zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Game for the Whole Herd - Zooloretto

This weekend our gaming group met, and we featured the Spiel des Jahres winning games I own.  I have owned Zooloretto for several years, but had never managed to get it to the table.  Our group has recently (and suddenly!) grown to over ten players, some of whom are not familiar with hobby games.  I had heard Zooloretto worked well as an introductory game, so it was time to give it a try.  The game is thematically fun, has good components and has simple and elegant gameplay.

Image by tiggerix
In Zooloretto, each player is attempting to build the most complete zoo; the zoo that would attract the most visitors.  (No visitors were harmed in the playing of this game.)  Players are rewarded for filling their animal pens, building vending stalls, and expanding their zoo for more.  However, having too many animals and vending stalls is costly; they are stored in the barn and reduce your chance at winning. 

This game has solid, quality components.  Coins are wooden disks painted gray.  The animals, stalls and random coins are represented by tiles.  Coins on tiles are worth the same as the disks.  Each player has their own board to play on, which represents their zoo.  These are not the full thickness of a normal game board, but they are certainly sufficient.  There are wooden tile racks, referred to as “delivery trucks”, which are also included.  Each rack holds three tiles.  There is no real “awesomeness factor”, but the art is certainly of good quality.  If there was one drawback, it was that some of the players had trouble telling which animals were which on opposing zoo boards.  While the instructions discuss setting out three draw piles for the tiles, a draw bag is included so that is handled.

The game is played over a series of rounds.  The end is determined by how long the tiles last, which is impacted by how many players are in the game, and how full the trucks are upon delivery.  On their turn, each player chooses to perform one (not all) of three actions:
·         Draws a tile from the bag, reveals it to be an animal, coin or vending stall, and places it on a delivery truck;
·         Picks up a delivery truck, which may or may not be full.
·         Performs one of several money actions, which are primarily about expanding your zoo and moving animals around.
The catch is that once you have taken a truck, you get no more turns this round!  That’s where the biggest decision point is:  do I wait to receive a full truck, or do I take a truck with tiles I want early to make sure I get those tiles.  (Hmmm, or do I take the truck early to make sure you don’t get the tiles you want!)

Image by Chris Norwood
After everyone has taken a truck, everyone simultaneously places their tiles: animals in their pens, vending stalls on vending sites, and coins in with the money they already have.  If you have a male and a female, they immediately produce a baby – a free animal!  If you don’t have space for any animals or stalls they go in the barn.  Of course, you can only have one animal type in each pen, which is what drives the truck decision I mentioned above.  Now the next round begins.

After the game is over, points are scored.  Points are given for how well you have filled your pens and built vending stalls.  Points are taken away for animals and vending stalls stuck in your barn. 

As you can see from the theme and the overview of the rules, this is a game well suited for children and those who dislike direct confrontation.  As a result, it makes a good casual game, but it makes a superb family game.  I completely understand why this game won the Spiel des Jahres.  It is definitely a game that I will be pulling out for certain friends of ours for whom building a zoo would make a fun game. 

There are expansions, quite a few of which I own but haven’t played.  When I get a chance I will review them.

Vital Statistics:

                Ages:                     8 and up (little ones will want in; they may need Mom or Dad)
                Time:                     45 minutes
                Players:                 3-5

It’s Your Move!

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