top of page

Kavango Board Game Preview

Kavango Board Game Preview - This is a prototype version and may not represent the final quality of the game. This porotype also uses the deluxe components rather than the standard ones such as the card trays which will be punchboard in the normal version.

Kavango is from you kids on the block Mazaza Games. You can find more about them and the game here. It was made by two first time designers, Matt Brown and Zara Reid which blows my mind considering how tight and well produced this game is. They have been working on it for 3.5 years and clearly have a passion for the subject matter, conservation. Zara is currently working as the Head of Climate and Nature Team & Illegal Wildlife Trade Adviser in Southern Africa. So, it makes sense the game is sound thematically. But mechanically Kavango oozes class too.

Kavango Board Game Preview

Kavango is essentially Ark Nova 'lite'. If that is not enough for an instant back, read on.

The game is incredibly simple to learn and teach. There are three rounds in which players will draft one card per turn from a deck of 12 or 15 cards, depending on player count. Each round lasts ten turns. So, only ten cards will be drafted per round from these decks with 12 or 15 cards in. This is a simple rule that can be easily overlooked as players continue to draft until the hands are empty. So, try to remember to stop after ten turns! We missed that a few times in our first game.

The cards can either be used to increase your habitats overall ability to host new animals, add new animals into your habitat, be discarded for money, or played as an action if it is an action card. Once you have drafted and played your card, you can then if you wish, spend some money to increase your habitats protection level, score any of the four research tasks set each round, or contribute to the overall Climate level for all players. That's it. If it sounds like you are missing something, you are not. This is the classic easy to learn, hard to master game. But where it is low in rules, the game is very high in strategy and most importantly, fun! Let's delve in a bit deeper.

Kavango Board Game Preview

To increase your habitats land and food production in order to host higher scoring animal cards on your board, Producer cards need to be played. These cards have zero cost and are simply slipped under one of the four production areas of your landscape board. Each board starts with two unique Producers, Trees, Grasslands, Invertebrates, or Fish. Adding more by tucking Producer cards under the board will build your own personal engine.

But there will be Animal cards that require certain things that these four producers cannot provide. They will need things that only other Animal cards can provide. A Lion for example will require four prey animal cards to have been previously played. A Tawney Eagle requires other birds, small mammals, and prey to have been played. You need to develop your landscape to get the right animals into your habitat in order to then later add higher scoring bigger animals that feed of the previously played cards.

It's a glorious, interlinked, cascading, connected puzzle that will fill your heart with song every play.
Kavango Board Game Preview

There are four research tasks each round and they typically require a certain number of animals of a certain type to have been played onto your board. Animals of a certain size, weight, type, or some focus around the producer cards. Most research tasks has three different scoring tiers based on how many of the required type of card you have. You can only score each research task once, so you need to decide when to complete it, either when you have reached level one to gain the much needed money and points to help you in other areas, or wait, gain nothing now, and try to reach a higher level for bigger rewards later in the round.

Gaining money is crucial because most cards have a certain level of protection needed in order for it to be legally placed onto your board. Either focused on the group Climate level, or your own Habitat and Poaching protection level. In order to advance in these four levels, you need to move money cubes gained from Action cards and completing research tasks to these boards, filling up the required spaces for each level in complete groups. If a level needs two cubes to fill it, you have to place two at once, not one at at time over various turns. Reaching the higher levels will allow you to place higher value cards. But there is a secondary reason you would want to do this. There is a shared overall game goal that rewards ten end game points to any player who can reach the final level for each protection category. There is also a shared ten point end game goal for adding at least eight cubes to the shared Climate level. Thus encouraging everyone to help with this, and not leave it to just one or two players to contribute.

Kavango Board Game Preview

There will be many times when in order to get a certain Animal into your Landscape, you will need to increase both your production level in a certain area, as well as increasing your protection levels, and also add other cards your target card requires. This all takes time. You can only play one card per round, and you can only spend so much before your financial reserves run dry. In these situations, to avoid missing out on the card you want, you can add it to your Sanctuary. You have space for three cards here, essentially a holding area for cards until you can meet their required criteria. You will start with two cards in your Sanctuary, that's part of the setup process. But some Action cards will let you swap them with other players cards, which can be a key way to help your own game whilst also potentially slowing others down. But generally the cards given to you for free at the start in your Sanctuary will give you a focus for what you need to aim for at the beginning of the game. However, this may be best advised to be ignored, and your focus turned towards each rounds Research tasks instead. The research tasks will score you points and gain you money in a far more efficient way. But this all goes to show a good example of how your head will be full of various ideas and multiple step plans to achieve many different things as you play. It's a fun feeling, if you like that sort of thing!

Adding Animals to your Landscape board not only increases your production levels for other Animals, but will score you end game points. The Animal card points range between one and ten. Typically the best strategy each turn will be to play the highest scoring card possible. But you will need to start thinking about which cards will help with other cards in this hand, the other hands you have seen this round, or the cards you have in reserve waiting in your Sanctuary. You need to be constantly building up you production and protection levels, as well as the things you need on your board to assist you with the bigger scoring animals you have your eyes on. It's one big continued problem that you need to work out that will have your brain racing once you see the connections.

Kavango Board Game Preview

The only part of the game that can be frustrating on occasions is the shared Climate protection levels. Some players may not need to advance in this at the same rate as others, and can focus on other areas for the earlier parts of the game. This can lead to one player being forced to develop this on their own if they want to place certain cards. However, the game does reward players with ten end game points if they have added at least eight cubes here, so this does mitigate this to some point. You can also simply not draft the cards that need a higher Climate level, and swap cards in your Sanctuary with high Climate levels with the players who are not heling to encourage their assistance in this area! And there are some conservation cards (more on them later)that will encourage more interaction with this too.

But I think I would prefer this to be a solo goal like the other two protection levels. There is enough player interaction with the drafting. This did not need to be included for me. But I asked Matt about this and he said that "the game is designed to be as true to real-life as possible. This was semi-coop to show the challenges of climate action." Which is a pretty darn good answer! The game is trying to make a point. It's not preachy. And very fun to play. But it does also have a serious message which this clever mechanic and rule underlines.

Kavango Board Game Preview

If at any point during the game you feel you need a quick rule refresher, or between rounds you want to remind yourself of the actions, there is a very clear and handy guide for all these things that you can leave on the table.

But the star of the show in this game are the cards themselves. The art is gorgeous. The animals really stand out and pop against the muted backgrounds. The art style makes them all seem so exciting and wonderful. It's nice to have a little bit of information about each one, and the stats help you with your research tasks, as well as educating you as you play.

The art for the game was done by Matt, one of the designers. And remember, this is his first game. His first! Let me just let that sink in a bit as you gaze as the cards below.

Kavango Board Game Preview

As well as the small part of asymmetry found with the Landscape boards, each player will be dealt a Conservation expert card at the start for the game to add to the variety. These cards will grant you small powers, unique to you, that will add some focus to your play, and assist you through the game. None of the powers are that strong, and I found for some, I simply forgot about them as I played as they did not help that much. They are a nice addition and do add some variety to the game, and will help you if you remember you have them! But this is not game changing asymmetry. More gentle nudges to to help with variety, and keep the game fair and even.

Kavango Board Game Preview

The research tasks are somewhat akin to the round goals in Wingspan. They are all very clear and offer a strong focus for each round. Gaining mid game points helps of course, but the real win here is with the money that can be earnt from completing these. Money that will be very much sort after by all players as you play. The money will be essential to developing your protection levels and gaining the higher scoring Animals. You can also use money to buy production levels in areas you are low on, if the cards available to you in one round happen to be light in one production area. It costs £4m to do this, unless you have the Ecologist card, as seen above, so it is not a cheap thing to do. But sometimes essential to get the cards you want. And a clever addition to the game to avoid that frustration found in other gams when the cards dealt simply do not have many of one type of category you need.

Kavango Board Game Preview

Kavango is a remarkable game. Coming from first time designers, the game feels so much more polished and developed than a first time game usually would. Huge credit to Matt and Zara for this. I can see this really taking off when it comes to Kickstarter this month. It offers a similar experience to many other popular card based games on the market, such as Wingspan, Splendor, Terraforming Mars and Ark Nova. It's a fusion of all of these really, with a 7 Wonders style draft system thrown in. But this is very simple to learn and teach. It has10% of the complexity, rules, and game length of a game like Ark Nova, but a fair chunk of the strategy and fun.

If you want a quick, easy to play game, that still offers a satisfying and strategic experience, Kavango could well be for you. It wonderful to see a game made my experts in their field who clearly understand the subject matter at hand. Both the Animals and conservation matters are handled with authority and authenticity, which brings an added sense of gravity and honesty to the game. Mechanically, it is a fusion of drafting, tableau building, hand management, set collection, and contract fulfilment, with an added element of asymmetry added for fun. But it all comes together in a wonderful package that has swept me up in its simple beauty, and I think it may well do the same for you.

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page