2 – 6 players.
Play time: 90 seconds. I’m serious.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Logged plays: 4
Full disclosure: A review copy of Safari Splash! was provided by 2Tomatoes Games.
Alright, we’re moving at a pretty good clip, this week! I was in a writing slump (read: I really wanted to play the Steam Deck) the last two weeks, so I’m back to being behind on reviews again, and I really need to get ahead on reviews because my next month or two is hectic, hectic, hectic, then Gen Con, then hectic again. Nobody told me that being an adult was going to be this much work, alas. We remain and we persevere. In the meantime, however, we also play a bunch of games and then write them up for y’all. So, in deference to that, let’s check out Safari Splash!
In Safari Splash!, players are having such a tough time. They’re on an awesome raft ride down the savannah, taking photos of animals as they go. Granted, there are a few animals that you hate, so you don’t want any pictures of them. It’s weird that your opinions are that strong, but this game isn’t about interrogating whatever is going on there. It’s about fun with animals! So build your pathway down the river, have a great time, and take the best pictures! Will your safari be successful?
First, shuffle all the Safari Cards, placing them in a messy pile river-side down:
Next, choose a Difficulty Level (0 low, 3 high), and deal each player a Start Card from that chosen difficulty level. It’ll have a river component on the other side along with some scoring information.
Finally, you need a timer! They provide an app if you like that sort of thing, but otherwise set a 90-second timer on your phone. You should be ready to start!
So, Safari Splash! is a super quick game of real-time river building. Let’s try to get through the rules with the same … alacrity.
As soon as time starts, players can grab one card at a time from the center to build their river. The river card you play must connect to the previous card you played, but can flow and u-turn (it just can’t go through a tile that it’s already been through). You might notice that there are three different animals on the back of each card; those are the animals you’re likely to find on the front! Of those three, two will appear on the front, so good luck with that. You can sift through cards as much as you’d like, but if you take a card, you have to play it. If you can’t play it, you’re done!
Six cards in the game have a big splash on them. When one is drawn, that player yells “SPLASH!” and every player passes the card in their hand to the player on their left. If you don’t currently have a card, just grab one from the center.
The game ends as soon as time is up! Then you score your river based on your Start Card (which has some criteria based on difficulty level).
- Favorite Animal (Level 0+): You get 1 point for every instance of this animal in your river.
- Least Favorite Animal (Level 1+): You lose 1 point for every instance of this animal in your river.
- Odd Pairs (Level 3): You gain 7 points for each pair of orthogonally-adjacent animals listed here. Note that each animal can only be part of one pair and the animals must be specifically right next to each other on separate cards.
- Groups (Level 1+): You also gain 3 / 7 / 12 points for each group of 2 / 3 / 4 orthogonally-adjacent animals of the same type. Note that, for instance, Favorite Animals and Odd Pairs can be part of Groups (different Groups, of course), which is nice.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
This one’s interesting because player count directly affects the supply of cards. Granted, you’ll never be in a position where you run out of cards, but you might have some trouble at higher player counts if another player’s Favorite Animal is part of your Odd Pair. This will create some contention for certain card backs (who knows if the cards actually have the animal you want on them), and you’ll just have to live with that, I suppose. At lower player counts, there’s just almost no chance that you’ll be in too much conflict. There will usually be one animal you both want, a couple you individually don’t, and a few more that neither player cares about in the slightest. Pretty straightforward. I tend to slightly prefer Safari Splash! at lower player counts, as a result, just for the ease of getting the cards I want from the center, but it’s an extremely slight preference, if anything.
- Maybe just don’t grab cards with your Least Favorite Animal on the back? You can just avoid taking those cards. If you’re lucky, your Least Favorite Animal is the Flamingo or the Gator; those are both very visually distinct animals, so it’s easier to quickly ignore them as you’re grabbing cards in a frenzy.
- Feel free to build where the river takes you, emotionally; you’ll want to spend more time focusing on grouping than paths, anyways. The path is helpful, but it’s just a means to an end, where the end is getting animals in the groups that you want. So do what you need to do with the path so that you can land the groups that will score you the most points.
- Getting a lot of your Favorite Animal is good, but it won’t win you the game at higher difficulties; you don’t play that many cards. Getting big clusters of your Favorite Animal adjacent to each other, however, is fantastic. You can do a ton with that, if you get lucky with card draws. Either way, grouping is almost always the way to go (unless you can use Odd Pairs in conjunction with groups). Favorite Animals are just a nice bonus, generally, at higher player counts.
- Odd Pairs are great, but they’re even better if you can make groups of them. It’s tricky. You can sometimes get two different pairs of animals adjacent to each other that also form two Odd Pairs (making a 2×2 square of animals), but I wouldn’t count on that highly lucrative play (it is a lot of points). Just get Odd Pairs as fast as you can; they’re 7 points each!
- If you haven’t drawn a card when there’s a Splash, maybe try to quickly grab a card that the player to your left hates. It’s mean but fun. You just get to dump a card that might be unhelpful for them and they have to play it. It’s not the kindest thing you can do, but it’s also the most you’re going to get in terms of player interaction beyond fighting for certain cards in the center.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- This might be one of the fastest games I’ve played. You’re pretty explicitly on a 90-second timer, which is a lot of fun. The game pretty much flies by, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. Ideally, it’s flying by and you’re scoring tons of points, but easier said than done.
- I like that there are variable difficulty levels to be inclusive of various play groups. You can play this pretty well with younger players if they can pick up just trying to get a lot of paths with their Favorite Animal on it (you can probably even ignore the path element if you want; I’m not a rules enforcer). As they age up, you can gradually add more complexity. The game’s cute and fast enough on its own that I still am happy to play it with my experienced gaming groups.
- Very cute art! I love the animals. I wish there were a penguin, of course, but that’s not as common of a safari animal, I suppose. They just look like they’re having a really good time.
- Very portable, as well. It’s a relatively small game, though the actual play footprint is pretty large (usually at least 6×6 or 8×8 in terms of cards, since you can build a winding river. You can take this on a trip but I wouldn’t recommend trying to play it on a plane.
- Path-building is one of my favorite mechanics. I just like making complex routes and networks. Having to do so in real-time is particularly excellent; it’s why Eco-Links remains one of my favorite games to this day. In Safari Splash!, the path-building is also pretty forgiving (you can choose which branch of your path to continue on with no consequences); the challenge is getting groups of the same animal together.
- I really like the mechanic that hints at what animals will be on the other side of the card. I’ve seen it in MANTIS as well. I think that’s probably my favorite mechanic of the last year or so? I like that it gives players a bit of agency in choosing which cards they want while still keeping things random. I mean, you can get a card that has your Favorite Animal and your Odd Pair on the back, and no matter what, you win. But spend too much time looking for those cards and not just taking what you can get and you’re going to end up losing!
- The Splash! mechanic is fun, too. It adds just enough entropy to a hectic game, especially because it thwarts players like me that just avoid taking cards with their Least Favorite Animal on the back; here, you can make sure they get passed one (or you can just accidentally give them one because your animal preferences are different, which is funnier).
- I appreciate that the shuffle method for this game is just making a messy pile; it helps with my distaste for square cards. I hate shuffling square cards; they all need to face the same way, and there are four different options instead of two. Here, you just kind of mess them all around until they’re in a pile. Completely avoids that entire problem. It’s great.
- It took us a hot minute to realize that the adjacency is critical for scoring and not just “on adjacent cards”. It’s in the rulebook; it’s just a tough distinction to make. For animals to be adjacent, they must be in adjacent quadrants of different cards. An animal can appear in each corner, potentially, so the corners with the animals in question in them must be adjacent. It makes more sense in the images in the review, which helps.
- There’s a certain advantage you have if your favorite / least favorite animal is the Gator or the Flamingo, just because they’re so visually distinct. If you’re really using this to flex on people, I mean, that’s your business, I suppose? But it’s definitely something I’ve noticed is pretty helpful when I’m playing. It probably would have helped if all of the animals were extremely visually distinct, but, whatever. I don’t think the game is really leaning into that style of play.
- It can be somewhat annoying if you get stuck building a path towards the edge of the table. You either have to shift everything or you’re done playing cards. You can try to build away from the edge, but if you get stuck with straight cards, you might be completely out of luck. You can waste time trying to shift your river, but who knows if that will work? It may almost be worth it just to throw up your hands and try to do better next game.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Safari Splash! is awesome! I was extremely pleasantly surprised when I first played it. Not that I tend to take a game’s length as my primary motivator, but I was confused by a game that only lasts 90 seconds, you know? That said, there’s a lot here, especially as a family-weight game. It’s a quick game of essentially pattern-matching, but you can only match patterns along the river you’re building, so you have to be smart about how you create that river flow. Additional difficulty levels make the game’s scoring more complex, so you can play a simpler version with newer games and grow the complexity with them (or just launch right into the highest difficulty with your work friend; your call). Thankfully, the cuteness of the game isn’t deceptive; it’s a very pleasant experience throughout. Probably not much in the way of player interaction, though; the usual interaction is that you’re all pulling cards from the same center area, and the only other interaction is passing cards around when a Splash! card is drawn. I tend to prefer that sort of thing, though. I like my river like I like the rest of my play areas; undisturbed by other, messy players. But yeah, path-building is one of my all-time favorite mechanics, so a short game with great art and mechanics I love? Easy sell, for me. If you’re looking for a path-building game for the whole family, you love cute animals, or you just want to play a very fast game at game night, I’d definitely recommend Safari Splash! I think it’s fantastic.
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