It's hard to get past "The Animals of Ahorn Valley" at the moment if you look around the board game scene. The cute artwork game is present at every corner. In this family game, the players try to make the winter shelter as comfortable as possible for their family. In addition to a classic worker placement mechanism, there is also dice placement. This review is intended to show how this combination performs in practice.
At the end of 2020, the Kickstarter campaign by Canadian publisher Kids Table Board Gaming (KTBG) ended with almost 9.000 backers, over half a million Canadian dollars raised and a goal that was 2.200% met. The game was voted into the top 10 most anticipated games of 2021 on BoardGameGeek. So the expectations for the game were high. The hype surrounding the game is still present weeks after its release. How justified this is, and for whom the game is a blazing novelty, is only to be considered in this review. We considered the game according to the rules of the second edition. Here the normal playing time is 6 instead of 8 months (rounds). In addition, age has been raised from 8 to 10 and playing time from 45 minutes to 60.
Outside hui, inside too
The artwork fits seamlessly into the lineup of beautiful artwork that's pretty much standard on KTBG. Unsurprisingly, the optical quality inside the box is also of the highest quality. Everything is absolutely coherent and harmonizes perfectly with each other, whether on the cards, the playing field or the player boards. All maps (ideas, improvements, travelers, forest and meadow) are rather thin and have a very pleasant finish. The low thickness of the cards does not seem to have a negative impact on durability. In the test, these were not prone to kinks or the like. There are a total of 9 different resources for the cards, which can all be stowed away in the supplied, slightly oversized plastic bags after they have been unlocked. There are also wooden figures, wooden buildings and dice in the five player colors and four village dice.
Classic worker placement with dice mechanism
The rules and the course of the game are learned quickly. During game setup, one each of the spring and summer cards for forest and meadow are removed, so that a new season card is revealed in each of the 6 rounds. After the last autumn card was in play, winter comes and the final scoring follows.
At the beginning of each round, a new traveler card is revealed on the game board in the inn, which offers the players effects and advantages as well as action spaces. Then everyone rolls their two family dice. Knowing this, everyone sends out their workers at the same time. What is special compared to other worker placement games is that the individual locations cannot be blocked by other players. Everyone always has all the places to choose from. In the classic worker placement manner, the locations primarily offer resources with which improvements can then be purchased at other locations or hand cards can be paid for and played. The exact composition of the available resources depends on the season and the open forest and meadow cards.
When all have placed their workers, the four village dice are rolled. In turn, the players can now assign their family dice and village dice to the locations to which they have sent their workers. If they can unlock the locations with the available numbers on the dice, they can use the corresponding action. If the dice don't allow this, or if you don't want to use a certain action after all, you get a consolation token as consolation. These allow you to increase or decrease the number of points on a die by one for your turn. At the end of one's own turn, cards with the collected resources can then be played. The hand limit is three, as is the starting hand, at which point it may be necessary to discard. Then the village dice are passed on and the next player assigns them to the locations of their own workers.
At the end of a round there is the usual "clean up". Cards are exchanged and postponed, the traveler card leaves the inn, new forest and meadow cards are revealed and the starting player marker is passed on.
In addition, the game also includes a solo mode. But this seems rather unloving compared to the rest of the content. There is no automa or other artificial player elements. With the same rules of the multiplayer game you go on a high score hunt. At the end you get a funny title based on the collected symbols and the number of certain elements. It is quite useful for learning the game, but also shows the quite solitary nature of the game. If you want more than a blunt hunt for points, you should use other games for a solo game.
Number of players: 1-5 people
Age: from 10 years
Playing time: 60 minutes
Long-term motivation: good
Genre: family game
Core mechanisms: worker placement, dice placement
Authors: Roberta Taylor
Illustrations: Shawna JC Tenney
Publisher: Board Game Circus / Kids Table Board Gaming
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2022
Cost: 45 euros
The Board Game Circus has come along The animals of the maple valley a solid family game in the program. This brings a very nice look. The game doesn't reinvent the wheel, but its own combination of worker and dice placement works satisfactorily.
The game is thematically in well-known areas. Far from being new or unique, forest and animal themes work well time and time again. Especially for the artwork, this theme offers a lot of scope for a beautiful and imaginative design, which was also implemented beautifully here. A few small board game Easter Eggs have also made it into the game in the form of Fossilis (also KTBG), Everdell and Flügelschlag, which attentive players can discover on idea cards. Nevertheless, the game doesn't always manage to convey the theme of building a winter shelter in a completely convincing way. In some places it remains too mechanical for that. Except for the maximum of four possible improvements, your own options don't really develop further in the turn. The shortening of the game in the second edition from eight to six rounds is very good for the game.
The material of the game is good. The color of the red wooden elements tends towards burgundy and, in comparison to the red cubes, is not so clearly distinguishable from the violet elements. The cards are noticeably thinner than in many other games. How this will affect the long term cannot be assessed at this point. In the test games, no increased susceptibility of the cards to kinking or bending could be determined. The total of nine resources are clearly recognizable. The iconography on the cards is also clear here. The individual tokens are all rather small. However, not so small that dealing with them becomes a major challenge.
The clearly arranged set of rules makes it easy to find your way into the Ahorntal. A little more imagination would have been desirable for the solo mode, which despite the shortening of the multiplayer game should still be played over eight rounds, since the scores of the individual levels have not been changed. This is where the core solitaire nature of the game comes into play. Except for a few improvements that represent new locations (clearings) or give points based on the cards in the other players' winter shelter, everyone here plays more or less undisturbed. Not blocking the places by the workers plays a big role here. This allows the phase in which the workers are sent out to be played in parallel and the timing element recedes further into the background. This makes it easier for younger players to find access. With the four village cubes, there is already a limiting element for the locations, which, however, cannot be influenced by any player. The luck of the dice can only be slightly adjusted via the consolation patches (or the almanac improvement).
The village cubes are the element of the game that turned out to be the most problematic in the test. Especially if some locations cannot be unlocked when assigning the dice and you have to decide which locations to unlock, the downtime in games with three or four players can become quite high during the individual rounds. If you collect more dice from other games, you can avoid this problem and everyone places the dice with their workers at the same time.
The game does not experience much development over its duration. You don't build anything worth mentioning with the ideas and improvements that increase the options in the train. The individual rounds feel very similar regardless of whether it is the first, second or last.
In the end, however, despite the great hype about the game, you have to realize that you are not dealing with an Everdell clone or Everdell light. This association is fundamentally not deviated from the theme and style of the artwork.
As the name of the Canadian publisher suggests, this is a (slightly sophisticated) family game. With the "resource puzzle" it offers enough decisions that even more experienced board players will have fun here. The luck element of the dice reduces the ability to plan actions. However, this is not noticeable in the overall context of the game mechanism and keeps the complexity of the game a bit lower than if it were a "classic" worker placement.
In the overall impression one has with The animals of the maple valley not an outstanding top 10 or top 50 game. The special moments are missing. Nevertheless, it is an absolutely solid family game that even connoisseur players will enjoy.
Last updated on 4.02.2023/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API