Buzzworthiness: Food Chain Island

A print-and-play version of this game was provided by Button Shy Games.

image by BGG user jtagmire

Food Chain Island is not a sequel to Food Chain Magnate; rather, it’s a solitaire game from designer Scott Almes that is being published by Button Shy. The Kickstarter campaign starts next Tuesday (the 26th). In the game, you are trying to have only one animal left on your island by sending all the rest through the food chain.

The game, like most Button Shy titles, has 18 cards – 16 land animals and 2 water animals. The land animals are numbered 0-15, each with its own species from plant (0) to polar bear (15). The water animals (shark and whale) are not numbered, and are bonus action cards that will help you out. To start the game, shuffle up the 16 land animals and deal them out in a 4×4 grid with the water animals set to the side.

image by BGG user krahenkamp

On a turn, you will move one card on top of an orthogonally adjacent card. The card you move must have a number that is 1-3 higher than the card it covers. So the 8 could move on top of the 5, 6, or 7, but not anything ≤4 or ≥9. After this move, you activate the special ability on the card. These abilities could be moving an animal to a new position, removing an animal from the board, or a restriction on the next turn – can only move diagonally, must jump over another animal to get to your prey, can’t use this animal next turn, etc.

On subsequent turns, whenever you move an animal that has previously eaten another animal, you move the whole stack. The game is over when you can no longer move an animal. To get total victory, you must have only one animal standing. A good win, however, it 2 remaining, and you “just scraped by” with 3 left. Any more than that is a loss.

One more thing – the two water animals can be used one time during the game to either move an animal, or to eat any animal of a smaller value (not just 1-3 less). For a more difficult game, you can not use both of these (or either of them), or could even set up the grid in different configurations.

Button Shy’s normal printers weren’t able to produce review copies, so they had to send out print-and-play files to reviewers. And then my printer went on the fritz, so I just wrote the cards all out on index cards. So, this might be a bit incomplete – I think I got all the mechanics and gameplay right, but it’s just not the same without the original vision.

So, you know those peg games that you can find at Cracker Barrel? The triangular board where you are moving the pegs over each other to try to have only one left? This is basically that. Except with actual strategy. And limitations. And cards have to land on another card instead of jump over. And some randomness. And no set solution. So, not that much similarity in the end, but I’d be surprised if Almes wasn’t inspired (at least subconsciously) in some way by the peg game.

I really like the art in this game. It’s really kind of a violent premise if you think about it – your goal is to eat all but one of the animals in the game. And the art reflects that, though it’s not really gruesome. The 0 card, the lowly Plant, stands along, but the Ant (1) is pictured eating a Plant, and a Spider (2) is pictured eating the Ant. This continues all the way up to the Polar Bear (15), which is eating the Lion (14). Like I said, it’s not really gruesome (no blood is present), but we could probably call it kind of morbid. At the same time…that is the circle of life.

Strategically, this game has a surprising amount going on. On the surface, it may seem pretty obvious. As you deal out the cards, it’s likely that there will only be a few places where you CAN move an animal due to the restriction of only being able to eat a value 1-3 less than the one you’re moving. At that point, you need to determine the best opening move that is going to put animals in position to eat further, or to be eaten. At most, every animal can only eat three other animals, so that limits you. Plus, you have to take into consideration the special abilities of the animals – when you eat with the Lion, for example, the next animal you eat has to be exactly one less than the predator rather than 1-3 less. So that further inhibits you.

As with the peg game, leaving gaps is bad. But it’s not insurmountable as you’ve got plenty of powers that help you to move things around. You’re not just stuck with your plant over in no man’s land, you’ve got something you can do with it. Also, it can be frustrating having your animals next to nothing they can eat, but again, there are ways around that. The water creatures can be helpful in this, but they have to be used wisely as each on can only be used once.

Because all the randomness in this game is up front in the set-up, you can try to plan several moves in advance before taking your first move. Actually, you could play out the whole game in your head before moving a single card, but good luck remembering your whole plan when the time comes. It’s kind of fun just to start and see where that leaves you, and if you want, you could take a picture of your initial adventure and reset it the same way, just to see if you can improve. Kind of like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure thing.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Food Chain Island is a solo puzzle game that is very engaging throughout. It provides a good mental challenge, is very creative, and is fun to play. It’s a great one to pull out when you want a quick puzzle, and I’m looking forward to playing more. The Kickstarter campaign is launching this coming Tuesday, and I’ll update this post with the link when it goes live. (Edit: Here it is!)

Thanks again to Button Shy for providing the print-and-play files so I could try this one out, and thanks to you for reading!

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