Emu Ranchers—A Double-Take Review

emuThe poor, misunderstood emu. Large. Flightless. Tiny little wings. They've been overshadowed by the ostrich, and out-cuted by the kiwi. But you—YOU—see the emu for what it really is: $!

The Overview

You're an emu rancher, and your neighbor just decided to get into the business, too. Why didn't he choose to raise ostriches or kiwis? I don't know; you'll have to ask him. So each of the two players in the game is trying to create the most profitable emu ranch.

Emu Rancher is for two players, ages 8 and up, and it takes about 20 minutes to play.

The Components

For the Basic Game you have:

  • 24 two-color, numbered Emu cards—numbered 2 to 9
  • 6 single-color Egg cards
  • 6 single-color Feather cards

For the Advanced Game you also have:

  • 4 three-color Wild cards
  • 1 Buyout card

emucardsThe Setup

First you'll choose a number of rounds to play—the game suggests an even number is best. Then, depending on whether you're playing the Basic or Advanced Game, shuffle all of the appropriate cards together and deal six cards to each player. Put the rest of the cards aside as a draw pile. Randomly choose a starting player, which will alternate for each round you play.

The Gameplay

On your turn you will do two things.

1) Play a card.

2) Draw a card.

When you play a card you have a few choices.

You can start a new emu pen. You can start with an Egg card—in which case you'll be adding higher number to the pen. Or you can start with a Feather card—in which case you'll be adding lower numbers to the pen. Each Egg and Feather card is one color, so if you start a pen with those colors, that's the color of the pen. If you start it with an Emu card, you will eventually choose the color of the pen. That's because each Emu card has two colors on it. The number's always the same, but it might be a green 2 on the top, and a blue 2 on the bottom. The colors don't match, either, so the green 9 has yellow on the other side. And the green 5 has purple on the other side. At any rate, if you start with an Emu card, you don't have to "pick" the color until you play your second card, which will be one of the two colors on the first card, and will necessarily choose the color of the pen.

You have to follow the preceding numbers in the pen—going either higher or lower, depending on which card you used to start it. You can skip numbers—and, indeed, will probably need to since the other player might play the number you need into his pen!

You can play to an existing pen. That's just what it sounds like: play a card to a pen you've already started.

photo(9)You can discard. Maybe you don't have anything you want to play. Or you're stalling. Whatever the reason, you can always choose to discard a card to the top of the discard pile, rather than play one to a pen.

At the end of your turn, you'll draw one card, either from the top of the draw pile or the top of the discard pile.

Once all of the cards have been drawn from the draw pile, each player plays out the rest of his or her hand to already existing pens—you can't start a new pen. Then you score.

Each pen costs 18 points right off the top—emu pens are expensive! So you immediately remove any Wild or Emu cards adding up to at least 18 points—and you can't make change! Any cards above the 18 are profit! Egg and Feather cards can't be used to pay for the pen, but they do each add 5 points to the score of the pen. If your pen was not profitable, then you subtract 5 points for each Egg and Feather card...

If you're playing with the Buyout card (Firestone says don't, and Jeremiah is fine with it), then the lucky recipient can eliminate one unprofitable pen.

Then you just add up all of the pen scores and record the score for the round. Once you've played the predetermined number of rounds, the person with the highest score is the most awesome at giant, flightless bird ranching!

The Verdict

I get this look a lot...

Firestone—If this game sounds a lot like Lost Cities, that's because it is. Now that's not to say this game is a rip-off; I don't believe it is. The fact that there are two colors on the emu cards actually makes this game more challenging than Lost Cities, IMO. There's only one of each color, and it's on the other side of another color, so it's more restrictive.

This is mitigated somewhat by the Wild cards of the Advanced Game. I will always choose to play with those, as they give me just a little bit of breathing room—otherwise the game is too claustrophobic.

Jeremiah—I myself haven't played a lot of Lost Cities. Regardless, I thought the game play and learning curve of Emu Ranchers was just right for a shared-deck game. Having dual colors on the cards did make for some interesting strategic decision-making, as well as a couple double-checks as to what your opponent is up to before discarding a card to try and get something better.

The "advanced" mode to me seemed like a no-brainer; I don't ever see myself removing cards from the game, not even the Buyout card. I like the press-your-luck aspect it brought to the game. I felt empowered to go ahead and start that  next pen, knowing full well I didn't yet have enough cards to make a profit on it, and that the Buyout card could already be in my opponent's hand. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained... It didn't always work out for me, but it was fun trying.

Firestone—I really dislike the Buyout card. There's only one in the deck, so one person is automatically going to have an advantage over the other, and it's just the luck of the draw. That's just awful. But it's easy to take out, so YOU SHOULD DO THAT.

Jeremiah—I know the designers/developers took great care in completing the graphic design and artwork of the game. They gave each emu a unique personality and expression to make all of the cards interesting and thematically fun, which in turn makes it a great family/kids game as well. That was a nice touch for a game that mechanically could have been easily abstracted to numbers and suits/colors.

Firestone—Totally agree. A great deal of this game's charm comes simply from the engaging artwork. My son wasn't sure he wanted to try a game about emu ranching, but once I showed him the artwork, he was sold.

Firestone's Final Verdict—This was a good little card game that I've played a number of times with my 9-year-old. It has interesting decisions. It's affordable. It's portable. And the cute artwork adds to the charm. Put it on the table!

Jeremiah's Final Verdict—I agree, it's a fun game that is about as portable as you can get, but still packs a lot of fun gameplay into a small package. Young kids will enjoy this one, and with its varying game length it makes a nice and interesting fun quick filler for gamers at a game night. You should totally...Put this on your table!

The game is currently on Kickstarter, and you can get your own copy for a mere $15, shipped. We'd like to thank AppSauce for providing review copies of the game. This in no way affected our opinions of the game.

Thanks for reading!