My 2019 Golden Geek Award Challenge – The (lack of) story behind Zooloretto (Rio Grande Games, 2007)

IN THE PAST I HAVE TRIED TO BE A EUROGAMER. I have not done very well. Maybe it’s my wargame roots. Maybe it’s because I can be stubborn. Sometimes it’s because Eurogames fail to engage me. That’s surely the case with Zooloretto (Rio Grande Games, 2007). In 2007 Zooloretto won the Golden Geek Award for Best Family Game/Best Children’s Game. I think I bought Zooloretto that year or next based on this award. The oldest RMN Kids would have been between nine and 12 years old so this should of been an enjoyable game for them.

It wasn’t.

I recall playing the game a few times and the RMN Kids not engaging with it and telling me, “it’s boring.” Surely, a colorful game with animals and a zoo should of appealed to them, right? Why not?

For my 2019 Golden Geek Challenge I pulled Zooloretto out and gave it a spin. At it’s heart, Zooloretto is a simple set collection and tile placement game. That’s it. Draw tiles and place them on the truck. Collect truck. Place in your zoo. Use money to open up new enclosures and get money for sets of animals. Rinse, repeat until all tiles used. Score. Dead simple. That’s the game described mechanically. Hearing the game described in this manner is B-O-R-I-N-G.

I think that was my mistake. The game is really a story about zoos competing against each other. Each player wants to have the full enclosures with vending nearby to earn more money and attract more visitors. Animals in the barn don’t earn money; in fact, they lose money. The more visitors you have, the more points you earned. Most visitors win!

The box back has a little narrative blurb to sell that theme:

Each player uses small, large, wild and exotic animals and their young to try and attract as many visitors as possible to their zoo.

But be careful – the zoo must be carefully planned. Before you know it, you have too many animals and no more room for them. That brings minus points! Luckily, your zoo can expand.

The box back sells the theme, but no mechanics. That connection should be in the rule book. Unfortunately, a connection between theme and mechanics doesn’t really come through. The closest is the introduction:

GAME IDEA

Each player is a zoo owner. Players score points by attracting as many visitors to their zoos as possible. To accomplish this, they must collect matching sets of animals. If a player manages to obtain very many animals for his zoo, then he will find it worthwhile to expand. Because once the enclosures are full, the animals need to go into the barn and the player loses points again. Small vending stalls near the enclosures guarantee a minimum number of visitors. The player with the most points wins the game.

There is so much wrong with that little blurb:

  • Each player is a zoo owner (Check)
  • Players score points by attracting as many visitors to their zoo as possible (but nowhere else does it say points are people)
  • …they must collect matching sets of animals (well, it is a set collection game)
  • If a player manages to obtain many animals for his zoo, then he will find it worthwhile to expand (actually, you need money to expand)
  • Because once the enclosures are full the animals need to go to the barn…. (technically a player can place animals in the barn even with empty enclosures)
  • …and the player loses points again (wait, where did it tell me I lost points the first time?)
  • Small vending stalls near the enclosure guarantee a minimum number of visitors (guarantee is a bit of a strong word here)
  • The player with the most points wins the game (you mean visitors, right?).

I shouldn’t have to work this hard to connect theme and mechanics.

That said, I may try to bring this one out again on a game night. At ages 8+ and 45 minutes playing time a few of Mrs RMN’s students may be candidates for play. Next time though I am going to try to sell them on the theme before I explain the game mechanics.

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