WBG Score: 7/10
Player Count 2-4
Published by: SchilMil Games, Ltd.
Do you like the tile laying simplicity of Carcassone?
Do you enjoy the satisfaction of housing animals in Cascadia?
Well then, Komodo could be for you! Komodo combines the satisfying beauty of matching tile placement with the constant 'mini-objective-completion-rewards' seen in Cascadia into one simple, family friendly game. Let's take a look.
Komodo is from SchilMil, a New Zealand based publisher known most for their 2018 hit, AuZtralia. The Schil coming from Julia Schiller and the Mil coming from Amanda Milne. Komodo has a slightly strange introduction in the flavour text in the rule book, about an impending asteroid about to hit the South Pacific. I am not sure why that is there, but the game itself is a joy and really has nothing to do with asteroids!
How to play.
In Komodo, players are looking to place tiles into a communal area to build up areas of either desert, water, forest or grassland to create a safe habitat for your animals. Each player will start the game with two animal cards chosen from three that were dealt to them, and five terrain tiles. On your turn, you can either swap out some of your tiles and cards for new ones, or place as many tiles down as you like and house an animal. *In the most recent rule book it also allows you to stock up by drawing two animal cards and two terrain tiles, or any combination of three in total. This is not present in the original 2012 rule book which instead says at the end of your turn, you draw back up to five tiles and two cards.
The animal cards show the points available if you can safely house them, but also the space required for them to be happy in their new home. The Tasmanian Devil for example will get you 10 points at the end of the game if you can safely house it within a landmass of at least 10 spaces in the grasslands.
The Tiles themselves are three by three tiles, each with nine spaces on, made up of a mixture of different types of land. The game starts with the Komodo tile in the center and the placement rules could not be more simple. When you place a new tile on the board it simply has to touch another tile, along one full side, with one matching land area. You could complete a square of four tiles by placing a forth tile into the bottom right space, that matches one side of one tile of the left but not the one above it for example. Only one side needs to match.
Building up the tiles couldn't be simpler. But it is not just about finding a place to place a tile, more building up the required land space you want based on the animal cards you have in your hand. All animals not yet housed can be seen from the as yet, unplaced animal standees, so you can get an idea for what is in the other players hands and the deck. This is helpful to avoid building up a land mass you think another player could use before you do.
Learning and teaching this game couldn't be simpler. Becoming a master of the strategy takes more time, and it s a lot of fun to learn! As a test of the simplicity, in the picture below, can anyone see the one tile that has been placed illegally?
Each time you place an animal you can take one of the available face up Wild cards. These offer a variety of powers such as being able to rotate and move tiles that have already been placed, draw extra tiles or cards and still take your turn, or make a rival neighbors animal escape. To stop this from happening to your own animals, you can lock their location. You only have three locks, so you will want to hold onto these until you place a higher value animal.
Animals cannot be placed into habitats that have other animals there already, but there are a few animals that come in twos, and they are happy to be placed with each other. Otherwise, you need to have a barrier created by a different land type to start a create a new area for each animal.
*Once you have finished your turn, you will draw back up to five terrain tiles and two animals, and play passes to the next player. Or play just passes if you are playing the new rules. The game will end when one player only has three tiles in their hand for the original rules or when there are no tiles or cards left for the new rules. Each player will then have one final turn before the scoring phase takes place. Each player will add up each housed animal and then subtract the value of any un-housed animal.
Games move quickly, and it will be rare that you will not be able to house an animal on your turn at the beginning or middle of the game. But near the end, space will become more of a premium, and using the wild card powers to either relocate another players animal or force one of their animals to escape to create space for you will be crucial to your success. If you don't like take-that in games, you can easily just remove a few cards to stop this. But it is useful in these finals stages to have these powers.
Building up a larger land space can take a few turns, but leaving a large area without an animal in could mean a rival player will use this space for their own animals before it comes back to you. Generally speaking you want to try and house an animal at least once per turn, build up your land and then claim it. But this is not always possible with the larger areas that some animals require. This is a race game in part. Sure, it is about who gets the most points, but the game is on a clock, based on the tiles running out and space being available. If you don't house the animals quickly, then you may be out of time. The tension this creates provides a lot of entertainment for me. I enjoy trying to do things before it is too late. It is very satisfying to me to achieve things like this in games, and this game has a lot of this.
You need to try and see what types of land the other players are building up to see if they may benefit from you what you plan to do. What animals have been placed already. And what animals are still left to be house. I like trying to make this guesses. If players really start taking this seriously, they may even start bluffing what areas they are trying to make. And with most tiles usually having more than one land mass, this is very easy and fun to do!
You can only hold up to three wild cards at a time, but you can play them whenever you like on your turn. There are two of each type. You will use them all for a three and four player, and with the new rules, only one card of each type will be available in a two player game.
There is also a cooperative mode which can be played solo quite easily where players are looking to house all the animals. The game is played the same way as the competitive version except all players lose if on any turn, at least one animal couldn't be housed. There are also threat cards which must be dealt with once per turn which can play havoc to your plans, so you need to expect the unexpected!
The cooperative game ends when all 32 animals are safely housed. If this is done, all players share the victory. This mode feels more like a puzzle than a game, but is a fun way to play solo, with younger children or to learn the game.
In the main game, creating your habitats and housing your animals is very satisfying. The fact that you get to do this most turns, feels great. There is a constant sense of progression as the tiles expand, more animals are housed and your points rack up!
Finding places to house second animals of the same type is highly rewarding, and moving an animal from a large area to a smaller one when it only needs that, in order to place another animal of yours that otherwise would have been left homeless creates a lovely feeling of completion. If you enjoy games that give you a constant little kick of endorphins for small victories, this could be for you. This seems to be a trait with game made by SchilMil from what I have played from them so far. And what a lovely thing to be associated with.
I enjoy playing this game a lot. It is quick to play. Easy to teach. Light enough to play when you are tired or after a heavier game. But it still gives you back a sense of satisfaction, win or lose, for completing your tasks as you play. Get an animal card. Create a suitable habit. House animals. Rinse and repeat. It feels great to do this, and the game keeps you coming back for more.
My children enjoy this game immensely. We keep all the take-that in, but we do remove the minus points for any un-housed animals at the end. It does make you feel bad to lose lots of points at the end, especially when it is a 20 or 25, and a card you took near the end! However, this is part of the game I enjoy a lot when playing with adults. You know the risks when you take a new card. In the new rules, it is your choice when you take cards. You don't have to do it every turn like the old rules. And you know what animals are left and what the state of the tiles is. If there Komodo is still out there but there is a large desert space unoccupied, then go for it. If not, perhaps hold back. These are fun strategic choices that I enjoy making, and I assume why the rules changed?
Overall, Komodo is a surprisingly deep game. The photography used on the cards and standees is an interesting change from art, but makes the game feel real. At the back of the new rule book there is some detail on each animal, and I have enjoyed learning a little more about this creatures as I have played. And in turn boring my kids with the facts when I played with them! I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys games like Cascadia but want something a little lighter. Or Cascassone, but think they would also enjoy the animal theme.