Full disclosure: A preview copy of Zoo-ography was provided by Doomsday Robots. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Alright, we’re back in the solid swing of things now, moving between Essen releases, Gen Con releases, and upcoming Kickstarters. I still don’t have a … lot of bandwidth (even now), but I’ve got a steadyish hand on the wheel, so let’s talk about this next game, Zoo-ography, from Doomsday Robots, publishers of Bridges to Nowhere, a game I covered a while back.
In Zoo-ography, you’re being tasked with constructing a superior zoo while paying attention to the needs that the animals have. While that may seem familiar, this is much more of a dueling game than a long-form tabletop game; quick, light, and fast. Pay attention to your objectives, as well; they’re the only way you can score points, and without them you’ve got no chance. Will you be able to construct the perfect habitats for your new animal friends?
So, the setup changes a bit depending on whether or not you’re playing solo. I’ll cover the components first, then the two-player setup and the solo setup below.
First thing you’re gonna want to do is set out the Animal Tokens:
Shuffle up the Zoo Cards:
The Objective Cards have two sides: a 3 / 2 side:
And a 2 / 1 side:
What you’re gonna want to do is shuffle them, and place one 3-side up. Place another 3-side down (2-side up). Flip the other two over to the 2 / 1 sides, and place one on top of the now-upside down 3-side, and then place the last one on top of the third one’s 1-star objective. You should have a total of 10 stars visible.
Give each of your players a Gate Card and a Player Card corresponding to whether or not they’re going first or second:
Last, add the Draft Cards face-up in the player area (usually towards the top, so you have space to build):
Now you’re ready for more player-specific setup.
For two players, you’re going to put six of the Zoo Cards animal-side-up below the Draft Cards. As you do, take the corresponding animal and place it on the lowest available number on the Draft Cards. Instead of putting the 6th animal on 6, however, place it on the first space in the Reserve.
Flip over all the cards and you’re ready to go!
Before placing the Zoo Cards below the Draft Cards, remove the top one of the deck from the game without looking at it.
Now, take the top two cards of the deck. Build one into your zoo, remove the other from the game. Place the removed card’s Animal Token on space 1 of the Draft card.
Fill the Draft Board as normal, but instead of placing the 6th animal in the Reserve (as you would for a two-player game), place it on 7, as you would normally expect. However, once you’ve done this, do not flip any cards over.
You should be good to start!
Again, I’m going to break this into regular and solo gameplay; the major commonalities are that you’re going to take turns pulling cards from the “draft area” and adding them to your zoo, following standard tile-placement game rules (the different things have to line up), for instance. Similar to (though not quite the same as) Habitats, the space in front of your park’s entrance cannot have another tile in it. It doesn’t extend infinitely, though, at least based on how I’m interpreting the rules, and your gate isn’t necessarily built at the start of the game.
Generally speaking, your goal is to try to place animals in the circle spaces in your Zoo, known as habitats. Large animals have a requirement; they can only be placed in Habitats if there are two Watering Hole symbols per Large Animal. Small animals don’t care, but there are some habitat restrictions:
- Rhinos can only live with Monkeys and Zebras;
- Giraffes can only live with Zebras and Ostriches;
- Elephants can only live with Ostriches and Monkeys;
- Hippos must live alone; they are Secluded.
- Gorillas must live alone; they are Secluded.
- Lions must live alone; they are Secluded.
The smaller animals are fine to live together, but once you have any pair of different small animals it’s now restricted to one Large Animal’s habitat and the third small animal cannot live there.
On your turn, once you get a card, you can do one, both, or neither of the following actions:
- Build: Add any card in your hand to your Zoo, following the building rules I mentioned earlier.
- Take Animals: Take all animals from a single Draft Card and add them to habitats in your Zoo following the placement rules mentioned earlier. You may not take any animals from a Draft Card unless you can place all of them. You may split them up between several habitats, as well.
Finally, there are also Attractions; specifically five types:
- Restaurants: They only count as fulfilled if they are adjacent to two Seating Area Amenities.
- Observation Points: They only count as fulfilled if the habitat formed by their space includes the animal on their card.
- Gift Shops: They only count as fulfilled if they’re adjacent to the front gate.
- Exhibits: They’re not only fulfilled, but they also count as a unique animal (the one pictured on the card).
- Features: Currently, there’s only one of these, and it’s fulfilled by default. I’m hoping that that means there are more coming in the full version.
Last thing is that there are penalties for building your park in a not-good way. Currently, there’s only one — your Park is limited to a 4×4 square. If you violate this rule, you lose one point (and you don’t get many points!).
That should be everything that’s common between the two versions; now on to the rules!
So in a two-player game, you’re competing to draft the best park in the land; what fun. Here’s how it works. On a turn, you’ll do the following things:
- Take a face-up card. Any card from the Zoo Draft; just kinda grab it.
- Do the Build / Take Animals actions, if you want.
- (optional, potentially) Reset Zoo Draft. So if there’s only one card left in the Zoo Draft, do the following:
- Move the animals in the Reserve Queue (if any) to the lowest numbered open spaces on the Draft Cards. If there aren’t any spaces left, move them to the lowest numbered open spaces in the Reserve Queue.
- Draw 5 more Zoo cards and place them face-down in the Zoo Draft, adding their animals to the lowest numbered open spaces on the Draft Cards. If you ever would place a third Large Animal on a Zoo Card, add that animal to the Reserve Queue instead.
- Once you’ve done that, flip the Zoo Cards face-up.
Play continues until there is only one card left in the Zoo Draft and there are no cards in the deck. When that happens, the game ends immediately. The final card is just … not used. Score the objectives, and the player with the most points wins!
This is fairly similar to the two-player game, but you don’t reveal the Zoo cards in the draft, which is going to make your life a fair bit more difficult. When you’d normally draw a card, reveal an entire column instead. Out of the two cards you grab, play one and remove the other from the game.
You’ll still do the same actions, but the reset changes slightly, since you’ll be completely out of cards instead of down to one. There are more changes, as well:
- If any Draft Cards are completely full of animals, remove all animals from a single full draft card. If more than one is full, remove all the animals from whatever Draft Card has more animals on it.
- Deal out cards, face down, adding animals to the lowest-numbered spaces, as normal. Unlike the two-player game, you can have three Large Animals on a card. Good luck with that.
- The Reserve is not used. Also, if you run out of room for Animals on your Draft Cards and you need to place one, you lose immediately. Try to avoid doing that exact thing.
Play continues until you run out of cards. Check your score — if you have 8 or more points, you win!
Player Count Differences
It’s a two-player game with a solo mode. No real changes beyond the ones I’ve outlined. That said, solo more is rough right now; very difficult. They say a winning score is 8 but I haven’t even gotten a score of 8 in a two-player game (usually combined!). I think I just need to learn to play better. Both games are solid, though.
- You kinda just want to go for some of those Attractions as soon as they appear. Especially the Exhibits; they give a unique animal that has its own thing going for it and often help build up another Habitat, which is nice. There’s also a Restaurant that comes with its own Seating Area; that’s definitely super helpful if you can snatch that one up pretty quickly. I’m not as enthusiastic about the Gift Shops.
- Unless you’re being asked for it, don’t really bother enclosing habitats unless you need to. This isn’t a Carcassonne thing where you have to enclose it or it doesn’t count; quite the opposite, actually; often enclosing a habitat will cut you off from future scoring opportunities or make it harder to get certain animals into your habitat after the fact. It’s far better to leave your options open (or give yourself more options, even).
- Know what cards are available. Most of the available cards are just connecting edges; you’ll never see a card that’s a pass-through (or a card that’s all habitat). At least, not in my preview copy. Who knows if that’s something available in the full game? It would be helpful to have a list or picture of the available cards in the rules, though — it would let you know when you’re looking for a tile that doesn’t exist (which is how I got crushed in my first game).
- Don’t make habitats with an odd number of watering holes. Every 2 that you have means a Large Animal can come live there; odd numbers are just going to mess with that and it’s not worth it.
- Don’t pass up on Animals for too long. You need some to actually win the game, you know. Or, at least, I think you do? I’m not sure if there’s a configuration that would actually let you win the game with zero animals, but now I kind of want to try it.
- Don’t build up Secluded Animal Habitats. You just need enough that you can get the animal placed; remember, no other animals can share space with them, so adding more watering holes or animal spots to them (unless you need to for some other card) is kind of pointless. You also definitely don’t want to be in a place where you can’t build / place because you extended their habitat out for no reason! That’s silly.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. Who doesn’t love zoos?
- Very portable. It’s not quite a wallet game, but it’s only a step or two up. The main issue is that the tokens make it a bit harder to play on the go, but as long as you have a stable surface to play on it shouldn’t be that much of a big deal.
- The art is pretty fun, too. I’m looking forward to seeing what the final version of the game looks like, especially if they upgrade the Animal Tokens to something really fancy.
- Plays pretty quickly. Especially once both players are experienced, you can kind of hustle through it super fast.
- One of the few games where square cards haven’t aggravated me. They still kind of do, but not as much as they have in the past. Maybe I’m making progress? Who knows.
- The rulebook font is way too small. I have great vision. Thankfully, I imagine this is just a problem I have with the preview and I doubt it’ll be like that for the full game, hence the Meh.
- Maybe I’m terrible at it, but the solo game is brutal. I’m hoping that I get better with more plays but it wasn’t like Sprawlopolis where I’d be challenged a few times and win a few more; this was much more of a “the game punches me in the face and I finish with somewhere between 0 and 3 points”. I’ll keep trying to get better and report back if that changes.
- I’d really like to see more content. I think what they have right now is good, but one thing that I noted is that after three plays we kind of knew what all the cards were and knew what to look for; I’d love to see something like Sprawlopolis where you don’t use a few of the cards each game to up the variability a bit more. It’s probably harder to do since the back is already the animal value (and you want to keep the animals somewhat balanced, I figure, but also the complaint of “what you have is great I just want more of it” isn’t really the worst thing I could say, anyways, so it’s probably all fine-ish. I’ve heard that more content is in the works, though, so I’m somewhat contented by this.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I’m really liking Zoo-ography so far! For me, I’m kind of waiting with bated breath; there are a few things in the preview that sound like they’re still working on, such as Penalties (or more objectives) (or more tiles, hopefully) that haven’t quite made it into the game but I still want to see more of. I think the issue I have with it is that it strongly reminds me of a wallet game but is, in many ways, a bit larger-scope than one. It’s somewhere light, for sure, but it’s finding a place that’s lighter than Barenpark / Habitats but a bit heavier than Sprawlopolis, which I think is a tough place to be. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad; far from it, I quite enjoy it. It just means that I think it needs to be a bit more assertive about what it brings to the table, and I felt in a few ways that this was a good start but more of a sampling of the final product. Still, what they’ve got so far is pretty great, so I’m being a bit proactive in my rating and hoping that it comes through. I, for sure, will be watching the Kickstarter for Zoo-ography, and if you’re looking for a fun card drafting game of animals (and, in the two player mode, some animus), I’d recommend you check it out, as well!