Zoo Webs Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game publisher’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


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The Basics:

  • For ages 5 and up
  • For 1 to 6 players
  • Variable game play length

Geek Skills:

  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Reflex & Speed

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Everything is connected

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa said, “Nature is everything and you are a part of nature.” Some believe we are all connected, which is an interesting notion. Some believe we are all individual islands of solitude, which is just depressing. I’m personally in the middle, believing every living thing shares a common bond, but are independent of the biomass. In this game, you’ll connect animals, insects, fish, and birds in a “web of life”, matching common characteristics to very different creatures.

Zoo Webs, a self-published game designed by Clint Clark and is 5-year-old son, will reportedly be comprised of 45 Animal cards at the minimum. Additional cards are planned based on the how much financial support is provided during the game’s Kickstarter campaign. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I will not comment on the game component quality. The animal illustrations are not terribly detailed, but do accurately represent the animals in the game. I would say that the illustrations fit snugly between “cartoonish” and “scholarly”, giving each Animal card visual appeal and scientific accuracy.

A Deck of Animals

More than just animals, really. The Animal cards depict birds, sea life, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. If it walks, swims, crawls, flies, or burrows on the planet Earth, it’s a likely candidate for an Animal card. Amusingly, there are no “Human” Animal cards.

On each of the Animal card’s 4 sides is a characteristic. The animal’s classification (mammal, reptile, etc.), primary diet (carnivore, herbivore, etc.), conservation status (endangered, vulnerable, etc.), and the region of the world the animal can be found is all listed. In the center of the Animal card is the illustration of the animal and its common name. Each Animal card also has symbols that are used to represent the different characteristics, removing the need to read the cards and opening the door to young Child Geeks who cannot yet read or are unable to read quickly. The symbols also make scanning the table for specific Animal cards a lot easier.

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The basic rule of play is to match Animal cards using 1 or more of the animal’s characteristics. Depending on the cards played and the cards available to the player on their turn, they might be able to match 1, 2, 3 or even all 4 animal characteristics. The only catch is that an animal characteristic must match the animal characteristic of other Animal cards it’s adjacent to. Luckily for the player, but making the game no less challenging, Animal cards can be rotated to match other animal characteristics. When an animal characteristic is matched, it’s referred to as “making a link”. As more and more Animal cards link together, they form what is referred to in the game as a “web”.

This is an example of a “single link”. Note how the “Lowland Gorilla” Animal card was rotated so the matching World Region values are adjacent. This allows the Animal cards to be linked.

This is an example of a “single link”, as well. The “Lion” Animal card is now linked with the “Emperor Penguin” Animal card creating a web of 3 animals.

As the game progresses, there are opportunities for players to make more than one link when placing a card. This is an example of a “double link”. When the player placed the “American Bison” Animal card, they connected it to the “Emperor Penguin” and the “Lowland Gorilla” Animal cards. Animal cards that are diagonal from each other never link.

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One Game, Many Ways to Play

Zoo Webs is a specialized deck of cards that comes with a number of different games. Each of the games we tried are summarized here. All the games start by shuffling the Animal cards.

Beaver

The Beaver game is intended for younger Child Geeks and new players. Seven cards are dealt to each player. Players can look at their cards, but should keep them hidden from their opponents. The goal of this game is very simple and is perfect for demonstrating how making a link between different Animal cards is possible. On the word “Go!”, each player attempts to create a link to each Animal card they have in their hand, creating their own web. Players only use their own Animal cards and every Animal card must have at east 1 link in order to be played. A player can make more than 1 link per Animal card if they like.

The winner of the game is the first player to play all their Animal cards to the table. Check the player’s web for accuracy.

Cheetah

The Cheetah game is all about speed. Seven cards are dealt to each player, but they remain face-down in a pile. The top-most card from the remaining Animal cards now drawn and placed in the middle of the playing area, face-up. On the word “Go!”, players flip over their top-most card in their pile and attempt to place it to the table making 1 or more links. If a link cannot be made, the player places the card on the bottom of their pile and draws the next top-most card.

If a player makes a double link, the player shouts “Cheetah Freeze!”. All opponents must stop and the player gets to take their time to play the next card in their pile without the stress of competing with the other players. Once the card is played, the player shouts “Cheetah Speed!” and the game resumes. If the player makes a triple or quadruple link, they can play their next 2 cards for free instead of just 1.

The first player to place all their Animal cards wins the game.

Eagle

The Eagle game is all about hand management. Seven cards are dealt to each player. Players can look at their cards, but should keep them hidden from their opponents. The remaining Animal cards not dealt are placed to one side of the game playing area. This is the draw deck for the duration of the game. The top-most card is drawn from the draw deck and placed in the middle of the playing area, face-up. On a player’s turn, they attempt to place 1 Animal card to the table from their hand. If a double link is made, the player can place 1 additional card. If a triple link is made, the player can place 2 additional cards. If a quadruple link is made, the player can place 3 additional cards. After the card or cards are placed, the player’s turn is over and the next player in turn order sequence goes.

If, however, the player cannot play any of their cards, they draw 1 card from the draw deck. This goes in the player’s hand and the player’s turn is now over.

The first player to place all their Animal cards wins the game.

Scorpion

The Scorpion game is very similar to the Cheetah game, except players attempt to place 1 Animal card at a time per round. On the word “Go!”, each player draws and reveals their top-most Animal card from their pile of 7 face-down cards. They then attempt to place it to the table. At the start of the game, only 1 Animal card is in the middle. The first Animal card placed that makes at least 1 link remains on the table and the other players place their Animal card at the bottom of their pile. If the player is able to make a double, triple, or quadruple link, they can play cards for free in the same way noted in the Cheetah game summary.

The first player to place all their Animal cards wins the game.

Termite

The Termite game is a puzzle to be solved individually or with a group. The goal is to use all of the Animal cards and place them to the table. When completed, the Animal cards should form a large rectangular design. The game starts with 4 Animal cards in the middle. Obviously, the 4 Animal cards must all have a link match. From there, seven cards are drawn to each player and either held or placed in front of the player, face-up. Honestly, the rules for this game lack detail, so we filled in the blanks with what we thought made sense.

As a team, players now attempt to make links while maintaining a rectangular formation. When a player places a card, they draw a new one. Players should feel free to discuss each Animal card, provide suggestions, and work out different ways the Animal cards can be placed. Once placed, however, the Animal cards cannot be removed.

The game ends when the players can no longer place any Animal card or all the Animal cards have been placed. The players win if all the Animal cards have been placed and the final formation is rectangular in shape.

Game Variants

Each of the games summarized above can be further customized. Suggested game variants are listed here.

More Cards

Instead of 7 Animal cards, deal 8 or more to experienced players. More Animal cards doesn’t make the game more difficult to play. It just gives the player more to think about.

Defined Boundaries

Normally, there are no boundaries to the play area when placing cards. This game variant defines the play area and reduces the amount of room players can use. This forces a player to consider minimizing single links in favor of double, triple, and quadruple link plays.

Speak Up

When links are made, require players to verbally identify the links. For example, “The Galapagos Tortoise and Thorny Devil are both reptiles.” The more links made, the more the player has to announce. I do not suggest this game variant for those games that require speed and accuracy. Unless, of course, you enjoy fumbling your words.

Have It Your Way

Zoo Webs was designed to be customizable and expandable. Players are encouraged to come up with their own games, tweak the existing games, and adjust or ignore the rules. The goal is to personalize the game play experience and have as much fun as possible.

To learn more about Zoo Websvisit the game publisher’s website or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The Child Geeks, especially our younger ones, had a lot of fun with Zoo Webs. They talked excitedly about the animals, zoo trips they had taken, animal shows they saw on TV, and books they had read. Each of the games was enjoyed, but their favorites were Beaver and Eagle. According to one Child Geek, “I like these games best because you can take your time, talk about the animals, and just have fun.” For the older Child Geeks, they liked the fast paced Cheetah game and the “take that” game play found in Scorpion. As one Child Geek put it, “The game is fun because it’s fast, makes you think, and its easy to play. It feels great when you can make a big quadruple link!” The only aspect of the game the Child Geeks didn’t like was the limited number of animals and the absence of some favorites. A few of the animals mentioned were the Hammer Head Shark, the King Cobra, and just because a number of our Child Geeks learned about it during another game, the majestic Tufted Titmouse. The point is, the animals on the cards got the Child Geeks thinking, talking, and excited. It’s little wonder that these young gamers fully approved of Zoo Webs.

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My middle Child Geek gives a smug grin after playing a triple link, much to the disappointment of his older brother…

The Parent Geeks were delighted with Zoo Webs. One Parent Geeks summed it up nicely when they said, “Now here is a game I can really get behind. It’s educational, challenging, fun to play, and has lots of different ways to enjoy it. This is a one-size-fits-all kind of game for my family.” The Parent Geeks liked the fact that Zoo Webs opened the door to animal conservation discussions and a chance to learn something new. They were delighted when they found Zoo Webs to be an entertaining and challenging game, as well. According to one Parent Geek, “I just thought this was going to be an animal matching game, but there’s more to it.” And that’s part of the fun. The Parent Geeks approved Zoo Webs, finding it to be a family game that entertained, educated, and engaged everyone at their gaming table.

The Gamer Geeks acknowledge that Zoo Webs was well though out, well designed, and was of value. Just not to them. According to one Gamer Geek, “I love anything that can be played at the same time it teaches something. This makes learning fun and something you want to do again. While I’m interested in animals, I’d rather play something like Fauna that has more depth than just quick card plays and pattern matching.” Another Gamer Geek said, “This is most certainly a game I’d play with my kids and as a family game, but never with my Gamer Geek crew.” The same thing was said again and again. Everyone agreed the game was well designed, had a great message, an excellent approach, challenging game play, and educational appeal. It just wasn’t a game worth the elitist’s time due to its lack of depth, strategy, and tactical game play. The Gamer Geeks gave Zoo Webs a respectful nod, but did not endorse it.

I found Zoo Webs to be an educational and entertaining game to play when both Child Geeks and Parent Geeks were at the table. Knowledge of animals does not give the player any advantage, but a quick eye and fast hands certainly does. The challenge is matching the 4 characteristics quickly. You’d think you wouldn’t learn much about animals if you are only scanning the table and your hand of cards, but the intense focus on the characteristics leaves an impression on the mind. Several times, players would discuss their surprise that certain animals were endangered or vulnerable to extinction. More than once, the smartphones were taken out to look-up additional information about certain animals. That’s pretty cool and speaks to the game’s ability to get player’s thinking and talking.

The games provided are easy to teach and easy to play. Zoo Webs is ripe for customization and new game variants that families can create for themselves. The core of the game is all about matching. From there, the sky is the limit. Creative Child Geeks can come up with their own games and rules, teach them to friends and family, and the game just gets that much better. For example, I made this card during the game as a “joke”, but it became very popular.

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Not included with the game, sadly…

The only aspect of the game that I would like to see corrected is the addition of Animal cards that depict species that are no longer with us. I think that would really drive several points home and broaden the table conversation. “Extinction” is often only associated with the dinosaurs. Adding Animal cards for the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, Vietnamese Rhino, or the Caspian Tiger would help everyone at the table see that extinction is happening now.

Does Zoo Webs demonstrate that we are all connected? No, not in the slightest, but it does make one more aware of similarities. If a “Human” Animal card is thrown in, imagine the conversations that would trigger. There’s something to be said about understanding our place in the grand scheme of things and recognizing that we are all just travelers on a big rock moving through space. Without getting to philosophical about it, it does put things in perspective, yes? Way too deep for the Child Geeks and a bit tiresome for the Parent Geeks, but Zoo Webs goes out of its way to not be preachy. It’s just a game, and hey, if you learn something along the way, awesome.

If you are looking for a family game that will entertain and educate, look no further. Zoo Webs is sure to please and keep the conversation going at your family gaming table. For the Gamer Geeks, this game is not the kind of beast you are looking for, despite the fact that you can include Cthulhu pretty easily.

This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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