It’s been a while since I talked about a classic board game. It’s not that I’ve never been fond of them, I guess there has just been less room in my life for them since I graduated from college, and I’m no longer part of the WOU Gamers Guild. It also doesn’t help that my parents aren’t exactly pack rats who save everything, so when I moved to college a few years ago and left all my old board games behind, a good 80% of them where either thrown out or given away.
However there is still one I own to this day that I received on my tenth birthday (Or was it eleventh? I just remember it was a birthday.) This game was based on my favorite book series as a child, and even though said series now has long passed its prime, this game still stands as a fairly decent product by Milton Bradley. With that, Scholastic presents Animorphs, The Invasion Game.
If I had to sum up this game in a single statement, I would say it is a watered down version of D&D, which honestly, is not as bad as it sounds. The game board is comprised of a mapped out version of the Animorph’s world, where roughly a dozen signature locations in which they staged actual missions from the early books are scattered across the board. You and up to four friends play as one of four Animorphs: Jake, Rachel, Cassie, and Marco. You complete missions by morphing your character into animals and moving them into a mission space and roll a pair of dice. Roll the proper amount, and you complete the mission. First player to successfully complete three missions then move to the EGS Tower to destroy the Kandrona Ray in one more decisive dice roll wins.
The main premise sounds simple enough, but the game added several twists to make the game more elaborate. For one, players can morph either before or after they roll their die to move, but they can only morph when their token is standing on a morph space (marked by a blue cube) and playing a Make the Change card of the animal they wish to morph into. In the game, there are six morphs: Tiger, Bear, Elephant, Ant, Eagle, and Dolphin, and once a morph is made, a player places the corresponding morph card at the top of their legend.
There are four different kinds of move spaces that individual morphs must travel through. One for humans, tigers, bears, and elephants (so the land morphs), one for Ants, one for Eagles, and one for Dolphins. As expected, each of the different move spaces is distinct. Aunts have the most spaces to traverse, thus move the slowest. Eagles have the least, so they move the quickest. And Dolphins move spaces only exist in a limited portion of the map where there is water.
While there are twelve missions in total, only three can be active at one time. When a morphed player steps on an active mission, the mission card lays out what the required dice roll is for each morph (I.E. On the mission in the school where you must infiltrate the hidden Yeerk Pool, someone in a Tiger morph must roll only a 4 or higher, Ant morph 5+, Bear morph 6+, Elephant morph 7+, Eagle morph 10+, and Dolphin morph is unable to perform the mission at all.) Once mission is accomplished, it is locked to all other players, and a new mission somewhere else on the map becomes active in its place. Each mission has varying levels of difficulty for each individual animal, encouraging players to change it up and keep morphing to find the best advantage in any given situation.
I have already mentioned many different kinds of cards in the game so heres a quick rundown:
- Morph Cards, each player has six of them (one for each morph in the game) and are used to simply remind people what morph everyone is in at any present time.
- Mission Cards, they lay out the required roll for each animal on an active mission, and are collected by the player once the mission is complete.
- Effect Cards, there is a deck of 48, with each player keeping a hand five of at the beginning of every turn. The majority of them are Make the Change cards, necessary to morph, with the rest being various effects use to twist the game in your favor, such as doubling your roll, warping to any morph space on the map, or making an opposing player morph back into human.
The most prominent of the Effect Cards are the Visser III Move cards. This allows players to move the Visser III token to any mission space on the board. Any active mission with the Visser III token on it can only be attempted in Ant form, as that is the only form small and sneaky enough to outwit Visser III. This can be used to get the drop on your opponents. If they are already closing in on one mission where the ant would have to role a high number, this could drastically slow them down. Or worse, if the Visser is moved to a space where the Ant can’t even perform, (the Ocean or the Beach missions for example) than it becomes unavailable entirely until someone moves him again.
This game is almost like the opposite of Blokus, a game I’ve reviewed in the past with a simple setup, but has a challenging execution. This game, while elaborate, is very easy once you get started. The only real challenge in the game comes from how lucky you are at out racing, out rolling, and out drawing your opponents. There is a bit of strategy with the effect cards and what animals you choose to morph into, but besides that, there is a lot of chance to it.
As a fan of the Animorphs, I was impressed with how well the condensed all the signature locations of the books onto one game board. (For any video game developer out there working on the nonexistent Animorph Sandbox game, this board game would make a pretty good cheat sheet.) I liked how all the players start, like many missions from the actual books, at Cassie’s Barn. Also as a fan, I could have seen how they could have made the game more elaborate. For one, Tobias and Ax, the two most interesting of the Animorphs, were not playable (They only appear as cameos on certain effect cards), and they could have given those players special rules, like Tobias wouldn’t have to bother with morphing but could only do missions as an eagle which limits his options, and Ax would do missions in his normal form with as strong advantage, but cannot travel far distances without morphing.
I could go on from there, but truth be told, it was probably for the best this game was not made too complicated. As it stands Animorphs, The Invasion Game is a fun little chance game for four. Elaborate enough to appeal to fans of the books and make it stand out, and simple enough in execution to draw in new players at any moment. This game was made at the height of the Animorphs popularity in the late 90’s. The point in which Animorphs had a short lived, low budgeted, but well meaning live action television series airing on Nickelodeon, and the franchise experienced an equally short lived merchandise boom: Action figures, video games, the works. This board game was simply another product of that small space of time in my childhood, and honestly, it has probably aged better than any other piece of merchandise I own from the series.
Decent licensed board games with their own rules and setup are a dime a dozen. If you can recall any from your past, feel free to share. We’re always game for some new candidates for family game night.