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Subject: Perhaps a gateway game, but it seems to have strategic limits rss

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Ben Lott
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Knowing what games to spend your money on is never an exact science. Sometimes you research and study and are confident that you've found a game that will suit your gaming group, and when it hits the table it just bombs terribly. Other times you'll take a shot in the dark, and hit upon a game that really clicks with your gaming tastes. Zooloretto is a game that lies in the gray middle area between these 2 scenarios for me. I had read some about the game prior to making a purchase, and was confident that my family would enjoy the theme. However I wasn't sure if I would love it too, or end up hating it. So where does it fall now that I've played it a bunch of times? Read on...

What do you get with Zooloretto? In the box you get a rulebook, 5 plastic "trucks", 5 individual player boards, 5 extra enclosure boards, 5 money reference charts, a pile of gray wooden coins, a pile of animal tiles, some concession stand tiles, some coin tiles, a bag for all these tiles, 2 round baby tiles in each species of animal, and a big red disk.

How does Zooloretto work? Players all start with a zoo board, an extra enclosure that is placed facedown next to their zoo, and 2 coins. Then all the animal tiles you are using go into the bag with the coin and concession tiles, and one truck per player is placed in the middle of the table (the "truck" is just a tray that hold 3 tiles. The tiles are all mixed up and then a stack of 13 random tiles are set facedown off to the side of the table with the red disk on top.

Players take turns choosing one of 3 actions:
1. Draw a tile from the bag and place it in one of the 3 slots of any truck.
2. Take a truck that has at least 1 tile in it.
3. Perform a money action (explained shortly.)

When a player chooses to take one of the trucks they must immediately place any animal tiles on it into one of their enclosures, or in their barn. The initial zoo board has 3 enclosures (one that fits 4 tiles, one that fits 5, and one that fits 6), and the big barn (which will fit any number of animal tiles.) The only rule for placement is that you cannot intermingle different species in the same enclosure (although the barn can house any number of different species.) There are also some fertile animals of each species (2 male and 2 female.) If you ever put a male into the same enclosure as a female, you instantly receive a baby tile for that species and must add it to that enclosure (unless it’s full which means the baby has to go to the barn.) If you fill up the 4 space enclosure you instantly receive a coin, and you receive 2 coins for filling the 5 space enclosure.

Next to each enclosure there is at least one open spot for a concession stand. If you take a truck with a concession tile you must place it onto one of these spots, or into your barn. And lastly, if you take a truck with any coin tiles, you just hang onto them and treat them as regular coins. After taking a truck, you are out for the rest of the round and no longer get to take turns until all other players have taken a truck.

Before I go any further, the money actions you can take include:
1. Paying 1 coin to move a tile from your barn into your zoo.
2. Paying 1 coin to swap 2 types of tiles from one enclosure to another.
3. Paying 1 coin to the bank and another coin to a player in order to take a tile from their barn (they cannot refuse.)
4. Paying 2 coins to discard a tile from your barn.
5. Paying 3 coins to buy the extra enclosure (flip over this extra part of your board and there is another 5-space enclosure.)

Once all players have taken a truck, the empty trucks are all returned to the middle of the table and a new round begins. Rounds continue in this fashion until the bag of tiles is empty. Then, if a player wants to draw a tile they take the top one from the stack that is under the red disk. As soon as even 1 tile is drawn from this stack, it is the final round, and when all trucks are taken the game is over.

Players receive a certain point reward for each enclosure they have completely full. They receive a smaller number of points if they have one open space in the enclosure. If they have more than one empty space in an enclosure they will score zero points for it, unless they have a concession stand next to that enclosure, in which case they get 1 point per tile in the enclosure. Each different style of concession stand is worth 2 points, and each different type of tile in a player's barn is worth negative 2 points. After totaling these points, the player with the most points wins.

What does Blott think of Zooloretto? Wow, I don't usually spend that much time on a rules explanation in my reviews. I guess that's just because I am so familiar with this game. We really loved it when I first purchased it and we were playing it almost every day. I even requested extra plays so that I could figure out the strategies. Sadly, this caused a fast burnout. You see, once I had the strategy under my belt, it felt like the game had little more to offer. It's a fun system, but it seems to have limitations. Our games now are often very close with more than one player practically maxing-out on points. Still the game experience is enjoyable, and the art and presentation is good.

Who will enjoy Zooloretto? I can definitely see Zooloretto being considered a first step for non-gamers. It has a set of rules that will be like nothing else a person new to modern board games will have seen. Families can play this together if the kids are old enough to understand the mechanisms, and the theme will just give them a little something extra to enjoy. That being said, I don't really recommend this game to experienced gamers. The strategic options seem plentiful when you first try the game, but upon further exploration you may be disappointed. In fact, for gamers I would recommend trying out the sequel to this game, Aquaretto. It has a very similar system, but with a few more strategic options.

Any parting comments about Zooloretto? The biggest complaint I’ve had about Zooloretto is the apparent point cap. There are many times when you will get to a spot in the later part of the game where you have all your starting enclosures filled and you're just spending the rest of the game trying to fight off negative points. You keep taking trucks with one tile to minimize the damage, and pay to eliminate any extra animals you are forced to take. But the worst part is that, when players get experienced with the game it almost seems to come down to luck, and who is lucky enough to get a bunch of unique concession stands. I really don't want to give the wrong impression, I do like Zooloretto, and getting over 15 plays out of it is admirable. I just worry that it has reached its limit and the replay value has dropped off for me. Still, for non-gamers this is a gem to be sure.


If you are curious about Aquaretto as well, check out my comparison review for more details.
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Aaron
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Blott wrote:
Any parting comments about Zooloretto? The biggest complaint I’ve had about Zooloretto is the apparent point cap. There are many times when you will get to a spot in the later part of the game where you have all your starting enclosures filled and you're just spending the rest of the game trying to fight off negative points.


I loved this game until this happened. I was teaching the game to 2 non gamers. And their inexperience led them to give me every thing I could possibly want. I had every enclosure filled and even every cart space filled.

The game was a disaster. I guess I could have taken it easy on them, but why should I have to? All I know is that I really have no urge to play it since then and niether do they.

Its labled as a gateway game but I doubt it will be the first game I teach non gamers again. Back to TTR I guess.
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Snowball
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I think you should try the expansions. The first collection is dirt cheap and brings more variation for experienced players.
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Ben Lott
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HavocIsHere wrote:
I think you should try the expansions. The first collection is dirt cheap and brings more variation for experienced players.

I've considered it. But first I want to try the big Zooloretto-Aquaretto combined game.
 
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Andreas
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The expansions give it a really new twist. And You can download them for free. Highly recommended!
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Eric Martin
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Good review! I skipped over Zooloretto completely and went straight to Aquaretto. I like the spatial aspects of the tile play in it and I find the workers add some real depth. From what I've read, Zooloretto just didn't seem that much more exciting than Coloretto to me...
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Gerald McDaniel
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We have always played with 5 to 8 players (we expanded the game for our family), and with that many, we never experience the point cap problem!
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Lawrence K
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Great review and comparison to Aquaretto - we also prefer the extra options available in Aquaretto, but always teach newcomers Zooloretto first.

Are you mainly experiencing the point cap problem in 3-player games? The best way we found to mitigate it is to remove some tiles. Specifically, we remove one tile from each animal type, one tile from each vending stall type, and two coin tiles. This adjustment increases scarcity and lowers the average score a bit, helping resemble the more balanced 4-player game.
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Ben Lott
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Yokohama Baystar wrote:
Are you mainly experiencing the point cap problem in 3-player games? The best way we found to mitigate it is to remove some tiles. Specifically, we remove one tile from each animal type, one tile from each vending stall type, and two coin tiles. This adjustment increases scarcity and lowers the average score a bit, helping resemble the more balanced 4-player game.

Well, we almost always play 4-player, but now that you mention it the 3-player games that I've played do seem to be a bit more prone to the point cap. If I have the opportunity in the future, I'll try out your suggestion. Thanks!
 
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Jonty
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For a 3 player game, would one remove one of the animal tiles with a sex symbol or the general animal one?
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Lawrence K
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We remove a general one - trying to get the babies is one of the more fun aspects of the game I think. Also, since we always play with the petting zoo we like having a better chance at using it (although it's still fairly uncommon).
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