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Zoocracy Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look: Zoocracy

Designer: Simon Haas
Artist: The Mico
Publisher: Haas Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 2-6
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 60-120 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Zoocracy. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


tl;dr: Parliament Simulator that perhaps sticks too close to accuracy. Fans of inner political machinations will have lots to chew on here.

Getting to the Game: First things first, you're going to want at least 7 baggies for this game, and my prototype had two in the box. One of them was filled with the smallest tokens I'd ever seen in a game (pictured below). Separate out all fifty food tokens for each color, and pull out all the other tokens (voting, round marker, etc) as well. Each player takes 10 of their tokens to their personal supply and puts the rest aside in a central location. Shuffle the action cards and deal two to each player. Take three random event cards, and shuffle in the End of Game event card, placing this stack at the bottom of the event deck. 

The object of the game is to advance the most political goals (also referred to throughout the rulebook as the party's "political agenda"). You do this by getting and staying in power, something that in practice, much like real life, is very, very hard to do. Learning the rules for Zoocracy is going to be much easier if you have a degree in political science. The rulebook does a decent job, with a couple of what I assume are misprints, but overall this game is very, very crunchy. 

Playing the Game: Playing Zoocracy is a full-on experience in controlling the wills of your friends. If you're very politically minded, you can find yourself keeping the peace throughout game rounds very easily here. If you're usually the gamer in your group that explains and/or wins games, you're going to have a giant target on your back, and no one is going to trust you, leading to your game being over before it begins. But, let's start at the beginning.

Behold the board at game's start. (Well, almost; black won the first presidential election, so you'll see them starting off with one political goal.) By the end of the game, those political goals get harder and harder to attain, so make sure you get plenty in early. The president is elected every other round, with parliamentary elections every third round, and the only time you get to enact a goal is when you win either of those, and sometimes not even the second one. 

Normally, I abhor explaining exactly how a game is played in a review. It's too detailed, people want to know if they should play the game themselves, and they'll either read the rules or watch a video when they get there. In this case, I'm still not going to explain in too much detail how a full round works, but be forewarned: there's plenty here to explain, and you might get a little bit lost.

Zoocracy challenges you and your friends to a game of when-will-someone-betray-someone-else. The President here isn't the Prime Minister, and our UK friends will understand what that means, but for those of us in the states, it basically means that the President has an advantage when going to get things from Parliament, but everything stops at the Prime Minister, and the President has nothing to do with the party in power. Whoever controls the most seats in the zoo, in this case, gets to be the first to propose a cabinet (in game terms, Coalition). They get to say, "I think Blue should be Minister of Defense, I get to be Prime Minister, and Yellow can be Foreign Minister. This first year, I'll pass my own political goal, but next round, I'll allow Blue to pass theirs." The thing is, the Prime Minister doesn't have to abide by that. They can get to the second year and say, "Nah. I'm going again this year." Now, this will more than certainly inspire a vote of no confidence, which means that someone else gets to propose a new Coalition, but the damage is done. The zoo animals are a fickle lot, and if they don't get their way, someone's going to pay.

The endgame is going to be where the gears of this game grind hardest. You won't want to elect a Prime Minister who is way out in front when the event deck starts to dwindle, because they're going to disobey whatever rules you give them and push themselves to an uncatchable lead. Also, players who are very far behind when that event deck gets small aren't in to win anymore, so they're going to either punch out or start to play spoiler, making themselves the opposition leader nearly every time, just to push votes of no confidence with lots of delicious empty promises. It's here that you start to see your friends for who they really are. Laws and sausages, as they say.

Which is not to say that this game isn't fun. It is. There's a lot here, and it nearly all works. It's just got a huge barrier to entry. I had this game for six weeks before I had to review it, and it wasn't until two days before my deadline that I got a game in that I actually felt pretty good about. This isn't a game for your casual friends wanting to play a light game about cute zoo animals, which you might think from the look of it. No, this is a nasty, brutish, ego simulator about animals gone feral with power, and when you embrace that side of it, you can really have a lot of fun.

Artwork and Components: As always, Mico's art takes the day here. It's colorful, vibrant, and evokes a very powerful theme of zoo animals really taking things very seriously. From the board to the cards, everything soars visually, and it's a welcome lightness to the heady gameplay.

The components consist of the cards, which are very good - nice and thick, full of Mico's art - and the tokens, which are almost the exact opposite. A lot could be solved by just making them bigger. As it stands, they're too small, too similar, and too light to feel any good at the table. It's a shame, because they represent a lot in-game, and you need to be able to know at a glance where things are.

The Good: Political gameplay as good as you're going to find it anywhere. Art is outstanding.

The Bad: The tokens are a big miss. Anyone not wanting a deep simulator filled with lots of opportunities for deception and an endgame that gets mired in layers of decision-making are excused.

Score: Overall, I find Zoocracy to be a bit uneven. There's plenty of fun to be had, but the game itself needs to get out of the way. The rulebook and player aids are daunting to just look at, and if just a couple people in your group have the tendency to zone out when rules get too deep, then keep them away from this title. On the flip side, if you have a group that gets really into this one, then it's going to be a blast. There's no getting over the tokens, though; they're painfully bad. I'm giving Zoocracy a score of A Beast.

Check out Zoocracy on:


On KICKSTARTER now. Campaign ends March 13, 2019.

Nicholas Leeman - Reviewer

Nicholas has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.

See Nicholas's reviews HERE.
Zoocracy Kickstarter Preview Zoocracy Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by The Madjai on February 14, 2019 Rating: 5

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