Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

ZOOSIM (Cwali, 3-4 players, 45 minutes; about $35)


Corné van Moorsel publishes games under his own Cwali label, and in the past has scored with such titles as Isi, Morisi (Spring 2001 GA REPORT) and Titicaca. This year, his new offering is ZooSim, marrying themes from the popular Sim series of computer games and the family friendly environment of a zoo. The object? Create a zoo that will prove to be the most popular and attract the greatest number of visitors.

Unlike other games in his Cwali series, this one doesn’t involve the myriad of ZooSim boxlittle wooden ‘roads’ that proliferated Isi, Morisi and Titicaca. Those games, although extremely clever and fairly deep strategically, have a fairly steep learning curve and require a certain type of ‘vision’ that I have difficulty mastering. They certainly could not be considered ‘family friendly’. ZooSim, on the other hand, is quite easy to learn and play. The depth doesn’t appear to be cavernous, yet there are enough decisions and options to keep it interesting.zoosimbox

Players each begin the game with a Zoo main office — a nice, sturdy 3-D piece – that also acts as a screen to hide one’s cash. Cash is represented by thick wooden tokens, with each player receiving eight as a starting stash.

The central mechanism of the game is auctions … lots of them. In fact, there will be 25 auctions during the course of the game (can you say Pizzaro & Company [Fall 2002 GA REPORT]?) This is normally a huge strike against a game for me, as I tend not to enjoy games that are overly dependent upon auctions. There are exceptions (I still enjoy Modern Art [Summer 1996 GA REPORT], for example), but for the most part, if auctions play a major and repetitive role in a game, then I’m usually not going to be a huge fan of the game. The saving grace here is that the auctions are very quick, utilizing the simultaneous ‘closed-fist’ method. Further, there is a very clever tie-breaking method that prevents repeated bids in the event that more than one player bids identical amounts. So, in spite of the fact that there are continuous auctions throughout the five rounds of play, their speed, coupled with other aspects of the game, help me transcend my usual aversion to this mechanism.

Each round, five tiles are revealed and, one-by-one, auctioned. Each tile depicts two exhibits, which come in five varieties, as well as a series of pathways and perhaps a few trees. The exhibits are color-coded for ease of identification, but do depict various types of attractions (birds, sea creatures, apes, etc.) as well as a number of stars (1 –3) for each exhibit. When a player wins an auction, the tile must be placed so that the pathways align properly with previously placed tiles (or the player’s main office). The idea is to place tiles so that like-colored exhibits are adjacent, as these will be more valuable to the player and will likely attract the largest number of visitors.

After each tile is played, everyone’s current zoo is examined to see which players have the most attractive (most stars) exhibits in each of the five categories. If like-colored exhibits are adjacent, the player totals the stars on the adjacent exhibits to determine his total for that category. Otherwise, a player only counts the stars on one of his like-colored exhibits. The player who has theZoo Sim greatest total of stars in a category is rewarded with two visitors to his park, who immediately scurry to that exhibit. The player who has the second-most stars in a category gains one visitor to his attraction. If there is only one player who has a particular type of exhibit, however, he only receives one visitor.zoosimpcs

In a similar fashion, the player who has the most trees receives two visitors, while the player who possesses the second-most trees receives one visitor. Trees, however, do not have to be adjacent, so players simply tally the total number of trees present in their growing zoo.

If a player manages to form his pathways into a loop, this somehow traps a confused visitor inside of the loop. The rules instruct players to place this visitor prone to distinguish him from the other visitors, who may come and go as majorities change. Since this ‘trapped’ visitor cannot leave, we interpreted this to mean that he ultimately dies in the park and is buried in these enclosed spaces!

A round ends after all five tiles are auctioned. Players then count the total number of visitors they currently have in their zoo and they receive this number of points. In each subsequent round however, the number of visitors is multiplied by the current round number to determine the number of points earned. For example, if round 3 has just been completed and Keith has 7 visitors in his zoo, he will receive 21 points (7 x 3 = 21). Five complete rounds are played in this manner, with the player amassing the greatest number of points after five rounds being declared the ‘Zoo Master’.

After a round of play, each player receives an influx of cash equal to the number of tiles they possess in their zoo. If a player possesses a large amount of tiles, this likely means that he spent most, if not all of his money in the acquisition of these tiles. Correspondingly, the player who did not possess a great amount of tiles likely conserved much of his money and will likely have a greater amount of money in the following round. So far, this seems to have been the case in the games I’ve played.

I mentioned earlier that the game employs a clever tie-breaking mechanism in determining the victor of an auction when more than one player bids an identical amount. Each player is represented by a flag located on a flagpole plaque. The player whose flag is further up the pole will win a tie-breaker, but his flag is then lowered to the bottom of the pole. Quite clever and very effective.

A few folks who played this one during the game exhibit in Essen, Germany complained that the game was fiddly, requiring players to constantly examine every player’s exhibits to reassess who had the majority and secondary position. This certainly is true as the acquisition of a tile by a player usually does result in a change in majority or secondary status. However, I’ve found that this assessment grows easier with each passing round and game. You simply get used to performing these checks and the process is completed rather quickly. To be sure, it is a bit cumbersome, but not overly so. For those who desire an easier method, several player aids and suggestions have been published on the Boardgame Geek website.

Although easy to learn, the game does require some careful thought, planning and management in order to be effective. Choosing which tiles to bid upon is a vital decision, as players should keep a careful eye on which tiles will prove useful to their zoo. Ideally, a player wants to acquire tiles with like-colored exhibits so they can gain majorities in as many exhibits as possible. However, there is always the tough choice of increasing the size of a particular exhibit, or placing the tiles so that you have several different types of exhibits. Or, do you concentrate instead on forming loops so that you can attract visitors that cannot be lost? And don’t forget about those trees, as they are just as important as exhibits and you don’t have to worry about adjacency issues. All of this must be done, of course, with a very limited supply of funds, requiring each player to carefully manage his finances and bid judiciously.

In my several playings so far, I have found the game to be quite interesting, enjoyable and challenging. Perhaps it will grow stale after numerous playings, but for now, I’m having fun and am looking forward to even more playings. Unlike the other offerings in the Cwali line, this one should also prove popular in a family environment. As such, ZooSim will likely see far more table time than the other Cwali offerings. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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