There is a subcategory within the party game genre that is the 'pitching' game, where players try to sell an idea to one other player: it's not a place I personally visit often and, when I do, it is almost exclusively to play Snake Oil (Out of the Box/Amigo) which, for me, stands like a giraffe above smaller beasts of burden like But Wait... There's More! (Toy Vault) and Funemployed (IronWall/Mattel), neither of which I ever want to play again. Similar to this subcategory is what I call 'blagging' games, crawling critters like Action News and Who Would Win (Gamewright/Funforge). This preamble is my way of giving you some perspective as I review this Second Edition of Champion of the Wild from Big Imagination Games.
Designed by Tom Clare, Champion of the Wild's elevator pitch is 'Who Would Win between animals in wacky Olympics-style events?' The game is nicely packaged in a small box, comes with a necessary excess of tokens, a large deck of Animal cards, and five smaller decks of Events cards in different disciplines. In the basic game, the Triathlon, players first draft three Events before being dealt seven Animal cards, from which they choose one to perform in all those Events. For each Event, players will try to persuade each other as to the merit of their chosen animal in that discipline, before all players place voting tokens face down on all animals that are not their own. The tokens are revealed and points awarded; repeat; repeat; total: crown your Champion.
My first thought at this point was 'Is that it?', to which the answer was a deflating, 'Yes'. By selecting just one animal for all three Events, for the most part the remaining six animals in hand are chaff. One of the Events decks has a Team theme, but that just gives you multiples of the same animal. So, you are left trying to persuade people why your Shrimp is better at destroying a shrimp-sized shed while wearing a water helmet than a Rhino at tearing down a regular shed; then at a Balancing act; then at a Leaping contest. If that sort of thing is your bag, then go for it: as explained above, it's not mine. I could, however, be persuaded that from my selection of seven animals, choosing three - one for each Event - might grant more credibility, but I'm fairly sure the point of the game is that the incredulity is where the blagging, banter and bluster is intended to engage the players and whip up laughter.
The animal cards are brilliantly illustrated by Kevin Chapman, Dave Heaton and Dan Misson, and include factoids about that creature which could almost be used in a Top Trumps mini-game. The Event cards, too, are beautifully and 'realistically' illustrated with an animal attempting the Event described; however, there are sets of icons which set the qualifications for the animals that may participate in the discipline which do little more than sew confusion and exclusion. It may well be that you only have one animal in hand that can actually compete in all three Events.
In this Second Edition of the game, there are four variant ways to play which are well explained and suggested for particular groups of players in the rules. A couple of these do allow for multiple animal selection but essentially just extend the Triathlon to a Pentathlon and even a Decathlon. If you like the basic schtick, then this is a well structured way to get more of the same.
A very fair accusation against my opinion of Champion of the Wild might be that I did not enter into the spirit of the game. I can't refute that. A lot of what works in games like this is what players bring to the table and my enthusiasm here was on a par with a jellyfish weight-lifting contest. While I do like party games in general and Snake Oil in this tangential genre, in particular, Champions of the Wild won't be taking home any trophies at my awards ceremony. I was quite glad of the short play time, though: with a full eight players, you could be blagging for quite a while.
(Review by David Fox)