Food Chain Island: The Darwin Dream

  • Designer: Scott Almes
  • Artist: Annie Wilkinson
  • Publisher: Button Shy Games
  • Kickstarter Launch Date: May 26th, 2020

Disclaimer: The PnP for Food Chain Island was provided to us by Button Shy Games for review.

Luke: Scott Almes! Best known for the Tiny Epic franchise, the man’s well versed in making big games in small packages.

Phil: A hallmark of Button Shy Games… games.

Luke: So it makes perfect sense to bring his talents to an 18-card solo puzzler that has left us amused and satiated.

Phil: Before we get into the specifics of how the game works, I just want to give a shout-out to Annie Wilkinson, the talented artist behind the beautiful images of this game. Who knew that animal murder could be so darn cute.

Luke: Food Chain Island plays out like an Animal Planet TV show mashed with a satisfying spacial puzzle. The goal? Have 1 animal remain at the end of the game, the mightiest creature on the island. But to do that, you’ll need to move animals strategically across the 4×4 grid to make sure the necessary animals get fed while triggering special abilities in a specific order.

Phil: Some of these abilities are helpful, allowing the Bat to move freely across the map or the Lizard to remove an unstacked card from the game. Others will restrict how your next turn can play out, forcing you to move animals in a specific manner and generally hamstringing your flexibility.

Luke: Luckily, you have 2 aquatic friends to help you navigate these troubled waters. Once per game, both the Whale and Shark can provide their much-needed services, transporting an animal anywhere on the board and removing an especially hungry creature’s dietary restrictions.

Phil: Speaking of which; each animal can only eat an animal if their card value is 1, 2, or 3 lower than itself. So the grand Lion, a 14, can only eat the Gator (13), Tiger (12), and Wolf (11), meaning you’ll have to slowly work your way up the food chain if you have any chance to connecting the lowly Plant to the mighty Polar Bear.

Luke: Your first few games, you’ll likely have a tough time puzzling out how to move your cards around, but once you get a hang of what everything does, the base challenge is a breeze.

Phil: This is when the real game begins.

Luke: Now, the game will challenge you to randomly remove 1 water-based animal before each game, reducing your flexibility. Beat that? Try it only using your wits. Done with that? Here are 6 other variable shapes to lay out the cards at the start of the game. Let’s see you beat all of those, with and without your wet friends.

Phil: Wet friends?

Luke: There’s only so many ways I can say it without sounding repetitive. Gimmie some slack here.

What we’re getting at is, while this may seem like a game with a “solution”, there’s plenty of challenges to try your hand at. And frankly, the fact that the cards can come out in so many different ways makes each game feel fresh and interesting, even if you’ll try and employ similar strategies when combing certain animals.

Phil: And I’ve heard there’s the promise of more creatures on the horizon?

Luke: There are 2 expansions included in the current Kickstarter, 1 free and 1 an optional addition, and while we haven’t had the chance to see what those are, we have no doubt that it’ll just add to the fun.

Phil: It reminds me of Wonder Tales, but solo… and reversed. Rather than building up a board and seeing who scores well, you’re attempting to whittle down the structure to a nub, and seeing the stacks of cards grow as the board diminishes is so satisfying.

Verdict: This is easily our favorite solo Button Shy title to date, even more so than Sprawlopolis, which can feel overwhelming at times. Food Chain Island gives us just enough to chew on and explore all while promising a tense 10- to 15-minute time-frame. If you haven’t taken the time to yourself, head on over to the Kickstarter page and check it out for yourself.

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