Much has been said about HABA’s greatest game in their catalogue. There are really only two that stand out: Animal Upon Animal and My First Orchard. I don’t know what percentage of their sales come from these two products, but it must be hefty. While My First Orchard is marketed as a kid’s first board game, Animal Upon Animal is targeted at both kids and adults and it succeeds in doing so.
Animal Upon Animal is a dexterity game, plain and simple. Players roll a die and start stacking up animals on the back of a crocodile (or alligator?). Animals can be stacked in various orientations but must start on the back of the crocodile and building upwards. The die allows you to place 1 or 2 animal of your choice, place an animal beside the crocodile to expand the base, give one of your animals to an opponent to place or allow an opponent to choose an animal for you to place. You are crowed the winner once you are out of animals. In the regular, standard sized Animal Upon Animal, each player gets 7 animals that are relatively chunky in size. They are the monkey, sheep, bearded dragon (what an odd choice!), snake, penguin, toucan and hedgehog. In Small yet Great, there are 6 smaller-sized animals: porcupine, butterfly, frog, polar bear, kangaroo (best animal yet!) and duck.
The standard game accommodates 4 players while the pint sized version has enough for 2 players. I suppose one can combine both games as the smaller animals are actually quite small. However, playing with kids, the smaller animals are significantly more challenging to place. The animals however, are quite cute and unique, especially the kangaroo.
The game falters a bit when it comes to animals that collapses from the stack. It happens often and I guess if one or two animals fall, it’s fine. If most of the stack falls, then rebuilding is quite easy for the remaining players. Usually, the game becomes anti-climactic. I suppose in the end, the game is designed and targeted for kids as more an activity rather than a gamer’s game. Obviously, adults can play and just have fun without keeping score. After all, the structure looks quite funny and impressive after it is completed.
Kudos for HABA for designing this evergreen title. There are now many versions of the game and spin-offs, each spotting a different group of animals. I think all the games are equally fun and I am not sure there are a whole lot of differences between the animals. I think the Balancing Bridge version forces players to build the stack on a bridge inside the box.
A note about the dexterity part of the game though: unlike other games geared toward kids, Gulo Gulo being on the forefront of my mind, kids do not necessarily have an advantage here in Animal Upon Animal. In fact, seeing my kid play, I can tell she struggles with placement. Often times, she accidentally hits the table after a successful placement, causing the structure to fall. So, I am not sure if this game is great for kids, other than if they can participate as a family activity. I’d recommend other dexterity games for kids, but Animal Upon Animal is a classic worth trying out if even once or twice!
Initial impressions: Great (Family); Good (Kids)
5 years 2 months: Being marketed as a kids game, Animal Upon Animal remains challenging for my kid. She can place the animals but surprisingly has a tough time evaluating whether an animal is able to hang on to the structure. From an adult perspective, it looks exceedingly clear if an animal can or cannot hang on. But my kid will still try and fail. Sometimes, there aren’t any consequences but other times, the structure will collapse. She is patient though and willing to go at it again and again until she wins. I can see how some kids would be frustrated at repeated attempts. I would say the game is a huge disadvantage for some kids, especially those that are dexterity-challenged. On the other hand, it can teach patience.