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Children’s Board Game Review: Race to the Watering Hole

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The most striking element of Race to the Watering Hole is its art. Based on the children’s book The Jungle Grapevine from masterful artist Alex Beard, this Fundex game incorporates his unique painting style of African animals along with clear, simple, time-tested rules.

At the base level of game mechanics, Race to the Watering Hole borrows from the classic Candyland. Players draw cards with green, red, blue, or yellow colored feet on them and then move to the next space on the board with that color. On the lucky draw of two feet, the players move twice. With further luck, there is the Upper Mburu River slide where, when drawing a yellow, the player can slide downriver to advance upwards of three turns. Other spots are black with colored toes, marked with animals such as the giraffe, wildebeest, snail, monkey, and so on. When the corresponding card is drawn, the player must move, whether far forward or even backward. A rules addendum gives an option of not having to move backward, either drawing again or losing a turn, which takes much of the frustrating “Snakes & Ladders” style out of the game for those who would not enjoy seeing so much progress destroyed.

A further addition shakes up the game in a clever way: the Stack of Beasts card. When drawn, the drawing player can move another player backward to the next labeled animal space. This attack card gives a scope of slowing others and strategy on top of the straightforward luck of drawing a card and moving, which will delight older kids who begin to see through the lack of skillful competition. By taking into account others’ positions, there is always a chance to change up the game with marginal control without it turning into strictly logical chess.

The game’s object is clear: first to the wild-colored space at the Watering Hole wins. It is a very simple game, which makes it perfect for its rating for two to six players aged three and up. Beyond the straightforward mechanics, however, Race to the Watering Hole gives an extra level that kids will love: being animals! Whenever a labeled animal card is drawn, the player must, to quote the rules, “Follow the instructions and act like an animal!” Rather than any pressure, “There is no right or wrong way to follow the instructions – just use your imagination and have fun!” Drawing the Rhino card makes a player “Snort like Rhino” or the Monkey “Screech like Monkey,” which gives a chance to be silly with play. Other cards call for actions, such as “Run around like Gazelle” and “Snap your jaws like Croc.”

These fun rules and the alluring, at-once-cartoony-and-realistic art of Alex Beard, make Race to the Watering Hole a game kids will enjoy. Players may spend much of the time simply enjoying the pictures of animals around the board, which is fine as gameplay is not so difficult that careful attention needs to be paid. Instead, sit down for a fun board game night and be prepared for the competition of lucky draws and animal sounds.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.