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Subject: A New Review of an Oldish Game rss

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Ben Wickens
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In recent years I really feel that the visual design of games has improved a lot. In addition to this visual enhancement we are becoming more discerning when it comes to design. Within visual aesthetics there are tastes, fashions and trends which can make a game look visually dated one year and feel reasonable fresh or "timeless" another.

Now with any card game these days if it does not tick the "timeless" aesthetic it can be tricky to get a small card game with bland if not unappealing art to the table....And Frank's Zoo features such art and design choices.

As for the game itself it is a little quirky. It is a ladder climbing/shedding game that plays in rotating teams depending on where people are in the leaderboard. The first hand plays out with just the basic rules and after that extra rules including partnership rules are added.

Many ladder climbing games have a highest number (the Ace, the king, the 15) that you cannot play higher than. Some have a system like one of the ways of playing "Clubs" that you can beat a high 15 with any pair but generally there is a fairly clear order and ranking of cards. With Franks Zoo there is not. Firstly some animals can only hunt/scare in water, some only in land and some can cross both, additionally the highest card (elephant) can be beaten by a Mouse. Then a single mosquito is very weak on its own but can be played with another elephant to become one of the strongest cards. Then there are animals in the middle that kind of bottleneck (and can only be beaten by one or two other middling animals. In short a card is not simply good or bad its all about how you play it.

For all these reasons getting Frank's Zoo played can be a tough sell. But it is a sale worth making for many reasons:-

- It scales really well 4-6 and the rotating partnerships is a huge amount of fun
- The first hand only has half the rules so its easy to teach the game. It is also not overwhelming for new people to play whilst still rewarding repeat play and experience
- The partnership play adds lots of fun tweaks such as exchanging cards and completing melds started by the junior partner.
- Ladder climbing/ shedding games are a lot of fun and there are not many games that cover the middle ground of having a good amount of strategic choices and not being overwhelming to new players (Chimera and Tichu fall a little into the latter). This hits the spot perfectly
- It does not overstay its welcome - It is generally over in 4 hands or so which gives everyone usually a chance to be partnered with at least two different people and hands play really fast

I love classic style card games and this is a great game in that genre that is more fun than Haggis (although admittedly serves different player numbers), more flexible and less frustrating than Tichu (although it never quite hits the highs that game can). In short it is a great pick although you might find its quirkiness does not work for everyone, particularly when there are other prettier games that could be chosen.
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Rex Moore
United States
Woodbridge
Virginia
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Just discovered this, and had a blast the second time we played. Skipping some of the rules (whether partnerships or lions/hedgehogs scoring) makes it easy for kids, but gamers will want to play the full ruleset, I believe. And probably play at least a couple of times to really get the subtleties.

It’s amazing to think about how many of these old obscure classics are out there… waiting to be discovered.
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Mavis
England
A Fine City
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We adore this game and play it the majority of our weekly game nights, usually at the end of the evening. It is always highly competitive and skilful.

We have played over 500 times but only twice with partners, we did not feel it added anything to the game. Seems almost everyone else plays it using the partners rules.
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Ben Wickens
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I like it without partners but love it with. I like partnership games and I do think the choices (when to ask for help from a senior partner and the card passing) that come with partnerships together with trying to engineer it to help your partner as well as yourself (typically you dont play over a partner without reason) really mixes the game up.

But I love partnership games and I like how this is so much more friendly with the partnerships than Tichu.
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Peter Mumford
United States
Somerville
Massachusetts
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This has been a favorite of mine for years. I often tuck it into a pocket if I'm going to a party. If the party is dull, I look for the kids and say who wants a card game? This never fails, and is much more fun than talking real estate and work dramas.

As for the art, yeah its goofy. It was drawn by Doris Matthaus, co-designer of the game with her husband Frank Nestel. I actually enjoy Matthaus' style. She also drew Carcassonne, Primordial Soup, Pickomino, and a lot more. She kind of created the look of the first wave of German games, which are very cartoonish.
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