I’ve been a fan of Michael Schacht’s Coloretto and Zooloretto games for some time. They’re based on a simple but effective mechanic, akin to the “you cut the cake, I pick a piece” strategy—this makes the games easy to teach and a lot of fun. How do you set things up so that your opponents will still let you have the choice you really want?
There’s a new version out now, Zooloretto: The Dice Game. The other games used cards or cardboard tokens, so the dice change up the odds a bit. The dice game is also the tiniest and quickest of the Zooloretto bunch, clocking in at about 15 minutes per game, and fitting in a box not much bigger than the scoring sheets. It’s for 2-4 players and retails for $10. The recommended age is 13 and up, but I think you could go quite a bit younger. I played this with my daughters (7 and 9) and they both enjoyed it, although the 7-year-old needs a little more help with long-term strategy.
The game comes with:
- 10 wooden dice
- 1 double-sided game board
- 1 score pad (100 double-sided pages)
- 1 tiny pencil
The dice are wood with rounded corners, and the faces are engraved and painted. Each die has each of these symbols: Crocodile, Ostrich, Monkey, Elephant, Lion, Coin.
The score sheets are pretty simple: a series of check boxes with differing numbers for each animal, a row for coins, and a row for your barn. Larger boxes on the right hand edge are for adding up your scores, and there’s a space in the upper right corner for placing the dice you’ve collected.
How to play
For two or three players, you’ll use the side of the board with three trucks; for four players, use the side with four trucks. You’ll also use 6 dice for 2 players, 8 dice for 3 players, and 10 dice for 4 players. Each player gets a scoresheet.
On your turn, you’ll get to do only one of two things: roll two dice and place them, or take all the dice from a truck. When you roll dice, you just pick any empty spots on the trucks (which each hold three dice) and place them there. If there are no more dice to roll then you must take dice.
If you collect dice, you must take all of the dice from a single truck and put them on your scoresheet. (There must be at least one die on the truck.) Then you mark off the animals or coins you got, from left to right. If you have no more room for the animal (for example, if you already had two ostriches but you got another ostrich) then you check that animal in the barn at the bottom, which will cost you points later. If you already have that animal in your barn, that die has no effect.
If you’re the first player to fill one of your animal types (1 Crocodile, 2 Ostriches, 3 Monkeys, 4 Elephants, or 5 Lions) then you get to check the bonus points on the left side of that animal. Each animal type is worth 1 bonus point, except for the Lion which is worth 2.
Finally, once you have taken dice and scored, you are done and skip your turn for the rest of the round until each player has taken dice. Then all the dice are returned to the pool and another round begins.
If a player has filled up at least four of the animal types on their turn, then the game ends when that round is over. Players score 1 point for each animal collected, plus bonus points. The coins are collected in three groups of 3, 2, and 1 (in that order). For each complete group of coins you collect, you may either score 1 point or cancel one animal type in your barn. Finally, you lose 2 points for each animal type in your barn.
Highest score wins, and ties go to the player with the most coins.
Like I said before, I really like the other games in this series. The first was Coloretto, which was a card game with different colors. Then came Zooloretto (along with various expansions), which had you building a zoo with different animals. I liked it, but it added several other actions which could make things a little more complex. Zooloretto Mini is a fantastic simplified version that’s better for kids.
The key to the game is that you don’t get to pick a truck on the turn that you place dice. So either you choose from what’s already there, or you take your chances on getting more dice if you wait a turn. The strategy is figuring out how to place dice on trucks so that they’re to your advantage but not your opponents’, and for that you really need to pay attention to what the other players are doing.
Zooloretto: The Dice Game feels closest to Zooloretto Mini, but with a few differences. First, since you’re using dice instead of cards or tokens, there’s no guarantee that there’s going to be the same distribution of animals each time. You might end up with tons of crocodiles, or you may have an abundance of elephants.
It’s interesting that although the odds of any given animal are the same, the Lions become more valuable simply because there are more spaces for them on the scoresheet. Sure, you can get a quick bonus point by being the first to take an Crocodile, but from then on any truck with a Crocodile on it becomes less desirable to you—and the other players can use this to their advantage.
One other difference which seems minor at first but can make a significant difference in strategy is that in this version you just take the dice—but the empty truck stays there. In most of the other games, there’s only one truck per player, so if you’re last to take some animals then you’re stuck with whatever happens to be on that last truck. Not so in the dice game: once another player takes dice, that truck is opened up again and the other players can put more dice there. It means that being last in the round can have its advantages, particularly if there are a lot of dice left. You can just roll them, dumping all the stuff you don’t want onto one truck and loading up another with the good stuff, assuming you roll well.
I like Zooloretto: The Dice Game quite a bit—my kids and I have played it several times already, and they’ve gotten it out to play by themselves as well. It’s easier and quicker than even Zooloretto Mini, particularly because there’s no setup time to speak of. However, I think strategy-wise I slightly prefer Zooloretto Mini simply because you can allow for a little more planning. In other versions, if you see somebody collecting a lot of Elephants then you know there may be fewer left for you—but here, everyone is after the same number of animals so there’s less specialization.
Still, for ten bucks it’s a great little game, and the small size makes it a great portable game, too. Since it doesn’t take much table space, you could easily play it at a restaurant or while you’re waiting for a flight. And if you haven’t played any of the Zooloretto games yet, this would make a great intro to the series.
Disclosure: Z-Man Games provided a review copy to GeekDad.