The common hamster. Classrooms all over the U.S. have adopted them as their mascots. You'might have owned one in your youth. You fed her. You gave her shelter. You cared for her. You called her friend. But how much did you really know about your hamster? How much did she weigh? How long was she? Where did she come from? How much did you really know about your hamster?
Fauna is a trivia game. About animals. You answer questions about animals to get points. Whoever has the most points wins. That's it. That's it? It gets more interesting. I promise.
A game of Fauna is incredibly simple. And simplicity is its strength. Every round, an animal will be revealed and players will take turns making educated (or not so educated) guesses about it. Where is its native habitat? How much does it weigh? How long is its tail?
You will place a cube on the board to designate what you believe to be the correct answer. Once a spot has been taken, no other player may go there so obvious spaces fill up quickly. Once everyone has placed all of their cubes or passed, the answers are revealed and points are doled out.
Any of your answers that don't score points will cause you to lose a cube so you will have less chances to guess next round. Luckily you'll never have less than 3 cubes so you'll always have the opportunity to give at least 3 answers. It gives a bit of meaning to your guesses. There are consequences. You can't just throw out wild answers hoping for the best, but you're never penalized too much so you're free to take a stab in the dark every once in a while. It creates an environment that's not too strict, but not too lax. Fauna is happy to live in this gray area. In fact, it thrives in it. The ruleset for Fauna is as straight forward as it gets, but just about everything else is muddy and hazy.
The subject matter itself is a prime example. Animals are something that everyone has at least some passing knowledge of. Whether it's first hand knowledge from farms, zoos and pets or academic knowledge from book and television specials. We all have an intuitive grasp of these creatures, but it's squishy. You know how big an cow is, approximately, but you've never thought about it in feet and inches (there are metric measurements for regions that use sensible units). So you start reasoning out loud and it leads to some moments of pure laughter. "Well birds are mostly air so it can't weigh much." "Cows are basically like 7 dogs." Even funnier is that the logic more often than not works. Fauna works because it lives in the middle ground of common knowledge.
Every once in a while an animal will be revealed that someone knows just a little too much about (not that I'm judging). In most trivia games this would usher in a uninteresting round but not so in Fauna due to it's simple yet ingenious scoring system. Not only do score when you mark the space with the correct answer, you also score points when you marks spaces adjacent to the right answer. You wont' score as much, but it allows you to play the players. So even when you have no clue you can piggyback on animal expert in the group. Fauna works even for players who have little knowledge of animals.
It's fascinating to watch the board fill up one answer at a time. More often than not, answers will clump together either because the players have a reasonable guess and are jockeying for position or because they're hoping to be close to someone who actually knows something. Some of the most humorous moments arise when the answers are revealed and everyone is completely off base. "I only placed my cube there because I thought you knew the answer!" And by marking the right answers with black cubes, Fauna gives everyone a beautiful visual representation of how close (or far) their guesses were.
On it's surface, Fauna doesn't have the trappings of a good game, much less a great one. Animal trivia doesn't exactly scream good time and the board layout, while functional, is not exactly exciting. But through a clever use of subject matter and scoring system, Fauna becomes something greater than its parts. You'll constantly be engaged even when it's not your turn. You'll laugh and question when someone puts down a seemingly ridiculous answer. You'll groan when someone takes your next spot. And you'll question everything you've ever known when your cube stands alone in the corner of the map. My only qualm with Fauna is that the adding up scores takes a little longer than I would have liked. It's the smallest of nits to pick in an otherwise fantastic experience.