Some time ago I had been lent Zooloretto by Peter Noble of Board Game Rentals as part of one of our school holiday programs. Zooloretto was a big success with many younger players, and when the opportunity some time later came to buy the game at almost half price I was quick to say yes, while Ann was more reluctant as she seemed to think it lacked any meat. That was soon to change as we had a few games more, now she agrees this is a good gateway game to set collection and resourse management.
Aim of the Game
In Zooloretto you each run a zoo or wildlife park. You must collect sets of animals to populate your 3 enclosures while collecting food stalls to boost the points at games end. You have the option to open an additional enclosure, purchase animals from other players, and move animals around as you collect sets. You score negative points for having collected more animal varieties than you can display, and points for filling or almost filling your enclosures plus every food stall.
This may seem very simple stuff for experienced gamers, yet this is not aimed at stretching experienced gamers, it is very much a family game or a gateway game.
What’s in the Box?
There is plenty of cardboard inside this box, plus some wood. There are enough components for 5 players, so you have 5 ‘zoo’ mats plus 5 expansion enclosures, 5 wooden ‘trucks’, some wooden coins and a red ‘Last Turn’ counter, a nice and friendly rule book, plus a stack of animal counters with a storage bag for them.
The pieces are of a good quality, the wooden components add an old fashioned feel that is comforting to the touch.
Setup is straight forward, the number of players dictating the number of components to be used. If less than 5 players, you remove one animal species and 1 truck for each less player. Takes a couple of minutes to sort through the animals.
A random stack of 15 animal counters is created with the Red ‘Last Turn’ counter placed on top. The remaining counters are either left in the bag if you have a small table or placed mixed up & upside down in the table center. The wooden trucks are placed beside them within reach of all players. A stack of money can be placed close by.
Playing the Game
Play is straight forward, players may either choose to pick up a counter and load 1 of 3 spaces on any truck with an available space, spend money to either move animals around the players zoo, spend money to buy an animal from another players barn, or select and take a truck (placing any animals, collecting any money from tokens, placing food stalls) and end their turn.
This leads to a very interesting sequence of play, you try to balance the need with what you take and when you take it. You want to ideally only collect the animals you want to collect, surplus varieties will give negative points at games end, so balancing need and balance timing. Sometimes you have to start juggling other things such as moving animals around your zoo, or making a purchase, yet in doing so you risk being left with a truck load of animals you do not want.
If you get a male and female animal together in an enclosure they produce a baby animal, this make collecting a breeding pair desirable as you essentially get a free extra animal. Likewise the collection of food stalls will give your final score a real boost, especially if you have negative points going to impact you. Money might seem the least important, and it probably is, yet I know most games I need to either buy an animal or open an extra enclosure or move animals around, so money is not something to ignore.
By the mid-game it is apparent what animals each player is collecting, and here comes some sneaky play. You load up trucks with mixed loads so that no player gets a truck of just what they want.
By the last phase of the game players are trying to optimize animal enclosures, purchase the last few animals they need, perhaps open a 4th enclosure to use extra animals up, or just play to disadvantage other players while scoring bonuses like food stalls.
The game ends when there are no more animal counters to load trucks and this signals that this will be the last turn, the counters under the red ‘Last Turn’ counter are now released to be available to load. This gives a nice variable end, you are always counting truck capacity and remaining counters to manipulate the end to your advantage.
Scoring is based around how full you get the various enclosures. If they are full you get the full points, if they are one animal short you get roughly half points. Anything else and you score nothing. Add 2-points for each food stall, subtract 2-points for each animal species or surplus food stall in your barn and we get your final score.
This is a very good family game, younger players down to ages of 6 with some coaching can get this game, and as I have said earlier, there is still challenges for adults as a light resource management & set collection game.
The game has no real lag or slow times, choices are simple and generally clear cut, players can make decisions before their turn even. Setup is perhaps the slowest element of the game, after the first couple of games this is much shortened by experience. Game length is good as well, typically 35-50 minutes depending on experience and player numbers.
Zooloretto won the prestigious Speil Des Jahres award for 2007, and given the awards criteria I think it was a excellent choice.
Game type: Family set collection & resource management
Mechanism / Skill: Set collection, tile placement
Number of Players: 2-5 (3-5 is best)
Playing Time: 40-50 minutes
Ages: 8+ (6+ coached in my experience)
Ease of Play: 5 / 5
Ease of Setup: 4 / 5
Ease of Learning: 4 / 5
Fun Factor: 4 / 5
Replay-ability: 4 / 5 (experienced gamers might find this a 3)
Strategy Rating: 3 / 5