Zooloretto: Strategy in Camouflage
Zooloretto looks like a children’s game. And at first glance is may seem and feel like a children’s game. By behind all the flashy colours, underneath the furry spots and stripes, beyond the cute and cuddly animals, lies a game which is full of strategy and wit. The game may be quick and simple, but not so much as it may at first appear to be.
Zooloretto’s premise is simple; you are trying to build a zoo. Whoever runs the best zoo at the end wins. But there is not a lot of wiggle room to gain a lot of points between zoos, so even a few points here or there could make the difference. Therefore you must always be conscious not just of what animals you need for your zoo, but what the other players are trying to do with their zoos as well.
There are different strategies to take with playing Zooloretto. You may choose to focus entirely on getting the animals and items that you want, like a squirrel hording his acorns. You may choose the way of the predator, like the leopard or the tiger, ready to take another player’s desired items away from them. You you may choose to be the wily fox, subtly building trucks that will benefit yoursle3f and hinder others without them even noticing. As there is diversity in the wild, there is diversity in the gameplay of Zooloretto.
Each player attempts to build their own zoo. They have three pens with a possibility of building a fourth. Turns are divided into filling and choosing trucks loaded with animals and using money to spend on their zoo. Players choose animals based on what they already have in their zoo, since only one type of animal can be in a pen. If players have excess animals at the end of the game, they lose points, so this is to be avoided.
Animal selection is where the heart of this game lies since this is where strategic thinking can be used to make or break the game. Players take turns drawing animal tiles at random and placing them on trucks. Each truck can only hold up to three tiles. Money tiles and concession stands are also thrown in with the animal tiles. At any time, players can take one of the trucks, leaving the rest for the others. When you take a truck you can place your animals or concession stands where you can fit them in your zoo.
The money actions aren’t a big part of the game, but they can make a big difference. Money can be used to expand your zoo to get another pen, the get rid of unwanted animals in your barn (which will lose you points in you stay their since you will be deemed a terrible zookeeper and accused of animal cruelty), move animals into an open pen, or switch two types of animals. You may also buy animals from other players which they have in their barn. If used right, these actions could be enough to win you the game.
Scoring is based on how many pens you’ve filled, how many concession stands you have, and how many animals in your barn you’re left with. If you’ve played the game perfectly, you will have a maximum of 42 points. Therefore there’s not a lot of points available, so most games are pretty close. This is why small, subtle strategic moves are important for the outcome of the game.
The components are deceiving. On the surface, everything about Zooloretto cries out “kid’s game”. The eight different animal tiles are cute and adorable, from the panda to the leopard to the kangaroo. Then there are also the baby animal tiles, which are even cuter and more adorable! And there’s even a picture of a furry panda on the box.
The zoo boards are planned out just right to keep the game tight. The pens are each of different sizes which allow for a little bit of strategy in arranging your zoo animals. They also look great. The artwork really matches the theme. Even the flip side of the fourth optional pen looks like a piece of land being prepared to be built on. Little details like that add a lot to the immersion into the game.
The trucks leave something to be desired however, since they do not look like trucks at all. Perhaps they were worried that it already looked to childish and that would put it over the top. All they really are are three wooden slabs with spots for three tiles. I guess they somewhat resemble flatbeds, but they’re still a little disappointing.
Zooloretto is one of those quick, easy, and fun games. But don’t be fooled by the cute and fuzzy outer exterior. There is strategy and depth to this game as well. Its not incredibly deep and complicated, but its not shallow and mindless either. It seems to be just about right for the theme and expectations or building a zoo.
The strategy in the game is not immediately apparent until you are actually in the midst of a game. There is some strategy involved with where to put your animals once they reach the zoo, but for the most part the strategy comes with the trucks. Filling the trucks gives you the opportunity to make desirable trucks for yourself and undesirable trucks for the others. Selecting a truck also becomes important since you may choose one which benefits you greatly or you can take the predatory route a truck which you know someone else wants.
Because there are not a lot of points available in the game, you really need to be aware of what animals you need and what animals will be harmful to you if you take them. Small, simple moves, much like smaller animals in the ecosystem may not be noticed right away, but if you ignore them it will be at your peril. Like a lion in the tall grass, the strategy may not be immediately apparent. But it is there, lurking, waiting to pounce.