Ecosystem by Genius Games
Players: 2 to 6
Playtime: 15 to 20 minutes
Perfect for: Players who enjoy strategic tile drafting and placement.
Ecosystem is a game of finding natural balance. Players must carefully select which animals and habitats should serve as neighbors, in order to create a tranquil environment suitable for all life.
To begin Ecosystem, 2 to 6 players are dealt ten tiles each. The tiles represent various creatures (i.e. wolves, trout, bears, etc.) and natural locations (meadow and streams). On a turn, each player will simultaneously choose and place a tile into their personal tableau they are constructing which will eventually be a 5 x 4 grid. The individual then passes the remaining tiles to an adjacent clockwise opponent, and the turn is repeated. After the initial 10 tiles are places, a new set of 10 are dealt and a similar sequence of events occurs, only this time with players passing counter-clockwise until everyone has placed all 20 pieces in front of them.
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The placement of tiles is the strategic heart of Ecosystem. Every tile is scored based on its position, typically relative to other pieces. For instance: a trout tile scores two points for every stream adjacent to it; the person with the longest contiguous stream scores a bonus; and foxes are only scored when they are not next to bears. This is further complicated by the fact that once a player places a tile (which must be orthogonally adjacent to a previously placed tile), its position is fixed unless the person plays a hare tile which allows for the one-time swap of two tiles. After all tiles are placed, each player tallies the points they have collected for each tile type and whomever has the most points wins the game.
What works in Ecosystem is the simplicity in design coupled with just enough balanced complexity in scoring to make for an incredibly engaging game. While tile/card drafting and placement mechanics have been around for quite some time, designer Matt Simpson has succeeded in creating a title that feels remarkably fresh as Ecosystem will keep players thinking on their toes as they try their best to plan for long-term results while leveraging current limited options. This is thanks largely to the well-grafted wildlife theme—the relational nature of predators, prey, and environments is both clever and intuitive. The artwork by Lindsay Falsone is also quite stunning.
Players who prefer games that don’t require making decisions under pressure, or that have more direct competition, may not enjoy Ecosystem as much as others. While Ecosystem doesn’t have an actual timer mechanism, players will definitely feel a mild level of stress upon receiving a brand-new collection of tile options from their neighbor and then quickly evaluating them to make an optimal move. And because a person’s grid of tiles is only affected by their own decisions, players have minimal interaction with each other.
Ecosystem is a quick, light game that has tremendous replay value given its design, theme, and overall charm. While Ecosystem doesn’t break any new ground on mechanics, its delightful simplicity and well-executed theme make it perfect for the whole family.
Recommended if you like: Between Two Cities, Sushi Go
Final Grade: A
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