It was my daughter's eighth birthday, and I had bought her both Coloretto and Frank's Zoo. After a quick read-through of the rules for both games, we had tried Coloretto (mainly because there was no need for the kids to hold large numbers of cards in their hands), but while they enjoyed it, that game fell just a little flat, with the tactics a bit inscrutable and the scoring too involved to really capture their interest.
Then we tried Frank's Zoo, and what a difference! I decided to simplify things as much as possible, and opted to play with open face-up hands to get around the card-holding problem. Holding 20 cards in secret is a big enough ask for an adult, but almost certainly beyond my 6-year-old son. We also played with no on-going scoring, just one simple hand per game, no partners, no special scores for lions or hedgehogs, just a simple climbing game, but with an interesting looping hierarchy.
As I dealt out the cards face up, they worked hard at sorting them into neat piles, and punched the air if they received the magic Joker card. The illustrations on the cards tell you everything you need to know while playing, and the pictures themselves are fantastic for any child. I was able to give assistance when necessary, thanks to playing with face-up cards, but the kids caught on straight away, and hardly needed any help at all. They even accepted (without commenting) that a mosquito could indeed become an elephant. What could be more natural?
My daughter was very keen to consider all her options, and spent long moments examining all of her opponents' cards before making any play. My son played more by instinct - no analysis paralysis there - and was just as happy yelling "Pass!" as he was when scaring my four elephants with his four mice.
With all of us trying as hard as we could, our first game ended with all three of us emptying our hands on the same round, so I declared that we had all won.
They loved it!! We played a few more hands that night, and each time the winner was up for grabs right to the very end. I'm not sure whether playing with open hands makes it more or less likely that you'll get a runaway winner, but all of our games were very close, which is ideal when playing with small children. When my son was called away to do his homework, he cried because Lily and I got to play more games of Frank's Zoo than him, so we promised that he and Mummy would play some games on their own the next day.
"This is even better than the lizard game", my daughter said, and I had to agree.