Friday, 10 March 2023

Long Long Animal

The Game

Long Long Animal is a small card game sold in the Daiso 100-yen shops in Japan. Based on the packaging this is a children's game, or at least a family game. The rules are very simple. During my holidays I bought quite a few games like this. Not that I am specifically fond of this type of game. I want to study this game genre. I am working on designing such games. I want to understand the design thinking behind these games. Long Long Animal looks simplistic, but when I played it, I was pleasantly surprised. 

There is no rulebook in the box. Three of the cards form the rules and also act as reference sheets. I don't know Japanese, so I relied on the camera function of Google Translate to understand how to play. 

The cards are all sorts of animals. To form a complete animal usually you need two cards. There is one type of cat - the long cat - which is made of three cards. 

At the start of the game all cards are dealt out to players as evenly as possible. Whenever you have cards which form a complete animal, you immediately play them on the table to score points. This applies at all times. Every complete animal is worth 1 point. There are two special situations. The long cat consists of three cards and is worth 3 points instead. There are four types of regular cats. If you happen to have all four types, you get a 4 point bonus. At first I didn't think much about these two exceptions, but I later realised they were the crux of the game, not just fun exceptions. 

Every round there will be a start player who decides how many cards to pass. Once decided, she picks that number of cards from her hand to pass to the next player. After receiving the cards, this player must play any completed animals first. She then picks the same number of cards from her hand to pass to the subsequent player. This continues until you go full circle and the start player receives cards from the last player. This is one complete round of play. 

When you need to pass cards but you don't have enough, or you would pass all that you have, you pass them all and exit the game. You wait until the game ends to see who wins. 

As a game progresses there will be more and more animals played on the table. You have not only long animals but also tall animals. Eventually all the cards will be matched and played. This is when the game ends and you do scoring. 

The Play

The rules are simple. This sounds like a random game of luck. There seems to be little basis on which to decide how many cards to pass and which cards to pass. You don't know what cards your opponents have, unless your group communicates that explicitly. Or you try to remember what you have given to the next player. Long Long Animal feels like a simplistic brainless game for passing time. Not much strategy, no need to think a lot. Just enjoy creating cute animals. 

I think this is what most people will see in the game, and will be perfectly happy with it. If you are a casual gamer and you buy a small 100-yen game from Daiso, this is likely the kind of game you expect to play. Something light and easy. Being a hobby gamer, I can't resist dissecting the game, even when it is obviously a children's game. I found that the long cats are often the key to victory. All those 1pt matches don't really matter. Everyone will eventually get roughly the same number of 1pt matches. To secure a win, you need those long cats. There are only two long cats, and so far it seems to me it is impossible to win without them. 

Collecting a set of four types of normal cats is something we try to do, but it is very difficult. This is shooting for the moon. It feels almost impossible, but that hope of winning a lottery keeps players engaged. Of the four cat types, one of them only appears once in the deck. To be able to collect all four types, you must have this particular cat. 

I discovered that there are tactics to picking the number of cards to pass. You actually want to help your opponents make those 1pt matches and then kick them out of the game by exhausting their hands. Force them to score the low valued cards and so that they have no choice but to pass you the high valued ones. 

No matter how you see it, this is a simple game. Yet I find that I have not fully grasped it. I can sit through a 2-hour heavy Eurogame and feel I've seen all there is to it. Yet I have played a few games of this 10-minute Long Long Animal and I still have a nagging feeling I don't really understand it yet. I don't know how best to decide the number of cards to pass, or which cards to pass. Am I going nuts? Why am I over-analysing this children's game? 

The Thoughts

Long Long Animal is a small and convenient card game. It is short and cute, and works for casual gamers and children. I found a mystery in it that I still haven't solved. If you are as crazy as I am, go get a copy and let's exchange notes. 

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