Frank’s Zoo

I notice I have reviewed Frank’s Zoo a long time ago on my Finnish site, yet a review hasn’t appeared here. Let’s fix that.

Frank’s Zoo (aka Zoff im Zoo) is a climbing game with a twist. The animal theme is obvious, considering the authors: the Frank in the title is the game designer Frank Nestel, while the game is decorated by his artist wife Doris Matthäus (who also shares a design credit), a master drawer of cutesy animals.

So, it’s a climbing game. That means the goal of the game is to get rid of one’s cards. The cards are played on “tricks, and to play one must play a better combination than the previous player (same animal, but more; same number of better animals). The value of the animals climbs up, thus the name.

Twisting hierarchies

However, there are twists. The hierarchy is based on animals and is far from simple. Each animal beats certain smaller animals (but not all) and is in turn beaten by other, bigger animals. There are two overlapping series, water animals and land animals (some are both). While the water animals end in unbeatable orca, in land animals the tiny mouse beats the mighty elephant and the hierarchy can loop again.

It takes a while to get used to all this. Each card shows which animals it can beat, but not which animals beat it. Fortunately there are helpful player aids in Geek, and it only takes few games to get familiar with the cards.

Good fun for large groups

The scoring is based on the order of getting rid of one’s cards, plus few other things. There’s a dynamic partnership system: after each round, players at certain ranks are paired together. The game ends when two players reach certain score, which doesn’t usually take many rounds.

Frank’s Zoo is a good game for larger groups — with five, six or seven players, it would be my choice of climbing games. With three or four Gang of Four and Tichu are hard to beat. In any case, Frank’s Zoo is a somewhat lighter game than those two (but not as light and easy as the cute animals could lead one to think).

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