May 2018 be all you dreamed it would be and be all that you dreamed...
This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.
If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.
Game Type - Euro Game
Play Time: 30-50 minutes
Number of Players: 2-4
Mechanics - Auction/Bidding, Set Collection, Tile Placement
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in under 20 minutes)
Components - Very Good
Release - 2002
Designer - Corne van Moorsel (BasketBoss, Champions 2020, Factory Fun, Gipsy King, Powerboats, StreetSoccer, Sun, Sea & Sand, Tweeeet)
In O Zoo le Mio, each player is a zoo owner that is in charge of planning and developing their zoo. A good zoo has a good mix of enclosures to attract the public and patrons also appreciate good pathways, areas to rest and beautiful scenery as they check out all the amazing animals.
Each zoo owner has 5 years to shape their zoo as best they can. Enclosures feature 5 different types of animals and larger enclosures are always more appealing than smaller ones so careful planning is essential.
After each year is completed the zoos score points and the zoo with the most points takes the grand prize of top Zoo!
O Zoo le Mio comes to us from Corne van Morsel of Powerboats, StreetSoccer and BasketBoss fame. The game was originally known as ZooSim but was later upgraded and renamed O Zoo le Mio, which this review will cover.
Grab a packed lunch and join me as I take the path to the left and visit the Apes...
O Zoo le Mio has a classic Euro feel about it in relation to its components. Some things are rather nicely done and others are merely functional.
Zoo Entrances – The game offers up 4 zoo entrances with whacky names such as Porky Park, Crocodome, Villa Gorilla and Aqua Shark. Each entrance is a rather sturdy cardboard construction that features a series of folds that allow each entrance to become a standing structure. This is important as each player will hide their coins behind their enclosure and they look neat too.
Each entrance also has a matching frame that is placed at the front and displays 2 paths that must be matched up to any tiles won in auctions.
Image Courtesy of jupiterchild
Tiles - The tiles themselves are more functional rather than spectacular. The artwork is merely ok without being stunning. Each tile features two of the five enclosure types, paths and possibly some bushes.
The artwork and animal background art share the same colour to make it clear that they are linked. There is no definitive line to make it clear that there are two parts to each tile (like a domino) and I’m sure that this decision was made for aesthetic reasons and to avoid cutting paths.
Each tile is rectangular and perhaps 3 times the size of a regular domino.
Image Courtesy of binraix
Meeple, Trees and Benches - The game also offers wooden meeple, trees and benches, which must be placed onto the zoo tiles over the course of the game. The meeple come in 5 different colours to match the 5 animal types that are represented by the enclosures. These are a leaner, taller version of the meeple found in Carcassonne.
The trees and benches are quite nice.
Image Courtesy of dougadamsau
Flag Pole and Banners - A larger tile depicts a flag pole against a blue sky background. Each player then has a banner that matches their zoo entrance in colour and an animal that matches the name of their zoo. These are placed alongside the flag pole during a game as if they are flying high.
Image Courtesy of kittyangel
Coins - The coins that are used to bid with are simply white, wooden discs, which are rather more tall than they really need to be.
Image Courtesy of jupiterchild
Scoresheets - The game comes with a scoresheet, listing each of the zoos across the top and the scoring rules for each of the 5 years down the side. These are a nice to have but are not really necessary as a piece of paper would suffice to track each player’s score.
Image Courtesy of jupiterchild
O Zoo le Mio is a nice enough production without having any one component that will live long in the memory. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh and the 3D zoo entrances are a bit cool.
Image Courtesy of garyjames
Each player must select one of the four Zoo Entrances and place a starting frame in front of their entrance. This frame provides two paths to start a player’s zoo and connect other tiles to as the game unfolds.
Each player then takes 8 coins and places them behind their Zoo Entrance. One player needs to take the flags that match each players Zoo and randomly select them one at a time and place them from top to bottom on the Flag Pole Template.
Finally all of the tiles need to be mixed or shuffled and placed in a stack. O Zoo le Mio is now ready to play.
The game takes place over 5 years (rounds) and in each year a total of 5 blind auctions are performed. The flow of the game is as follows :-
Auction and Blind Bidding - The top 5 tiles are drawn and placed on the table. In order, each of the tiles is auctioned off to the highest bidder. The drawing of the 5 tiles is very important as it allows the players to see what is on offer for that year/round and this allows the players to plan and identify their priorities and how they should best split their coins over multiple bids and auctions.
O Zoo le Mio uses a blind bid to complete each of the auctions. This simply requires each player to secretly place any number of coins in their closed hand (with a bid of no coins being possible) and presenting a closed fist in the center of the table. Once everyone is ready each player opens their fist to reveal their bid. The player with the highest bid wins the tile being auctioned and pays their coins to the bank and takes the won tile.
Players that lose the bid return any coins in their hand to their supply and get ready for the next auction.
Importance of the Flag Pole - The flag pole is super important as it works as a tie-breaker when the top bid is made by 2 or more players. In the case of a tie the player who has their flag highest up the flag pole wins the auction. Whenever a player wins an auction they pay their coins, take the tile and then move their flag to the bottom of the flag pole, regardless of where it was positioned.
So in essence the flag pole softens the difficulty of the auction process somewhat because the players will know when they have a slight advantage in being able to win a tie. As the game unfolds and with experience, players will have a pretty good sense of what value each tile has at given moments. If a player has their banner at the top of the flag pole they know they can win a tie and may bid less than they might otherwise bid if they didn’t have this advantage. A competitor may still beat them with a big bid but it may be an expensive venture that could limit future bids. It’s a nice element of the game.
Placing Tiles – When a tile is won it must be placed into the winning bidder’s zoo before the next tile is auctioned. When placing a tile there are several considerations that must be adhered to -
First there are the placement rules for adding a tile to a player’s zoo. Tiles in this game are considered a little like dominoes in that they can be placed in ways that mean they do not always need to perfectly line up edge to exact edge. The only requirement is that paths must connect up to other paths and grasslands to grasslands. It is even possible to place tiles in such a way that they connect in behind the Zoo Entrance. I’ve added several images throughout this review on the right to show you possible tile placements.
But what are the players trying to achieve with the placement of tiles? How is a good zoo developed and how are points earned?
Enclosures - On each tile there are two enclosures featured that hold a particular animal type. They are; reptiles, apes, mammals, aquatic and birds.
Each type features an image but more importantly those images will also depict a number of coloured stars (1, 2 or 3). These stars denote how appealing the enclosure is to zoo visitors.
Enlarging Enclosures – If a player is able to place a tile in such a way that two like enclosures are placed orthogonally adjacent to one another, then the enclosure is enlarged. The new value of the enclosure is equal to the combined total of stars printed on each adjacent tile of the same animal type. In this way a player may have an enclosure span 2, 3 or 4 tiles if they are able to win auctions and place the tiles correctly.
Should a player ever have multiple enclosures of the same type that are not adjacent, only the most attractive enclosure (the one with the most stars) is considered for attracting visitors.
The more stars an enclosure is worth, the more attractive it is and the more visitors (meeple) it can attract. I outline this more in point seven below.
The Importance of Paths - Paths are important to a zoo as they allow patrons to move around and see the various enclosures. To replicate this in a game sense O Zoo le Mio rewards players when they manage to place a tile that creates a path loop. Creating a loop allows a player to take one of the park benches and place it in the middle of the loop. Multiple benches can be acquired if a player can create multiple loops within their zoo.
Scenery Matters - Some zoo tiles also contain one or more bushes. Zoos can be hot places and often shade is very welcome for patrons. So the number of bushes/trees in a zoo can help to win tree meeple, we shall call them ‘treeeeple’.
Attracting Visitors - The Changing Nature of a Park - Now we get to the pointy end of being a Zoo Director as the whole game is about attracting as many visitors to your zoo as possible as well as beautifying the surrounds and providing facilities (in this case benches to sit on).
But there is only so many zoo-faring visitors to go around, the zoo game is a competitive business. As soon as a player adds a new tile to their zoo they must check to see if anything has changed.
Only the best and second best enclosures of each type will attract patrons. The player with the most attractive enclosure (total stars remember) of each animal type will manage to attract 2 of the 3 meeple in the matching colour.
The zoo that has the second most attractive enclosure of each type will attract a single meeple in the matching colour.
So the placement of a single tile can alter the balance of power in up to 2 different enclosure types. In some cases there may be no change, in others a player may take 2 meeple away from a player or it may be that a player creates an enclosure that takes them from second best to the most attractive and 1 meeple changes hands to now give them 2 meeple for that enclosure type.
Meeple Exception – There is one small exception to the attraction of meeples as outlined above. If a player leads the way in a certain type of animal but no other player has an enclosure of the same type, then only 1 meeple is attracted due to the lack of competition.
Bushes/Trees – The same can occur with bushes/trees. The zoo that features the most bush or tree icons earns 2 ‘treeeeple’ and the second highest total earns a single tree meeple.
In the case of ties for enclosures and trees, the player that has just laid a tile and managed to secure first or second place gets to take the appropriate number of meeple away from the other player that is tied. So in O Zoo le Mio it is always important to keep building and developing. Visitors love all things new and shiny!
The only scoring feature that isn’t competitive is the benches, which are simply earned by completing a path loop. However the supply of benches is limited.
In this way the state of play is constantly changing with every auction and every new tile that is placed. Given the game will see all 25 tiles auctioned, there is plenty of scope for the zoo landscape to evolve.
End of a Year and Scoring – At the end of each year (once the 5th tile has been auctioned, placed and meeple allocated) it is time to score.
In the first year all features are worth 1 point. So if a zoo manages to attract; 3 visitors (meeple), one tree meeple and 2 benches, that zoo would earn 6 points.
In the second year each feature is worth 2 points each, the 3rd year 3 points each and up to the 5th year where each feature is worth 5 points each.
So the scoring is weighted more heavily towards the back end of the game but of course each player must manage their zoo and win the auctions that count at all times in order to be in a good position when the big points are being allocated. Different people may place higher value on a certain tile based on the path structure they need or the animal types that will make a big difference.
Starting a New Year –
Image Courtesy of Rafaelfo Before a new year/round can begin the players must earn income. Each player earns 1 coin for each tile in their zoo. I guess this simulates the money they have earned from visitors in the prior year.
Given that this income generation is rather modest, the players have to think carefully about the amounts they bid for each tile.
A new year is then begun by drawing another 5 tiles from the draw stack and the auction process begins again.
End of the Game - The game is at an end when the 5th year is concluded and the final scoring is calculated for that year. Then each player’s scores are added together for each year and the highest total takes the honorary title of Zoo Director of the year.
The Final Word
O Zoo le Mio is a classic Euro design from the early part of the 2000s. It looks to cash in on the appeal of tile lying games such as Carcassonne and it has a few nice tricks under the hood.
Visual/spatial skills are certainly required as players assess each tile and how the paths may fit into their zoo as it currently stands and the blind bidding is quick and easy to execute. Unlike some games the bidding found here is relatively painless and it is easier to evaluate the value of a tile and what a good bid looks like. The game does a good job of balancing the value of tiles by combining more valuable enclosures with less useful paths (those that are less likely to help close a loop).
Whilst it takes a little time to get used to the nature of the tile laying, it is refreshing to have freedom in how tiles can be placed at awkward junctures provided that paths and grassy areas match up.
But what really helps the game to shine is the competition for visitors and how most of the scoring features can so fluidly move from one player to another. That's where the player interaction is really at - knowing where each player sits across the 6 competitive scoring features and bidding aggressively for the tiles that can secure the greatest impact.
I really liked O Zoo le Mio and believe it probably takes 3-4 plays to truly appreciate its nuances. That said it isn't likely to leave anyone with a positive impression if blind bidding and tile laying is not their thing.
If I had to be tough I'd say it is a good design rather than a great one as nothing is particularly unique (although we are looking back some 12 years). It's the kind of game that is pleasant enough but some groups may likely find it a little 'meh'. As a tile laying game it is not significantly better than a Carcassonne or an Alhambra. The scoring features are simple, even clever at times, but they don't offer such an impact that it will live long in the memory.
All in all O Zoo le Mio is a pleasant game...which sounds a little lack-lustre really but pleasant is not a bad thing. It is perfect for families that like a little competition but don’t want to get nasty aggressive with one another.
Till next we meet, may your visitors bask in your shade, enjoy a good bench and frequent the Ape enclosure!
Image Courtesy of binraix
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Thanks for the nice review. Convinced me to buy a copy. Can't wait to play it with my GF.
And I cannot agree more to this: "pleasant is not a bad thing". Gaming is supposed to be fun. They don't all have to be some angst-ridden competition where people agonize over their VP engine in some brutally heavy Euro.
And what can I say, I'm a sucker for games with island themes, jungle themes, and animal themes. As well as Corne's games in general (e.g., Sun, Sea & Sand). You might check out his latest game in 2016, Habitats, now on KS for a few more days. Involves animals.
May 2018 be all you dreamed it would be and be all that you dreamed...
Thanks for the heads up Michael and thanks for reading.