Overview: You’re building a zoo, so you need to get some animals to fill your enclosures — but you only have three enclosures and you can’t just mix and match animals, so choose wisely. Animals that don’t fit will have to go into the barn, which costs you. Zooloretto Mini is a smaller, sleeker version of Zooloretto that is easy to learn and quite portable.
Players: 2 to 5
Ages: 7 and up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Retail: $37.99 (though you can probably find it for much cheaper)
Rating: Superb: good things come in small packages, and this is one of them.
Who Will Like It? Kids will love the zoo animals, particularly the babies. Gamers will like it for the tough decisions you get to make and the press-your-luck factor. Also, if you like Zooloretto but you want something just a smidge simpler, Zooloretto Mini is a great variation of an excellent game.
Each player is a zoo director, trying to maximize their space without having to put animals into their barn. The basic concept makes sense: each pen only holds one type of animal and only fits so many things. Landscape helps you fill up space but isn’t worth as many points as a bunch of animals. Some animals can breed baby animals. Where the theme might fall short is why the trucks are filled with random assortments of animals, but you probably won’t really mind that.
- 77 animal tiles (7 animal types, 11 of each)
- 14 offspring tiles (7 animal types, 2 of each)
- 9 landscape tiles (3 types, 3 each)
- 5 delivery trucks (double-sided)
- 1 cloth bag
- 1 panda figurine
- 5 zoo boards
Everything except the bag and the panda figurine is punched out of cardboard, which is sturdy and fairly standard. The artwork on the tiles is nice, and the baby animals are easily identifiable by the circle (both on the front and backs, so they’re easy to sort out from the rest of the tiles). The cloth bag isn’t fantastic, but is big enough to fit all of the bits if you want to take the game on the go. The little panda figurine is just a last-round marker and isn’t absolutely necessary, but is pretty cute.
The zoo boards are pretty clever: if you look at the photo at the very top, the zoo board consists of the barn and the two fences — it’s a modular frame, and six tiles can fit in each of the enclosures (which are actually open on the edges). Because the board itself comes in three pieces, it breaks down into very small bits that you can pack away.
Depending on the number of players, you’ll remove some of the animal types — you only use all of the tiles in a 5-player game. You also set out one truck per player. (2-player games are a little different, so I’ll explain that below.) Each player gets a zoo board. 15 tiles are drawn at random and set face-down on the table with the panda figurine on top. The offspring tiles are set face-up on the table, and the rest of the adult animals are all put into the bag.
On each turn, you do one of the following: draw a tile and add it to a delivery truck, or take a delivery truck and end your play this round. Once each player has taken a delivery truck, the round ends and a new round begins.
Adding a tile to the delivery truck is self-explanatory. Each truck can hold up to three tiles, and then it is full. If there are no more empty spaces on any of the trucks, then you must take a truck instead.
To take a truck, it must contain at least one tile, but it doesn’t have to be full. Once you take a truck, you distribute all of the tiles on it on your own zoo board:
- only 6 tiles can fit in each of your three enclosures
- you may have a combination of landscape and animal tiles in the same enclosure
- you may not mix different types of animals in an enclosure
- you may have the same animal in multiple enclosures
- any tiles that cannot be added to an enclosure goes into your barn
- your barn can hold any number and any type of tiles
A few special cases: if you place a fertile male and female in the same enclosure (some animals are marked male or female) then they immediately produce one offspring, which you add to your zoo board. If there isn’t room in an enclosure, then the offspring must go in your barn.
If you place the sixth tile in an enclosure, you get a bonus move: either discard a tile from your barn, removing it from the game, or take a tile from another player’s barn and add it to one of your enclosures. Note that if this fills up another enclosure, you do not get another bonus move.
Once each player has taken a truck, the round is over, the trucks are returned to the center, and a new round begins. When the tiles in the bag run out, then players draw tiles from the stack with the panda. When any of those tiles have been drawn, it signals the last round of the game: you finish out the round and then the game ends, even if the stack of tiles hasn’t been depleted.
Scoring: you get positive points for tiles in your enclosures, and negative points for things in your barn. Each enclosure is scored for the number of animal tiles in it, according to the chart on the middle fence of the zoo board. 1 to 4 animals just gets you 1 to 4 points, respectively; 5 animals is worth 8 points and 6 animals is worth 12 points. Each type of landscape you have in enclosures is worth 2 points. Then you subtract 2 points for each type of animal and each type of landscape tile in your barn (regardless of the total number of each animal in the barn).
In case of a tie, the player with the most landscape tiles in their enclosures is the winner.
In a two-player game, you actually use three special trucks: you flip the trucks over to the blue sides, and there are three trucks used, which can hold 1, 2, or 3 tiles. Each player will take one truck, and then any tiles on the remaining truck are discarded from the game. You’ll also remove three animal types (along with their offspring) before the game begins.
One of my favorite strategy card games is Michale Schact’s Coloretto, which involves collecting cards of various colors. It’s an abstract game, but has the same basic mechanics. The original Zooloretto took that idea and made it into a zoo-building game, which is very cool: it makes it more intuitive when you know you can only have so many different types of animals, because you only have so many enclosures. It also added a lot more actions: there were coins you could earn, which could then be spent to move tiles around, buy animals from other players’ barns, purchase new enclosures, and so on. It’s a great game, but it really does add a lot of new rules.
Zooloretto Mini scales it back, making a game that is much more similar to Coloretto, but with the more-intuitive zoo theme, plus the offspring and the landscapes. It’s much easier to figure out your score on the fly, particularly for younger kids. I purchased Zooloretto for my daughter, thinking she’d really enjoy it, but discovered that it was a little too complicated at the time. Zooloretto Mini is just perfect: my eight-year-old is figuring out strategies, and my five-year-old can play along (though she’s still working on the math skills herself).
The great thing about all of these games is that moment when you have to decide where to place a tile — if you build a combination that somebody else wants, then they’ll get to take the truck before it’s your turn again. But make something too unattractive and you may wind up having to take it yourself. There’s also the question of whether to take the landscape tiles: you get more points for that fifth and sixth animal, but you get the bonus actions for filling an enclosure.
Also, because you only lose points for each type of animal in your barn, once you’ve already got an unwanted animal in there, you might as well use that type of animal to your advantage, putting it on a truck that you want to prevent an opponent from taking it. And if you get a bonus action and can take an animal from somebody’s barn, you want to choose wisely so that you can still leave them with some negative points.
The two-player version of the game works well, too. The three different-sized trucks add some more strategy as you decide where to place tiles, and the third truck with its discarded tiles almost serves as a third player, removing tiles from play that you and your opponent may want.
The Zooloretto/Coloretto family of games is built on a very simple mechanic, but it’s a good one that I really enjoy and it doesn’t get old. I really love the simplification for Zooloretto Mini, and I’ll be playing this one with my kids for now, saving the full-sized Zooloretto for later when they’ve gotten the hang of this (and can do arithmetic in their heads a little more quickly). If you’re looking for a good family-friendly game that still offers some decent opportunities for strategic choices, take a look at Zooloretto Mini.
Wired: Simple mechanics that lead to complex decisions; baby animals are really cute. Did I mention there are meerkats?
Tired: No elephants in Mini. I guess they’re too big.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.