3 Games in 3 Hours, Part 1: Zoomaka – Review

When it turned out that I had three different card games for review and two nine-year-old kids who needed entertaining for a couple of hours, you can guess what I did. I shut myself in a bedroom to play card games by myself with chocolates while they played video games.

I wish! Obviously, I gathered around me my gentle young cherubs with their clomping feet, screeching yells, mobile phone obsession, and desire to wave plastic tridents around in enclosed spaces, and suggested they help me play some games that didn’t involve imminent eyeball loss (as far as I was aware). Over a couple of hours (non-consecutively), we played three games that all have a stated average playtime of somewhere between 10 and 35 minutes. They all, of course, run longer on the first playthrough, though. Luckily for me, the kids enjoyed all three games, or I would have had to go and hang out with other adults to playtest them. Each was a print-and-play, which means I had an electronic copy which I needed to print out myself in order to play it. This also means that the end published product would likely be better quality than what I was playing with. The three reviews have been split into two articles, so let’s get started with:

Zoomaka

As of writing, Zoomaka is still live on Kickstarter, and fully funded. It’s from married couple design studio Worldshapers, who have been working on this game for a while and seem pretty excited to make it happen. It appears to be their first time publishing a game, but so far everything’s going smoothly. A copy of Zoomaka was provided to me for review (though the print-and-play version is also available on their website), and is the only one of the three which was a finished game (with only superficial/minimal changes possibly being made before the final published product).

The gameplay

The deck consists of animal cards and action cards. The whole deck is shuffled, and players are provided with a hand of eight cards each, with the rest becoming a facedown draw pile. Each turn, a player can complete three ‘labours’ – putting animals into their zoo, transferring animals between sections (each section of a player’s zoo is made up of animals of a colour-coded type, of which a minimum number is required to make a complete section of your zoo), using an action card (of which there are several different types), or putting cards into a personal ‘bank’.

Worldshapers

The action cards are classified into Response cards (used in response to another player’s action), Direct cards (do a thing), Add-on cards (attach to a section of your zoo to do a thing in certain conditions), and Settings (which create a new rule for the game that’s active as long as the card is in play). Each card also has a point value, which is used to determine how many cards must be handed over when an opponent plays a card demanding you hand over cards totalling a certain point value.

The actions on the cards are often based on hobbling your opponent’s ability to fill their zoo, including requiring cards to be discarded or handed over in a fee (the purpose of the bank is to use an unwanted card from there rather than having to use one from your hand you have plans for), stealing animals, and interrupting their plans to hobble you, as well as actions to benefit yourself like drawing extra cards. The winner is the first to have four zoo sections completed with the requisite number of animals, something that doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d think.

It is suitable for ages 8+, with a gameplay time of 25 minutes.

Worldshapers

The opinion

This game was only played by two players, rather than having three of us interested in it as I’d hoped. First off, I want to mention that while the finished game uses standard size playing cards (poker size, to be exact), the printable copy I was provided with utilised much smaller cards, which was absolutely adorable and made it easy to lay out my zoo cards. This isn’t relevant to the finished product you’d be buying – I just wanted to tell you about it.

The instructions provided are concise and simple, but there was the occasional moment when I needed to extrapolate what something on a card meant that wasn’t covered in the rulebook. If you were to give this to a group of kids to sort out themselves, you’ll probably end up being asked questions (for example, the word ‘Zoomas’ is used occasionally without it ever having been explained, but I gather it’s referring to the point value of the cards). However, we got into the swing of it quickly, with my opponent wielding a child’s terrible ruthless glee at confounding my every move. I’ll unharsh that a bit – not every move was confounded. The deck is pretty well balanced, and I could give as well as I got as long as I remembered what cards I had in my hand. There’s nothing like realising too late that you have a response card to something that happened two turns ago.

Look at those tiny cards. Make sure you have plenty of space when playing the proper full size version.

At the start, I wished there were more animal cards – just because building up my zoo was my favourite bit without having to battle another player. But by the end of the game, I had to admit that it would have been much too short if there were more animal cards. And of course, battling others is the point of the game or they wouldn’t really be able to call it strategic. My other player specifically enjoyed this in fact: “Really fun and strategic!” were their exact words. Some animal cards could be used in more than one section – which was handy – as was the inclusion of a couple of wild card animals. Rainbow beasts are suitable for any section. One of them was a unicorn (it had its own type which was ‘rainbow’, but could functionally be used with all other animal types) which the kid loved.

Even on the first try of the game, it clocked in at around or under half an hour, since there wasn’t much checking and rechecking of the rule book. At times, when a large number of cards had to be handed over to an opponent it could be frustrating, but of course you end up doing it to your opponent, too. It could be the next Monopoly for creating needless rivalry and frustration if it was a longer game, so I’m glad it’s short and fun.

This is a cute addition to game nights for people who love animals, or the older kids’ collection, since the more aggressive competitiveness and strategy keeps it from being too much like a little kid’s game. If I want to just keep it friendly and build my animal empire, I’ll have to stick to Pet Set.

The next two games I’ll cover are a minimised version of the full product, and are pre-Kickstarter so they might change yet, so their reviews get to share an article.  See you next time!

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