Friday, June 12, 2020

Scott Almes gave the world a nifty solitaire game

Food Chain Island was one of those games that I learned about, printed out and made a copy and played within the same twenty-four hour period.  Yes, it helped that it was only eighteen cards without any other components and had a simple rule set but that’s still faster than my usual process.

It’s a Scott Almes design (quite possibly the simplest design I’ve seen from him by a fair margin) and the first of a new subsection of Button Shy’s Wallet line, Simply Solo. The idea behind the Simply Solo line is to make solitaire games that are easy to learn and have lots of replay value. Spoiler: Food Chain Island is a good start as far as that mission statement goes.

The base game consists of eighteen cards and no other components: sixteen numbered animal cards and two special action cards. The announced expansions will add more special action cards. The core concept of the game is that you lay out the numbered cards in a grid and bigger animals can move onto animals 1-3 numbers smaller than them and eat them. Your goal is to down to one to three stacks of cards, the fewer the better.

Of course, there’s a clever bit. Every animal has some kind of special effect that goes off after it eats something. It can be moving other cards, making the next move be diagonal and such. Sometimes it can be helpful and sometimes it can be a restriction. The polar bear, for instance, requires the next move NOT be with the polar bear. Honestly, in most cases, it’s up to you to arrange the board to make the special move an advantage. The extra cards let you do some kind of extra move.

Okay. First things first. No, there is absolutely nothing original in Food Chain Island. The basic structure of the game is Peg Solitaire, which is over three hundred years old. And probably thousands of games have special powers at this point. Food Chain Island isn’t going to be remembered as Scott Almes greatest game. (Tiny Epic Galaxies is AWESOME)

None of that matters because Food Chain Island delivers on the mission statement of being an accessible and enjoyable solitaire game that has plenty of replay value. The fact that you’ve seen all the mechanics before is actually a point in its favor. It’s easy to pick up AND it’s easy to keep on playing. 

Food Chain Island reminds me a lot of one my favorite fidget games, Murderer’s Row, which has a very similar idea of reducing cards with special powers only in a straight line. Food Chain Island uses a two-dimensional space to work with.

Scott Almes didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. He took tried and true mechanics and applied them to make a game that I can’t play just once in a sitting. It’s not a deep or heavy game but it is explicitly not meant to be. If you like having little solitaire games to fidget with, Food Chain Island is a game to look at.

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