Baobab (AKA Tumble Tree): A four-sided children’s game review

This review was written by myself and Sarah, teacher and mother of two children. 

Baobab* is a super light and simple dexterity game. Suitable for ages five plus (perhaps even younger, depending on your kids) and lasting about 20 minutes, it caters for two to four players – although you can add a few more by dividing the cards up a little more than suggested (more on that later).

You can find the game for less than £20, which is pretty reasonable. The nice tin – which acts as the game board – contains the rules plus 108 leaf-shaped cards.

The cards themselves feel thin, shiny and pretty cheap – but once you start playing, you realise this actually adds to the game. The idea is that the players are growing the baobab tree by adding extra leaves to it – by placing them on top of the tree. But as with any dexterity game worth its salt, things aren’t quite as simple as that…

Teaching

As you’d hope and expect for a game suitable for six-year-olds, there isn’t much of a rules overhead for Baobab – simply deal out the cards to the players, then explain what each card does as it is turned over by one of the players.

Each card has either simple foliage on it, or an animal or flower. But whatever the card, you’re going to have to try and add it to the tree without knocking any other leaves off. Any you do knock down as you try will be put in your penalty pile – and as you’ve probably guessed, the lowest score (ie, lowest number of cards in your penalty pile) will win.

Foliage cards are the easy ones – you can simply place them anywhere on the tree. Monkey and flower cards need to be placed half on the edge of the tree, making it larger – but also more fragile. Leopards and bats need to be dropped onto the tree (the latter with your eyes closed!), toucans need to be thrown on, and snakes must be tucked under another card; while chameleons copy all aspects of the last card played.

But the real buggers are the bees. These can only be covered by flowers and foliage, so make getting your animal cards safely onto the tree super tricksy – and also help the one gamery aspect of the game work.

While a simple dexterity game at heart, on your turn you get to choose how many cards you’re going to turn over and use on your go – between one and three. Early on its a simple choice of three, as any you’re left with at the end will count as extra points. But once things are looking a little fragile, and the bees are making life impossible, suddenly just taking one card looks a better option!

The four sides

These are me, Sarah and her two daughters:

  • The writer (me, not having played the game with children): Baobab looks great, the use of the tin as the tree is well implemented and the rules are simple – so why doesn’t it spark for me in the same way a game such as Animal Upon Animal does? I think, personally, the ratio of luck to skill just doesn’t pan out. If you have bees before your turn you’re unlikely to be able to do much about it, for example, making failure pretty inevitable – but the previous player didn’t land you in this predicament by their own skill, as they often do in other dexterity games. For this reason, I think it has limited appeal for adult audiences.
  • The mum (recent convert, becoming more enthused by hobby games): Having always enjoyed Jenga, and more recently Rhino Hero, I was interested to try Baobab. The cards and container are aesthetically endearing, and the concept interesting; I just seem to find it quite tricky! I think my initial reaction ‘I play this best with my eyes closed’ sums it up! But it makes it a good game to play with my children as we’re on an equal footing. It’s a nice dexterity game, but didn’t really grab me. We not only played with fewer cards, but also adapted the rules to be more relaxed on the tree growing outwards; it was too tricky – well, for mummy at least!
  • The older child (8, autistic with (very particular on printed age range – a felt-tip pen comes in handy!); concentration, luck and losing can all be negatives): I have to be in the right mood to play a game, as I’d rather be outside, but Baobab is amazing – especially as I love animals! I love the bat. I enjoy the different ways you have to place the cards and I love the chameleon, which makes you copy the previous card. I also liked that I could teach the game to grandma, as it is easy to explain – and for her to understand!
  • The younger child (5, loves games and has a large collection; enjoys the process of playing as much as winning – if not more so): I’m happy to play if my sister suggests it, but I’m happy to play any game. I like this more than Rhino Hero but find it very hard and I don’t like it as much as other games, such as Dobble, Pop to the Shops or Loopin’ Chewie.

Key observations

One definite issue with the rules as they come is you’re meant to deal out all of the cards at the start of the game. With two this would mean 50+ cards each! You get bored just dealing that many. And even with four, 25 cards feels like quite a long game. Of course you can stick to that, but we’ve found taking 20 or so each makes for a good game, even with two or three players. And you can also add more when you run out.

It’s also fair to say that while a lot of dexterity games also work well with a group of adults, Baobab probably won’t enjoy many ‘adult only’ plays before it gets a bit boring (although adult beverages help!).

There’s little variety in the cards and very limited strategy, while somehow it lacks the extra charm of a Rhino Hero or Animal Upon Animal (despite lovely artwork and presentation). But with the kids it can be an absolute scream.

Conclusion

Baobab is a pleasant, attractive and simple dexterity game which we have all enjoyed to varying degrees; but it definitely works better for us with fewer cards and less stringent rules. And while it’s not a game most of us would reach for, it is certainly enjoyable enough that we’ll be happy to play in order to capitalise on the eldest daughter’s enthusiasm.

* I would like to thank Coiledspring Games for providing a copy of the game for review.

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