One of the flagship games for family game publisher HABA has to be Animal Upon Animal. This simple, yet brilliant stacking game has been delighting children for over a decade at least. Since its inception in 2005, it has spawned a few different versions including a Christmas edition, unicorns, Dinos, and even a card game. And now, the Animal Upon Animal line has dropped down in age range to a game made for toddlers. As part of their “My Very First” line of games, Animal Upon Animal Junior seeks to bring this stacking gameplay to the 2+ age range.
With a dozen chunky, wooden animal pieces, Animal Upon Animal Junior also works for free play if you are just looking to keep your kids entertained. For a ruleset though, there are three ways to play.
The simplest way to play the game is by stacking the animal tower. On a player’s turn, they flip over a sun token and must stack that animal on the tower, trying not to knock it over. The second way to play is raft stack, which introduces a six-sided die. Players roll the die to determine which raft their animal must be stacked on. Finally, there is crab race, where players work together to stack all of the animals before the crab makes it to the end of the sun track.
Like many of the My Very First line of games, Animal Upon Animal Junior is light on the ruleset. Which is a good thing because my kids (ages 3.5) don’t have much in the way of attention span for learning rules… or following them. Initially, we mostly stuck with the first way to play, because they really enjoyed creating a big tower of animals. They are also still a little fuzzy on the winners and losers concept when it comes to board games, but that’s ok. We’re working on that. I’d just impress up on them that they have to stack whatever animal matches the sun and to try not to knock the tower over
One of the good things about the game though is it definitely helps them develop their fine motor skills. The animals have enough variety in their shape that I can see the wheels turning in their head as they try and figure out the best way to stack the animal on the tower. I also enjoyed the build-up of tension in them once the tower gets a bit higher. They can sense that it’s unstable and they usually prefer to let daddy go when it’s looking like it might fall over. Thanks kids.
After a while though, we were able to graduate to some of the other ways to play the game. This is one of the first cooperative games they’ve actually been able to play. Even though they aren’t quite sure of the benefits of winning and losing, I think they are starting to grasp the concept that winning together is good. My son really likes to be in charge of moving the crab, so much so that he’s actually knocked the tower over in his zeal to move the crab along the trap. I think he’ll be ready for a traitor game soon.
In previous reviews of My Very First line of games, I’ve mentioned the toy factor, which is pretty important at this age range. Games like Rhino Hero Junior and Building Site were excellent on that level, with big pieces to keep their attention. Animal Upon Animal Junior falls in that range as half the time my son just wanted to play with the animals and didn’t care much about the game. The pieces are also pretty sturdy in their contribution so I’m not too worried about them destroying the game when I’m not looking. This is also one of the benefits that it has over the original Animal Upon Animal. These pieces are much thicker than the original, making it easier for their tiny hands to stack.
Animal Upon Animal was already a game aimed at the younger market (4+ age range), so I was pretty surprised to see this 2+ age edition. Yet Animal Upon Animal Junior was a win in my household. My kids have asked to play it quite a few times and it usually keeps their attention for at least 30 minutes. The pieces not only have a good toy factor, but the dexterity and matching elements are good for their developmental skills. If you had kids in the toddler age range, Animal Upon Animal Junior is a great choice. Just be aware that they might age out of it pretty quickly, so keep regular Animal Upon Animal on your radar as well.