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Zoo Vadis

In this reimplementation of Reiner Knizia classic Quo Vadis, 3-7 players will become factions of zoo animals trying to collect laurels and earn themselves the right to be the mascot in the zoo’s star exhibit.

Gameplay

Each player will claim six animals and the player screen of the faction they wish to represent: Armadillos, Crocodiles, Hyenas, Ibises, Marmosets, Rhinos, and Tigers. The board is randomly populated with laurel tokens of differing values (I-V) drawn blindly from the bag and placed on the appropriate spaces. Likewise, peacocks will be placed on spaces which indicate the number of players playing in the game. Finally, the zookeeper token will be placed on top of the laurel directly underneath the star exhibit area.

Players have one of four actions at their disposal during a turn: adding an animal in the zoo, moving an animal to the next exhibit within the zoo, moving a peacock, or moving the zookeeper.

Adding an animal is simple enough, as players will simply take one of their six animal tokens and place it in an open spot in any of the exhibits at the bottom of the player board. If a spot isn’t open, then this action is unavailable.

Moving one of your animals to another exhibit can be a bit more complex and there must be an empty space in the exhibit. Movement is based on three options: either the zookeeper token being on top of the laurel between the exhibit the player is in and the exhibit they which to go to (meaning the player cannot collect the laurel), having the majority of your animal tokens in an exhibit to be able to move one of the tokens, or getting enough people in the exhibit to vote affirmatively for you to advance your animal token. When a player is allowed to move to an exhibit with a yes vote from others, not only will they collect the laurel token they pass but the other player(s) will receive a I laurel token from the supply. Or, perhaps, they will ask for some more payment from the player wishing to move, or maybe a yes vote for them to move from another exhibit on their next turn. Peacocks can also be votes in your favor if they are in an exhibit, but their loyalty comes with a price: a minimum of a II laurel token (it cannot be two I laurel tokens).

Advancing a peacock works just like advancing a faction animal token, except they don’t take laurel tokens and don’t need votes. Moving a peacock into an exhibit will net the player who does so a I laurel token. Finally, the zookeeper can move anywhere on the board where a laurel token resides. They cover up the laurel token, meaning that animals can freely move without a vote to the next exhibit but cannot collect the laurel token under the zookeeper.

Each faction also possesses two ability tiles that other players may use, but players may not use their own ability tokens. Just like movement, the use of these ability tokens can be negotiated (for example, a player may want to use your faction’s ability and agree to pay you a III laurel token to use it). Once an ability token has been used, it will go behind the player’s screen of that faction and they will collect the number of I laurel tokens shown by the laurel symbols at the bottom of the ability token. These ability tokens can also be refreshed by collecting certain laurel tokens from the board that not only award points but also additional bonus actions.

The game continues until the star exhibit is full, at which point players count the total of laurels they have accumulated. The player with the most points is the winner, and in case of a tie, the player who arrived at the star exhibit first is declared the winner.

Zoo Vadis components

Zoo Vadis photo provided by the publisher

Review

Zoo Vadis is a cute and creative reimagining of Quo Vadis, though much of the political and economic vices of old remain. This will immediately be a red flag for players who crave player interaction, but fear games where people can become cutthroat, alliances form, and progress can be stilted.

However, Zoo Vadis does a good job of trying to limit those interactions in favor of highlighting compromise and strategy. Not only do peacocks play a pivotal role in helping players advance, but also knowing when to sacrifice a laurel token by choosing to move the zookeeper nearby is key. Also, making an agreement – such as a tit-for-tat for yes votes – and not backing out of it after you’ve received the benefit to leave the player who helped out in the cold, goes a long way to keeping the game quick, light, and engaging.

Games like Zoo Vadis are strong teaching tools for cooperation, challenging players to think more long-term in both how they’ll advance through the zoo with their tokens and peacocks to gain majorities, but also in aiding others along in their journeys so that everyone can have some prosperity near the end. However, Zoo Vadis is a competitive game, so there will always be the element of obtaining as many of the highest laurel tokens as one can during their journey to the star exhibit.

This racing element is really the x-factor of Zoo Vadis. If a player is able to gain some quick majorities and yes votes, they may be able to maneuver quickly to the star exhibit area and secure a spot. Then, they can use the rest of the time to collect laurel tokens with their other animal tokens. Of course, the other players may be shrewd and decide to thwart this strategy.

That’s the beauty of Zoo Vadis. With its underlying sociopolitical themes and gameplay, the mood of the game will be very dependent on the group playing it. There is much to gain and learn, especially for younger gamers, in Zoo Vadis. But it won’t be a game for everyone, despite some fantastic art by Kwanchai Moriya and excellent components in the deluxe edition. These are certainly going to draw people into Bitewing’s campaign, but will players who crave positive interactions be all-in?

Zoo Vadis is currently on Kickstarter.

 

Pros: Fantastic Art and design, Clever use of cooperation and compromise as primary mechanics

Cons: May be too cutthroat for some players