Buzzworthiness: Jungle Speed

This week’s review is a little late, but here it is:

image by BGG user Steverino
image by BGG user Steverino

Jungle Speed is a 1997 dexterity game designed by Thomas Vuarchex and Pierrick Yakovenko.  Asmodee published it in the US.  The game is for 2-8 players, and the object is to get rid of all of your cards.  There are 80 cards and a Totem included in the game.  Earlier editions of the game had a solid wood Totem, but more recent editions use a rubber one.

In the beginning, all cards are distributed to the players.  Any leftovers are placed underneath the totem in the center of the table (not an official rule, but that’s how I play).  Players then take turns flipping over a card into their discard stack.  You have to flip the card out – you can’t give yourself an advantage by allowing yourself to peek.  This continues until someone plays a special card (which I’ll explain in a moment), or until two or more symbols on the board match their shapes exactly.  Each symbol is present on four different cards that in one of four different colors, and a lot of them look very similar.  If a match appears, the players who own those cards make a grab for the totem.  The first one to grab it (or the one closer to the bottom in the case of a tie) wins the duel and gives their entire discard pile to the loser, who puts it (with their own discard pile) at the bottom of their draw stack.

If you make a mistake – you grab at the wrong time, you knock the totem over, etc. –  you take ALL discard piles.  This has led to the rule we use that has kind of become the game’s signature: DO NOT DISRESPECT THE TOTEM.  I usually make this rule number one when explaining the game.  My explanation goes like this:

The first rule of Jungle Speed is: do not disrespect the Totem.  The second rule of Jungle Speed is: DO NOT DISRESPECT THE TOTEM.  Do not knock the Totem over.  Do not throw it across the room.  Do not bash someone in the head with it.  Do not taunt the Totem.  Do not make insuations about its parentage and political beliefs.  DO NOT.  DISRESPECT.  THE TOTEM.

Again, that’s not the official rule, but I can’t play the game without it.

There are three special cards in the game.  Gray arrows pointing is an All-Grab, where all players make a mad grab for the Totem.  The player who gets it can place their discard pile under the Totem.  Gray arrows pointing out is an All-Flip, where all players simultaneously reveal the top card of their draw deck, resolving any duels that occur.  Colored arrows means that it’s now a Color Grab – instead of matching patterns, you’re matching colors.

The game ends when one player has gotten rid of all cards in their draw and discard piles.   They win.

COMPONENTS: The cards in this game are square, and are illustrated with VERY SIMILAR SYMBOLS.  The differences are sometimes more subtle than others, and that’s by design – when trying to recognize patterns as quickly as you can, it’s hard to tell that those this starburst has squiggly arrows in between the points, while this one has straight arrows.  Or that this X in a circle has short arms versus that one with long arms.

The game comes in a nice cloth bag, which helps with portability – I don’t even have the box any more.  The only other component in the game is the totem, and my version has the solid wood Totem.  The Totem in the current mass-market edition is rubber.  While I can understand the necessity of the change – too many safety concerns for Toys R Us – I greatly prefer the wooden Totem.  It’s more solid, not as easy to knock over, and can be used as a blunt instrument in case of rules disputes (though that is a clear case of disrespecting the Totem).  The rubber one is a doggie chew toy.  Just saying.

THEME: The flavor text for the game talks about how the Aboulou Tribe in Eastern Trisopotamia used the game to determine who got which shares of food, using eucalyptus leaves as cards.  That’s just a silly way of saying there’s really no theme here.  The Totem is probably the most thematic thing there – the symbols on the cards are all pretty abstract.

MECHANICS: This game is really a pure pattern recognition game.  You’re just looking for a pattern that matches your own.  Once you have found it, all you have to do is get to the Totem first.  It’s a very simple game, ruleswise.  The complications come in actually recognizing those patterns, and stopping yourself from grabbing when a similar pattern comes out.

There are a few small mechanisms in play that make the game run a little smoother.  You have to flip cards out so you can’t peek.  You win ties by being closer to the base.  DO NOT DISRESPECT THE TOTEM.  Also, the introduction of arrow cards add a little spice to the game – you have to be ready for them.  When that All Grab card comes up, you can get rid of some discards for nothing.  When the All Flip card comes out, you have to be paying extra attention so that you can grab if you flip a match with someone else.  When the Color Grab comes up, you have to switch what you’re looking for and be aware that there is a much better chance that you’ll get to a matching color than getting a matching shape.

Overall, the game is very simple to learn with not a lot going on, but the subtle things make it work.

STRATEGY LEVEL: This is not a strategy game.  It’s pure skill in both recognizing patterns and reaching out to grab the Totem.  I tend to pause just before I flip my card to make sure I know exactly what everyone else has, but some people will just flip quickly.  You have to have a lot of luck, but you also have to have good reflexes to be successful.

ACCESSIBILITY: It’s a very easy game to learn and to play.  The biggest barrier to entry is the symbols and their similarity – some people just won’t get it, and can get pretty discouraged.  However, for those who can get, it will quickly become a favorite.

REPLAYABILITY: You can play this game over and over and have a great time every time.  You may have to stop when your fingers start to hurt, however.

SCALABILITY: You can play this game with 2-8 players, though I wouldn’t suggest it with two. 5 is probably the best number.  I might even be willing to play with as many as 10, but your mileage may vary.

FOOTPRINT: Jungle Speed takes up practically no space.  You just need a table that everyone can sit around and be roughly equidistant from the Totem.  I usually have to sit at the end of a rectangular table because I have longer arms than a lot of people  But it’s very portable, fitting well into a small bag.

LEGACY: Jungle Speed is a rare party game that I actually find to be fun.  It’s got the action component, it’s got simple rules, and it’s fast.  It has the benefit of feeling familiar while being pretty unique – it’s not really like any game out there.  Sure, there are speed games and there are pattern recognition games, but nothing melds them together like Jungle Speed does.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY?  Yes.  I love Jungle Speed.  It is one of my top ten favorite games.  It is just pure FUN.  You may have some frustration from matching shapes, but that’s part of the game’s charm for me.  It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but the vast majority of people I’ve played it with have loved it.  It’s fast, it’s not complicated, and it is FUN.  And that’s all.  Thanks for reading!

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