Safari Jack game
by Tom Warin
Number of players:
Safari Jack is a clever map-building, endangered animal-hunting game for 2-4 players that’s easy to pick up and plays very cleanly, but never seems to be as much fun as it should.
The game and gameplay
Note: I own the original, black and white envelope release of the Safari Jack game, which is out of print.
The game consists of 60 cards and a rule book. There are six “Base Camp” cards, 24 “Path” cards split evenly between river, jungle, cave and savannah terrain, 16 “end cap” cards split evenly between the path terrain types, nine “Move” cards, two “Jump” cards, two “Bump” cards and one “Safari Jack” card.
The artwork on the cards in the original release, as even the designer has admitted, is grey and ugly. The re-released version fixes this issue with much nicer color graphics.
As usual with a Cheapass Game, you have to provide a couple of extra items that you can grab from other games. In this case, you need a pawn (we use Lego figures) and a set of counters for each player.
An initial board is laid out in one of three patterns (depending on the number of players), with one base camp square for each player and one path square of each terrain type in the Safari Jack game. Each player places their pawn on a base camp.
The remaining cards are shuffled (cards will end up next to others of the same type at the end of the game, so be sure to shuffle well) and each player is dealt seven cards (six if there are four players). The rest of the cards constitute the draw deck.
A player’s turn consists of three steps: draw a card from the draw deck, move the pawn and play a card. If a player draws the last card, then their current turn will be the last turn of the game.In the move phase, a player will normally move their pawn one square on the map. Alternatively, they can skip their regular move and play a move, jump or bump card. A move card allows you to move two, three or four spaces. A jump card allows you to jump to any empty path or base camp square.
A bump card allows you to move another player to any empty path or base camp square. If you end up on a square that’s occupied by another player (either by a normal move, or by playing a move card), then you “bump” that player to any empty path or base cap on the map.
If you play a move card, you can move through squares that are occupied by other players and you do not bump them.
Unless they have played a move, bump or jump card, players are required to add one path, base camp or end cap card to build the map. Path cards must be built next to base camp cards or other path cards of the same terrain type; different terrain types can directly border each other, but players cannot move between different terrain types without passing through a base camp first.
Base camp cards can be built next to any path or base camp card. End cap cards have one “open” side and three closed sides and they must be built with the open side next to a path card of the same terrain type. The other three sides are impassable and can border any card type.
Each end cap card has a picture of an animal and a point value. If a player is the first to onto an end cap card, then they are considered to have “bagged” that animal; they leave one of their markers. Animals can only be bagged once.
The “Safari Jack” game card is a special end cap card that can be placed on any path type. When you move onto Safari Jack, you can jump anywhere on the board. After using Safari Jack, the card must be placed onto the top of the draw deck.
If a player reaches the target score (14 for two players, 11 for three players and eight for four players), then the game ends, otherwise the game ends when the last card has been drawn from the draw deck.
Scores are calculated by adding up the point values of end cap cards that a player has bagged and then subtracting the point values of end cap cards that are left in a player’s hand.
Most of the strategy in the Safari Jack game revolves around choosing the right time to play the end cap cards. You want to play them close to your pawn, so that you have the best chance of bagging the animal.
However, another player may use a jump, bump or move card to move past and get into a better position. You also don’t want to have too many end cap cards in your hand when the game is coming to a close, or you will lose points.
If you have a lot of end cap cards, then it may not be in your interest to bag an animal that will push you over the target score until you’ve had a chance to get rid of some of them.
The rule book offers a couple of variations on the basic game. In one, you have to carry animals back to base cap before you can score them; other players can steal the animal from you by moving onto your square and bumping you.
Other suggestions are to change the target score, modify the starting map or take cards out of the deck.
Pros and cons
The “Safari Jack” game is very easy to learn and it plays out quickly. There’s a nice balance of strategy from managing your deck and the board, and luck from the random draw and the actions of other players.
Building the map rather than playing on a fixed board adds some variety to each game. It packs down into a small pile of cards, so it’s easy to transport. It’s very inexpensive.
You need to make sure that your playing table has plenty of room to build the Safari Jack game map on. A minor quibble is that the end caps use fake animal names, which aren’t funny for the most part and are often hard to pronounce.
The concept is a little drier than a lot of the other Cheapass games and doesn’t lend itself to non-gameplay “house rules”, other than specifying that each player use a different form of words when bagging an animal.
(“I’m going to pop a cap in a Huzzburdler!”, “I say, I’m going to bag myself Reiner’s Eddled Kikableet, what, what!”, Etc.)
Although Safari Jack is a game which plays very cleanly, it doesn’t seem that interesting or deep after you’ve played it a couple of times. The artwork on the cards in the original version is dreary and doesn’t help the atmosphere of the game.
The re-release has a much livelier look, but only supports two players. The cards are flimsy and may not hold up to too many games.
In many ways, Safari Jack is a nice little game and I’m not quite sure why I don’t like it more than I do. It’s an easy introduction to map-building games and the mechanics are very clean. It just seems to lack character and depth.