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Subject: Zooloretto - Experiencing Zoo Management the Gaming Way rss

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Gary Goh
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Overview:

Ever wanted to have a zoo which you could call your own, or wondered what zoo-keeping and management would feel like without really having to work in one? Look no further, for here is a game that can provide that experience (at least for 20-45 minutes) to an extent in a relatively costless and relaxing, albeit abstract, manner.

Zooloretto is a 2-5 player game where players are zoo-keepers who compete among themselves to create the most populated and attractive zoo. The game is played in multiple rounds; during each round, zoo-keepers have to make decisions such as the type of animals to be brought in, or where vending stalls can be set up to increase the attractiveness of the enclosures within the zoo. Animals are kept in these enclosures which are separated from one another. If the zookeepers run out of enclosure space to house their animals, there is always the local barn as a last resort. However, zoo-keepers are ill-advised to over-rely on their barns for storage; messy and overstocked barns are guaranteed to put visitors off.


Components:


Zoo expansion board (left), with the main zoo board

The game comes with 5 zoos, where the zoo compounds are divided into 4 areas: 1 barn and 3 animal enclosures. There is no limit for the number of animals that the barn can hold. In contrast, each enclosure contains a different amount of space to house animals in, and each enclosure can only house 1 type of animal (though multiple enclosures can house animals of the same type). Each of the zoo enclosures also has at least 1 stall location, where vending stalls can be set up to provide nourishment to visitors as they view the animals (like in real-life, no feeding of animals is allowed). These stalls help to increase the attractiveness of the enclosures that they are located next to.

5 zoo expansions are provided in the game too. Ambitious zoo-keepers can purchase these expansions, though they are only limited to 1 expansion each. These expansions provide an additional enclosure, and a location for a fifth vending stall.



Animal and offspring tiles (image uploaded by olavf)

Zooloretto comes with 8 different types of animals, each represented by a set of 11 cardboard chits. Within each chit set, 4 of the 11 chits show animals that are gender-specific. These 4 animals are more or less the same as the rest of their non-gender specific kind; however, they can produce an offspring if 1 of each gender is housed in the same enclosure. The offsprings of the different animal types are represented by the circle-shaped chits, which show a smaller-sized animal of those types.



Vending stall tiles (image uploaded by Frouvne)

As visitors may get hungry at some point, zoo-keepers can anticipate this and set up vending stalls in their zoos. There is a total of 4 stall types to choose from, and these stalls can be placed in locations beside the various enclosures. At the same time, these stalls can attract visitors to enclosures which may not be completely filled, making them more interesting to view.



Silver coins and money tiles (image uploaded by Toynan)

What is a zoo-keeping/management experience without money? As in reality, zoo-keepers spend money in Zooloretto to finance zoo expansions, purchase animals from other zoos or get rid of unwanted animals. Currency comes in 2 forms: silver coins and money tiles, which are equivalent to the coins. These tiles are mixed together with the animal tiles in the game. A non-currency red wooden disc (not shown in the picture) is also provided to signal the last round of gameplay (more on that later).



Delivery trucks (image uploaded by olavf)

Last but not least, there are 5 delivery trucks in the game. These trucks are used to transport animals, vending stalls or sometimes even money (imagine, free money!) to the zoos. Each truck can hold up to 3 tiles of any type, and each zoo-keeper can select a truck during the course of the game to claim its valuable cargo.


Setup & Flow of Play:

Game setup is fast and easy. The animal, vending stall and money tiles are placed in the drawbag provided and thoroughly shuffled, and 15 of these tiles are stacked face-down with the red wooden disc placed on top of the pile. During the course of the game, these tiles are drawn from the bag. Once the bag is empty, the tiles in the stack with the wooden disc can now be drawn; however, the round in which tiles from this stack are drawn will be the last round of gameplay. Finally, zoo-keepers begin the game with a zoo board, a zoo expansion board (placed face-down) and 2 silver coins each.

During each round, zoo-keepers take turns to carry out 1 of 3 possible actions, where they can prepare their enclosures for animal housing, remodel their zoos or increase the number of compounds available through expansion:


1) Add a tile to a delivery truck:

Before animals or vending stalls can be located in the zoos, they have to be loaded onto the delivery trucks and transported. This action simulates the loading phase, and is represented by drawing 1 tile from the drawbag and placing it on an empty space of any delivery truck. As mentioned before, tiles drawn can either be animal tiles, vending stall tiles or money tiles. This action is not valid once all trucks are completely filled with tiles (i.e. cargo).

2) Take a truck (and pass for the rest of the round):

Zoo-keepers can direct a truck to transport its cargo to their zoos, regardless of the amount of cargo the truck has. No other cargo can be loaded on a truck for that round once an order has been placed for it, even if the truck still has empty spaces. Also, each zoo-keeper is limited to only 1 truck; the round ends when each of the zoo-keepers has claimed the cargo of a truck. The cargo is immediately unloaded and handled upon delivery, which is instantaneous. Animals/vending stalls are placed on the relevant locations in the zoos if there are available spaces for them; if not, they are housed/stored in the barn instead. Once all zoo-keepers have finalized their placements, the trucks are returned, and a new round commences.

3) Carry out 1 money action:

There are 3 available sub-actions which zoo-keepers can choose from. Though all of these sub-actions cost money, they can help the latter to manage their zoos better:


3.1. Remodel Zoo:
Zoo-keepers can remodel their zoos by relocating 1 animal/vending stall from their barns to any enclosure/stall location, and between stall locations in the case of the latter. Alternatively, zoo-keepers can exchange all animals of 1 type with all aniamls of a different type between enclosures, or between 1 enclosure and the barn. Animals being moved or exchanged into enclosures must be able to fit in the spaces, or the move/exchange would not be possible. All remodeling actions require the expenditure of 1 coin.

3.2. Purchase/Discard Tile:
Zoo-keepers can spend 2 coins to purchase an animal/vending stall from another zoo-keeper's barn, or remove 1 animal/vending stall from their barns.

3.3. Expand Zoo:
Lastly, zoo-keepers can spend 3 coins to install zoo expansions. To show this, they flip their expansion boards over and put them into play.


Scoring:

The game ends during the round where tiles are first drawn from the stack with the red disc. However, the round can be completed in its entirety before actual gameplay ends. Once this is done, zoo-keepers quantify the level of attractiveness of their zoos by using the following scoring rules:

- For each enclosure that is completely filled with animals, add the higher of the 2 values printed on it;
- For each enclosure with 1 empty space, add the lower of the 2 values printed on it;
- For each enclosure with 2 or more empty spaces but have at least 1 vending stall located next to it, add 1 point for each animal within the enclosure;
- Add 2 points for each stall type that is in a stall location;
- Deduct 2 points for each animal type in the barn (animals don't enjoy being housed together with other animal types), and finally;
- Deduct 2 points for each stall type in the barn (overstocked barns are always a no-no);

The zoo-keeper with the highest score is deemed to have the most attractive zoo, and wins the game.


Luck-Skill Balance:

Though Zooloretto is easy to play, there really is very little luck in the game. The primary source of randomness comes in the tile draw, where the contents of the tile is not known until it is flipped over by the current zoo-keeper. On the other hand, knowing which truck to place the tile on, and which truck to claim (and when) plays a huge part in the game. Claim a truck too early (i.e. before it is completely filled, etc.) and you might miss out on tiles which may be helpful to you; claim it too late and another zoo-keeper may have done so ahead of you, leaving you with another truck and its less desirable contents.

In Zooloretto, the general strategy to have a good score is to fill up your enclosures quickly, and obtain as many types of stalls as possible. Some enclosures award zoo-keepers with coins when they are completely filled; 1 enclosure gives 2 coins, while 2 others yield 1. For the first part of this strategy, proper use of offsprings can help to fill the enclosures quickly, and this is done by housing animals of the opposite gender in the same enclosure. However, care must be taken to ensure that the offspring is not the last animal to enter the enclosure, as the money bonus for filling the latter is only awarded if the last animal to enter the enclosure is an adult. The second part of this strategy is associated with the fact that these money bonuses can be earned more than once, through intelligent inter-enclosure animal exchanges or movements. Also, having multiple stalls of the same type does not do anything for your score, apart from it enabling you to score unfilled enclosures when the stalls are placed there.

For those who are looking for an overview of the strategic elements during gameplay, here are a few:

- What action do I take each round, given the tiles that have already been uncovered and placed on the trucks?
- Which resource should I primarily focus on amassing first; money (to finance future expansions, purchases and discards), or animals (to fill my enclosures and ensure myself of points, before the game ends)?
- Should I focus on filling up 1 truck (which I may or may not intend to claim) during the draw phase and let the other zoo-keepers fill the rest (and claim the most desirable truck as soon as I can), or should I spread my tiles evenly among the various trucks?
- Where should I place my animal tiles once I have claimed a truck, i.e. should I fill up the smallest enclosure first, or start with the largest instead?
- Similarly, where should I place my vending stall tiles, so as to enable me to score enclosures which are not completely filled?
- Should I purchase a tile from my opponent, or should I wait for the tile I want to appear on a truck and use the money I save in the process for some other purpose (e.g. expand my zoo, etc.)?
- Should I discard an unwanted tile from my barn, or should I attempt to negotiate with another zoo-keeper to purchase my tile instead of waiting for one to appear on a truck?
- Is there any way that I can increase my score, either by moving tiles from my barn to enclosures/stall locations, exchanging animal/vending stall tiles between enclosures/stall locations respectively, or any combination of these options?


Rules Book – Layout & Complexity:

The 5-page rulebook (with the 5th page containing some tactical hints) is extremely well-written and designed for easy reference. Personally, I find that most rules tend to make games sound more complicated to play than they really are; however, Zooloretto's rules are really easy to comprehend after a quick read-through or two, largely due to the relative lack of complexity of the game. I found the colourful pictures in the rulebook which illustrate the various gameplay concepts to be very helpful, especially since I am usually the rules reader and explainer of my gaming group. Lastly, I give a big thumbs-up to the game-provided player aids, which detail the costs of the different money actions.


My Thoughts:

I absolutely love playing Zooloretto for two broad reasons. Firstly, my games usually tend to go quicker than the stipulated time required on the box. My 2-player games (we decided to play by the normal rules with 4 animal types) last 15 mins on average, while the longest 4-player game that I played took 40 mins.

Secondly, I find Zooloretto to be a quick and interesting game to learn, and gameplay is very easy to pick up after the first 2 rounds. Though it is a light game, Zooloretto contains plenty of opportunities for players to strategize, with minimal luck influencing the game. Ultimately, there is a delicate balance to be maintained between being too ambitious (e.g. testing your luck by waiting for most of the trucks to be filled before selecting the truck with the best tile combination, while hoping no one else takes that truck away from you) against being too risk-averse (e.g. claiming a partially-filled truck because of that single tile you wanted, and possibly missing out on potential goodies that you may have gotten if you had waited just a little while longer). Outguessing your opponents is possible because every board is visible and players can know what animal or vending stall types their opponents are looking out for.

Zooloretto is certainly a suitable gateway game to introduce non-gamers to the hobby, mostly due to the fact that it has an interesting theme, mechanics that can be easily grasped and understood by newer or non-gamers, and the extremely short span of time required to play a round (which helps to increase the replayability value too). If an indication of my liking for the game is desired, I played 9 rounds of the game the first day I got it. The next day? Another 7.
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