Friday, September 14, 2007

The Zooloretto Expansions

No, it’s not a Robert Ludlum novel. The Zooloretto Expansions are free downloads that are available on Boardgamegeek.

I only became aware of Zooloretto after it won the Spiel des Jahres. Once it showed up on my radar, the award, the zoo theme, and the family-friendly aura of the game made it an easy purchase. Michael Schacht’s game certainly seems to be the kind of easy-to-play and low-complexity game that usually wins the Spiel des Jahres.

And that seemed to be the problem with the game for some of the Appalachian Gamers. After one play, they decided it was too simple. Not many tough decisions, not much strategy. Next game, please.

I almost agree. It certainly is on the short-and-simple end of the gaming spectrum. Usually I like games longer and meatier. But I played Zooloretto with the expansions, and they probably tipped the scales in Z’s favor. They added just enough decisions and options to keep Zooloretto from being shoved into my mental kids-game ghetto.

For those who haven’t played the game, I will just say that the object of the game is to collect zoo animal tiles and fill up your enclosures with these animals. Each enclosure can only hold one species of animal, and any extra species that you acquire that can’t be fitted into an enclosure causes you to lose points.

The main mechanism of the game is filling trucks with tiles, and then choosing one truck each round. Each truck has room for three tiles, and each turn a player has an option of picking a tile and adding it to a truck, or of claiming a truck. The trick is to get a truck with the tiles you need while sticking tiles you can’t use on other trucks. The problem is that other players may be sticking their unwanted tiles on a truck you want to claim.

Players also have a small amount of cash that they can use to rearrange the tiles they have already claimed, buy animals from other players, discard unwanted tiles, or to give themselves a fourth enclosure.

Perhaps the most fun part of the game is that some of the animals are marked with a male or female symbol which indicates that the animal is fertile. Get a fertile pair and they will produce one baby animal. Everyone likes the idea of a getting a free bonus baby, and fertile animals are always in high demand.

There’s a little more to the game than what I’ve mentioned, but not a lot more. As you can see, the game system is not very complicated. The game plays quickly, and I haven’t seen any serious cases of analysis paralysis (something that Appalachian Gamers are prone to when playing heavier games like Age of Empires III).

So what do the expansions add?

First, each player gets a two-space petting zoo enclosure. The petting zoo will only hold baby animals. The twist on the petting zoo is that unlike other enclosures, it generates cash but no victory points.

A second expansion adds three two-space enclosures that can be purchased for cash. Each of these three enclosures is coded to accept only one particular species of animal (panda, camel, and chimp). These enclosures can generate extra points for players, but they also create extra demand for these three species, and this can make it more difficult for some players to fill their enclosures with these types of animals.

A third expansion includes two pavilion tiles that can be purchased for cash. These pavilions can be placed in an enclosure in place of an animal tile, and thus makes it easier to fill up enclosures.

There is also a restaurant tile that can be purchased to increase the value of vendor tiles. But this is one element that I haven’t used when playing the game, and I won’t comment on it further.

These expansion elements are simple, elegant, and free. I believe Rio Grande is going to publish an official expansion to the game which may include more than just the elements I’ve mentioned. But I don’t know when it will be available.

Even with these expansions, a lot of gamers may find Zooloretto too light-weight for their tastes. But give them a try. The price is right.

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