Game Review: Fun Push-Your-Luck “Hamsters vs. Hippos”

hamsters vs hippos game - box artYou’re a hamster and it’s your big chance to make a break for it and escape the zoo. Problem is that you really need to grab a lot of lotus flowers from the lily pads to ensure you have enough food to survive in the wilds. Oh. and hippos. There are hungry hippos (are there any other type of hippos?) lurking in the pond beneath the lily pads. Your challenge is to grab as many of those flowers while running through the pond without encountering the hidden hippos!

Hamsters vs. Hippos from Tin Robot Games is a very family-friendly puzzle game that your 8yo niece will find totally adorable. You will too, even without any orcs, trolls, or dragons. The artwork by César Ayala Delgado is just delightful, from the box to the instructions to the little tiny hamster meeples. The game consists of 52 lily pad tiles, 6 player boards, 6 meeples, 68 tiny lotus tokens, a general supply bowl and instructions.

The basic game consists of taking turns hopping around the lily pond, hoping to get more flowers before those hippos show up and ends the game in the most unpleasant of ways!

Here are a sample of the tiles:

hamsters vs hippos game - tiles

There are actually 12 different types of tiles that denote different actions or rewards for being revealed. In the above image, the top row (left to right) are move lotus flower, springy pad, the more valuable blue star lotus, then, along the bottom row, a double lotus, single lotus and splash. Flower tokens are tiny gears, all collected in the General Supply bowl:

hamsters vs hippos game - flowers in bowl

The pink tokens are worth one point, the purple are worth three. And then there are the little meeples:

hamsters vs hippos game - hamster meeples

The black one with the white ink is a bit Walking Dead in my eyes, but otherwise, they’re all very cute.

The standard game supports 2-6 player and there’s also a solo mode. I opted to play the solo mode…

HAMSTERS VS HIPPOS SOLO MODE

For the solo mode setup, you create a 5 x 5 grid of lily pad tiles, face down, out of a pool of all but two of the hippos. In other words, each tile has a 1 in 50 chance of being a hippo. In phase two you’ll add one more hippo to the mix, roughly doubling the chance of any given tile being that pesky hippo to 2 in 51, then for the third and final round, you’ll be at 3:52. Of course, since you’re only playing with 25 of those tiles (5 x 5 grid, remember) it’s statistically possible that none of your tiles are the hippo. But are you willing to take that chance?

Here’s the initial solo setup. A 5×5 grid and four hamsters at least 2 tiles away from each other:

hamsters vs hippos game - solo setup 5x5

Hamsters can move onto any of the up to eight tiles immediately adjacent (yes, including diagonals) with the exception that a hamster can never jump onto an exposed lily tile and can never jump within one tile of another hamster. Apparently, they’re rather antisocial and are much more interested in “divide and conquer” than “let’s work together”. Hamsters. What can you do?

There is no way to know which of the tiles, if any, contains the nefarious hippo but having it show up is definitely bad news. In the solo mode the hamster that reveals the first hippo on the board is then frozen in place and cannot move. The second hippo exposed? That’s an immediate game over, you lose. The hippos win, however, with a tasty snack. 🙂

A bit further on, each hamster has moved and revealed a tile or two:

hamsters vs hippos game - mid game solo

The general rhythm of the game is move, reveal, take action. You can play hamsters in any order and even ostracize one and play the others if you prefer.

Here’s what took me a while to realize in both the solo mode and multiplayer game: The game board (the big hamster card with the knapsack over his shoulder) is your permanent flower token storage, but when you unveil a flower token they go into a temporary storage spot. That’s why two tokens are on the wooden surface, not on the card, in the photo above. They are at risk if you reveal a hippo or have to discard a flower due to a specific tile’s action. Once they are on the player card they’re safe from any action (other than the second hippo causing the game to end).

In the above, the hamster on the lower right fell into the water, but they revealed a blue lotus flower worth 3 points. Nice! The yellow hamster revealed an empty pad (no action) followed by a Springy Step which will vault her two tiles away. Blue got to peek at an adjacent tile (super helpful for finding the hippo without having to reveal it) and then a free lotus flower move from the temporary area to the permanent storage area. That’s why one of the tokens is on the player board. Finally, red fell in and has since been ignored by everyone else.

Yet further along…

hamsters vs hippos game - level almost over

We have been mighty lucky with the tiles – though two did force us to return flower tokens to the general supply bowl – and it’s time to cut and run. Yes, the three unrevealed tiles could be something wonderful, but any one of them could be the hippo too. To end a level, which you can do at any time, simply pay 4 flower tokens and remove all the hamsters.

Level two is on the 5×5 grid again, but this time two of the 51 possible tiles are hippos, increasing the chance you’ll bump into one of the pesky critters. Level three, 5×5 again, but 3 of 52 are hippos. Reveal two and you lost, game over.

My final score, as a picture. Remember, purple are worth 3, pink are worth 1:

hamsters vs hippos game - final score flower lotus tokens

Remember, only those that are in my permanent storage on the card count. This is 16 points. Not bad for a solo play.

MY THOUGHTS ON HAMSTERS VS HIPPOS

The basic challenge is whether to push your luck and keep revealing lily pad tiles to maximize your score, or get out of that darn pond sooner with whatever you’ve scored pre-hippo! There are a lot of push your luck games, of course, from Zombie Dice to King of Tokyo, to Yahtzee. They’re appealing because they’re really easy to understand and embody that sage wisdom of “there are no great rewards without great risks”.

No question, Hamsters vs. Hippos is a pretty simple and straightforward game, easy to set up, play, and suitable for the entire family. In the multiplayer game, the very youngest players might be upset when they’re chomped by the hippo, but otherwise, this is good fun and a great addition to any family’s game library. As a solo game, however, it gets repetitive quickly and I found that I would generally move two of my hamsters into corners then alternate between the other two to quickly go through the lily pad. On later levels there’s a lot of luck too: If you have a one in 17 chance of revealing a hippo on any tile, you could find one within a move or two or make it through most of the pond without a sighting. No strategy, just luck. This is probably better as a multiplayer family game than as a solo title, however.

Hamsters vs. Hippos from Tin Robot Games. Heading to Kickstarter on Oct 20th, with an expected MSRP of $40.00.

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