Designed by Amanda Milne and Julia Schiller, and published by SchilMil Games, Komodo is a tile-laying game where players are building habitats for various species of antipodean animals. Each animal type demands a specific type of habitat to themselves and of at least a specified size; and that size represents the number of points scored.
The premise is that animals are having to be saved from extinction caused by an impending asteroid strike. In our age of environmental concerns and campaigning, this seems an unnecessarily apocalyptic plot driver. We probably don't need the immediate prospect of interplanetary collision to appreciate the environmental threat to many species on Earth and the need for conservation.
In Komodo, there are four types of habitat: Grassland, Rainforest, Water and Desert. The terrain tiles are each made up of nine squares in a 3 x 3 grid and they each show at least one habitat type; most tiles show two or three different habitats. Players each have a hand of up to five tiles and, on your turn, you can lay as many as you like just as long as at least one square of terrain lines up with matching terrain on the tile you're laying it next to. Players will also have animal cards, and when they create a habitat that's large enough to support the animal on their card, they place out the corresponding standee. The animal card is placed in front of them to show its value in end-game scoring.
You don't automatically draw tiles or cards at the end of your turn. To replenish your stock, you need to use your turn to draw rather than lay out tiles and/or animal cards. Alternatively, you can use your turn to discard and replace cards or tiles from your hand.
Species cannot share habitats, so if, for example, you have a Quokka (requiring 15 squares of desert), you cannot place out a Taipan (which requires 5 desert squares) in the same contiguous area, even if it extends to 20 squares or more. Once a habitat is occupied, you'll need to create a separate area of requisite terrain in order to place out further animals. There are tho' some species for which there are multiple cards; these can cohabit in shared terrain.
If that was all there was to Komodo, it would be an appealing but ultralight children's and family game. There's more, however. The game incorporates an open display of 10 types of 'wild cards': in effect, 10 types of single-use special abilities. Players each draft one at the start of the game and you'll be entitled to draft another wild card at the end of your turn for every animal standee you place out (subject to a maximum hand size of 3 wild cards). Wild cards can be played at any time on your turn (tho' not on the turn you picked them up) and they are returned to the display when played. It's these wild cards that turn a genteel habitat-building game into a game with potentially cutthroat interactions. With the wild cards, players can manipulate the shared habitat tableau, causing rival players' animals to escape and freeing up a terrain area in which you can place an animal of your own... A security card lets you place a padlock token which protects an animal from 'escape'. Other wild cards include those that let you draw more tiles or animal cards on the same turn as you lay tiles.
The wild cards add more challenge to Komodo but without bogging players down in excessive complexity. With younger children, you may well start off by playing Komodo without the wild cards but if children are old enough to read the cards then they're likely to enjoy the additional interaction prompted by the cards - especially when they are beneficiaries rather than being on the receiving end of a 'take that' escape card.
The artwork from Sam Turner and Aaron Baron, making great use of wildlife photos, add greatly to the game's appeal. Our one gripe was that this is a hand management game where the main thing you are concealing in your hand are tiles; awkward when you have a hand of five tiles of which to keep hold. You may want to rig up tile racks to make it easier for players to see their tiles without revealing them to other players.
SchilMil Games describe Komodo as being for 2-4 players but we'd rate it as a 1-4 player game. The rulebook includes the option of playing Komodo as a fully cooperative optimisation game. Given the environmental theme, this definitely feels right but these rules are easily adapted so you can play the game solitaire as a solo problem-solver.
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