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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
In O Zoo Le Mio each player takes on the role of the director of a newly established zoo. Your aim is to build the largest animal enclosures and most attractive pathways in order to attract as many visitors as possible.
The game box is refreshingly small, but there is something that I find a quite disturbing about the box art. The eyes of the animals are enough to give a grown man sleepless nights.
The box contains 25 zoo tiles, all nicely illustrated in a semi-realistic way and thankfully the eyes have been toned down. These rectangular tiles have a set of coloured stars at each end, the colour of the star, along with the illustrations on the tile show you the type of enclosure. These five types are apes, mammals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures. Tiles also contain paths. Some have trees.
The game lasts for 5 rounds, each round begins with an auction phase. Five tiles are drawn at random and turned face-up; each tile is then auctioned in turn. Because we were playing with a younger gamer we decided to play the variant in which only the current tile to be auctioned is turned face-up. This cuts down on the need for forward planning and makes the auction speedier than a cheetah in a lycra all–in-one
Each player begins the game with eight coins, which are used to make bids on the five tiles in the first auction. So, I hear you ask, who wins the auction if more than one player bids the same amount. Well before the game begins each player chooses a flag; these are placed in a random order on a flagpole. The player whose flag is highest on the flagpole will win tied auctions but their flag is then placed at the bottom of the pole and the other player’s flags move up a space. So the player at the top of the pole has a distinct advantage during auctions, especially during the first two rounds when bidding is especially tight. Players bid in secret, hiding their coins behind a little cardboard hut, the only problem being that these huts are small and fiddly and difficult to work behind unless you have fingers of a piano-playing lemur.
The winner of the tile places it in his zoo ensuring that he extends at least one path, a path may not be interrupted by grass. Ideally each player will also match the coloured stars on his tiles domino style, hence increasing the size of the enclosure. After each tile is placed the players check to see who has the most attractive enclosures. Adjacent tiles with matching animal types are added together to form a combined enclosure. The value of the enclosure is calculated by adding together the matching stars.
As long as more than one player has an enclosure of the same type then visitors will begin popping up. These fickle blighters will only spend their time at zoos with the most attractive enclosures. To illustrate this, two visitor tokens of the same colour as the enclosure type are placed in the most attractive enclosure and one visitor is placed in the second most attractive. With only 3 visitor tokens of each type, players tend to fight over these more fiercely than a pack of hungry hyenas in a butchers shop.
The ebb and flow of visitors is probably my favourite feature of the game. Yes it requires a bit of housekeeping after each and every auction but its very rewarding to snatch a couple of visitors from an opponent’s zoo and admiring your park swarming with visitors whilst your opponents play host to one man and his dingo.
There are a few other scoring opportunities. Some tiles have bushes. These are added together for each zoo. The zoo with the most bushes gets two trees and the player with the second most gets one. In addition, when a player places a tile that completes a closed path they will get a lovely little bench to add to their zoo. Get too many of these and your zoo will be more O Zoo Le Hobo than O Zoo Le Mio.
At the end of the round players earn one coin for each tile they own and score for each bench, tree or visitor at their zoo. The points scored increase each round from 1 for each piece in the first round to 5 in the fifth and final round. So in theory even if a player has a couple of poor first rounds there should be opportunity to bounce back like a kangaroo on a pogo stick.
I say in theory because there has been much debate concerning problems with game balance. The argument states that if players fall behind in the amount of tiles they own then they receive less money which means they are less successful in auctions and as a result win fewer tiles and so on. It sounds like a circle more vicious than a bucketful of piranhas.
To be honest in my experience this has never been a problem. Since players start with only 8 coins and there are 5 tiles to bid for each round then as long as players bid sensibly no player should really have more than one more tile than any other at the end of the first round. This should ensure everyone is competitive in round 2 auctions and so on. It may also help playing the earlier mentioned variant, which involves only turning over a single tile at a time during the auction phase. Without being able to plan your auction bids in advance, each tile needs to be judged on merit, which I think allows for a more even disbursement of auction bids.
O Zoo Le Mio is not a nasty game, you cannot directly affect your opponents’ zoo beyond a bit of double guessing in the auction or tempting away a couple of visitors. If you like lots of interaction then this is not the game for you either as each player works away as isolated as a polar bear with a personal hygiene problem.
My family like this game. The theme is well worked into the game and appeals to gamers of all ages. The components are attractive, the rules easy to learn and the game plays quickly. It may not be as well known as Zooloretto but its one definitely worth considering if the zoo building theme appeals.
Nice summary of the game and clever analogies at the close of each paragraph.
One clarification though...an "enclosure" in O Zoo le Mio refers to a completed circuit of a path. If a player places his tiles to create such a pathway he earns a park bench for this 'enclosed' area, which is a PERMANENT point marker for the remainder of the game. Some feel that a park bench strategy is a viable means of securing a win, but I've found one needs both enclosures AND popular attractions to win this game.
One other thing...there is a variant in which tiles to be auctioned are turned over until there are 3(? I think--rules are not in front of me) that show trees. This way, there are a variable number of tiles from round to round to bid on and a little more thought necessary when deciding which tiles to go for.
I think the OP has it right. The animal pens are considered enclosures and the closed pathways loops. Just received this game and am hoping to get to the table soon. My middle child is not a gamer but an animal nut and seems interested in this. Zooloretto was too dry for us - so hopefully this is more fun. O! Nice review by the way.
The paragraph endings prove Matt is a huge fan of TV's Blackadder.