Zoo Webs is a new all-ages tabletop game that launched on Kickstarter today. The game was developed by Clint Clark and his five-year-old son, a budding animal activist. The game promises to be both fun and educational for all ages. What more could a GeekDad ask for in a tabletop game? I’d been anxiously awaiting this game since I first heard about it, and we opened it up and played as soon as we received our prototype.
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The game comes in a handy 3.5″ square box with 45 playing cards and one card with all the rules printed on them. There are five play-tested styles of play, but the game also encourages coming up with your own game mechanics.
At a glance: The game is designed for one to six players, ages five to infinity, and takes as little as a couple of minutes per game. The art for all of the animals is very realistic with the intentional exception of giving them all very humanistic eyes to attract kids to them.
The game mechanics are simple and easy to grasp, and the game can even be played by non-readers due to all of the attributes also having icons. The basic gameplay mechanic is to create “webs” of animals by matching up one or more of an animal’s attributes–species classification, diet, habitat, and conservation status–with other animals.
Gameplay: Setup is quick and easy and is the same for all methods of play–shuffle the deck and deal seven cards to each player. Depending on the method, players will hold their cards in their hand or keep them face down.
Beaver is the puzzle method of play and is the recommended starter version. Each player can look at their seven cards, and, when game play begins, each player works independently to arrange all of their cards into an animal web. The first person to play all of their cards wins.
Cheetah is the speed method of play. In this method of play, each person keeps their cards face down in a pile in front of them. A card is drawn from the deck and placed face up in the middle of the play area. Once play starts, the goal is to play all of your cards as quickly as possible, flipping one card over at a time from your personal deck. If a person plays a card that makes two or more links, they yell “Cheetah Freeze!” This stops play so the person with the double link can play a free extra card (two extra cards for a triple link and three extra cards for a quadruple link). “Cheetah Speed!” resumes the action. Again, the first person to play all of their cards wins. This was our favorite of the play methods.
Eagle is the strategy variant. In this method, each player holds their cards in their hand. A card is flipped face up from the deck and play progresses clockwise. Each player plays a card on the web. If a player cannot play a card, they draw another card. Just like in Cheetah, getting two or more links earns you extra plays. The first person to play all their cards into the web wins. This was probably our least favorite method of play because it’s difficult to hold seven cards in your hand AND see all four sides and attributes of each card. This method would probably become much easier as you learn the cards and don’t have to actually see all four sides at all times.
Scorpion is the battle version of the game. This version is played very similar to Cheetah except that each player draws only one card at a time from their pile when someone yells “Scorpion!” Whoever plays their card into the web first wins, and all other players put their card back into the bottom of their deck. As expected, the first person to play all their cards wins.
Termite is the last method of play for Zoo Webs. It is played either cooperatively or solo. The goal is to try to build the largest rectangle or square possible with the cards. The rules around this method of play are pretty loose, so I decided to play similarly to good old Solitaire. I flipped a card from the deck, placed it in the middle of the table, and then drew one card at a time and tried to place it. Knowing the cards comes in really handy here. As you can see above, I lost because I created a hole for a Critically Endangered Reptile and an African Amphibian–neither of which exist in the deck.
All the versions of the game are very similar but different enough that you can build upon what you learn (and not be bored thanks to all the variation). We were able to play two rounds of all five play methods in about 30 minutes.
In addition to being a fun game, Zoo Webs is also designed to be educational. Clark and his wife are both educators and wanted to make a game that also covered a range of skills for developing youngsters (and adults)–matching, categorization, problem solving, lateral thinking, mental acuity, and spatial reasoning. My wife beat me in every game we played, so apparently I still need to work on all of these!
The game is also a great springboard to learn about conservation. Each card shows the animal’s ICUN Red List conservation status and can be a great way to start discussions with kids around animal endangerment and conversation. Clark even wrote an article on The Dodo about raising an animal activist.
The final test was my son, who is two years old and not quite old enough to actually play the game itself. I showed him the first card and his eyes lit up and a huge smile spread across his face. We flipped through the cards and, although he didn’t necessarily know the exact species, he surprised even me by how many of the animals he knew or at least thought he recognized. (He called the black widow a ladybug–red, black, bug–same thing, right?) The cards passed his entertainment test even without the game behind it.
Zoo Webs just launched on Kickstarter, so if you want an easy, fun, and educational game for the whole family, please consider backing the project!