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The Search for Lost Species Board Game Review

Logical deduction games are a curious and awkward sub-genre. For the game to be interesting, they need to present a puzzle with a lot of dynamism and moving parts. However, doing so poses a significant problem because unless the players communicate their clues and instructions exactly right, the entire game can collapse. In 2020,
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tried to solve this problem by having an app direct players with their uncovered clues, meaning that any errors you make are yours, and yours alone. It proved very popular and now the designers are back with another, more complex, spin on the concept: The Search for Lost Species.

What’s in the Box​

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As an app-driven game, the box contents might look a little underwhelming at first because you’ve got an electronic gizmo to download that does most of the heavy lifting. Mandatory apps in tabletop games is a controversial issue, and some gamers loathe the reliance on a third-party digital component that might become unavailable at a later date, rendering the game useless. You’ll have to be happy with that risk if you want to get on board this title. It’s best if each player can run their own copy of the app, but it’s easy to install and smooth to use, although, oddly, it doesn’t save game state, which can be a problem playing solo.

What you do get is high-quality stuff. There’s a double-sided fold-out game board with an island hex map on each side, rendered in clear, attractive art. There are a variety of clean-cut wooden pieces, two pawns in each of four player colors, an expedition leader pawn and some mountains that highlight barriers on the board. A pad of note sheets is also included, and each player has a screen to hide their notes and a set of cardboard tokens behind. Finally, there are two small decks of cards and some timing tokens alongside a slightly bizarre but amusing boat-shaped tray to build and hold them in.

As a game with an ecological theme, The Search for Lost Species takes its green credentials seriously. There’s an information sheet included explaining how most of the materials were sourced in an environmentally-friendly way. The six lost species you can hunt for are all real animals, and all on the brink of extinction, none having been seen for several decades. The paragraphs about them at the end of the rulebook make for sobering reading.

Rules and How It Plays​

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The Search for Lost Species uses a time mechanism to determine turn order. Different actions you can take demand that you move your pawn forward on the time track different numbers of spaces. Whoever is furthest behind gets to take their turn, until their pawn overtakes another on the time track, and so on. So you’re always caught on the horns of choosing less impactful, faster actions against slower, more useful ones in terms of where others are on the time track.

Your two most common options will be to search the island, either by boat or by foot. In both cases, you choose a range of hexes and either look for empty hexes or select one of the four animal types. You put this into the app, and it’ll tell you how many of that particular animal there were in the hexes you searched. Going by boat is faster, but it’s restricted to coastal hexes and has a minimum search range of four, meaning the information you get is less useful. Knowing there’s one toad somewhere among those four isn’t terribly helpful. As a result, tapping your locations in and seeing the results has a fun frisson of excitement as you’re on tenterhooks to find out if you’ve pinned down some helpful information.

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However, from the outset you’re given extra information to narrow down the location of each animal. There’s only one species per hex, and the app starts you off with a few titbits on which animals are absent from some hexes. You can configure this to give more starting clues to particular players, which is a fantastic way to give a leg-up to younger or less experienced participants. Each animal also has some fixed rules about where it lives. The four Lories - a kind of parrot - for example, always live next to each other in a fixed diamond pattern. So once you’ve found two, you can narrow down the other two are very easily.

As well as varying the location of species for each game, the app also offers additional rules about animal locations that vary between games. You can access these via the fastest action, visiting a town. This requires you to spend a town token, of which you only have one, and lets you take a card from a face up selection and do some research. The cards either improve one of the game’s actions or offer bonus points for certain conditions, while the research gives you an extra clue for whatever species you choose. So in every game you know that each of the two toads is adjacent to two empty spaces, but in your particular game you might learn that exactly one of the toads lives in the hills.

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Using this drip feed of information, you can make educated guesses about what species lives in which hex. There are a lot of these clues, and piecing them together is fun and challenging. But it’s also weirdly stressful because one mistake can be disastrous. Getting one animal in the wrong hex means you’re going to make errors in following other clues, and misidentify further species, a chain reaction of chaos. But then again, making intuitive stabs based on good odds can pay dividends. The order in which you choose to pick up research or search for species can have a big impact on how your game unfolds. It’s up to you how you piece your game plan together and how much you want to rely on educated guesses.

There are a lot of these clues, and piecing them together is fun and challenging.

Every so often, all the player pawns will the expedition leader pawn on the time track. When this happens, one of several things can occur. Most often, players get to place sighting tokens, which indicate hexes where they think particular animals live. You’re allowed to check whether your sightings were correct several turns later, which is both a big source of points and of clues as to the makeup of the island. Before they’re revealed, you can use sightings to guess about what’s on the island: if they put down a token for a python in a hex you know they’ve explored for pythons, there’s a good bet that’s where the python is. They might have made a mistake, though, or even be bluffing. The latter is a high-risk tactic, however, as incorrect sightings not only lose out on the points but are punished on the time track.

Moving the leader can also result in players regaining their town tokens so they can make another visit, or also their camera trap tokens, an additional action that allows you to pinpoint the animal that lives in a particular hex. Finally, on two occasions, the leader will result in all the players getting the same research information about the lost species. This animal, of which there are numerous possible options to keep things varied, has its own placement rules like other species. But it’s so elusive that you can’t ever find it by exploration: its hex will appear to be empty. All you have to go on is elimination, from identifying other habitats, and the various rules that you’re given through research.

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Guessing the location of the lost species is the game’s final, and longest, action. If you’re right, you’ll get a huge points bonus and trigger the end game. Other players can still win if they’re close to making the deduction themselves, and they have better sightings than you, but getting their first is a big boost. As a result, once the pieces begin to fall into place, this very cerebral, puzzly game acquires an extraordinary amount of tension. You’re always nervous that your neighbor is just about to declare that big search action and pinpoint the lost species, and there’s a mounting temptation to risk those intuitive leaps and see if you can get in there first. But it’s almost certainly game over if you get it wrong.

Where to Buy​

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