Review: Savannah Tails

Posted by James (admin) on January 17th, 2010

Savannah Tails is a game of Ostrich racing.  The designers’ previous game was dog sled racing (Snow Tails) and this is a lighter and very different game.

Each player has a deck of cards which each show one of four colours and a number from 2 to 6.  The track along which the ostriches race is made up of sections – straights and curves – which can be arranged in lots of different way.  Each track section shows 4 trails (red, blue, yellow and black) and each has a tree at one side of the track. 

At the start of each round, the playing order is determined by the player whose ostrich is furthest forwards, and ties are split by whoever is closest to the tree on that section of track.  On their turn, a player plays one card from their hand of 4 (sometimes 5) cards, moves their ostrich along the track and then draws another card from their deck.  When each player has taken a turn, a new rounds starts.

When a player plays a card to move, they must move all the number of spaces shown on the card (never fewer) forwards or diagonally forwards, and they must end their move on the trail that matches the colour of their card.  Also, a player may not move away from the colour they need to end on and they can not move through (or onto) another player’s ostrich.  If a player starts and ends their turn on the same colour they move an extra 2 bonus spaces (again, these are not optional).  A player can also play any card to move one space onto any colour track.

Each player has three special abilities cards in front of them (there are 6 in total but only 3 are used each game).  When a player’s ostrich moves through an oasis, the player can place a token on one of their powers which can then be used at any time starting next turn.  When used, the token is removed.  Powers include moving through other ostriches and animals, playing the card they played previously again, increasing their hand size to 5, etc. 

As soon as an ostrich crosses the finish line, the round is played to the end and the ostrich that is furthest past the finish line wins.

The track sections are double-sided and many sections have animals and other obstacles on them too.  The different animals have different effects – for example, ostriches can not move onto or through a lion, moving onto a porcupine space immediately ends movement, warthogs make a player discard their cards and draw a new hand, crocodile spaces can be moved through but not stopped upon, and cheetahs make a player discard a bonus card.  Some landscapes have effects too like quicksand that takes 2 movement points to enter, dunes that make a player move one extra space forwards or backwards, and even a rope bridge which narrows the track down to one trail wide for a few spaces.  If you play a card with a value of 2, your slow speed means you can tip-toe through these hazards without effect.

Overall, Savannah Trails is a light racing game – this is exactly what the designers set out to create and they succeeded.  It is very simple to learn and after a few turns you start to see how you can combine your cards to get the best effects out of them, as the extra +2 movement for starting and ending your move on the same colour track is a healthy benefit.  Also, you start to realise that blocking is very important too – as is taking the short routes through corners.

The double-sided track sections mean that there is a vast amount of potential combinations, so the tracks offer lots of variety which should, in turn, deliver longevity for the game.  There is one suggested track layout to start with.  I liked that as it’s too easy to make what seems like an interesting track to then only find out it’s too difficult.  However, I found it quite hard to quickly pick out the sections as they look very similar at a glance, so some subtle numbers on each section would have made this a lot easier to identify and assemble.  I would have liked a few more track suggestions too, if these identifying numbers were included.

We played the suggested starting track which has no animals on it.  The rules suggest this to learn the game quickly and then play again with a more developed track.  However, this was a bit too vanilla for me as it meant it was just a sprint with few items to have to plan for, so tactics were very minimal.  As a result, some players may think the game less appealing than it actually is and I think the plain track almost does itself an injustice.  If your players are total beginners, use the plain track but, otherwise, I suggest adding at least a few animals and features in your first race.  The extra features along the track will add lots of tactical decisions, plus will cause bottlenecks and force players into the same spaces.

We played with 3 players which was fine but I think that play will be even better with more players as this will cause more conflict and more competition.  I’m not sure why it doesn’t play up to 6 players (it plays up to 5) – maybe it gets too congested but it’s a shame it doesn’t.

Savannah Tails is a fast and light racing game but there are tactics to be had within it. Despite our plain track, I enjoyed it and I look forwards to trying it more with a more interesting track.


[Played with 3 players]

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