Michael Schacht


No. of Players:
2 - 5

Spiel des Jahres



In the year 2007 author Michael Schacht had published his so far most successful game, and the release of Zooloretto indeed had been lucky both for the author and the publisher ABACUSSPIELE, since the game not only was well received by the public but also the jury of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres awards had been really fond of the game and declared it as a winner of that year's awards. As time went by, Zooloretto had found quite a number of different expansion packs which greatly enhance the scope of the original game, and this rather strong presence of Zooloretto-products on the shelves of my favourite hobbyist store made me curious whether the game would be worthwhile not only as a familiy game but also for more seasoned players.

As the name of the game suggests, Zooloretto sees the players assume the roles of Zoo-directors which try to score points by constructing an attractive and efficient Zoo. Attractiveness will be measured by the number of animals in the different outdoor enclosures and for the strategic placement of vending-stalls, whereas efficiency will be judged by the number of animal- and vending-stall-tiles which have to remain in the Zoo's central barn because there is no free space for these tiles in the outdoor areas.

The players possess no tiles at all at the beginning of the game, so that everybody depends on the haul of tiles which he might secure during each round of play. So, a round of play consists of each player taking a turn in clockwise order, an for his turn a player may either

  • place a randomly drawn Zoo tile on a transport wagon,
  • take one of the transport wagons, or
  • perform a paid action.

A number of transport wagons corresponding to the number of participating players is available in the game, and each of these wagons has three slots in which Zoo-tiles can be placed. At the beginning of a round these wagons will be empty, but they will slowly receive new tiles by players who have chosen the revealing of a new tile for their turn's action. Thus, whenever a player decides to reveal a new tile, he has to choose one of the wagons with at least one empty slot on which the tile can be placed. This already ends the current player's turn, and now the next player once again can decide whether he wants to reveal and place yet another new tile or whether he actually takes one of the wagons, provided at least one slot of the wagon is already occupied by a tile.

If a player takes a wagon, he ends his turn by placing all new tiles from that wagon at his Zoo, and afterwards he will have to pass until all players have chosen a wagon and a new round begins. Thus, during the course of a round the players usually will act several times, and it may well be that some players keep on performing actions whilst others have already taken a wagon and ended their participation of this round.

[IMAGE]The placement of the newly acquired tiles is the centerpiece of the game, since the clever and efficient use of the animal- and vending-stall-tiles will decide about a player's final ranking. Thus, a player may place newly acquired animal-tiles in one or more of the Zoo's outdoor enclosures, but he faces the restriction that only animals of the same kind may be held together in one enclosure. Working with small Zoos, each player only possesses a total of three outdoor enclosures, but since up to eight different kinds of animals can be found in the game there is a chance that a player may receive animal-tiles which he cannot place at any outdoor area because all of them are already occupied by other types of animals. In this case the player has no choice but to place the new types of animals within his barn, but this is not really attractive since the players will be penalized for each kind of animals in the barn at the end of the game.

In contrast, all animals in outside enclosures will score victory points at the end of the game, provided the enclosure either is full or at least only has one free space left. Depending on the size of the area, the players will receive victory points for each full or nearly-full enclosure, whereas the animals in all other enclosures will not score any points unless a vending-stall-tile has been installed next to such an enclosure. In that case each of the animal-tiles in the enclosure will score one victory point at the game's end, so that the effort of the player to collect that type of animals is not generally wasted.

Similarily to the animal-tiles, the vending-stall tiles can be installed at five different spaces spread over the player's Zoo, and when all of these spaces are occupied all vending-stalls which are acquired in excess need to be stored in the barn. Four different types of vending-stalls exist, and for each type on an outside space the player will be awarded victory points at the games end, whereas each type which is stored in the barn once again will lead to a penalty in the final evaluation.

However, the players' Zoos are not completely static, since the players have some possibilities to change their Zoos through the choice of paid actions available in the game. Each player starts the game with meagre two coins in his operative account, but more coins can be acquired either by the revealing of Zoo-tiles featuring coins or as a special awards for the complete filling of one of their outdoor enclosures. These coins now may be spent on a number of actions, and these actions range from the exchange of the positions of animal tiles (between the barn and an outdoor enclosure or between two outdoor enclosures) or a re-arranging of a vending-stall to the purchase of an animal from another player's barn or the total removal of one animal tile from a player's own barn. For an amount of three coins a player even can expand his Zoo by opening up a fourth outdoor enclosure, and so these paid actions open the players ample of opportunities to react to their changing animal population during the course of the game.

In fact, these actions are often needed to spread the available animal-tiles in a more efficient way, as the players have to keep an eye on their scoring options and must aim to fill their outdoor enclosures completely in order to get most victory points. In addition, there sometimes comes a possibility to unite rare male and female tiles of the same animal species in an outdoor enclosure, and if this should happen the player will get a special baby-animal-tile for free - provided the enclosure has at least one free space for an additional animal.

The game comes to its end shortly before all animal tiles have been used up, and now the players will receive victory points for the animals in their outdoor enclosures and their outdoor vending-stall-tiles, whereas each type of animal- and vending-stall-tiles which is stored within the barn will lead to a deduction of victory points.

Depite the comparatively short and easy-to-grasp rules, already the basic game of Zooloretto offers an astonishing playing depth which cannot be found in many games of this category. The number of available actions is small, but nonetheless the players have to weight a number of factors when it comes to the decision how to act. Thus, it may always seem desirable to reveal more animal tiles in order to make the load of the different wagons more attractive, but usually the other players will have a first pick if a well-matching tile is revealed. On the other hand, there may be a wagon with well-matching tiles available, but a player who also has planned in performing one or more paid actions this round will be faced with a problem that the instant taking of such a wagon will end his turn and thus prevent him from performing the planned paid action.

Other tactics involve the filling of the different enclosures within a player's Zoo. Here the complete filling of a major enclosure will yield most victory points at the end of the game, whereas the filling of a smaller enclosure will bring less victory points but also some money. Thus, this problem once again poses the players with a difficult question: Should they go for more victory points, or should they try to get some strongly needed money (and perhaps make a later exchange of animal tiles from two enclosures by a paid action).

As indicated, the playing depth which can be found in Zooloretto is quite surprising, and during playtesting it was great to see that even children with an age of 8 years and upwards where able to learn the game with ease. Coming as a family game, Zooloretto actually can be enjoyed by occasional gamers and serious hobbyists alike, and so this testing of the basic game really has left me curious to give some of the game's expansions a closer examination!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany