Canada is a special place for me and I love nature themed games. So a co-operative conservation themed family weight game set in the land of maple syrup and ice hockey instantly piqued my interest. For 1-6 players, MILLER ZOO game is all about problem solving. Animals have problems. We as zookeepers have resources. The twain shall meet and the zoo will be all the better for it! Or at least that is the goal! What surprised us, however, was the campaign style, legacy element of it – new challenges and a gentle progression that seemed to sneak in when someone left an enclosure door open!
So what is Miller Zoo exactly? Well, we are the Miller Zoo team. Based on a real zoo in, it’s our job to make sure our animals stay safe as well as thrive! But we only have limited resources so we must allocate them wisely. We win the game together if we can house 7 new inhabitants and clear the problems off all the animal cards before the resource deck runs out!
A Day In The Life Of A Zoo Keeper!
Super simple rules - each round has 4 phases; at “dawn” we each draw resource cards that have a combination of symbols on them. “Morning” comes and we place problem tokens on our existing resident animals that will relate to those resources. Then in the “afternoon” phase we decide which zookeepers are moving to which enclosure areas – this will be steered by what resources each player has and what active problems each animal is facing. Movements are limited so it’s a case of working out who can get to where in the most efficient and effective manner. But different resources on the same card can be allocated to different animals in the same enclosure area (but can only be used once). It’s also the time we welcome new inhabitants to spare enclosure spots. When “night” falls, we have to manage crises (i.e. any unresolved problems). These are managed by allocating resources from the deck. However, every resource taken from the deck reduces the time we have to solve the problems coming up. Why? Because the deck also acts as the timer for the entire game! Once the deck runs out, we have to down tools and determine whether we have won or lost! If all the new inhabitants aren’t safely bedded down and the zoo is running well, we have to pull our zookeeper bootstraps up and try again!
If you win, however, you then get to open an envelope (6 in total!) which includes new challenges, powers and resources.
Miller Zoo is a great introduction to co-operative play for groups with younger players! Actions are simple so everyone can participate in the collective decision making about using resources to best effect.
The first game is basic but it gets you used to the rhythm and resource/needs/movement balance. The campaign adds more challenges that increase the competing priorities slightly but nothing that would take it out of the realm of introductory play. There’s also a solo mode. The addition of new powers to your zookeepers as well as new animal cards with more complex needs also keep games interesting as you progress. Because the basic 4 stages don’t change there will be few if any new rules to have to learn along the way. This might feel a little limiting for experienced players. But as every game is only around 30 mins, it makes it a great choice when you have a group with younger players in the mix. Plus there’s nothing to stop your group trying to resolve multiple challenges at once which will up the ante! And if our 8 year old is a typical younger co-op player, feeling like you’re winning is always seen as a good thing!