All posts by Sam D. Burr

Elea launches on Xbox One and Steam

The first episode in this space adventure is available now.

Last week saw the release of the first episode of surreal sci-fi game Elea, as it launched on to Xbox One, and Steam.

In Elea, you play as space scientist of the same name. In 2073, Earth was struck by a horrid childhood disease and Elea’s husband Ethan joined an expedition to colonize Solace, a habitable exoplanet, to save humanity from extinction. The interstellar ship he was on, Pilgrimage, went radio silent shortly after it reached planet Solace. Thirteen years later, our protagonist joins a recovery mission to investigate the faith of the expedition. What follows is an episodic and wondrous journey through space.

The first episode takes us somewhere else however, as Elea awakens in what appears to be Mexico. In reality however, she is not in her home but in a recovery room somewhere, years later, revisiting her memories in some sort of simulation. As the memory trip progresses, the house and its surroundings start to change and deteriorate, as time passes and grief descends on a home that was once full of love and expectations.

Key Features of the game include:

  • Unravel a rich, touching story inspired by books of classic sci-fi writers
  • Submerge yourself in amazing graphics powered by Unreal Engine 4
  • Discover gorgeous space environments, spectacular vistas and detailed interiors
  • Expect the unexpected on this curious journey through outer space

The first episode of Elea is available to purchase now from Steam and the Xbox One store.

Our Steam sale picks – February 2018

Play as an exiled ‘wum’ looking for a new home in this bizarre but charming world, filled with strange creatures, puzzles, monsters and political chaos.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/38700/Toki_Tori/

Superflight is an intense, easy to learn wingsuit game with an infinite number of beautiful procedurally generated maps. A great game to relax for half an hour and chase your latest highscore!

http://store.steampowered.com/app/732430/Superflight/

Lisa is a quirky side-scrolling RPG set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Beneath the charming and funny exterior is a world full of disgust and moral destruction.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/335670/LISA/

A frantic 1- to 4-player couch co-op action space shooter. Explore a colorful galaxy in a massive neon battleship that you control together by manning turrets, lasers, shields and thrusters.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/252110/Lovers_in_a_Dangerous_Spacetime/

Play as an exiled ‘wum’ looking for a new home in this bizarre but charming world, filled with strange creatures, puzzles, monsters and political chaos.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/400630/Wuppo/

Immortal: Unchained is unleashed on PC and consoles

Play as a human weapon saving the cosmos in hardcore action RPG.

In Immortal: Unchained, you have been unleashed from your eternal prison, you are an ultimate weapon tasked with saving the Cosmos from a cataclysmic event threatening to end all worlds. Experience fast-paced tactical combat that combines ruthless gunplay with brutal melee combat. Explore unforgiving sci-fi worlds and defeat legendary bosses to acquire powerful weapons and delve into a vast array of weapon choices and builds.

Robin Flodin, CEO of developer Toadman Interactive said:

“We’re thrilled to finally put Immortal: Unchained into player’s hands. We’ve worked tirelessly to deliver a game that matches the vision that
Game Odyssey brought to us, and that our fans and community have been asking for. I’m incredibly proud of what the team and the studio has achieved.”

“I’m very happy to see our ideas and worlds come to life in Immortal: Unchained,” added Nader Moukarim, CEO of Game Odyssey Ltd. “I hope gamers all over the world will appreciate and enjoy the game, and that this is but the start of something greater.”

“As Sold Out’s first physical and digital release, Immortal: Unchained marks a major milestone for the company,” said Garry Williams, CEO of Sold Out. “It’s a really unique game, and we think this new IP will offer a compelling alternative for fans of the hardcore action-RPG genre.”

Immortal: Unchained is available now on Steam, with a 10% discount running until the 15th of December, putting the game at £35.99 / $44.99 / €44.99. The game is also available for both PS4 and Xbox One from today.

What is your gaming poison of choice?

Before we start a gaming sesh, we all know that at some point, we will need some kind of liquid sustenance to keep us well oiled for the battles and adventures that await us. But what if your poison of choice?

For me, well that all depends on what it is exactly I am planning on playing.
A first-person shooter? It has got to be 100% caffeinated, be it coffee or a good old energy drink, it has to be able to give me an edge over my competition. The same goes for any online competitive game, I feel like caffeine gives me an edge, and maybe a palpitation or two.

If we are talking RPG however, well that’s a whole other ball game, call me old fashioned but it’s got to be an ale. I don’t know why but there is something about delving chin first into a fantasy RPG that makes me want a pint of old school ale. I don’t know whether it’s the thought of being in a tavern with some hard-core stale smelling adventures that appeals to me but it’s gotta be beer for an RPG. As you can imagine, this can cause a few issues from time to time, mainly the increase in toilet breaks, slow reflexes, slight loss of vision and the impending, ‘where the hell am I?’ when I load the game up the next morning.

Everything else, well sadly that would have to be good old boring H20. I try to drink as much water as I can but I feel like gaming is a good opportunity to get the litres put away. I don’t know about you but I drink 10 times more when I’m gaming then any other time, I don’t know whether it’s the pressure, loading screens or need for breaks but I drink a lot while I’m gaming!

Do you have a particular way of keeping yourself oiled through a good gaming session? Let us know!

Days of Discovery: Preview

The world is round. Fairway knows he can prove it and secure the riches of the new world. Or, at least, that’s what he thinks will happen in this preview of Days of Discovery by Matt Worden Games, coming to Kickstarter on June 19th.

Days of Discovery is a one- to six-player strategy, card game. Each game is played in three “acts” representing three phases of securing a patron, getting a crew and supplies and, finally, the voyage to the new world. Games take about 30 minutes to play.  Days of Discovery is the first in a series of games by Matt Worden and is coming to Kickstarter this month. We were given a preview version of the game so some art is likely to change (the box for example).

Initial Impressions

  1. A game is three acts which is an interesting narrative mechanic. Each of the three chapters feels like three different types of games, but uses only a single set of cards. Pretty nice.
  2. The multi-use cards are a highlight of the game. They’re a bit cluttered, but understandable once you’re in the middle of the game.
  3. The art and illustrations feel like an update to something you’d expect from the relevant time period.
  4. Games are pretty quick and easy to learn.
  5. This game can play from 1 to 6 players, but the real sweet spot seemed to be around 4.

How to play

In Days of Discovery, players are competing to reach a newly discovered land in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They must gain a sponsor, recruit a crew and buy supplies and then make the voyage across the ocean. Each of these form the three acts of the game.

To start, a number of sponsors are turned face equal to the number of players plus one. The sponsors have a suit, are ranked, and have a certain set of requirements. These requirements are what that sponsor needs to see as proof that you’re the right one to back in a voyage to the new world.  Then the deck of “people” cards is shuffled. The people cards are the primary set of cards in the game and are used for different purposes depending on which act you’re in.

At the start of the first act, each player is dealt three people cards face up.  Another five people cards are placed face up in the middle. The remainder are placed face down in the center as a draw pile.  The first act is now ready to begin.

During this act, players will take turns trying to build the support they need to secure one of the face up sponsors.  This act is primarily set collection: players will recruit two cards (either from the top of the draw pile or from the face up cards) trying to gather plans and evidence that meet the requirements of one of the sponsors. The support is shown in the upper left of the card.  In addition, each of the type of people cards are only persuasive to certain of the sponsors.  Each people card has a set of suits below the support icons.  After drawing two cards, the players can then secure a sponsor if they meet the support requirements.

This continues from player to player.  When the second to last player secures a sponsor, the last player will automatically take the lowest-ranked sponsor remaining.

Once a player secures a sponsor, they’ll move onto the second act.  This act begins with the player discarding cards from their hand until they reach the starting hand size shown on the sponsor card.  Now, during act two, players will continue to draw from market of people card, except now they’re looking at the crew and supplies on the lower left of the card which will be used during the voyage phase of Act 3.  Players might also be looking at the voyage parts (lower right) as a way to plan for Act 3. Act 2 is much like a traditional card game trying to build an optimal hand.

During Act 2, the player will draw from the draw pile or market equal to the draw number on their sponsor card.  Once they reach the max hand size, also shown on the sponsor card, they can either exchange cards or begin Act 3.  Everyone will being Act 3 together.

Once every player has their maximum hand size, the players advance to Act 3.  During Act 3, players will take turns either voyaging or foraging in an effort to complete five voyage segments. At the start of Act 3, all unclaimed sponsors are removed. The people cards in the discard pile and market are shuffled back into the deck, and players pick up their hands.

Taking turns, each player can choose to voyage or forage. During a voyage action, a player will play a card from either their hand or a random card from the top of the deck to start a voyage segment.  The voyage segment’s duration is shown as a number on top of the ship in the lower right.  The player plays that card horizontally in front of them, then draws from the deck cards equal to the voyage duration.  These drawn cards show the segment requirements in the upper right of the card — typically a number of crew and supplies or, alternatively special events like “bad luck,” “illness” or “rough seas.”

To complete that segment successfully, the player must then discard cards from their hand that have at least the segment’s requirements. There’s no change if you overspend on crew or supplies.  In this case, all the spent people cards and segment requirement cards are discarded, the segment is left face up and, if possible, the player can play a card from their hand as bonus points facedown below the segment (a journal entry).

If the player can’t successfully complete a segment (or chooses not to), then they must forage.  The player turns 4 cards face up from the draw pile, adds three to their hand and one to the current segment.

Once one player completes a fifth segment, all other players get one more turn. Then, the players will score the points from their voyage.  Their score is equal to the total of all the segment durations plus the segment durations of the cards played as journal entries. The player with the most points wins.

On the green

Days of Discovery was well-received by everyone who played.  It has a good number of things that made each game unique and fresh:

Three games in one.  Days of Discovery really is three games in three distinct acts. Like a medley of songs, there’s a transition at each step, but it never breaks stride. From set collection, the strategic card game, it’s got a bit of something for everyone.  However, of the three games, the voyaging is definitely the highlight.

Multiuse cards.  I don’t think that the three-in-one thing could work but for the well-crafted, multi-use cards.  They make the first few games a bit harder to learn since it’s not clear how each Act works together, but after that players started getting the hang of it.  At times, players were concerned about the amount of information on each card, but at no point did that actually slow the game down.

Illustrations.  The deck is more than 100 cards with about 40 unique illustrations and personalities.  It was pretty rare to have more than one of the same cards in your hand so it seemed to be a pretty good amount of uniqueness.

Where it comes up short

Most of the players shared some of the same thoughts about the game, but none of them were game breaking.

Hand management.  There are two points in the game that seem to disrupt the hand-building of the player. The first comes when a player transitions to Act 2 and a player goes from a bunch of cards, painstakingly collected during Act 1, to just two or three cards.  Likewise, it seems hard, if not impossible, to complete the five segments using only the cards in your hand. And in this sense, it defeats a player’s feeling that they’re really able to plan and strategize for that final voyage to the new world.

“Insider” rule. I left it out of the rules summary above, but during Act 1, there’s a gatekeeper mechanism to playing cards to garner a sponsor. Not only do the cards all have to have the sponsor’s suit, you have to have a relatively-rare “insider” card marked with a star on that suit (3 or 4 per sponsor).  The trouble is two-fold: in 100 card deck, there’s no telling when that card would appear and no telling whether you’d be the one to get the card. So you could be collecting cards for a sponsor and not get that one card. We nixed this rule after a few games. One option we thought about is that the insider card could be used to double support for that particular sponsor instead of as a gatekeeper.

Variation in the sponsors?  As an entry point to the game, it felt like the selection of sponsors should have had more impact on the game. To this end, I think there’s probably room here for more varied “reward” for reaching for that higher ranked sponsor. On the other hand, the fact that there isn’t a huge difference means there isn’t a runaway leader issue right out of the gate.

In the hole

Days of Discovery is a good starting point for a series of games set up around the world it’s creating. Days of Discovery is a fantastic little mashup of three different card games. It creatively uses the same deck of cards is a creative way to express the story in three Acts which loosely follows the real world historical exploration of North America by European explorers. If you like card games and are looking for one that plays quickly, is easily learned and can play six, this game should definitely be on your list.

Developer Banned from Steam for asking friends to write reviews

Insel Games, has been banned from Steam and had all its games removed for apparently trying to ‘manipulate review scores’ for their latest indie game release Wild Buster: Heroes of Titan.

What exactly did they do to bring down the mighty hammer of judgement? Well, an email was leaked on Reddit which revealed the companies CEO asked employees to buy the struggling game and write a review.

If you are an indie developer, you are probably a little shocked right now, as I’m sure most indie developers who have made a game, have encouraged family and friends to buy the game and leave a review.

I can’t help but think this decision from Steam was a little heavy handed. No doubt larger studios are likely growth hacking the system in their own ways, not to mention the countless developers who exploited trading card to make profit without immediate repercussions.

It’s speculated that Steam put on the latex gloves for this situation due to the nature of the CEO’s language, which showed forceful coercion. In the email to his studio employees, the CEO wrote:

“I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write) – but I should not have to. Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs,” reads the email.

“So I am asking you to do either of the following: buy the game and present me with the receipt until Friday night, for which you will be reimbursed within 24 hours, or explain to me tomorrow why you do not wish to do this. I would like to discuss this individually and privately with each of you.”

In my opinion, it simply sounds like a desperate studio lead trying to keep food on the table of his employees.
Albeit passive aggressive, but then again it was 3am, and he is likely about to lose his studio.

Either way, to punish a whole studio, many of which may lose their jobs, if not the whole studio, purely on the actions of one person, is a little unusual.

Steam’s reply to the situation was:

“It has been recently reported on Reddit that the publisher for this game, Insel Games Ltd., have been attempting to manipulate the user review score for their titles on Steam. We have investigated these claims, and have identified unacceptable behaviour involving multiple Steam accounts controlled by the publisher of this game. The publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games. This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously.

For these reasons, we are ending our business relationship with Insel Games Ltd. and removing their games from our store. If you have previously purchased this game, it will remain accessible in your Steam library.”

Here are some responses from the community:

 

So why was Hello games not punished for No Man’s Sky’s false advertising, and deceiving thousands of gamers? Is it because Steam stood to make a lot of profit from No Man’s Sky? To my knowledge Hello Games, or ring leader Sean Murray to this day have not apologised, been held accountable, or even disciplined.

All I am saying is, Steam should not be swinging the ban hammer so freely without warning. Especially considering it appears the Insel studio staff didn’t even review the game in question, and if they did, it would have been half a dozen reviews that would have likely had no bearing on the games sales outcome. If you’re wondering how to move steam games to another drive, check this tutorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deiland… Who needs a farm when you have a whole planet!

With the huge success of endlessly fun Stardew Valley, the industry has seen a massive boom in charming farming simulator games. Deiland looks to be the next big indie title of this genre to hit the scene. From the hugely talented small team of developers over at ChiBig Studios in Valencia, Spain,  and with support from Square Enix Collective.

Taking inspiration from a mix of JRP’s such as Final Fantasy and classic simulator Harvest Moon,  Deiland is a single player fantasy RPG sandbox with elements of farming, building, crafting and questing.  The game takes place on a Deiland, a beautifully designed living planet featuring a variety of species of plant life, a night and day cycle and even the occasional meteor shower! Using magic and tools you must survive and prosper in Deiland, meeting a range of supporting characters along the way. As well as other external locations for you to travel and explore.

If that wasn’t enough, the game features an original soundtrack by the talented Paco Mitos, to help perfectly capture the emotion in the game.

If you think this games shows are much promise as we do, why not check out their Kickstarter campaign, where for just $15 you can back yourself an early access digital copy of the game for either PC, Mac or PlayStation 4.

JB

Blue Riband: Review

Turn back the clocks. Grab your life preserver and a fancy drink. Fairway tries to build the most luxurious, capable ship and sail it from England to New York before his opponent in today’s preview of Blue Riband.

Blue Riband is a two-player game set in an alternate past in which the players build and then race their luxury liner, either the Titanic or the Lusitania, across the Atlantic. I really wanted to call this ship building game a deck builder, but alas. It is a card-drafting and then racing game.

Initial Impressions

  1. We really liked building our ships. Like a lot. It was probably our favorite part and there’s probably a game in just that.
  2. There’s a fair amount of boards involved in this game: each player gets half of a giant board (representing one of the ships) to play cards. There’s also a board for the map across the Atlantic.  Components all seemed nice and well done.
  3. While the rulebook seemed long at first, and things like the placement rules seemed daunting, it was actually pretty straight-forward once the players got going.

How to play

In Blue Riband, players are first the architects and then the captains of a luxury ocean-liner in the golden-era of trans-Atlantic ocean travel. The object of the game is to garner the most points when the game ends by either building the most luxurious ship, the fastest ship, or some combination of both.  At the start of the game, players are given one of two ships: the Titanic or the Lusitania.  These are represented by large boards. The boards all have a series of card-sized spaces divided into a series of decks.  The background of the board is a depiction of the ship itself.

To start, a deck of design cards is shuffled and placed in a draw pile.  A starting tableau of five design cards is turned face up. Each player then draws a starting hand of six design cards. During the build/design phase, players will take turns doing the following: drawing one card from the design deck into their hand, optionally exchanging a card from their hand with one in the tableau, and then placing, facedown, one of the cards onto their ship.

There are five primary types of design cards: first class, second class, third class, safety improvements and engine cards.  When placing the design cards on a ship, there are a few rules which make sense including levels they can be placed on and how they might be arranged. For example, a ship can only have one first-class section and all the first-class cards must be adjacent — you can span levels only using a grand staircase card. Likewise, engine and coal design cards that provide fuel and speed must be placed on the lower levels.  There are also “validity” requirements for a ship that are reviewed at the end of the design phase. For example, a valid first-class section must have at least one stateroom and one amenity.

The design cards all serve a purpose.  Many of design cards improve the “luxury” rating of the ship. Others will generate revenue. Some will improve the safety of your ship (important in the race portion of the game). Others provide fuel to survive the ocean voyage.

Players essentially build their ships in secret over 20 or so rounds.  At the end of which, all of the cards are revealed.  If any sections break any of the placement or validity rules, they’re removed from the ship — for example, if you don’t have the requisite number of staterooms for your first-class section.

Once the ships are reviewed, the race portion of the game begins. Players collect coal according to how much coal storage they have. Players will take turns over a series of rounds captaining their ship from South Hampton, England to New York City.  Each round will have its own weather and cause obstacles (icebergs and u-boats) to move on the map.  Players will then take turns burning coal to move their ship.  Depending on the weather, the faster the ship moves the more treacherous and the more inefficient it gets.

During the voyage, icebergs, U-boats and fog can damage your ship.  When a player encounters one of these hazards, they’ll use a chart to compute damage based on the type of hazard, the ship’s speed, a roll of the dice, and the ship’s safety improvements. This is then compared to a damage chart and the damage is applied to the ship.  Ships can take up to four points of damage before sinking.  But with each level of damage, the ship becomes more inefficient and cards on the ship are lost (e.g., flooded).

The game ends in one of two ways:  both players reach New York City or one player doesn’t. In the case a player can’t or doesn’t reach New York City, the other player wins. For example, if a player sinks or runs out of coal. If both players reach New York City, the players count up their points. In this case, the player who gets to New York first gets 100 points, the player with the most luxurious ship (most stars) gets 100 points, each player earns 1 point per net revenue (your gross revenue less your operating expenses).

On the green

Blue Riband is an interesting mix of simulation and game. It had some things that played out well, but lacked the polish one might hope.

“Deck” Building.  Okay, it’s not a “deck builder” in the traditional sense. But the first phase of the game has players competing, in relative secrecy, the construction of their ships by drafting cards and placing them on boat decks. Building the ships, placing cards, and enjoying the fruits of that game play are definitely the highlight of Blue Riband. Not sure how to express this to the designer, but this should be much, much, much more then central part of the game.

Intuitive.  I don’t say this often, but considering the apparent complexity of all the things that happen in the game–some times with intricate rules and decision charts–it’s a pretty intuitive game. People just “got it” without a lot of rules checking. Similarly, with very limited exceptions, when we did confront the rules, it often matched our intuition.  The use of the “Grand Staircase” was the only one that wasn’t like that.

Damage & Flooding. Okay, so we enjoyed how the ship flooded. We liked how the game forced you to plan for the worst: if you took some damage, are you okay with losing your third class staterooms?  Or do you put a coal bunker down there?

Where it comes up short

Player-defeating mechanisms.  The top concern on everyone’s issues list was the number of ways in which this game helps the players fail. There are a few places where the guardrails are so low that players might not even get to “finish” the game. The most obvious one is that there’s no good way to know how much coal you’re going to need and, even if you knew, there’s no guarantee you’d get it.  Players can make it through the whole build phase and not have enough fuel to make it from England to New York.  There’s a whole bunch of ways this can happen: poor planning, poor estimation, poor card draws, poor card order, etc.  It seems somewhat irresponsible to create a situation in which a player can’t even really “finish” the second part.

Another example of this happens when building things like the first-class cabin.  It’s possible to start a first-class cabin and not actually be able to finish it merely because of things outside the control of the player.  It’s sort of like the Sashimi card in Sushi Go! but for lots of points.

Maybe these features are by design, but it’s hard to escape that many of these feel-bad moments in the game could have been designed around.

Art & Photography.  I’m a huge fan of deploying public domain works in games. The game made use of many on-point public domain photographs from ships of the era, including the Titanic, Lusitania, and Olympic. The collection itself seemed great.

But, ultimately, it’s rare to be able to just take photographs and paintings and deploy them without manipulation of some sort. This was no different.  Moreover, the presentation of those works detracted from the overall feel.  Many of the graphic design elements obscured and detracted from the photographs. The uninspired iconography, fonts, and graphic design were just too much of a distraction.

Ooblets… As if farming simulators weren’t cute enough!

From the team of two developers over at Gumberland, published by the guys at Double Fine, comes the exciting new farming simulator hybrid, Ooblets.  Noted by the developers as taking its inspiration from Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and Pokemon, they appear to have successfully taken cute, timesed it by adorable and divided by charming to create this absolute gem. The game sees you not only farm your land but manage your household, run your own store and explore the land of Oob, all with the help of your Ooblets. Ooblets being the little creatures that you befriend and battle with, that’s where the Pokemon comes in. As expected the game has a whole range of customizable features for your character and farm.

The art style of the game is truly charming, using pastel colours to bring out a sense of harmony and tranquillity to your farming life. The creatures themselves are original in design, friendly creations that will make the farming simulator a true all-round original and creative gaming experience.

Ooblet is set to become available in early 2018 on PC and Xbox One. Being a must have for the new year, Ooblet is one to put on the calender.

Zoomaka: Review

Today, Fairway is a budding zoo entrepreneur trying to complete the most amazing zoo. That’s right! Step right up and see how Fairway does in this review of Zoomaka.

Zoomaka is a two- to five-player set-collection, card game in which players attempt to collect the right combination of animals to complete their zoo.

Initial Impressions

  1. The game shoots for minimalism and I think misses its mark. The muted color scheme doesn’t scream fun, kids game or exciting zoo-builder. The cards are mostly white, relying heavily on the borders and flat icons.  We were sometimes confused about whether the actual colors mattered on some of the action cards (entrances in particular).
  2. The rules amount to the common play cards, draw cards so teaching the game was easy and quick. Most players picked up the game pretty quickly.
  3. Outside the set collection (trying to complete “sections” of a zoo), the theme isn’t a great fit for the game. Why am I paying in zebra meat to go to someone else’s zoo? More about that below.

How to play

Zoomaka is a pretty standard card game which is played over a series of turns. The object of the game is to be the first player to complete four sections of your zoo.

At the start of the game, the deck of cards is shuffled and each player is dealt six cards.  There are essentially three types of cards: animal cards, action cards and setting cards. In common, each type of card also has a value. This value represents the value of the card itself when added to a zoo or when used to pay another player.

A bulk of the game is centered around the animal cards. Animal cards each assigned a category (or in some cases multiple categories) indicated by a little paw print in the upper right. There are a lot of different categories: Australian, reptile, bird, ape, magical, etc.  In addition, the number of icons shown on the card indicates the number of those cards needed to complete the section. The more icons, the more cards you’ll need to play.

The cards. The action cards come in a number of variations: action, reaction, and entrance. The action and reaction cards let you take special actions or stop someone from taking them. They’re played once and their effect is immediately resolved. For instance, some action cards let you see your opponent’s hand, take an animal from their zoo, draw more cards, etc.  The reaction cards are typically played in response to an action card (and out of turn) and allow the player to cancel an action or not pay a fee or something similar.  The entrance cards are played on player’s zoo section and cause other players to “pay” that player an amount equal to the total value of that zoo section.

Finally, the setting cards set a special universal rule that applies until it’s replaced. It could be that every players get extra actions or that certain animals can be played for free.

The game play. Play starts with a first player and continues clockwise until a player completes their fourth zoo section.  On a turn, a player typically plays three cards. Cards can be played either to the table or to your bank.

Animal and entrance cards played to the table are played face up in front of the player. Animals of the same category are played to the same section and their sum total values represent the value of that section of your zoo. A zoo section is complete when the section has the number of animals equal to the number of icons matching that section. For example, three forest animals played to a players section will complete the zoo section.

When a player plays an entrance card, the card is played on a section and the payment rule is performed.  In most cases, this means that other players must “pay” the total value of that section, that is the entrance cost. Other players must pay at least that amount from cards either in their own zoo (ah!) or from amounts they’ve played face down into their bank (discussed below).

Beyond animal cards, players play other action and response cards to the discard pile. These cards apply special rule. Action cards allow players to draw additional cards, poach animals from other zoos, etc. The reaction cards are typically played out of turn and do things like stop entrance fee payments, capture an animal just played by another player, etc.

Finally, the setting cards are played into a pile in the middle of the table.  The top card directs a special game-affecting rule.

One last point, each card has a value. If a player wants, they can play any of the cards to a player’s bank. These cards can then be used to pay off entrance fees instead of drawing from the cards in a zoo.

On the green

Set collection.  Zoomaka draws heavily on its theme and manages to introduce a large number of unique animal cards and divides them among a huge range of classes. There are more than 12 different “sections” that you can build. Adding those animals to your zoo to flesh out a section is definitely the heart of this game and it does it well. I mention the large number of suits below.

Player interaction.  This game doesn’t hide its strong take that features: they’re omnipresent. There were times in a few games where players had more action and reaction cards in their hands than actual animal cards. That said, the assortment of actions definitely hit the other players but never felt unfair or destructive.

Choices. The game actually does a good job of making every card and turn feel useful. Even if you can’t do anything “constructive” with the cards (like adding into your zoo), you can always play the card to your bank and save for the inevitable: having to pay another player. And while this is the case, we did feel like not enough of the game actually did the zoo-building (see below).

Play time & teaching time.  The game was pretty straight forward. Anyone who’s played any kind of family-oriented, take-that card games will get the gist pretty quickly. The only quirky mechanism was explaining why players should play cards to the bank — mostly to avoid having to sell of their zoo when someone played an entrance.

Where it comes up short

Frequency and suits.  In some ways, the sheer number of different sections is a bit daunting for new players. There’s lots of them. So when a players starts down one collection path, it’s not clear whether those cards will ever show up.  Consider that a good number of cards also get played face down into other player’s banks. Once they’re there, there’s no real chance to get a missing card out. Also, no player aid is provided to indicate the number of cards in each suit are in the deck.

So long as animal cards weren’t buried in banks, the game did provide ample opportunity to fetch cards from other players

So many non-animal cards.  On our first few games, players would repeatedly get hands full of everything but animal cards. When we separated out the cards, it became apparent why: more than half the cards are dedicated to things other than animals. And it wasn’t just a little more, it was appreciably more than half the cards. In some cases, you could go a few hands and not see an animal card. For a game about building a zoo, not getting animal cards to play is not a great feeling.

Let’s talk about minimalism & design.  I honestly didn’t know what to do with this feature. Some players found the minimalism as a non-issue, but most others noted that the overall design felt flat, boring. There’s always some room for debate about aesthetics, but for a number of reasons, I don’t think this design pulls off the minimalism. For instance, the borders of the cards were in a large rainbow of colors some of which played a role, but in other cases didn’t. The icons were flat, in a portion of the card covered by the fanning out of cards, and probably too small for their purpose. The animals didn’t feel “real” and were mere silhouettes and, oddly, a different color than their matching border. Finally, the font choice was confusing: a script font that was hard to read, not kid-friendly, and unthematic.

Beyond the aesthetic, the graphic design is completely unhelpful.  For example, circles around the values on some of the cards. We weren’t sure what the colors were intended to indicate. Similarly, the “wild” card animals had almost garish borders and coloring.

Last point: to the extent this is intended as a kids game, the washed out and muted palette wasn’t screaming kid-friendly game.

Confusing mechanics?  There were a few places the rules didn’t actually explain. For example, can you have more than one entrance on a section? Just one? If you play one that has icons for payment for various section types, do you only count the one that it was played on — the words on the card suggest otherwise?

Thematically confusing?  One thing that more than one player found odd was the whole payment mechanism.  Why am I, another competing zoo owner, paying another player when they play an entrance to a zoo section? And, more importantly, why do I have to sell off my animals to that player when they do?  It seems weird that I sell (or mortgage, I guess) my zebra card just to have the privilege of going to the other player’s woodland section.