First, let me just be clear – I backed this game on Kickstarter and take that however you wish. Now, let me follow that up by saying, I love this game. You might be already moving that mouse cursor or shifting your thumb to close the page but don’t. And not just because I told you to (wow I’m bossy in this review), but because this is one of the funniest, silliest games I’ve ever played.
Okay, so what is Champion of the Wild? Imagine the Olympic games, participants come from around the world to match brains, brawn and skill. The very best athletes from across the globe compete to see who is the very best. Now imagine that but with animals. And also add in that not all the contests are in the Olympic games. And now you have to justify why a bison is better than a chimp at destroying a shed. This is Champion of the Wild, and it is glorious.
Each player is given a hand of animal cards from across the realm and they must choose one to participate in each of the three challenges currently on display. This means that while your emu might be great at the sprint, it might be less good at the discus. After everyone has ‘justified’ to the table why their animal would win, everyone chooses where they think that animal would place in this particular competition. This goes on across all three of the events and then the player with the highest score (most first places, etc), is the winner.
Now, the scoring is fine. I’m over it. It is a necessary endpoint to a game. A bigger number means you are the best and all that. You could easily drop it or simplify it and the main ‘event’ (haha) would remain just as enticing. The bit you play Champion of the Wild for isn’t to get points and beat your friends, it’s to try and explain why you think a meerkat will be a dolphin in the 200m swim. This is because there will always be events your animal is going to be terrible at, but you still need to sing their praises and convince people to pick you as the winner. And like a car salesman trying to sell a burnt-out husk, you will either find you are fantastic or terrible – and both are equally great.
Unlike some games that require you to more abstractly explain your reasoning such as Funemployed where you need to say why this list of traits gets you a job, in Champion of the Wild we all know what a bald eagle is so can immediately understand why it would be bad at sumo wrestling. This makes any attempt you make to justify the opposite hilarious. You might start by saying that while the bison has the weight advantage, the eagle is agile and will use its excellent vision to spot a weak point, and that is how it’s going to win. Only for the blank faces around the room to simultaneously go “against a bison!”. To which you’ll slowly start to crawl back and say that maybe it won’t beat the bison but it will definitely be able to win over a badger. And then this perfect balance between silliness and speculation takes place as you are suddenly in a room full of people genuinely considering if a bald eagle could beat a badger in sumo wrestling. This is Champion of the Wild, every single time you play.
The box comes with loads of different animals with a little fact and a lovely illustration. The same is true for the events, and each is a delight to look at. There is representation from across the animal kingdom and enough variety to mean that you will be unlikely to see the same combination more than once. There are also a few different ways to play and while they keep the above mix of silliness and speculation, they add a little more game-y-ness. Whether this is something that you need or will use, is up to you but I found that just scrapping the majority of the scoring and sinking time into pitting animals against each other at long jump is far more fun than ‘working out’ who the overall winner is. But your mileage may vary.
And that, my friends, is Champion of the Wild. It is fantastic and every time it comes off the shelf it rarely leaves the table all night. It’s also a great game to play with kids and asking them why a chicken would be better at skiing than a snake, can only help with their development into perfectly normal adults.
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