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Subject: Father Geek's Review of Frank's Zoo rss

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Cyrus Kirby
United States
Farmington
Minnesota
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The Basics:
o Ages 6 and up (publisher recommends 10+)
o 4-7 players
o About 10 minutes per hand (up to 60 minutes for an entire game)

Geek Skills:
o Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
o Strategy & Tactics
o Cooperative & Team Play
o Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:
o Child – Moderate
o Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:
o None

Endorsements:
o Father Geek approved!
o Child Geek approved!

Overview

Frank’s Zoo is a ladder-climbing card game with a childish theme (each card represents an animal) but with an extra twist in that there is a not a simple, strictly transitive, hierarchy of cards. For example, a hedgehog outranks a mouse, a fox outranks a hedgehog, an elephant outranks a fox, but a mouse outranks an elephant. And although there are four animals that outrank a fox, the fox is the only animal that outranks the hedgehog.

There are 60 cards, including 12 types of animals and a Joker, which are shuffled and dealt out to the players at the beginning of each hand. The player to the left of the dealer leads off to the first trick, by playing one or more cards of a single animal type, constituting a set. Each subsequent player passes or plays a set of animals that outranks the last set played. An outranking set is either a same-sized set of an outranking animal or a larger-by-one set of the same animal. For example, one elephant is outranked either by one mouse or by two elephants. The Joker, not surprisingly, can be a wild card, and a mosquito can masquerade as an elephant, if played together with a “real” elephant.

If a set is passed by all other players, the trick is won and the trick-winner leads to a new trick. Players note the order in which they “go out”, i.e., play their last card. Points are scored according to the order in which players go out, and the first player to reach a target number (over several hands) is the winner.

A more advanced game (the official rules, I guess) involve a more complex scoring that depends on winning tricks with lions and/or hedgehogs, and also makes provision for partnerships, but the rules for card play are unchanged.

Prediction

Having only seen this game played once (with the full rules), I realized that my children would enjoy this because of the theme. The card design shows which animals outrank which, making it easy to learn the game. I expected the game would still be a lot of fun if played more casually, but even so, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the basic rules were extremely suitable for children (or non-gamer adults).

Final Word

Both my children (six year old son and four-and-a-half year old daughter) enjoyed Frank’s Zoo, even more than I expected. My daughter grasped the rules rather quickly; indeed, her only real difficulty with the game was with holding 15 cards at once. This is quite a common problem with card games, except of course those that do not require players to hold a hand of cards, like Bull in a China Shop and Duck, Duck, Bruce! Our solution was simple: I held my cards in one hand and her cards in the other, taking care to hold them so that only she could see them.

As far as I could tell, my children played cards whenever they could, so I doubt there was much strategy involved. This does not seem to matter much in the basic game. They had difficulty realizing that it was not always best to play one’s strongest cards first, but no doubt this concept will come with repeated plays. Remembering which cards have already been played is important, and certainly my children have the better of me on that score.

As in other family-friendly games, the enjoyment is not linked strongly to the competitive aspect (and indeed, thinking back to my first experience as a spectator, it was fascinating just trying to work out the complex animal hierarchy). Frank’s Zoo is a rare beast: a gamer’s game that is also a children’s game. Consider this a must-have for the family collection.

Written by Meng and published with permission
Respectfully submitted by the Father Geek
fathergeek.com
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fer moros
South Korea
Kwang-Ju
Gwangju
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Thanks! Wow 4 years-old and playing games already. Mine is 3 and I can not wait!
 
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Pieter
Netherlands
Maastricht
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Good intentions are no substitute for a good education.
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I take my fun very seriously.
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I also played this game with my daughter at a very early age (she was 4 or 5). It works quite well. We used a card standard for her to put her cards in. With two standards she had easy access to 10 cards, so we simply did not distribute the whole deck, but just 10 cards per person (you can even play the game with 2 then). She did not like the Mosquito rule (no idea why), so we left that one out. This game saw a lot of play over the years -- so much, in fact, that I recently bought a new deck because the old one was too dog-eared.
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Michael Clarke
United Kingdom
Cranleigh
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fathergeek wrote:
I held my cards in one hand and her cards in the other, taking care to hold them so that only she could see them.


OK, trying to visualise this... no, I give up. How do you extract a card from your hand to play??

Also worth recording that although playing a house version ignoring the lion/hedgehog (and even mosquito) rules might be a good idea for very young players, these rules do add greatly to gameplay and opportunities for skill when the kids are old enough to cope with them - which may be sooner than you think!
 
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