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Drôles de Zèbres» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Odd little game for 2 rss

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Cédric Junillon
Lausanne (Switzerland) or Lyon (France)
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Though disguised as a cute game for kids, don't be fooled: Drôles de Zèbres is probably not what you expect.

It has cute components and a nice animal theme, however it is totally void of any luck or guessing factor which de facto, ranks it among the games where you won't be able to compete with Mr. 3-brains. But this fun theme makes the pill sweeter and it is possible to play it just for fun without thinking too much...

It takes place on a 6x5 board divided into 6 areas by rivers.
Each player has his set of 5 zebras, 6 impalas, 2 crocodiles, 1 lion and 1 elephant.
The game ends when all 30 spots have been filled by animals, then both players count up all the points from zones where they have the majority of animals (all areas have an odd number of emplacements 3, 5 or 7) and add them up (even counting the points from their opponent's animals in that said zone), thus making up their final score.

Each round, a player will put one of his animal pawns in the line or column indicated by the Impala Jones figure, and then will move this figure clockwise from 1 to 3 rows, thus choosing effectively in which column or row, the opponent will be forced to play.

The animal have differents characteristics of course:

- Impalas: the common cannon fodder, they are worth 2 points, are scared by the lion, and can be forced to switch places with the crocodiles across a river

- Zebras: each zebra is worth 6 points thus making up the big sum of points of the game. However, they are scared by the lions.

- Lion: When the lion is placed, all impalas present on the 4 adjacent emplacements pop back in their owners' hands. Furthermore, all zebras on the same places will be worth 0 points (they are hiding, however they still count in the majority count). All impalas placed thereafter on these places count the same way as zebras.

- Elephant: The real king of the jungle. Worth 5 points and unafraid.

- Crocodiles: Worth 0 points but have the power to switch places with an impala across a river at the moment they are played.

What's more, the first player to fill completely an area (even if he is minoritary in that area) earns an important "inauguration" bonus of 5 points for the end of the game. Since scores are often tight (you can't win all areas), this bonus is often crucial.

The beginning of the game is pretty fluid as no big mistakes can be done... The first signs of tension come when some areas are one box away from completion, then you must be really cautious so as to force the opponent to play in rows or cloumns where he will not be able to earn the bonus but at the same time prevent him to be majoritary in the big 7-square areas (often full of points). Then as the game advances, it is up to who sees first who can get which areas and thus uses his points and powers to the best.
In these important phases, multi-cerebral people clearly have the upper hand rushing ahead to victory !

After 30 games or so, I must say that I like this game, the powers are well balanced and it is quick and intelligent.
The turning points are often: the attribution of the bonus, and the placement of the lions who can crush an opponent if correctly placed (the aim is usually to scare off a few zebras and impalas in lost zones so as to lower the opponent's score of 14 points or so...). But against an experienced opponent, keeping the lion in hope of a destructive position can lead to auto-anihilation at the end where you don't have the choice of the box anymore... It is truly THE important feature of teh game.

However, crocodiles must not be neglected for their power often enables a switch of fortune in the last moves, if the impalas are unprotected.
If the opponent leads 4-3 in an important 7-square zone and you manage to siwtch it back to a 4-3 for you by swapping with an impala, the game should be yours.
Thus always be careful when placing impalas near rivers yet unoccupied.

All in all, I really like this game but the fact that it lacks any random or chaotic factor makes it a bit repetitive and I am now slightly bored of it, since most games look alike (I do not have that complaint for DVONN for example, don't know why) and the best player always wins.

So it is an original game you should try, but that you must know you could get tired of after some time.
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