Can you and your friends can work together to prevent habitat loss and save the tigers? That is your mission in the cooperative game Endangered, now seeking funding on Kickstarter.
What Is Endangered?
Endangered is a cooperative game for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $55 for a copy of the game.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality.
Included with the game are:
- Game Board
- 15 Animal Tokens
- 25 Influence Cubes
- 22 Destruction Tiles
- 25 Money Tokens
- 1 Offspring Die
- 1 Destruction Die
- 1 Year Marker
- 12 Ambassador Cards
- 5 Turn Markers
- 15 Action Dice in 5 colors
- 5 Role Cards
- 10 Specialty Cards
- 70 Player Cards
- 18 Impact Cards
- 1 Scenario Sheet
Overall, the quality of the components in the prototype was exceptional. In fact, my wife was surprised when we started playing that I mentioned that it was a prototype. While things like artwork are always subject to change, in this case they’re of high enough quality that I’d be surprised if they changed significantly in the final release.
Of note are the player components, particularly the role boards and cards. The boards are rather simple, which is nice as there’s nothing extraneous to detract from game play. They are two sided, but each side is identical except for the gender of the character shown on the artwork–in what is quickly and fortunately becoming commonplace, the game allows players to pick any role they wish and have a picture of that character be either male or female, with absolutely no other differences at all.
The Player Cards are where a lot of the action in the game happens. Each player will have their own deck of 14 cards based on their character. Ten of those cards are the same across each deck, but the remaining four are unique to that character, with an ability that makes sense. For example, the Philanthropist’s unique cards are “Charity” and “Green Companies,” while the Lobbyist’s are “Environmental Activist” and, obviously, “Lobby.” Each card is nicely designed, with a border and icon matching the character to make resorting the cards at game’s end easier, a clear title, and simple-to-follow instructions. About half of the card is artwork.
One important thing to note in the photos in this review is that the colors of the dice don’t quite match the colors of the characters, but that is because the prototype is using off-the-shelf dice. The final edition will have custom dice that are the correct color.
Also, the game is officially for 2-4 players, but a planned Kickstarter Stretch Goal will add the components for a fifth player, in the role of an Environmental Lawyer. The prototype I was sent included these parts.
How to Play Endangered
The goal of the game is to save the animal in the current scenario. The one in the prototype was for Tigers, but the rules mention a planned Sea Otter module. And, as there are unfortunately plenty of endangered animals out there, many more scenarios may be released if the game is a success.
As with other cooperative games, there are lots of ways to lose and only one way to win. To be victorious, the players must get four Ambassadors to support their cause in one of two voting years, as indicated on the board. The fewer the players, the more rounds you have before the voting years occur.
Players lose if they fail in both of those votes. But they also lose if at any time the animal population drops to 1 or 0, or if they run out of Destruction tiles.
Setup for the game is pretty simple. Put the board in the middle of the table, and place the Year Marker are Year 1. Shuffle the blue Ambassador cards and deal five face-down along the top of the board. Shuffle the three grey-backed Ambassador cards and deal one of them next to the other Ambassadors. Put the rest of the cards back in the box without looking at them.
Place the animal tokens, influence cubes, money, and offspring and destruction dice in piles next to the board.
The rest of the setup will depend on the scenario. A setup card will come with each scenario.
To play the Tiger scenario, place animal tokens on the board in the pattern indicated on the setup card. Put the indicated number of destruction tiles (in this case, 16) in a stockpile next to the board, and return any unused tiles to the box. Shuffle the Tiger Impact Deck and place it face-down below the board.
Players then set themselves up. First, they choose a character. As with other co-op games, the characters that make up the team can have a big impact on how things go, but for the first game or two you’ll probably pick based on color or the picture. Take the role board, player cards, specialty cards, turn marker, and all three dice for that character.
Look at both specialty cards. Each grants the character a special power for the game, and this is cool added feature: rather than having the powers printed on the boards, these cards add additional layers of replay value to the game since each character will play slightly differently based on the chosen specialty. Next, the turn order token and dice are placed on their designated spots on the boards.
The specialty card states a starting card for the player, so they need to search their deck and find this card. All cards in the game, including this starting one, are one of three types: Action, Continuous, and Once. If the starting card is an Action card (and most seem to be), then the player places the card to the right of the board. If it’s a Continuous, they will play it face-up in front of them, where it will remain throughout the game. If it’s a Once card, they simply carry out the instructions on the card and then discard it.
Once the starting card has been found, players shuffle the rest of their deck and then draw a starting hand of 2 cards. As this is a cooperative game, players are feel to share the information in their hand (but cannot trade the cards themselves).
To begin the game, the starting player, who can be anyone, places their Turn marker on top of the Year marker. This will provide a way to see who has played and in what order.
Then, the starting player rolls their dice and places them on their character card. They can then play these die to activate actions, which allow them to do other things in the game. Dice can be played on any Action card, whether it is one of the four pre-printed on the board or one played by a player at some previous point in the game. It does not matter who played a card–all players may play on all cards, assuming they follow the rules below.
However, there are some rules with the die that are important, and that make up the bulk of the strategy of the game. First, you cannot place your die on an action that already has one of your die, meaning you cannot perform the same action from the same card twice in a turn. (However, it is possible that more than one of the same Action card will be played, allowing you to place one die on one card and another on the other identical card.) Second, the die you place must be higher than any dice currently there. So, if you play a die showing a 3 on an action card, other players can only place dice with 4, 5, or 6 on them. Any player who plays a 6 effectively cuts off that card for the rest of the round.
There is one exception to this: one of the pre-printed Actions is “Social Media Campaign,” which ignores both of those rules, so you can play multiple times on it, and you can play any die there regardless of its number or the numbers of other dice previously played.
The actions allow you to do one of four things.
Some action cards allow you to play a card from your hand. This is the only way to play cards. Your cards will be one of the three types mentioned above: Action, Continuous, and Once. If you play an Action card, you add it to the set of Action cards on the table, and then you and any other player can use that Action in this or any future turn. A Continuous card is played face-up in front of you and has effects that apply to all players for the rest of the game. Once cards have their ability performed right away and are then discarded.
Other actions allow you to influence the Ambassadors. The game begins with six Ambassadors at the top of the board, but they are hidden. In order to turn them over to find out what you need to do to get their support, you must play an action that adds influence cubes. Once you do that, you can choose which card to flip over, and then place the cubes on it.
The Ambassadors all have a formula to gain their support. For example, Japanese ambassador will support the players if the total number of cards in all players’ hands but the total number of influence cubes on the Ambassador is at least 16.
Future actions that add influence cubes can either add them to an already-revealed Ambassador or be used to flip another Ambassador over. Remember that the only way to win is to get 4 Ambassadors to vote in your favor.
Other actions allow you to gain money. Many other actions require players to spend money, and unless a starting card says otherwise, players start with no money, so they will have to use the actions that allow them to gain money.
Finally, there are actions that allow players to move animals. Most of the time, this will be so that they can create mating pairs and make more animals, but there may be times when you want to move animals to get them away from destruction tiles.
Once a player plays all three of their die and takes the appropriate actions, the Offspring phase begins.
In the Offspring Phase, the current player rolls the orange Offspring die to see if the animals have had any babies. To do this, the player counts the mating pairs–the number of spaces on the board with more than one animal–and adds one. They must then get that number or less in order to produce offspring. For example, the initial setup for the Tigers has two pairs of animals sharing spaces, so the target for the first player (assuming they did not take an action that allowed them to move animals) would be 3, and offspring would therefore be produced on a roll of 1, 2, or 3.
If offspring are produced, a new animal token is placed on the board in a space adjacent (never diagonal) to the mating pair. Then, in the case of the Tigers, the mating pair must split up, so the player moves one of the animals from the pair to an adjacent space.
Next, the player sees what kind of habitat loss will occur. They first pick a row or a column on the board that contains at least one animal. The board’s grid is labeled with dice both horizontally and vertically to make this easier. Then, they roll the black Destruction dice and place a destruction tile on the indicated space. For example, if the player chose column 4 and rolled a 1, they would place the tile in the fist space of the 4 column. If that space has an animal, the animal is lost (returned to the stockpile). In later turns, if that space has a destruction tile on it, the player moves the file along the row or column until they reach a space that is either empty or has an animal. If given the choice, the movement must be towards an animal.
Next, the player draws the top card of the Impact deck, reads it aloud, and then performs whatever actions are indicated on it. Almost all of the Impact cards are bad for the players. Some of them are persistent was well, and stick around and continuing screwing with players until they are removed.
After a player completes all of these phases, they draw one card and then pick the player who goes next.
Once all players have gone, the Year End phase is triggered.
When all players have gone, move the Year marker forward one year, then check to see if it’s a voting year. If it is, check the revealed Ambassadors. If at least four of them will vote in your favor, you’ve won. Otherwise, or if it’s not a voting year, the player who went last picks up all of the Turn markers and redistributes them to the other players, and then picks someone other than themselves to begin the new year.
The game ends when either the players have the support of four Ambassadors on one of their two voting years, in which case they win. However, if the second voting year ends and the Ambassadors do not support the players, the game ends in a loss. The game can also instantly end at any point if the animal population drops to 1 or 0 or if the last Destruction tile is played, both which will usually happen during the Destruction phase.
Why You Should Play Endangered
The first time we played Endangered, I badly misread the rules and missed that the Offspring, Destruction, and Impact phases occur after every player’s Action phase, rather than after a round. We reset when I realized this, and managed to misplay it again. This time, I missed an even more critical rule. I’ve played lots of other games where you lay down dice to perform actions (most recently, the last game from this same publisher), and in those games, when a round ends everyone picks up all of their dice. But in Endangered, that isn’t the case at all. At the end of a year, no one picks up their dice. Instead, each player gets their dice back at the beginning of their turn, while all of the other player’s dice remain in place on the board. Remember that you cannot play on an action unless you have a die with a number higher than any of the other die on that card. So, if a player uses a 6 die on an action, it effectively blocks the use of that card all the way up until that player’s next turn.
After the game where we (I) messed up and had us all picking up our dice after each year, we were left thinking Endangered was a kind of fun game, but seemed too easy, particularly compared to the much harder co-ops we’re used to. But like those other games, it is easy… when you aren’t playing with one of the key rules that really adds the strategy. So, oops. (I need to also mention here that neither of those mistakes are the fault of poorly written rules. It says right there in the rules, in plain English, “Your dice will remain on the Actions until the start of your next turn, when you retrieve them to roll.” It was simply lazy reading on my part.)
We tried it again, and found it to be much, much harder (we badly lost) and, like any good co-op, being harder made it much more fun. There was real tension as the game progressed and it started to become clear that we were going to lose. Part of that is the theme: what makes losing a game of Pandemic gut-wrenching is knowing that you’re losing the world to horrific disease, and the same applies here: in the world of Endangered, losing means no more tigers.
Once we started playing the game correctly, we discovered that Endangered is really very fun. The die-laying mechanic means you really do have to work together: what is the consequence for the whole group if a player only has a 6 die and really needs to play on a particular action, even though that means locking that action until that player can go again? Also, the fact that the players together determine the turn order from one round to the next is interesting as well, since that quickly begins to factor into the other decisions. Maybe it’s OK to let that player play the 6, because they are second-to-last this year and can go first in the next year, but is there another character who can maybe do something better in that first place position, even if that means keeping that action locked? It’s these kind of cooperative decisions that keep everyone engaged in the game, keep everyone involved at every step, and make for a truly exciting game.
I look forward to following Endangered as its Kickstarter campaign progresses, and would recommend that you back it as well. [or more information or to make a pledge, visit the Endangered Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.