Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday, 25 July 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Endangered

Game: Endangered

Publisher: Grand Gamers Guild

Designer: Joe Hopkins

Year: 2020


Cooperative games are among some of our favourites, and those that transport you to a real-life crisis situation are among the ones that we enjoy the most, with Pandemic, Kitchen Rush and Flatline being firm favourites that certainly vary of the scale of severity of the crisis!

Endangered is about the crisis facing some of the world's rarest species. Each player takes on the role of an individual who is in some way trying to save these endangered species, perhaps through political activism or shooting wildlife documentaries. Can you save the tigers from deforestation, or the sea otters from the pollution of their maritime habitat? Do you have the powers of persuasion to have whole nations vote for your cause?




Gameplay

Endangered comes with two distinct games: Sea Otters and Tigers, each with their own change to the basic rules. But whether you are cleaning up oil in the ocean or preventing deforestation, the way you will succeed is largely the same. The game starts with each player choosing a character. Each character has one of two special rules and a deck with a couple of unique cards to them. On a player's turn they will roll their three dice and allocate them onto worker placement spots on the board. Each spot can store any number of dice, but each time a die is placed onto a spot it must be the highest dice on that spot (two higher in two player games). This is crucial because dice don't come off the locations until the start of your next turn. Placing a six on an important location will block everyone else.

The actions themselves revolve around three main things you need to do; moving animals, repairing destruction and influencing countries. Moving animals simple lets you move them around the map grid, you want to do this to create pairs so that they breed, or to get them further away from destruction tiles. Repairing destruction lets you remove a destruction tile from the map, giving your animals more room to roam, and generally reducing the threat they face. Influencing countries is how you win the game. Each game you have six countries that you can influence, if you can win the favour of four or more then you will win. The countries start face down, so you only find out their rules when you first add an influence to them. Every single country has a unique requirement, a certain number of a certain event they want to see, but these are often near impossible to actually meet. Fortunately you also add one to this number for each influence cube you have on the country.


There is one last action which you will perform a lot, which is playing a card. These can be one-off effects, ongoing powers for your character, or, most commonly, new actions spaces. These new action spaces not only give players more choice, but they tend to be far more powerful than the basic actions, so building up a good library of them is crucial.

After performing your three actions you get to roll to see if your animals breed - the more couples you have on the map the better the odds. You then roll to see where destruction appears on the map. In both the scenarios the breeding and destruction works slightly differently, but the general rule remains the same: any animals on a tile that gets destroyed are instantly lost. Finally you will draw one card from the impact deck. Both animals have a unique impact deck, and while these tend to be bad, there are the odd favourable things that can happen. As time passes you'll eventually reach one of the two voting years. If you have won the favour of four countries at the end of a voting year then you win the game. You lose the game if you no longer have two animals on the map, have run out of destruction tokens, or the second voting year ends without you winning over the countries.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

What a theme! Can there be anyone out there who doesn't want to save these magnificent creatures? Well, unfortunately yes, the reality is that the crisis' you fight in this game are very real and very much human driven. People who's greed has overtaken their morality and would happily wipe out some of the planet's stunning fauna if it helped them fill their pockets. This makes playing Endangered a rather sobering experience, particularly when you lose. It's also what makes it so engaging, these are real-world problems, so being able to win even Russia's cold heart over to preserving nature always feels like an incredible feat.

The strong theme is followed up with wonderful art on the cards and the incredible animal meeples to bring this cooperative dice worker placement to life, but what about the gameplay? It's a solid cooperative experience. The dice rolling prevents you from making concrete plans for future turns, which prevents the common alpha-gaming problems. The unique player powers tend to be rather situational and expensive to use, which means you don't expect to use them every turn. But when they are useful they can really chance the flow of the game in your favour. On the downside there aren't many unique cards in each deck, which combined with the player powers not being useful all the time means that you don't feel like you are having a particularly unique experience with each character choice.


That is countered by the completely unique animals. Saving the tigers feels completely different to saving the otters. A combination of variants on breeding rules, destruction rules and completely unique impact decks makes them far more than a change of meeple shape. The only problem I had with this was after saving each animal I kind of felt done. There is a Giant Panda module to help extend replayability, with the promise of more to come too I can see this being a great system with many unique twists being added over time.

Ultimately Endangered was a good cooperative experience, but while the multiple animals should have greatly enhanced replayability, the reality is that two games of Sea Otters, even with different player characters felt a little too similar to me. The game needs a touch more variation between characters, or perhaps between the countries you influence in order to truly stand out. However, while it may have this slight niggle it is still a solid cooperative experience, with a absolutely fantastic theme and solid, if not the most unique, gameplay. If you are a fan of cooperative games and worker placement games it's certainly worth giving a try.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

Endangered follows a tried and tested cooperative game formula - 'The Pandemic Formula'. Each player gets a fixed number of actions per turn, then bad stuff happens. If bad stuff gets out of hand you will lose, and to win you need to successfully prevent disaster. However, there's a lot of more unique elements to the Endangered formula. The most apparent of those new aspects is that the core of the game is dice worker placement. I can only think of one other cooperative worker placement, and Endangered is the first Ive encountered that uses dice. Dice worker placement is a mechanisms we enjoy and the fact that you are building up your worker placement spots throughout the game, gives Endangered a really unique mechanism.


In addition to bring worker placement to cooperative games, Endangered has not one, but two 'bad stuff' phases. First you'll add deforestation or pollution and then you'll draw event cards from the deck which are 80% bad for you. You win the game by ensuring that the species doesn't go extinct and ensuring that there isn't too much damage to their habitat. This feels like it should be the victory condition in itself, but instead the victory condition seems pretty tangential. Over the game you'll need to influence different countries towards your cause. This is perhaps the strangest part of the game for me. Mechanically it works pretty well, because each country requires you to meet different end game objectives which will influence how you play. For example, one country wants you to keep hold of all of those negative ongoing events, while another needs to see lots of breeding pairs of animals on the board. The country cards stat to define which aspects of the game you'll let slip and which you can't afford not to concentrate on. It's just that I'm really excited about saving animals and I'm far less excited about adding influence cubes to country cards. Add to that that some countries will come down to a dice roll at the end of the game and I kind of wish there was a more hero-like ending to the game.

Endangered brings together a fantastic and underused theme, along with some mechanisms that are rare to see in cooperative games. mechanically it's a really strong game, I would just like to see a more exciting win condition to really complete the thematic experience. If you're a cooperative game fan, Endangered is definitely a good addition to the shelf, and with such cute otter meeples and more amazing animals to come, it's certainly one to check out.


You Might Like...
  • Endangered has a great educational theme with a really strong message.
  • It's a challenging cooperative game, but not impossible, so would be a good fit for newer gamers or families.
You Might Not Like...
  • The victory condition comes down to political persuasion, which isn't half as exciting as trying to save the animals during the game.
  • We felt like we needed more content to keep the game on our table. Fortunately that extra content is coming with a Kickstarter launching on 11th August 2020.

The Verdict
7/10 Endangered has a fantastic theme and it implements the animal protection side really well. The political persuasion aspect, while perhaps true to reality, downplayed some of the magic for us though - we were all about wanting to breed and save the cute animals! The game is challenging and thematic with lots of good discussion around the table, which is perfect for a cooperative experience. Our biggest downside is that we've now saved the Otters and the Tigers and feel a need for something new to save with bigger mechanical changes.


Endangered was a review copy kindly provided to us by Grand Gamers Guild.

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