quite an idealistic and often twee way; and in a world where wildlife is suffering from the effects of climate change, habitat loss and plastic polution, it’s easy to understand why. Games that present an idealised version of nature, where everything is in harmony and everything is ok, are comforting. And that’s the main thing that makes Run Animals, Run!! interesting, I think. It’s a dose of reality: a glimpse at the world as it truly, sadly, is. I think that’s pretty brave, and the game should be commended for that.
It has a strong ecological message which comes across in its gameplay. Seeing the board gradually become urbanised: deforested and filled with concrete, as these vulnerable animals search for the food they need, is an experience that stays with you long after you’ve packed the game away.
Though I was provided with a review copy of this game by @taiwanbgdesign all opinions are my own. For more information on Taiwan Boardgame Design, see their website www.tbd-gaming.com