From Studio H and designer Frédéric Vuagnat comes Vivarium, a brand new game set deep beneath the earth on a fantastical new continent. Like many of the studio’s releases it features a focus on nature, deceptively simple gameplay, and a truly unique look and feel thanks to the art by Satoshi Matsura. But is there more beneath the surface here? Let’s dig deep and find out!
What’s In The Box
- 48 Creature cards
- 16 Equipment cards
- 21 Contract cards
- 8 Starting Contract cards
- 9 dominoes
- 1 First Player token
- 9 Priority tokens
- 40 gems
- 1 game board
- 1 scorepad
- 1 rulebook
How’s It Play?
The game is essentially a spiritual adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Lost World, putting a more fantastical spin on it by using rock creatures, owlbears, and more odd things in place of the Stevenson’s dinosaurs. Players work as scientific adventurers out to explore the brand new world found beneath the South American continent. They’ll have to take on lucrative contracts, gather their equipment, and discover the new wildlife living down below. At the end of the game, whoever has been the best at collecting their cards and earning gems is the winner.
Gameplay takes place across seven rounds. On their turn, a player will need to make a choice with dominoes on the table as well as the available cards. Everyone is competing for the same resources, and it takes some puzzling and even luck to make sure you can get the things you need to fulfill your contract (or score a new lucrative one). When you swap out your domino for on on the table, you can then take a corresponding card from the bank as long as it fits the numbers on your dominoes. You also have the option of taking two gems. This continues each round until everyone has done it twice.
Creature cards are all categorized into type (animal, vegetable, mineral, or dragon) as well as habitat (mountain, forest, desert, marsh), which are used to fulfill contracts. All creatures also give between one and three victory points. Equipment cards not only fulfill contracts, they also give you gems and each have a special ability. Those gems aren’t just points tracking, they also can be spent to change the value of your dominoes to access the cards you need. Everything has a little extra purpose to it, which helps elevate it from its seemingly basic gameplay.
I was immediately hooked when I saw this game just based on Satoshi Matsura’s art alone. The coloring is immaculate the designs of the creatures are at once cartoony, whimsical, and beautiful. Studio H really does a fantastic job getting a lot of visual appeal into a smaller box.
The gameplay was more of a surprise for me. At first blush, it’s just a simple card collecting game. But the dominoes aspect feels super novel since it makes it feel much more like a competitive puzzle to solve. Plus the minimal aspects of the game each have multiple uses that, combined with the shifting nature of your goals as the game goes on, adds a lot of replayability and strategic depth to an easy to pick up game. Combined with the beautiful art, this is one to look out for if you’re a fan of small games with big presence.
Images via Studio H and Hachette Board Games
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