Zoos are weird. You go look at deadly wildlife in a replication of their habitat. You go home, the animal stays there and then you go back. Lions must think it’s like having an all you can eat buffet visit your home and leave before you get your plate. And petting zoos are weird too. You go pet farm animals, maybe feed them animal pellets, all whilst having an internal fear of being nibbled. They won’t bite you, no way, but that fear is overbearing and inevitably prevents you from enjoying the day… or is that just my personal experience? Anyway. Zoos are weird, however there aren’t many zoo oriented board games I’ve played or enjoyed until recently. Satanimals by MEGA MINT games is an incredibly fun hand management, set collection game for 2-4 players.
What Is Satanimals?
Satanimals is a game centred around the owning of a petting zoo. For demons. You run a demonic petting zoo. You score points based on the number of each attraction you own, and have a main attraction in your zoo – a specific demonic animal – worth more points to you. There’s an element of take-that to the game too as you can “sacrifice” (discard) visitor cards for specific purposes. With this, you can also play Zoo Keeper cards to played card sets to protect them.
The game is set up the same generally, with the numbers of cards differing based on the numbers of players. Cards are shuffled, the first player is dealt one card and others are dealt three. Then the remaining cards are shared into nine equal stacks. Every turn players take a card from three stacks in one row or column. Players always take three cards and this will change which rows/columns can be taken from. Then, players can take two actions: play a set of one type of Satanimals cards, play a zoo keeper, sacrifice visitor cards. Players can only have one of each stack of Satanimals, and the points a stack is worth is dependent on the number of cards in it. The game ends when a player can’t take from a full row/column and the winner is the player who has the most points when the game ends.
How It Handles
Satanimals is incredibly light and easy to grasp. You can claim a set at any point, but the longer you wait to claim a set the more points it may be worth. As stated, it’s tremendously easy to grasp, but impossible to master! Every game we played resulted in a different winner, and every winner took a different tact. Eventually we found a happy medium and specific actions proved more beneficial, but the wild card element of a player’s actions also helped on the fly!
Showing Your Teeth
There’s a strong sense of balance throughout play. You cannot be brash or forthright with which Satanimal is your main attraction, they’re worth more points and therefore likely to be the target of sacrificial actions. That said, it’s also the reason to be vigilant with which Satanimals other players are trying to acquire. If they’re stocking up on that gorgeous little dog Karma, then that’s your target. At the same time, you need to ensure you protect your Satanimals using zoo keepers properly and adequately. Make them targets when needed, but know that points matter!
The take that element to the game is situational and player driven, something many games lack. Often, take that is done through instructional text on cards and is directive. Satanimals forces players to choose who to target, and how. You can choose to take cards for personal gain, an action that may be overlooked as greed over maliciousness. Or, you can straight up attack another player’s Satanimals, a clear provocation and declaration of war. At least it will be if you’re constantly on the attack. You need balance, but you always need to be wary. Take that is a delicate art.
When playing with two players, we found there was a clear balance in who had what, and our zoos both opened with all satanimals present. With four players, it was bedlam. Absolute carnage. And that is why more players is better! With four players, Satanimals required a much more tactful approach. You knew you needed to get some cards down, but you also needed to restrain opponents’ progress. The moment you started to get ahead, everyone targeted you. Not only that, playing aggressively meant you were going to lack cards you needed from the queue! It was tricky to get it right, but somehow some scores were crazy high. I was the bull in the china shop, and was quickly targeted due to my abrupt play-style. It made for a learning curve, but it was fun doing it!
Of course, the game isn’t as simple as collect sets get points. There are some extra bits within that allow for bonus points, which can make the difference. And they do, we had several wins where owning The Eternal Flame or Completed Zoo Token were key to victory. Both are worth a bonus three points, which sound small but can be integral.
The Eternal Flame is earned by collecting three of the same card from a column or row. Not something that is tactically incredible, and can sometimes be more of a hindrance, but it’s worth the points. The flame can be stolen by the next player to do the same, so timing is key. Having a trophy token that allows advantage, and is earned as needed is an impressive addition to any game. It doesn’t need to be earned, but can be tremendously helpful. It also ties into the take-that element beautifully, as we had a game won by someone stealing the Eternal Flame.
The Completed Zoo token is what it says. Complete your zoo first and earn the token! This one can’t be stolen, however it relies on you completing your zoo… meaning no extra points can be earned through collected sets. Choosing whether to take the plunge and finish the zoo, or hold off, again means the earning or losing by small values. Also, this one can be lost by having a stack of Satanimals exhausted. It would take a lot to do but would hinder another player massively!
The Beauty Of It?
The artwork on the cards is gorgeous, in a demonic sense that is. Each satanimal is named and its artwork is reflective of that name to some degree. Envy with its eyes watching, Karma with its judgemental stare and fire, Sloth with its… well it’s a sloth. But hey! It works! What’s more is the theme throughout the game is clear, and no cards are similar in stylings. It may not be the most component heavy game, nor the most complicated, but it’s setup is eye-catching and it’s art is mesmerising.
We recommend Satanimals for anyone who’s looking for a light, easy access game! Don’t let the theme rub you up the wrong way. The terminology is thematic to a thematic means, not because you’re joining a cult! (Unless you are, and that’s your prerogative.) Satanimals is a game you can easily pick up and play. The set up is a little long for its weight, but it’s worth it!
The ease of access it presents is only complimented by the level of tactics and deception within your actions. Whether you go all in, make a big play, or play aggressively, the game allows for it and more without feeling like a turn is wasted. With high levels of player interaction, it presents itself very socially and we found ourselves discussing things in coy ways in order to lead our opposition astray! We thoroughly enjoyed reviewing Satanimals and it’s quickly becoming a go-to game for us. Usually for engaging non-gamers or a light wind-down/warm-up game processing a heavy one! We’d really recommend it, and you can find it here!