Gaming Unplugged: Zooloretto

March 17, 2009

“Who else would want that fertile female panda you just drew? Are they also collecting flamingos?”

The winner of the 2007 Spiel des Jahres (essentially Germany’s Game of the Year), Zooloretto pits players as rival zoo owners trying to fill their various enclosures with assorted types of animals in order to earn the most points. Each player starts off with two coins and an empty play mat featuring three such enclosures (of varying sizes) and a barn in which extra tiles are stored; there is also an additional piece of play mat that represents a potential expansion to your zoo. One empty “truck” per player is placed in the center of the play area (except in a two-player game, which uses special rules) and fifteen of the tiles being used are set aside to represent the final round. All of the other tiles are either face-down in the play area or placed in a bag, waiting to be drawn and placed into a truck.

The tiles themselves mostly represent various species of animals, with the actual number of available species varying depending on the number of players. Four specific tiles of each species are marked with a male or female symbol, indicating a fertile member of that gender; pairing up a fertile male with a fertile female yields a baby tile, distinguished (and kept separate) from the others by being round rather than square. There are also concession stand tiles, which assist in scoring, as well as coin tiles, which bestow an additional coin on whoever collects their truck. Filling certain enclosures in your zoo will also earn you an extra coin or two.

On each player’s turn, they have three options. The first and most common is to draw a tile and place it on one of the empty sections of one of the remaining trucks. The second is to take a money action, which are various effects that cost you one or more of your coins; these include moving tiles, swapping tiles, buying tiles from other players’ barns, discarding a tile from your barn, or expanding your zoo. Finally, you can end your round by claiming a truck and placing any tiles on it in your zoo and/or barn. A truck does not have to be full (three tiles) for you to take it, but taking a non-full truck doesn’t end your round any less. Whoever takes the final truck in a round draws the first tile in the next round. The game ends after the round in which a tile from the final fifteen is drawn.

Each enclosure is worth two set point values; the higher value is for a full enclosure, and the second is earned if you are one tile shy of filling it. Anything less scores zero unless there is a concession stand adjacent to that enclosure, in which case you score one point per tile. Each different type of concession tile placed in your zoo is worth two points, but each species of animal and/or type of concession stand in your barn will cost you two points, so plan carefully when taking those trucks.

In fact, most of the strategy in Zooloretto comes from careful management of your incoming tiles. It is often correct to take a truck with only one or two tiles on it in order to avoid receiving unwanted extras, which are expensive to discard. By the same token, when placing a tile on a truck you have to pay attention to not only your own plans, but those of your opponents as well. Who else would want that fertile female panda you just drew? Are they also collecting flamingos? Would they still take the truck if it meant they’d have to deal with the unwanted bird? Would someone else take the truck before you get another shot at it, assuming you even want the panda in the first place?

Zooloretto is a quick-playing game suitable for ages eight and up. Everything about the game is sturdy and colorful, from the tiles to the play mats, and there is no in-game reading required beyond reminders of what each money action can do. Like many tile-based games, the only random factor involved is which tiles come up at what time, which leaves plenty of room for adaptation, strategy, and solid family fun.


Images by GamerChris