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The Ice Cream of the Future Travels to 2022's Zoo King

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Designer
Board Game: Zoo King
Saratoga Toy & Game Co. is a U.S. publisher founded in 2020 that is running a Kickstarter project for its debut title — Zoo King from company owner Evan Johnson — through November 4, 2021.

Here's an overview of the gameplay in this 30-minute card game that's due for release in Q2 2022:
In Zoo King, 2-4 players compete to build the best zoos by acquiring animal, staff, and facility cards, with the long-term goal of winning awards that will be revealed over the course of play.

Before the game begins, each player purchases one of the staff or facility cards from their starting allotment of 1,000 money. Randomize the event and award cards into a single deck, with the cards being separated into groups based on the player count. On a turn, you reveal an event card from the deck, then perform two actions (whether the same or different) from these four:

• Purchase an animal, staff, or facility card from those available on the market, then add it to your zoo.
• Draw the top card from either the animal deck or the staff/facility deck, then either purchase it or discard it.
• Purchase the top card of either discard pile at a discount, albeit not a card you discarded this turn.
• Exchange an animal in your zoo for one of equal or lesser cost or star value in the market or on top of the discard pile.

After you acquire a pair of animals, you receive an immediate bonus of 100. You can also earn money from event cards, with staff and facility cards granting discounts and other benefits.

Board Game: Zoo King
Mock-up cards

After a certain number of rounds, the first set of award cards will appear, with the awards being handed out one by one or returned to the bottom of the event deck in case of a tie. Sample awards include most felines, most money in hand, and highest total star value. As soon as a player has collected three awards — or four awards in a two-player game — that player immediately wins. If no one wins during the first award ceremony, then complete another round of events, after which more awards will be distributed.
Setting aside the gameplay for a moment, I wanted to focus on an unusual element in this game presentation, that being this logo on the cover:

From gallery of W Eric Martin

In case you're not familiar with Dippin' Dots, the self-proclaimed "Ice Cream of the Future", let me excerpt the company history:
In 1988, microbiologist Curt Jones used his knowledge of cryogenic technology to invent Dippin' Dots — an unconventional ice cream treat that's remarkably fresh and flavorful, introducing the world to beaded ice cream.

Dippin' Dots Ice Cream proved to be irresistibly fun to eat. In the late 80's and early 90's the Dippin' Dots dealer network began and various theme and amusement parks discovered their customers' love for the exciting new ice cream. In 1995 Dippin' Dots were first introduced to an international market, making their debut in Japan. In 2000, the company's dealer network evolved into what is now an award-winning franchise system with locations coast-to-coast. Today Dippin' Dots can be found in more than 100 shopping centers and retail locations and in more than a thousand theme parks, stadiums, arenas, movie theaters and other entertainment venues across the country.
My wife Linda and I first encountered Dippin' Dots in a shopping mall in the early 2000s, and if nothing else, it's an unusual way to enjoy a cold, sweet treat. You can check out its dozen flavors and order some for yourself here.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Banana split flavored Dippin' Dots

Puzzled about the brand tie-in, I asked Johnson about Dippin' Dots' presence in Zoo King, and the explanation turned out to be simpler than I expected:
I've always been a fan of Dippin' Dots but didn't really make the connection to my project until we went to the zoo to do some research. We bought some, and I realized that it would be a perfect fit for the nostalgic vibe of the game.

Fortunately, Dippin' Dots is still a family-owned company, so there wasn't much red tape. We don't have a licensing agreement; it's simply a permission of use. They really liked the game and thought it was a perfect match. I give them free advertising, and I get that aspect of the game I wanted and hopefully some added credibility of a known brand in the game.
Today's lesson for publishers: It never hurts to ask should you be looking for a marketing tie-in!
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