Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Quick Review - Zoo-ography by Doomsday Robots - Kickstarter Preview

Designed By: John Olson
Bryn Smith
Published By: Doomsday Robots
1-4p | 15-45m | 12+
Quick Review - Zoo-ography by Doomsday Robots - Kickstarter Preview
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Last year I reviewed a fast playing drafting game called Bridges to Nowhere.  At first I didn't think much of it, but then I realized I had a few rules wrong.  Once I played again I really enjoyed the game and saw a lot of hidden depth in the drafting.  That game was successful on Kickstarter and grew to support four players with a lot more cards and depth added to the game.  This year Doomsday Robots is back with their second game.  Zoo-ography is another drafting game that shares some mechanics with Bridges to Nowhere but in a very different approach.  In Zoo-ography players are drafting tiles (cards in the prototype) that will be used to build a zoo.  The player with the zoo that meets the most objectives wins the game.  Is Zoo-ography a worthy follow-up?  Or did they miss the mark this time?  Read on to find out.

Zoo-ography is on Kickstarter through November 28, 2018.

The prototype copy of Zoo-ography is only for one or two players and plays in about 15-20 minutes.  This is the same as the prototype I received for Bridges to Nowhere, but that ended up having a deluxe version that plays up to four players and has more components to add more depth.  Even the base, standard version of Bridges to Nowhere has more cards to provide more depth and variety than the prototype I received to review.  All this means is that we can expect Zoo-ography to be expanded significantly for the final, published version of the game.  In fact, some of those additions have already been mentioned on the game's Facebook group page.  Both base and deluxe versions will have more cards for more variety and will play up to four players.  The deluxe version will have wooden animal meeples (animeeples?), thicker tiles, bigger box, and more.  (There have even been hints at a cooperative version of the game.)  So, please keep in mind that this review is based on the smaller prototype I received, plus some speculation about what the final game will contain.
The artwork on the prototype components is pretty nice, but the component quality and quantity
will be increasing for the final versions.
In Zoo-ography you will be working to build your zoo and populate it with animals.  In each game there will be five randomly chosen objectives.  There will be a primary objective worth three points, a secondary objective worth two points, two large bonus objectives worth two points each, and one small bonus objective worth one point.  The way these are determined is pretty nifty.  Each objective card has four objectives on it, two on each side.  You'll shuffle the objective cards and then choose four of them.  The first will be placed with the primary objective to the top.  The second will be placed with the secondary objective at the top, and covering up the first card's secondary objective.  The third card will have the large bonus shown, and the fourth card will have both the large bonus and small bonus shown.  Together, all the cards make a signpost that shows the five possible scoring opportunities, for a maximum of 10 points.
Not a bad zoo here, it's coming along nicely.
Building your zoo is done through a drafting process where each player drafts a tile into their hands and then can build a tile from their hand into their zoo.  You'll have to choose carefully because each tile has a set of features on it (habitats, walkways, attractions, etc.) that must be aligned when placed.  Additionally, some of the features will allow you to have certain types of animals in your zoo or add attractions that help you complete goals.

The core of the game revolves around the zoo cards or tiles.  In my prototype these are square cards, but in the deluxe version they'll be nice, thick tiles.  Each of these tiles has an animal depicted on one side and a zoo layout on the other side.  Each round (in a two player game) starts with six tiles being drawn, animal side up.  Place the animals indicated into the reserve, working from the space with the lowest number on up.  These are the animals that will be available to add to your zoo each round (plus any still there from a previous round).  Finally, flip the tiles to their zoo side and begin the round.
Each turn you'll draft a card, then take up to two actions.
On your turn you must draft one of the zoo tiles and add it to your hand.  Then you can take up to two actions.  Your first action can be to build one of the tiles from your hand into your zoo, making sure to line up any features appropriately.  Your second action can be to either build another tile in your zoo or add animals to your zoo.  After drafting you can do one, both, or neither of the actions.

If you choose to add animals you talk all the animals from one of the reserve cards and add them to spaces within the habitats in your zoo.  However animals must be placed with some very specific rules.  There are large animals and small animals.  Large animals must be placed in a habitat with at least two watering holes per large animal and can't be in a habitat with other large animal types.  Smaller animals can be placed in habitats on their own or with large animals, however each small animal can only be with certain other animals.  There's a great diagram included that shows how animals can be combined.  For example, a zebra can be in a habitat with a giraffe or a rhinoceros, but not an elephant, an ostrich can be with a giraffe or elephant, but not a rhinoceros, and a monkey can be with an elephant or rhinoceros, but not a giraffe.  There are also three special animals that must be alone in their habitats.  Lions, hippos, and gorillas are solitary and can't even be with other animals of the same type.
Animals must be placed in habitats with other compatible animals.
This proceeds for a few rounds, with the starting player alternating each round, until all the zoo tiles except one are used up.  Then players calculate their scores based on the objectives set up at the beginning of the game.  The player with the most points wins, and if there's a tie then animals are given points (1 for a small animal, 3 for a large or solitary animal) to determine a winner.
Two competing zoos will compare their scores by checking the objectives they met.
Points can be earned for any of a wide variety of objectives.  There are only four cards included in this sample game, but even that is enough to provide quite a variety of experiences, with 24 different combinations.  The final game will have dozens of different combinations (I believe they said over 200 combinations).  Some of these objectives require you to have a certain number, arrangement, or combination of attractions in your zoo.
The way objectives will be arranged on the cards will be changing so that you'll always have
at least one objective based on animals, features, layout, and attractions.
In the base game there are five types of attractions that you can add to your zoo: restaurants, observation points, gift shops, exhibits, and features.  There are also two types of amenities, seating areas and your zoo's gate,that are used to complete attractions.  Each of the attractions has special rules in order to be considered complete for scoring.  Restaurants must be adjacent to at least two seating areas and gift shops must be adjacent to your gate.  Observation points must have a specific animal in the habitat they overlook.  Exhibits and features don't have any specific placement rules, but their tile layouts make them a little more challenging to fit into your zoo.
Each feature has specific rules that must be followed for the feature to be considered complete.

All of this combines to make for some very interesting drafting decisions and you'll end up with a pretty fun looking zoo layout when you're finished.  With the deluxe version you'll also get animeeples to populate your zoo with, so you'll end up with quite the menagerie in front of you.
As your zoo grows you'll populate habitats with animals, build features, and meet specific objectives.
There is also a solo variant for Zoo-ography that plays very similar to a two player game.  It's a little reliant on luck, however that can be mitigated a bit as you begin to learn what zoo layouts are on the opposite side of what animals on the tiles.  Essentially, instead of taking turns drafting with another player, in a solo game you draw two zoo cards from the six available, choose one to keep and one to remove from the game.  There are a few other tweaks with replenishing animals, but it does provide a decent, quick playing challenge.
In the solo version you draft blindly from the face-down zoo cards, only seeing the animal backs as a clue.

Final Thoughts:

I found Zoo-ography to be a bit lighter than Bridges to Nowhere, despite the addition of the animal components.  The game is very similar mechanically to Bridges to Nowhere, where you're drafting cards and paying attention to a deeper layer of symbols and combinations in order to meet goals and objectives, but in Zoo-ography it feels like you have a little more control and more options for how your zoo grows.  Therefore the decisions are a little less tense and the game a little less cutthroat.  You still have to worry about your opponent snagging the animals or tiles you want, but I didn't feel quite the same pressure as I did in Bridges to Nowhere.  This isn't good or bad, it's just a subtle difference in the games that may be more or less to your liking.
There are plenty of interesting decisions to be made, but there's less pressure than in Bridges to Nowhere.
I really like the theme of Zoo-ography and the artwork really works well with the theme and mechanics.  I did feel like there weren't too many difficult choices in the game though, but I think that's mostly because of the limited size of the review copy.  I felt that there wasn't a whole lot of variety in zoo cards.  With each zoo card having a different animal on the back the game can only be expanded so much with more zoo cards without driving the cost of the game too high.  Each zoo card has a corresponding animal token or animeeple, so adding more could drive up cost pretty quickly.  The game will have over 40 cards though, so there will definitely be a bit more variety in the final version.
Drafting becomes critical for how to fit the tiles into your zoo while still meeting objectives.
One big thing that I know will be updated from my version of the game is how the objectives are arranged on the cards.  Right now there is no rhyme or reason to how objectives and bonuses are listed, so it's possible to play a game where there are no objectives related to the animals in the zoo.  The objective cards have been reworked though, so the primary objective will always be about animals and worth 3 stars.  Then there will be two types of secondary objectives worth 2 stars: layouts and attractions, and one bonus objective type for features, worth one star.  Each game will have at least one of each of the four objective types (animals, layouts, attractions, and features), so that should keep games feeling both consistent thematically, and varied with the additional objective cards.
The new organization of objectives means you won't end up with three animal based objectives.
I'm excited to see what the additional zoo tiles and objectives that get added to the game will be.  I already know there will be at least two more objective cards (for over 200 objective combinations) and more zoo cards.  For Bridges to Nowhere a ton of additional variety was added to an already great game through stretch goals, and Zoo-ography has the potential to do the same.  Go back it right now, and help it break through all those stretch goals!

Overall, I found Zoo-ography to be a fast, fun filler game that would be great for casual gamers, newer gamers, or as a fast diversion for more experienced gamers.  There's hidden depth and variety in the objectives and attractions that you can add to your zoo that experienced players will appreciate, yet a simplicity of play and great theme that will attract casual players.  At just $10 for the basic version or $34 for the gorgeous deluxe version, Zoo-ography is definitely a game you can feel confident about adding to your collection.
I love how the habitats are displayed on the reference card and the color coordination.
Zoo-ography is on Kickstarter, starting Tuesday, October 30, through Wednesday, November 28, 2018.  The standard version will be only $10 and the deluxe version with some awesome deluxe components, like tiles and animeeples, is just $34.  There will also be a middle version that has the basic game with cards, but includes the animeeples for $24.  Check it out now!

Preliminary Rating: 7.5/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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