A to Z Gaming: Habitats

We created vast wildlife refuges in Habitats in an effort to save animals and entertain tourists, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Habitats
Players: 2-5
Time: 30-50 Minutes
Designers: Corné van Moorsel
Artists: Steven Tu
Publisher: Cwali

Habitats is a tile placement game where each player is setting up a wildlife refuge in an effort to keep all of its animal inhabitants happy, as well as entertain the visiting tourists. Over the course of three years, players add new areas, animals, flowers, tourists and roads to their refuge. Each year there are small goals awarded to the player who best meets them, and at the end of three years, the player who has built the best refuge wins.

The game is set up with the scoreboard and appropriate goal markers for the number of players with two goals chosen at random for each year. Each player receives an entrance tile and places the matching color marker on the scoreboard. Finally, the tiles are shuffled and laid out in a grid, with a ranger meeple for each player taking one space of the grid. The size and placement of the rangers depends on the player-count. The game is played in three rounds, with the number of turns per round also dependent on the player-count.

On their turn, players draft a tile from the market (discussed below), and then place it into their park. The placement rules are fairly simple – the new tile just has to touch a previously played tile by at least one side. The terrains don’t need to match (in fact, you often don’t want them to match), but any roads are assumed to go off into infinity, so no tiles can be played that would correspond to the row or column extending out from the roads. At the start of the game, each player has a road attached to their main entrance.

The tile drafting is done by choosing a tile that is either at the head or two sides (right or left) of your ranger in the market. Once you take a tile, you move your ranger to the empty spot, pointing the ranger’s feet toward the empty space it just came from. Then a new tile is placed in the just-emptied spot. In this way, players are not able to immediately draft the new tile that filled the space where their ranger had been on their next turn. Instead, if they want that newly-placed tile, their ranger will need to travel around the market to reach it again.

There are a number of different tile types. Each tile has an animal, flower, outpost, tourist or roads. And unless the tile is an outpost, it also has an associated terrain type – water, forest, desert, or grassland. The flower tiles are easy – they simply give you one point no matter what. The animals, however, need to have certain conditions met before they are happy (and score points). Each animal will show one to four terrain types that they must be adjacent to to be happy. If there are two of the same type, the second one of that type doesn’t have to be directly adjacent to the animal, but can be adjacent to another of the same type that *is* next to the animal. The rules suggest that you play the animal tiles upside down until the animal is satisfied, so you remember it isn’t happy yet.

Tourist tiles come in two types – those who like big areas of one terrain type and those who like lots of small areas of the same terrain type. In the case of “big area” tourists, the tile containing the tourist doesn’t count toward the points. For the “lots of area” tourists, the area containing the tourist doesn’t count. The outposts give points for happy animals within view. Some give points for tiles immediately next to the outpost (the positions shown by yellow squares). Others give points for tiles in a line from the outpost. Finally, the road tiles score if all non-road sides (marked with yellow squares) are connected to your park. However, they do represent new roads that place restrictions on how you play future tiles.

At the end of each round, players evaluate the goal tiles for that round. These include things like having sets of different terrains, having the most flowers, or having the most compact park. After the third round and third goal evaluation, players count up points for their happy animals, flowers, tourists, and outposts. The player with the most points wins.

I learned about this game watching Rahdo’s playthrough when the third edition was on Kickstarter, and I’m glad I did! I’m a sucker for animal-themed games, so this fits right in with my others, and I really like the puzzle of figuring out how to satisfy each animal in the most efficient way. Believe it or not, but I also “enjoy” the utter disappointment when I realize I’ve messed up and can never make a certain animal happy. I mean, I have no one to blame but myself, but sometimes you have to do it to make another couple of animals happy. Or you just forget!

I also really like the market of tiles. It represents a unique drafting mechanism that is both brilliant and frustrating. You can try to plan ahead, but the tiles you want may not be there if other players get there first. Plus, by the time you circle back, you might find some new tiles are more appealing. However, it’s not easy to change course midway through, so it takes a lot of thought before you make that decision. And, in one game we played, one of our opponents embraced all of the stupid roads we were getting, and she won, because roads are easier to satisfy than animals, and she had many, many scoring road tiles.

How is it as a 2-player game? Habitats plays well with two players. The market is scaled down a little for the 2-player game, which can feel a little limiting, but you’re still slow to move around the market, so there’s likely to be just as many good and terrible choices available. We’ve played with 2 and 4 players, and felt that in both cases it was a fairly tight game.

How about the art and component quality? The tiles are good quality, and I love the animal art. In fact, I often find myself going for an animal I like instead of the one that would go best with my refuge. The iconography is clear, and the year tracks for different player counts makes it easy to set up the game no matter how many players you have.

Will this stay in my collection? Absolutely. I’m a sucker for animal and zoo themed games. This one is a fun, frustrating puzzle layered on top of easy and relatively fast game-play.

One Reply to “A to Z Gaming: Habitats”

  1. This game is a lot of fun. I like the animals so much that is hard to not just pick one because I love it rather than because I can get points. I avoided the road tiles and outposts as much as I could and that was a mistake points-wise. Only played once. Would love to play again.

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