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Subject: Going to the zoo today... rss

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Erik Gibbons
United States
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Cult of the Golden Lurker
Mugwump of the Golden Lurkers
The name ZooSim is not one that inspires a lot of visions of epic games to look back fondly on. Who would want to play an empire builder that has been run into the ground in the computer gaming arena? It was later re-released as O Zoo le Mio just confirmed my opinion that ZooSim was a bad title, but still seemed like a weak concept. However, I am always on the lookout for games to play with my wife and kid and the buzz about O Zoo le Mio is that it is a good family game.

The basic premise of the game is you are an aspiring zoo entrepreneur out to buy a pile of attractions and arrange them in a way that is symmetrical for easy viewing of each type of animal (mammal, aquatic, ape, avian, and reptile). These come in the form of rectangular tiles which have two different exhibits on them with roads. The exhibits have a value of one to three. You have to connect the roads (no dead ending into other tiles) to maximize adjacent critters of the same type. If you have the most of a type of critter together orthogonally (no diagonals) you get two meeples, second place gets one, and everyone else is out in the dust. You also get two trees for the most trees (treeples?) and if you enclose an area with roads you get a bench. Each of these count as one point in round one, two points in round two and so on until the fifth and final round.

Five tiles are turned over in each of the five rounds and bid on one at a time. Bidding on these is blind bidding, you load up your hand with money tokens for your bid and everyone reveals how much they bid simultaneously. In case of a tie there is a flag pole with each player’s marker on it and whoever is highest on it wins (their flag is then moved to the bottom). You must play the tile when you win the bid. After the five tiles have been bought, the round ends and is scored. You then receive one money unit per tile in your zoo for income.

Components: The original game had uniform black meeples to score each type of critter making for some very confusing scoring or so I am told. O Zoo le Mio solved that by painting the meeples to more or less match the color of the animals they represent. The tiles are the weak point: in dim light some of the colors look similar (gray/yellow and orange/red) and the pictures are kind of small to determine what you are buying. I have pretty good-eye sight and have problems with it. Also many of the roads do not line up exactly and if you are bothered by this it will bother you. The money is thick white disks of wood, not imaginative, but effective.

Rules: Fairly short and simple, mine came with English and French rules. The organization of the rules is not great, but I have seen worse.

Game Play: This isn’t a game that will keep you up at night. My wife, who is prone to analysis paralysis, can keep up the pace and usually wins. If the game has one glaring weakness is that there can be a runaway leader issue. Winning more tiles early means you have more revenue which means you can outbid you opponents to get more tiles. This does not kill it as a game per se because it plays in less than 45 minutes, so you are not suffering long if it happens to you.

O Zoo le Mio is a good little game that combines an interesting set of mechanics. I would not say this is a regular favorite of mine, but it is a nice change of pace as a non-gamer spouse game or as a short filler game.
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