About half a century ago, noted designer Terence Conran had an idea. He envisaged a new European way of shopping for homeware in London under the banner Habitat. Curiously this bore no relation whatsoever to the board game Habitats coming to fruition.
It turns out Habitats is game about animals and their environs rather than bold prints, frames and paper lampshades. It’s not a bad thing, but important I clear up any confusion before we begin this board game review! This tile-laying puzzle was first published in 2016, but got a much needed makeover by Allplay (previously branded Board Game Tables) when it was launched on Kickstarter in March 2022. This edition includes both expansions that were created for the original version.
Setup varies depending on player count and there is a handy prompt printed on each of the scoring objective trees showing how tiles and trucks should be placed. Six end of round scoring tiles should be chosen and placed beside this.
Players will receive a starting tile that matches the colour of their vehicle. The starting player also needs the round tracker marker, which they will be in charge of. Add scoring tokens in a pile nearby and you are ready to play.
Players are competing for the most points. These come from the end of round objectives and from meeting adjacency conditions on the tiles placed in your own habitat.
On a player’s turn they will move their jeep onto a tile in front or to either side of its starting position. They will then claim the tile that their jeep lands on and add it to their tableau, placing it next to at least one other tile.
Some tiles have placement restrictions demarked by white lines on the edge of the tile. This dictates that no tile can touch this edge going forward.
As soon as a tile is claimed the jeep is moved into the empty space facing the correct way. A new tile fills the empty space behind the jeep. You cannot get blocked by other jeeps, you merely drive past them onto the next tile. The only dead ends are provided by the edge of the open market.
Tiles have conditions to meet to score them. Most animals require to be adjacent to certain Habitats. If two grasslands are next to each other, an animal only needs to touch one of them, but still counts as two of that type of terrain for scoring. This way of optimising and sharing tile adjacency reminded me of Nova Luna.
There are other types of tiles, such as tourists, gates, tents and watchtowers that have slightly differing ways of scoring points.
The first player reduces the turn tracker after everyone has had a go. After a varying number of turns, a round finishes. The end of round objectives vary from most unique flowers or animals, to most single tile habitats. Tied players score the lower points value that they would be competing for which is a little punishing. After the final round it is a case of tallying points from the tiles and objectives to establish the winner.
There is a solo mode included but, like many others I haven’t tried it yet. If I do, I will be sure to update this section with my thoughts!
What it’s like
Careful planning will reap rewards in Habitats. I think that is probably why I struggle to win! Optimising and navigating the route around the shared market of tiles successfully is vital. Especially when factoring in some redundancy for other player’s swiping the tile you were aiming for, which they do like a masked fox in Dora the Explorer quite often.
Players will inevitably be cursing their past self for stupidly misplacing a tile or not foreseeing what might have been. You see, Habitats is not about animal utopian perfection, it is about making the best of what you can. Not all animals will be completed and not all goals will be won. It will be like that for almost all players so it makes it much more tolerable.
Driving your jeeps around the terrain is an interesting experience and the luck of what tiles get placed and where may provide a bit too much randomness for some. Also, choice may be naturally limited based on the direction you take and the decision of others around you.
Generally though, it is an interesting puzzle to optimise.
Planning the route of your jeep and where to lay your tiles is a mega brain bamboozle. However, the hardest part of the game is remembering to move the round tracker down as first player!
The game is usually played in under an hour and the age rating of 10+ is about right.
Let’s just take a moment to allow the box art tarts to revel in the awesome illustration of a lion on the lid. I think it is one of my favourites and can’t think of many better!
Inside the box, I like the depictions of animals on the cards. They are stylized and colourful and remind me of illustrations in children’s’ books. I do like how the terrain backgrounds line up when placed next to each other to create a repeating pattern. I really appreciate that! A couple of the watchtower tiles score along an endless amount of tiles in one direction, I think the iconography for this repeating nature could’ve had been better. Otherwise they are all really good.
Also in the box is a really vibrant bag that is supposed to hold the tiles to shuffle and draw them out randomly. The disappointment is that the tiles barely fit, let alone have room to be mixed around. Not disappointing are the little wooden jeeps, which also have symbols that match the starting tiles for those that suffer from colour deficiency. The wipe-clean scoreboard does the job and it nice to have the included dry-erase pen included.
The rulebook is light. Although it gets you up and playing, if you have a question it is unlikely to be answered here. That’s not a big issue but some scoring objectives could be elaborated more than is on the tile!
What’s not in the box by default are the lovely wooden animal tokens that you might have seen on Instagram and BGG photos. In the box you get tick tokens that show when a tile has been scored. To get the animal upgrades you will need to pay almost as much as the game itself.
I have played with these animal tokens, as I purchased them with my own pocket money after playing the game without them. They are completely superfluous. It also slows down the game as you rummage to find the matching animal token. However, I am an upgrade patsy and I couldn’t resist their extravagant colourful charm.
This is the main reason I didn’t back the game on Kickstarter, I knew I would like the game. But, I also knew I would have FOMO for the upgraded components. With a combined value of $69 plus shipping I couldn’t justify it. I know I am fortunate to have received a copy of the game to review, which has allowed me to justify the upgrade in my head. Although the game works arguably better without the wooden animal components, I still felt I personally needed them. On the plus side they stow away nicely inside the bag that doesn’t fit the tiles, giving that a reason to exist!
What the kids thought
George (12): The artwork is good, and I really like all the animals. I like scoring points with the grey tiles like Watchtowers and Camps. I’m glad my Dad upgraded to the wooden animals! Overall it’s a good game.
Harrison (14): I like the variety of ways to score points. Driving the jeeps around to select the tiles is fun but can be frustrating when a brilliant tile gets drawn behind you. I really like the upgraded animal tokens too. Habitats is a really good game!
Final thoughts on Habitats
Habitats offers a thinky puzzle to baffle the brain. Optimising the array in front of you is the head-scratcher, as points are fairly limited. It is certainly fun to see your nature park grow, and attempt to meet as many scoring objectives as you can. Habitats falls into the category of games that are easy to learn but tricky to master.
As there are quite a few options to assess when picking and placing your tile, this might be a game that brings out the worst in sufferers of analysis paralysis. It’s certainly a game that makes me think more than usual, despite its quicker play time.
There is no shortage of good tile-laying board games on the market. Cascadia, Calico and Akropolis are all great games I thoroughly enjoy. If those titles appeal to you too, then Habitats is easy for me to recommend!
Number of players: 1 to 5
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 10+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 10+
Playing Time: 50 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 4 minute
Designers: Corné van Moorsel
For those that enjoy the puzzle style board games, Habitats sits high up in the genre. You see, it’s a very good game which tests the grey cells and looks good as it sprawls out in front of you on the table.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Driving jeeps around
- Very puzzly
- Fun styling
- Easy to learn
- The tiles don’t really fit in the bag
- Some luck of the draw
- Rulebook is light
- Tricky to remember to move the round marker!
- Wooden components not included
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