I went shopping for a new game to review recently at Danger Planet in Waltham. I saw Zooloretto on the shelf and thought "huge panda face, zoo theme, thus this is a great game for younger players." I found that Zooloretto is indeed a pretty good game, but may be best for older kids and teens.
In Zooloretto you collect animals and place them in your zoo. The zoo has limited space so you try and collect only a few types of animals and avoid others. In this sense the theme is pretty approachable. Each player gets their own game board which represents their zoo. On the board are illustrations of pens with blank spaces for animals. Players place down tiles with pictures of pandas, lions, and other animals in the pens. Each pen can take only one animal type- once you place a tiger tile then you can only place more tiger tiles in that pen.
Zooloretto is played in turns. During each turn players draw tiles randomly from a bag. The tiles may represent an animal or may represent a coin. The players place the tiles on one of five wooden "trucks." Each truck has space for three tiles. A player may eventually take one of the trucks and drop the animals off in their zoo. Once all the players have claimed a truck a new turn begins.
The strategy of the game comes from deciding where to put the tiles you draw and which truck eventually to take. Imagine a truck with three tiger tiles on it and imagine your opponent has a pen with tigers in it and three empty spaces. That's a pretty desirable truck for them to take. Now imagine the truck has two tigers on it and you draw a panda. If your opponent doesn't need pandas you can put the panda on the tiger truck and your opponent has a tough choice. Take the two tigers and try to get rid of the panda, or maybe another truck has better animals on it? In this area Zooloretto becomes fairly interactive and strategic as you try and collect what you want and avoid what you don't, and in addition keep your opponent from getting what They want.
I generally like a strategy element in my games but I have mixed feelings about Zooloretto. For one it can be a bit slow moving at first. Further, there can be a lot of thinking and planning involved. None of that is bad per se. I think I just feel that the game is better for an older player who enjoys planning and thinking and if that's the case then why did I throw down all that money for a younger child's game when if this is going to be an "older children and teens" review I would have preferred to buy Agricola? Sigh.
Assuming you purchase Zooloretto for older children and teens who enjoy planning then I think you'll be very happy with the game. The components are beautiful and the game is quite subtle and clever. Further, there are any number of expansions and sequels available. I got my copy at Danger Planet in Waltham.
Pros: subtle and clever game
Cons: may be too slow for younger players
Beyond the Basics: this game has lots of replay potential and could be a long time favorite