I think a lot of people will pass over this game because it looks like it’s designed for children, but that’s a shame. I would have done the same, but I was forced to find a game that would be playable by boardgame beginners in a girls-only university in Japan. Since Japanese girls tend to like cute animals, we went with Zooloretto as a good introduction game, and I’m glad we did. It has remained one of the most requested games, and served well as a stepping stone into more math and rule heavy games.
The aim is to fill your Zoo with animals. You do this by taking it in turns to take a random animal tile, and place it on a carrier truck, each of which can hold up to 3 animals. There are as many trucks as there are players, and any point you can choose to take a truck, thereby ending your turns for that round. You place animals into your zoo, but cannot mix different types of animals in the same pen, and must pay and use a turn if you wish to move/swap the tiles. Filling a certain pens gives you an immediate financial bonus, which can use to move around other animals or expand your zoo. At the end of the game, points are scored for each pen that is full, missing just one, or missing two animals. Animals that are stored in the barns because you had nowhere to place them count for minus points.
It sounds basic enough, but there’s actually a lot of strategy in there, as well as a constant risk/return evaluation as to whether you should take a truck now that has 2 tiles you want, or turn over another random tile and risk getting something you don’t, or even worse – someone else will take the truck you wanted and you’re stuck with a bunch of animals that won’t fit in anywhere.
The graphics don’t scale that well to the iPad, but the playability certainly does. The screen rotation also doesn’t work correctly, and it’s unclear whether the developers are even planning on making an iPad compatible or iPhone 4 HD version.
In terms of suitablity to a touch interface, Zooloretto fares well. The games basic actions of flipping a tile, choosing a truck, or dragging a tile to a large field in your zoo are all quite large target areas to touch, so some of the frustrations of other board game conversions simply aren’t an issue.
The iDevice version also has an achievement-like system, where by you gain points for playing and winning games, which you can then use to unlock extra players. It’s a good way to ease new players into the game and reward them for learning it. It would be nice if more unlocks were added in an update, though.
Other reviews have slated the animations and fact that you can’t see everyone every player’s board at once, but personally I think that’s the wrong to play the game as it encourages players to deliberately take trucks which they don’t want in order to deprive their neighbors of them. Yes, this is one valid play tactic, but it won’t make you any friends. You can still see the state of other players boards, but it’s a single click away from the main screen. The main screen itself gives a clear overview of your own Zoo, with lovely animated animal graphics that the kids will love.
VERDICT: Zooloretto is a great iDevice game and more than worth if you own both an iPhone and iPad. I’d also say it’s a definite buy if you’re looking for a game to keep the kids amused during long flights or car journeys. If you’re looking solely for yourself though, or for something more suited to the iPad, you can find better elsewhere. There is currently no news on an update from the developers Spin Bottle Games, so take it or leave it as it is.