Review: Fabulous Beasts from designers George Buckenham and Alex Fleetwood

When I heard the name Fabulous Beasts, I like most Harry Potter fans, expected to hear something about the upcoming movie or slim volume produced by JK Rowling. But no – Fabulous Beasts is instead a new board/electronic game from publisher Sensible Object that combines a physical stacking game with an app experience that brings some additional strategy and fun into the mix.

After a note from the publisher, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the designers, George Buckenham, at Game Haus Cafe here in the L.A. area. The team behind Fabulous Beasts hails from the UK and you can see their video introduction of the game way down below.

In fact, that’s not all the chatting that happened. I recently spoke to George online through the magic of Blab, a cool new online conversation platform that I recently wrote about on my company’s blog. I tried it out myself and while you can see the video of the recording, I’d must rather direct you to my upcoming podcast of the chat once my new podcast home becomes available. But I digress.

Fabulous Beasts has a lot of the charm of Animal Upon Animal, the classic Haba stacking game that I can’t stop recommending to parents with kids because it’s awesome and kids love it. Adults usually like it, too, unless they’re boring people you don’t want at the game table.

Fabulous Beasts Pic

Designer Ta-Te Wu joins George in a game. Photo credit: Umm, me.

Happily, you can capture a lot of that fun with Fabulous Beasts while also playing with the puzzle-like mechanisms to maximize your score. FB is a cooperative game, meaning that the players are working together in order to build out a ‘world’ that is reflected physically in the stacking of plastic pieces and electronically on your nearby iPad. Like Animal Upon Animal, a player’s turn consists of stacking a new piece on the electronic platform. Before stacking, players need to scan their piece so the platform knows what piece is being placed, which is zapped over to the nearby iPad and the piece placed will appear there. It takes just a moment and then you can keep stacking.

Unlike wooden stacking games, however, these pieces interact with each other in the electronic world. Animals are the primary pieces in the game and they’re pleasantly odd in shape so as to make for variable stacking options. They’re also categorized as air, sea and land animals that will change and adjust on the app when they’re stacked up. Once you have managed to place them without toppling, the app will update you on their ‘fabulousness’, which goes up sometimes and down when other animals get a boost (often with elemental pieces that correspond to their type), causing jealously. We all know being jealous is definitely not “Fabulous” and those creatures lose some value. Collectively, points are awarded as pieces are added but those bonuses are mitigated somewhat by the losses in fabulousness.

While the stacking bit is enjoyable, especially when you try to expand the space with longer pieces that cause animals to migrate and combine, the app adds a lot of interest to the game. Not only are players challenged to manage animals losing their fabulousness due to the rise of other animal types (which can lead to extinction, which is apparently what happens when one ceases to be sufficiently fabulous) but there are mini-games that arise from placement of certain pieces that distract players or further challenge them on their normal turns. This can include time limits as well as interaction with the iPad that has to happen while also stacking (one such mini-game includes the need to keep touching a full moon that moves across the screen while you are conducting your turn).

These elements certainly add to the experience of playing Fabulous Beasts, which my friends and I quite enjoyed. It’s likely to generate lots of laughing and joshing of your teammates for failing to stack properly or manage the menagerie on the app. Families will surely enjoy the experience of the physical game as well as exploring how the animals change when they migrate and combine through placement of the abstracted pieces that also come with the animals and elements. The elements are things like fire, water, air, etc. While it makes sense that these will affect the animals that correspond to those types, it might be more fun if those elements were actual items rather than concepts. A minor quibble, but it could help develop the story more and offer kids more option for free play with the components.

One more quibble: While I like the way the electronic side works, it’s a little plain as far as the animation goes. Here’s hoping a successful Kickstarter will give Sensible Object some funding to beautify the app. The pieces are certainly very nice and they deserve an electronic counterpart that looks great, too. An update in the future could do that, of course, so I’m glad they focused on getting the physical components right first.

Another appealing notion that is related it the option to update the app to include additional modes of play and challenges in the future. More board games need to take advantage of this idea. Only a handful of products are realizing the potential of this combo but more should because it’s a great way to extend replay value.

Fabulous Beasts is a clever idea well done and it’s available on Kickstarter now. To hear a bit more background on the making of the game on my podcast, OR LISTEN NOW JUST BELOW.

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