Totems is what would happen if animals ruled the world

, | Game reviews


The monkeys stand for honesty, giraffes are insincere, and the elephants are kindly but they’re dumb. Zebras are reactionaries and antelopes are missionaries. Welcome to Totems.

Okay, not really. That stuff about monkeys and giraffes is way more complicated than Totems, a game about putting an animal head on a territory when it’s your turn. Period. That’s all you have to do. So you might think Totems is a modest thing. You’d be right. Maybe even a frivolous thing, utterly inconsequential and without enough maps for a puzzle this simplistic.

But hopefully you’ll play it a few more times and discover it’s no more inconsequential than any lovely two-minute strategy game. Here, I’ll teach you how to play. Put one of your six randomly drawn animal heads on a neutral territory to claim it and all identical adjoining totems. There. You now know everything you need to know about the rules. Now you can play against the AI, which tracks your score against the AI players, or online asynchronously.

What’s not so easy is gauging when a region is going to have only a single neutral space left so you can lay ultimate claim to its points. Now you’ve got to do some maneuvering around the fringes of the larger regions, trying to box them in, trying to secure their borders, trying to line up that ultimate claim, trying to…oh, rats, you don’t have any more cobras and now the map is awash in the other player’s color! Totems is also the perilous guesswork of calculating who has how many of what left, with some brinksmanship about who will hold out with the last monkey or wolf. It’s not over until it’s over, and in the context of its clean simple gameplay and evocatively primeval artwork, there will be many reversals of fortune along the way.

4 stars