It’s not “Awful Lonely in the Big Black” when solo playing Firefly: The Game (@GaleForceNine, 2013) #boardgame

The first play of my 2020 RockyMountainNavy Solo Boardgame Challenge is Firefly: The Game (Gale Force 9, 2013). The play was satisfying, but really left me wanting both more and less.

Included in the base box of Firefly: The Game is a solo play Story Card, “Awful Lonely in the Big Black.” The special setup rules for solo play call for selecting up to four crew (no more than $1K) and placing using 20 Disgruntled tokens as a game timer. A turn consists of four Actions, and whenever you take a Fly Action the turn is over and a Disgruntled token removed. The game ends when you run out of timing tokens. There are three possible Goals to chose from; I went with “The Bad” – Crime Does Pay where you try to end the game with $15k or more.

The Story Card says play time is supposed to be about 1 hour. On the surface that does not look bad with 3 minutes for every turn and no more than 4 Actions a turn. In reality, I find that pace unachievable. Maybe for experienced players, but I found some turns where Analysis Paralysis set in, especially in the mid-game when I started feeling the time pressure. My game took more like 75 minutes; not bad for a solo game. With three Goals there is some replayability out of the box but I already found myself wanting MORE, as in more solo Story Cards. Gotta check out them other expansions…

At the same time playing Firefly: The Game solo-style made me want LESS. Face it, solo or full-play Firefly: The Game is a real table hog. It’s not that the map is too big (its 30″x20″ – very suitable for a game table with multiple players) but for a solo play with all the cards and ship tableaus you need nearly the same space. I often use my 48″x28″ desk for solo play and this game was VERY tight. All those components also need setup, adding a not-insignificant amount of time. There is nothing that can be done here about the size or the components, but it illustrates the challenges of taking a full size, multi-player game and using it for a single solo player. Sometimes it’s alot. Maybe too much?

IMG_0552
Setting up – Space is big but not on this gaming desk….

Having recently played Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019) it is inevitable to make comparisons between these “space western” games. For solo play I guess I will find out later as Outer Rim is #7 on my solo challenge list. Check back….

Overall, I was happy with this solo play of Firefly: The Game. I won this game, passing my $15k goal with two timing tokens left. Thinking about the game more broadly, this box has languished on my shelf too long and playing solo is a good way to get it out and remind myself that we really do need to buy a couple of expansions. The game is good fun and deserves more table love than we have given it.


Feature image courtesy Gale Force 9.

 

RockyMountainNavy’s 2020 #wargame & #boardgame challenges

IN 2019 I BIT OFF A BIT MORE GAMING THAN I COULD CHEW. I gave myself three gaming challenges for over 50 different games. That meant the challenge games took up half of my gaming for the year. For 2020, I am taking a different approach and using two themes as challenges. One theme is for boardgames; the other for wargames.

THEME 1 – SOLO

Going into late 2019 a Geeklist appeared titled, 2019 People’s Choice Top 200 Solo Games (200-1). Looking through this list, I discovered that I own an even dozen of these games! So my 2020 RockyMountainNavy Solo Boardgame Challenge is to play all 12 solo games I own by the end of the year.

THEME 2 – GMT Operational / Next War Family

For my wargame challenge, I chose to focus on the GMT Operational & Next War series of games. My 2020 Operational / Next War Series Challenge is to play all eight games and two expansions I own.

OPLAN 2020

To accomplish these challenges I am going to have to play at least one game from each list every month. The Operational / Next War Series are bigger games so that’s likely a full weekend of wargaming leaving three other weekends for the solo challenge (hmm…a good weeknight event) and other games. My goal is to not to take up too much of my gaming time with the challenges like I did in 2019. Instead, I will have more time to play games that I want to play (or the RockyMountainNavy Boys want to play).

What gaming challenges have you given yourself in 2020?


Feature image courtesy The Tank Museum

An August-less #boardgame #wargame month

SUMMER IS NOT THE BEST TIME for boardgames or wargames in the RockyMountainNavy house. There are so many outdoor activities to be had and family events on the weekend that games get pushed to the back burner. So it was for August in the RockyMountainNavy home. I recorded a measly 13 plays of 9 different games…my worst month in almost two years of recording plays.

The month did blast off with Tranquility Base (Worthington Publishing, 2019) being the definite winner with four plays in the month. This included one play with the Soviet Moon Expansion.

Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest (Mighty Boards, 2019) is a new game that found its way to my table. This “militarized Eurogame,” as co-designer Brian Train puts it, is most enjoyable.

The best family night game was a long overdue session of 1812: Invasion of Canada (Academy Games, 2012). With the beginning of the school year and a return to a somewhat normal cycle of weekend family games I am sure that the many Birth of America / Birth of Europe-series titles will land on the table regularly.

It finally released! Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) arrived. This is supposed to be our next weekend family night game. Spoiler Alert: I really like the Spent Die Mechanic and encourage all the naysayers to actually try it before they knock it.

I found myself at home on some days that Mrs. RMN’s summer daycare girl was here so we got a few children’s games in. Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Stacking (HABA, 2019) is a real winner!

On a recommendation at CONNECTIONS 2019 I picked up Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (Jasco Games, 2019). I haven’t written up my thought yet but (spoiler alert…again) this tune is a bit flat to me.

I attended CONNECTIONS 2019, the professional wargaming conference in mid-August. I have yet to compose all my thoughts but I did get to see a bit of wargame history with Upton’s US Infantry Tactical Apparatus.

Looking ahead, designer John Gorkowski was kind enough to send me an e-kit to playtest with for the next game in South China Sea-series from Compass Games. Indian Ocean Region is already available for preorder and this is my chance to try and influence the game and make it better for everyone.

As mentioned before, the return to school means a return to a more regular schedule of gaming. I also still have several games in my 2019 CSR, Origins, and GameGeek Challenges to complete before the end of the year.

So..back to gaming!

#FamilyFriday – 2019 Golden Geek & Origins Awards #Boardgame Challenge – Love Letter (@alderac, 2012)

IN A HOUSE FULL OF BOYS, IT IS A BIT AMAZING THAT ONE of the more popular filler games on our shelf is all about romance.

Not really.

Love Letter (AEG, 2012) is thematically about delivering letters to a princess and wooing her; the reality is this game makes Game of Thrones look like a children’s nursery. Back-stabbing and double-crossing others is the norm. The game is not about love, it’s about using your power nakedly to eliminate opponents and win the prize.

It’s delicious.

The simple 16-card game of Love Letter won the 2013 Golden Geek Award for Best Family Game / Best Party Game / Best Card Game/ Most Innovative Game. I certainly agree with the last two categories. Love Letter was the first 16-card game we played and the innovative nature astounded us. I will agree that it is a good party game…with adults. I am not so sure about the family game aspects because it is very easy for the game to devolve into a bloody power contest. Some younger players may not fully understand what is happening and get hurt.

I also appreciate that Love Letter has been rethemed. RockyMountainNavy Jr. always takes Letters to Santa to school during the holidays for a quick play around the lunch table; it’s so much fun even high schoolers can get into the game. Indeed, for my challenge I actually played a game of Love Letter: Batman with Middle RMN Boy. It’s the same mechanics of Love Letter, except with villains.

Even love can be evil…and so much fun!


Feature image courtesy AEG via BoardGameGeek

#Wargaming, it’s in the Cards – Challenging commentary on @gmtgames Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory

I AM STILL (HAPPILY) WORKING MY WAY THROUGH MY 2019 GAMING CHALLENGES. These past few weeks I was fortunate to arrive at a time in my challenge where I got to play three Card-Driven Game (CDG)* designs:

  • For the People (GMT Games, 1998) won the 1998 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Paths of Glory (GMT Games, 1999) won the 1999 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  • Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2010) won both the 2010 Charles S Roberts Award for Best Ancient to Napoleonic Era Wargame and the 2010 Golden Geek Award for Best 2-Player Game / Best Wargame.

In playing these three games, I gained a new appreciation for the range of complexity the Card-Driven Game mechanic can support and how each creates a insightful historical experience.

Complexity

I ended up playing these three games in order of the wars; the American Revolution in Washington’s War followed by the American Civil War in For the People and lastly World War I in Paths of Glory. Not only was playing in this order the same as the historical timeline, the sequence also reflects the increasing complexity of the games.

My copy of Washington’s War (2nd Preprint, 2015) is the “latest published” of the three games I played but is the simplest in terms of rules. Based on Mark Herman’s We the People (Avalon Hill, 1993), Washington’s War features a single deck of Strategy Cards supporting a very streamlined selection of actions. Having not played a CDG in a while this was a good reintroduction to the CDG meachanic as the game focuses on the basics with little frills. Using the BGG complexity or “weight” scale, I put Washington’s War as a Medium Light 2.0 given the simple, rather direct rules.

My copy of For the People is the GMT Games 2nd Edition from 2006. There was a Third Edition in 2015 and I am not sure what changed. Doesn’t really matter; I enjoy my version of the game. In terms of complexity, For the People is similar to Washington’s War in the use of a single Strategy Card deck. Beyond that, For the People is more complex with the designation of Divisions, Corps, and Armies. Victory is determined not so much by area control (ala Washington’s War) but through Strategic Will (more on that later). The added rules make For the People more complex than Washington’s War, but the new rules overhead is not onerous. In terms of complexity I rate For the People a Medium 3.0 on BGG but in reality it plays more like a 2.5.

Paths of Glory, originally published in 1999, is the game that has undergone the most development since its first publication. I have a 1999 first edition, far removed from the English Deluxe Edition, Sixth Printing (2018) that is now available. I have not kept up on this game although I see lots of support available on the GMT Games website. I played the game using the Rules as Written out of the box; maybe not an optimal playing but it’s what I had on hand. Paths of Glory is the most complex of the three games played, most readily demonstrated by the use of two Strategy Card decks (separate for Allied and Central Powers). The cards themselves are also more complex, going beyond the usual Event or Operations Card values and introducing a Strategic Redeployment value and Replacement Points. However, like Washington’s War and For the People, another more subtle mechanic outside of combat is the true heart of the game. In Paths of Glory (PoG) that mechanic is War Status (also more later). Of the three CDG games I played, Paths of Glory is probably the most complex. On BGG I see that over 45% of the people voting rate Paths of Glory at Medium Heavy 4.0. I think that’s overdoing it and a solid Medium 3.0 is more appropriate.**

The progressive complexity level of the games made learning (relearning?) how to play each a simple exercise. I have tried to jump straight into Paths of Glory before and struggled. This time I built a foundation before I started and it worked much better. I guess this means that one needs several games in their collection to build up to the big one, right?

Evocative History

Although nominally a wargame, each of these games goes far beyond depicting their given conflict by looking beyond the battles. Indeed, each of these games is equal parts, if not more, a political game than a combat game.

Looking at Washington’s War, the major pieces scream wargame and combat. The Generals are standee’s and there are many chits for depicting the number of Combat Unit (CU) strength points on the board. In reality, the most important chit in the game is the Political Control (PC). Victory in Washington’s War is determined by colonies controlled, and colony control depends not on your army but on the amount of PC spaces controlled. Generals with armies can “flip” a PC, but it is the use of Operations Cards to “place” PC that is actually the most powerful action in the game. This is highly evocative of the history; armies could certainly protect areas of political control and even changed it at times but it was the political actions of rabble-rousing and the like, often in the background of the fighting, that determined control of the colony. Washington’s War captures this factor of history to a tee.

In For the People, the most important rule is not 7.0 Battle, but 12.0 Strategic Will. As designer Mark Herman notes in the introduction to 12.0:

The Strategic Will model in this game should drive a player’s actions….It is the absolute and relative value of each side’s Strategic Will that determines the current state of the war.

12.0 Strategic Will, Design Note

Rule 12.0 gives the player’s of For the People (FtP) ten different ways that affect Strategic Will. Understanding all these conditions is important because if one plays FtP and just focuses on combat, they are bound to lose the game.

Of all three games, Paths of Glory (PoG) is the most wargame-like. That said, like For the People the most important game mechanic is not Combat, but War Status. As designer Ted Raicer’s Design Notes point out:

War Status in PoG has several elements. First, it represents the progression of each alliance towards a state of modern industrialized Total War….Second, through the rules for Combined War Status, it shows the various effects of such a prolonged and costly struggle on national morale, politics, and diplomacy….Finally, through the Armistice mechanism, the effect of war weariness outside of Russia is introduced.

Design Notes, War Status

Like Strategic Will in For the People, in Paths of Glory careful management of one’s War Status and not simply winning a combat is the true key element essential for victory.

a Waro Awareness

One of the new gaming terms I discovered in the last few years is “waro.” A combination of “wargame” and “Eurogame,” the term attempts to define a new sub-domain of tabletop gaming that mixes conflict simulation with Eurogame mechanics. The poster child games for this genre is the GMT COIN-series. However, after playing these games, I would argue that the Card-Driven Game mechanic, as exemplified by Washington’s War, For the People, and Paths of Glory, are among the first waro games out there. This is not a new argument to the gaming community; long have gamers argued if any of these titles are even a wargame. Regardless of how you think about the issue, for me just playing these games has grown my understanding of what a waro can be.

putting my cards on the table

In some ways I had put CDG designs on the back shelf. I usually play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys so we need three-player games. These games are solidly two-player. CDG designs also tend not to be solo-friendly given the hidden information factor of the cards. There are some attempts to work around this but I have not delved deep into them. However, my recent plays have shown me that these games deserve to be brought down off the shelf, even if played in a sub-optimal solo manner. There is still much to be learned about the history of the times represented and these are amongst the best models to do so.


*Per BGG, a CDG is a game where, “Cards or campaign text depict events, and the challenge is in making decisions and plan their usage to win.”

**I am well aware that my complexity ratings on BGG tend to track lower than the average. I beleive this is because wargames tend to be overrated in complexity by the Eurogamers who dominate BGG.

#MiniaturesMonday -or- my Origins 2019 #Boardgame #Wargame Challenge in the #Battletech Introductory Set (2007 Miniatures Rules of the Year) from @catalystgamelab

ALTHOUGH THE BATTLETECH INTRODUCTORY BOX SET WON the 2007 Origins Award for Miniatures Rules of the Year, I did not formally get my first BattleTech set until the Third Edition Introductory Box Set published by Catalyst Games in 2011. As I wrote before, I was VERY disappointed. However, very recently RockyMountainNavy Junior purchased with his own money the “new” Fifth Edition Beginner Box (Catalyst Game Labs, 2018). So rather than just revisit the rules, I decided to compare the two sets and see what, if any, improvements occurred between the 2011 Introductory Box Set and the 2018 Beginner Box. I am happy to say the new 2018 Beginner Box has much improved sculpts and rules but is in some ways more limiting than the 2011 Introductory Box Set.

Rules

Quick-Start Rules – New and Old

Both the Battletech 2018 Beginner Box and 2011 Introductory Box Set contain Quick-Start Rules. I fully realize that the Quick-Start Rules are NOT what won the 2007 Origins Award but it’s what I can directly compare between these two sets. The 2011 and 2018 Quick-Start Rules are near-identical with the exception of Combat. Specifically, the new 2018 Quick-Start Rules use an attack process named G.A.T.O.R. This simple pneumonic makes combat fast and easy. Everything in G.A.T.O.R. was in the 2011 version but it was not called out as such. The new version is much simpler to teach and learn.

Miniatures

Another major improvement in the 2018 BattleTech Beginner Box is the ‘Mech sculpts. The 2011 ‘Mech sculpts were, to put it kindly, crap.

Poor quality with too much lost detail & flash. Reminds me of cheap plastic soldiers from a discount store

The 2018 Beginner Box has only two BattleTech ‘Mech sculpts but they are of much higher quality. RockyMountainNavy Junior wasted no time in painting them up.

Work in progress – but at least they feel like miniatures not toy soldiers

Limited Options

The Fifth Edition Beginner Box is really bare-bones. Two miniatures, a paper double-sided map, and Quick-Start Rules. Background material is a 24-page fiction booklet and a short source booklet. The BattleTech 2011 Introductory Box Set included the full 80-page Introductory Rulebook and mounted maps as well as 24 miniatures. Actually 26 the Introductory Box Set has 26 minis as it included two “premium” miniatures that had to be assembled. Sadly, the “premium” should of been the standard!

As much as I am tempted to give RMN Jr. the older complete rule book, if he wants to pursue the BattleTech Universe a better option is to purchase the pdf of BattleTech: Total Warfare which touts itself as the complete up-to-date rules. It’s only $14.99 on WargameVault.com.

The Battles Ahead

RockyMountainNavy Jr. seems to be happy with the BattleTech Universe. I think we will be playing more (and he will be investing more) in this game universe. After my disastrous experience with the 2011 Introductory Box Set I was hesitant to support him but now I see the BattleTech Beginner Box as a good investment and starting point. So BattleTech is welcomed back into the RockyMountainNavy household…as long as they avoid the pitfalls of the past.

The simple #wargame joy of Attack! (Eagle Games, 2003)

THE 2003 ORIGINS AWARD FOR BEST HISTORIC BOARD GAME went to Attack! (Eagle Games). Sometime in the late 2000-oughts I bought this game in the hopes that I could use it as an introductory wargame for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I don’t really know why I did this since I already owned Axis & Allies (in my case, the 1987 Milton Bradley edition). Attack! and Axis & Allies are very similar so having A&A be good enough. I recently pulled Attack! out as part of my 2019 Origins Challenge. After all these year I can say that Attack! is the superior game to A&A, even without the expansion.

As I replayed the game I discovered that while I have focused on heavier wargames, the RockyMountainNavy Boys regularly pull Attack! out to play. They tell me its because of the free-style set-up. Whereas A&A tries to recreate a historical WWII starting in 1942, Attack! is set in the World War II era but is not tied to history. In many ways it is a sandbox WWII game.

Just because the game is cut loose of history does not mean that it is not historical. The same combined-arms so powerful in A&A is also a necessity in Attack!. Here also is a simple economic system using a set-building mechanic. Nothing too complex but enough to make one concerned about managing their hand of cards.

Although the RMN Boys play Attack! they prefer not to play it at family game night, instead getting wargames like Conflict of Heroes (Academy Games) or Battleship Captain (Minden Games) to the table. If they want a lite wargame we tend to go with one of the Birth of America/Europe series from Academy Games or Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing). I suggested that they use Attack! with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it can play up to six players. At first they were reluctant because of player elimination concerns; that is, until I pointed out to them that the game ends immediately when any player is eliminated (XXII. Winning the Game). So maybe it will make it out for them. I hope so; the game can be fun.

Over the years I occasionally considered purchasing the expansion. Every time I end up not making the purchase. For this reminiscence I thought about it once again, and once again I am passing on the opportunity. Although I am sure the expansion with expanded naval rules and economics is not bad, for me it’s not necessary. The core Attack! has its niche in my collection as a lite, introductory wargame. If we want something more we have other games that satisfy the need. So we keep it simple, with simple Attack!.

#Boardgame #FamilyFriday – When the King of the House isn’t the King of Tokyo (IELLO, 2012)

DESIGNER RICHARD GARFIELD MADE HIS NAME with Magic: The Gathering. I personally never got into the Magic craze; indeed, I have a bit of a hatred for Magic since The Great Magic Extinction Event very nearly caused the death of wargames and RPGs in America. But hobby gaming survived and Richard Garfield went on to make other games. Games like King of Tokyo (IELLO, 2012). That game won the Golden Geek Award in 2012 for Best Family Game, Best Party Game, and Best Children’s Game. Even today, eight years after its initial release, BoardGameGeek ranks King of Tokyo as the #48 Family Game and #261 overall. If I use BGG rankings for my collection it is the 21st-highest ranked game in my collection; easily the top 5%!

I had two reasons for playing King of Tokyo. First, I needed to work off my challenge. Second, I wanted to reintroduce the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the game as it is a good candidate for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. King of Tokyo can play up to six making it a good game for rainy days in the basement for the NGG.

Let me state for the record here that King of Tokyo is not as highly rated by me as it is on BGG. I rate the game a solid 7 but that places it amongst the top 53% of my collection. It’s not that the game is bad; it just feels forced. I mean, the mechanics of King of Tokyo are fine. Roll dice (push your luck). Spend dice to gain VP or power, attack, or heal (dice pool). Beat up other monsters (conflict). Take Tokyo, leave Tokyo (area control). Buy cards for special power ups (hand management). King of Tokyo certainly captures the theme of monsters stomping Tokyo. The artwork is cute, the components top grade. On the downside, there is a very real possibility of player elimination in King of Tokyo. Thankfully, even if one is eliminated the game is short enough that you won’t have to sit by long before the others finish play. At the end of the day, King of Tokyo feels more like a series of individual races to 20 VP. Player interaction is all confrontational and almost exclusively though attacks. That doesn’t really bother me (remember, I am a wargamer first) but I don’t know if this game was first released today if the “modern” sensibilities of the larger BGG community would be as accepting of the game today as it was back then. Then again, it is still highly ranked. Go figure.

I can see King of Tokyo as a good game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. I recommended to the RMN Boys that they should use this game with the NGG but they were ambivalent about the idea. At six players maybe I need to keep this one for the inevitable Neighborhood Gaming Night. I really can’t see any other chances for this game to hit the table.

#Wargame #Miniatures Monday – 2019 Origins Challenge in Fear God & Dread Nought (Clash of Arms/ATG, 2001+)

FEAR GOD & DREAD NOUGHT (Clash of Arms, 2001) won the 2001 Origins Award for Best Historic Miniatures Rules. To me, FG&DN was the third what is now called the Admiralty Trilogy of naval wargames which includes Fear God & Dread Nought (1906-1925), Command at Sea (1926-1955) and Harpoon (1955 to Present day). Along the way, a “fourth” game in the trilogy was released by the Admiralty Trilogy Group, Dawn of the Battleship which covers 1890 to 1904. For my 2019 Origins Award Challenge I pulled out FG&DN and took another look at the game.

To me, Admiralty Trilogy games get a bit of a bum rap. These games are often associated with complexity; indeed, I have heard these games referenced as “ASL for the navy.” Personally, I think people confuse detailed data with complexity of the game engine. I know both Mr. Bond (the series creator) and Chris Carlson (co-designer FG&DN) and they are both gamers. They are also analysts, and one should recall that the first trilogy game, Harpoon, grew out of a US Navy training aid. In many ways, FG&DN traces its legacy to “professional” wargames where the training and simulation needs often come at the expense of playability. My long-time focus on simulation over gameplay may be why I often overlooked playability issues.

Long ago in 2007 I created a Geeklist where I compared nine different World War I tactical naval wargames I had in my collection. In my informal comparison I played the same scenario (Goeben Escapes) for each game. For FG&DN I found it took the longest prep and play times across the nine games. However, while not the fastest game, it was among the games that seem to most accurately portray the battle. So the question is, what do YOU want in a game? Playability? Realism? Where you fall along that spectrum will go a long way towards determine if FG&DN is for you.

I still enjoy FG&DN. Several year back, Admiralty Trilogy Group took the license for the Admiralty Trilogy and started publishing electronically on WargameVault.com. By 2017 they realized FG&DN needed an overhaul. While many of the rules changes focused on the combat models, playability did factor into decisions.

Finally, when looking at the present state of the game I realized I have not kept up. In October 2018, ATG published FG&DN, 2nd Edition. Good thing it’s my birthday and I can buy a present for myself to see just how good the overhaul was!

A Willing Foe & Sea Room

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.