In this 10 or Less interview, Ryan interviews Steven Aramini (designer of Circle the Wagons, Yardmaster, Tricky Tides, etc) about his newest area control game, Animal Kingdoms.

First off, Happy New Year, Steven! It’s great as always to have you back for an interview. Before we dive right into your newest game on Kickstarter, let me ask: Do you have any 2019 gaming goals?

Steven: Hi Ryan, great chatting with you again. Yes, for 2019 I’d really like to make a point to attend more conventions than in previous years. I am definitely going to Dice Tower West in March and RageCon in June, and hoping for either ProtoATL in May or BGG Con toward the end of the year.

We are here today to talk about the stunning Animal Kingdoms, designed by you and being published by Galactic Raptor Games. For those that may not know what kind of game it is, could you tell us a little bit about the gameplay?

Steven: Animal Kingdoms is a game that combines area influence with hand management, in which you’re playing cards from your hand to the five kingdoms to try and gain as much influence as possible in each kingdom. The catch is that every kingdom has a decree – or placement rule – that restricts what cards can be played there. It has a puzzle-y nature to it and with the decrees and scoring tokens changing every round it has some nice variety.

Games can often switch themes as they are developed, was Animal Kingdoms always an animal-themed game?

Steven:  Animal Kingdoms started as a deep sea fishing-themed game, but that felt more abstract, whereas competing for dominance in territories/kingdoms was less so. Plus the animals gave it more personality and vibrancy.

Did any other games, be it tableau builders or area control games inspire Animal Kingdoms at all?

Steven: Yes, it has DNA from a ton of games that inspired me, from Smash Up to Ethnos to Coloretto to World’s Fair 1893.

During the game, players will switching out the different decrees (goals) for each area. Did you find it hard coming up with the different parameters for the card play or did they come pretty naturally?

Steven: There was a lot of time spent brainstorming placement rules that felt restrictive but not too restrictive. The decrees are now a pretty even split of simple rules (i.e. odd, even, 4 or 5, etc.) and conditional rules that may be affected by the kingdom you’re playing to, your neighboring kingdoms or even all other kingdoms.

Animal Kingdoms won The Cardboard Edison Award in 2018, this was before Galactic Raptor picked it up. How has the game changed since that time and what do those changes bring to the gameplay that wasn’t there before?

Steven: The two biggest additions were that Galactic Raptor added a board and battles. Previous it was strictly a card game but the board makes it feel less abstract and more like you’re actually trying to get dominance in the kingdoms. Battles are the new tiebreaker for first place. We liked this because it added another layer of strategy, as you must always keep in mind that cards you keep in hand may be needed to battle to decide first place. I think this also gives another thematic tie-in and we’ve found that it’s a fast, fun way to shake up the end of each round as opposed to just counting points.

Katy Grierson has really done some stunning art for the game. What’s your favorite animal suit art-wise in the game?

Steven: I love them all! I’m partial to both the owl and frog…ooh, and the tiger. So hard to choose just one.

What was the best piece of feedback you received from a playtester when it comes to Animal Kingdoms?

Steven: I will always give credit to my playtesting “go to” team of Danny Devine and Paul Kluka, who have given me the best advice for all of my games. They are great testers and we have such a good rapport that tests with them especially are always incredibly productive. I also got great feedback from the Cardboard Edison judges, in particular, related to my scoring, which needed to be streamlined and improved to ramp up the tension from round to round.

Progression of art from Katy Grierson’s first sketch to Danny Devine’s final layout of the tiger in Animal Kingdoms.

What would you say is the greatest lesson you have learned when it comes to designing this game?

Steven: Just that there are benefits to sticking to a design you’re passionate about, but also benefits to not being too rigid with every aspect of the game as you’re developing it. AK went through a lot of changes – different themes, revamped scoring, streamlining (for example, originally there was a market and currency in the game), went from being strictly a card game to a board & card game.

As we wrap this up, is there anything else you would like to say about Animal Kingdoms?

Steven: I’m hoping it appeals to players who are looking for a lighter game with meaningful, strategic decisions, sort of in the same weight class as a game like Lanterns or Splendor, that you can set up, teach and play within an hour, and who appreciate beautiful artwork and a nice table presence!

Thank you again, Steven, for joining us.

Steven can be found at Twitter @stevenaramini and if you are learning more about Animal Kingdoms, you can click here to be taken to the Kickstarter.