Updated: Nov 20, 2019
I’m due to go off on safari next year, albeit in South Africa rather than Tanzania, so the theme of this game piqued my interest. It’s a deck builder card game but, unlike most two-player deck builders, this isn't a combat game; players aren’t trying to blow each other up or beat their opponent down. In Serengeti (subtitled 'A Race for Life'), the players are each trying to ‘track’ the various species of animal and add the animal cards to their deck. They are doing so both to make use of the animals’ special abilities and to score a victory point simply for every species where they end the game with more cards than their opponent.
Cards can all be used for one of their two special abilities or just for their energy value (every card has a value of one point of energy). Players are not, in the main, spending energy to acquire the animal cards but energy often has to be used when activating the animal’s special abilities on a subsequent turn. You have to have an eye to what your opponent has collected, and there are a couple of tug-of-war scoring tracks where players are in competition, but, in play, Serengeti doesn’t feel like a ‘take that’ game; instead, this is a game where you are mainly focused on making the best use of your cards in order to create a productive ‘engine’.
Serengeti is quick to play: an event deck doubles as a timer, limiting each game to a maximum of 12 rounds or ‘seasons’. Players are always drawing and using five cards (more by making use of some animals’ special abilities) and so this is a game where, once you are familiar with the card icons, turns are brisk and there is very little down time. Some of the iconography could perhaps be clearer, however, so, for your first couple of games, you can expect to find you have to look up what each card can do. After a few plays, you’ll appreciate that there’s rather more to this game than simply grabbing cards; there's strategy in manipulating your deck to best advantage. You’ll also appreciate that your discard pile only takes, at most, a couple of ‘seasons’ to recycle, making this game less dependent on the luck of the draw than commonly the case with deck builders.
Serengeti is designed by Rogue Marechal and published by Hal-13. An expanded version of the game is currently on Kickstarter... The attractive artwork by Katia Filipovic adds greatly to the game’s appeal. I might just be taking it with me on my trip to the Kruger National Park.