Designer: Michael Schacht (2007)
Publisher: Abacus/Rio Grande
# of Players: 2-5
Play Time: 45 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #173/7.03
Weight: Medium Light
Zooloretto is a very approachable and entertaining game with a great theme, which has already established itself as one of the very best gateway games in the market. Players attempt to collect animal tiles to fill their zoos, but try to avoid getting extra animals that they can’t find room for. The game looks great, has wide appeal, and is a solid “super filler” that can hold the attention of both gamers and non-gamers alike. After everyone takes a truck, they are returned to the center of the table and a new round starts with the last person who took a truck in the previous round. The game then continues until you have to dip into the 15 tiles reserved at the beginning of the game. At the end of that round, scores are tallied and a winner declared!
Components and Setup
Especially in its newer edition, Zooloretto looks really fantastic. Each player has their own zoo board made of sturdy cardboard, along with a separate expansion piece that starts play face-down. On each zoo board is pictured 3 different enclosures of different sizes (4, 5, and 6 tiles). The expansion holds another 5-tile enclosure that can be opened later in the game.
Onto these boards, players will attempt to collect sets of tiles which picture animals of the same type. There are 8 different animal types with 11 tiles of each, plus two round “offspring” tiles for each animal type. The animals included are: Flamingoes, Camels, Leopards, Elephants, Pandas, Chimpanzees (NOT MONKIES!!!), Zebras, and Kangaroos. Of the 11 tiles for each animal, 2 are fertile males and 2 are fertile females. Anytime you have a pair of fertile male and female animals in the same enclosure, you produce one of the offspring tiles for that animal. There are also tiles picturing various vending stalls and some that show coins.
All the tiles are mixed together (newer versions have a nice tile bag to do this in) and 15 are pulled out blindly and set aside for the last turn. Five wooden “trucks” are put in the center of the table, which can each hold up to 3 tiles. Each player takes two coins, and play then begins with whoever was last to visit a zoo!
Basic Gameplay (click here for complete game rules)
The goal of the game is to score the most Victory Points. Each enclosure in the zoo is worth a different amount of points, indicated by two numbers separated by a slash. The first number (in front of the slash) is the enclosure’s value if completely filled by one type of animal at the end of the game. The number behind the slash is its value if short one tile. Normally, enclosures missing 2 or more tiles are worth nothing, but placing a vending stall in the special areas in the corners near an enclosure allow the player to score one point per animal tile in the incomplete enclosure. In addition, each different type of vending stall in the zoo counts as 2 VP as well.
Most of the time on their turn, players will draw a single tile and place it in an empty spot on one of the trucks. If, however, a player sees a truck that contains tiles they want, they may instead take a truck and immediately add the tiles on it to their zoo. Once a player takes a truck, they are out of the round and can take no other actions until everyone else has also chosen a truck. These decisions can often be difficult, because if you make a truck that is “too good”, someone will surely take it before you get another turn. But you also don’t want to take a truck with tiles you can’t use, because you will end up losing points for extra animals at the end of the game. The real heart of strategy in the game is learning how to put together trucks that will cause others harm while knowing when to take a truck that will give you what you want and cause you limited trouble.
Anyway, I haven’t spelled this out before (because it’s pretty obvious), but only one type of animal may be in any single enclosure. Therefore, if you take a truck that contains one or more animal tiles that you cannot legally place (because all your enclosures are already full or have different types of animals in them), you must instead place the new tiles in your “barn”. This is true both for animal tiles and vending stalls (which are only placed there if all of your vending stall spots are full). At the end of the game, you lost 2 points for each type of animal or vending stall in the barn (so multiple tiles of the same type still only cost you 2 points total).
Money is another factor in the game. In addition to the two coins each player starts with, more coins can be gained by taking trucks with a coin tiles as well as filling up some specific enclosures that also contain coin symbols. These coins may be used in a player’s turn to take a “money action”. The Remodel actions allow you to either move a single tile (Move) or switch all of two types of tiles (Exchange) and cost one coin. For two coins, you can either remove an animal from your barn (which the rules call “discard” but we referred to as “euthanize”) or purchase a tile from another person’s barn. Finally, for 3 coins you can flip over your expansion and make it available.
Just to recap the actions available on your turn, you can either:
There are several small expansions that are available both for purchase and (mostly) for download. For the most part, they don’t have major effects on the game, but instead just provide a little wrinkle here or there. They are:
After everyone takes a truck, they are returned to the center of the table and a new round starts with the last person who took a truck in the previous round. The game then continues until you have to dip into the 15 tiles reserved at the beginning of the game. At the end of that round, scores are tallied and a winner declared!
There is also a stand-alone “expansion” called Aquaretto coming out soon, which is obviously based on creating an aquarium instead of a zoo.
What I think…
I’ve actually wavered a little in what I think about Zooloretto. Finally, though, I’ve decided that my problems with it were mainly due to the fact that I took stupid risks and was upset when they bit me in the butt. The luck factor is the main issue that most people will probably have with the game. But in general, I think that it’s more of the “push your luck” variety than the “stupid freaking luck that I can’t account for” kind.
I’m no expert at the game or anything, but the key of the game appears to be to “stay ahead” of the trucks and not to wait too long to take one. Generally, people that are the last to take a truck get screwed over, particularly late in the game. Instead, don’t be afraid to take a truck with two, or occasionally even one, tile on it. It’s better to get what you need rather than risk it and end up with an extra tile or two that will only be a liability later in the game.
I really like the fact that you can look around the board and try to figure out how you can best “poison” a truck so that a player who really needs a tile on it will pass it by. That’s particularly good if you can use both tiles. It’s also pretty important to work on gathering a little extra money through the game, just in case you need to pick up or euthanize an animal or two in the late game.
Zooloretto is not my favorite game, but it does what it’s supposed to do very well. The theme and appearance are very interesting and attractive, its rules are accessible enough for beginners but have enough depth to maintain interest of even serious gamers, and it plays in a well-balanced 45 minutes or so. It’s a great family and gateway game that ranks right up there with Ticket to Ride, and it’s almost always a hit even with non-gamers.
Altogether, 14 different people have played 11 total games of Zooloretto and have given it an average rating of 8.09.
• Rules: Simple rules that are explained well and provide a depth of play far beyond their complexity.
• Downtime: Players take only one action in their turn, so downtime is limited and usually necessary to figure out your next move.
• Length: Our games averaged right at 45 minutes with an average of 4.6 players per game.
• Player Interaction: Mainly in screwing with the trucks, but the Building Sites expansion allows for blocking as well.
• Weight: Medium Light
• GamerChris’ Rating: It’s a multiple award-winner that does everything it’s supposed to do, and I give it an 8.