Squirrel or Die is a vicious little game by Fight in a Box, about squirrels trying (and often failing) to survive the winter. In fact, this game is rated for ages 14 and up; since it is reasonably simple to play, and doesn’t have any easy to swallow pieces, I must assume that the only reason for the “mature” rating is because of the death theme.
The concept of the game is simple, each player is a squirrel trying to hide food (during the Autumn phase) and find food (during the Winter phase) all while avoiding the many unpleasant things that can end an innocent rodent’s life. You are lucky enough to have three lives in this game, but don’t get your hopes up! Only one squirrel will survive.
This is another game where you adjust the deck to match the number of players, what the instructions calls “the proper death to squirrel ratio”. For a four player game, you remove two Food cards and the Birdhouse. For a three player game, you remove three Death cards. In a two player game, you remove six Death cards, five Food cards, and the Birdhouse. Since the entire deck consists of only 28 cards, the games go pretty fast.
As I have already mentioned, there are two main types of cards: Food (nuts, fruit, pine cones, etc) and Deaths (cats, birds, traps etc). There is also a third category, the Special cards. These have various effects ranging from The Bomb (lose two lives) to Squirrel Love (gain an extra life) to The Confused Cat (player chooses someone else to lose a life). There are five different special effect cards. In a normal game, the Birdhouse card simply acts as another Food card, but there is a variant of the game where the Birdhouse is deliberately placed in the center of the game to act as a landmark.
The game is played in two phases: Autumn and Winter. In Autumn, you start by dealing three cards to each player, then setting up four cards in a square, one face up and three face down. The remaining cards become the draw pile. The player “who looks the most like a squirrel” goes first. On your turn, there are two stages. First, you drop a card, meaning that you take the top card from the draw pile and add it to the grid, face up. Next, you swap a card, meaning that you can pick up any face up card on the grid, and replace it with a card from your hand, face down. Once you have created a 4 x 4 grid (5 x 5 if you are playing a four player game), then players only swap. Autumn ends when all the cards are face down.
In Winter, players take turns revealing one face down card. If you reveal a Food card, great. You are a happy squirrel. If you reveal a Death card, you lose one life. Finally, if you reveal one of the special cards, the effect, positive or negative, happens immediately. Any player who dies three times leaves the game. Winner is the last squirrel standing. In the unlikely event of a tie, the player with the most food wins.
If you have a memory like a squirrel, able to remember where things are located without any visual clues, then this is a challenging game, as you try to find the food you hid while guessing where your opponents put their cards. But if you can’t think like a squirrel, then the game becomes a guessing game with a complicated setup. Regardless, this could be a fun little game to play between other games. It’s also small enough to carry around and have available when your boredom is making you feel “squirrelly”. In fact, you’d be nuts not to try it.