I first became aware of Uwe Rosenburg’s New York Zoo in an online video highlighting the top upcoming releases to watch out for. Uwe’s design, polyominoes and the most adorable animeeples...Sign. Me. Up.
New York Zoo is an abstract puzzle game in which you’re trying to complete your zoo. Do this by placing animal enclosures and attractions to complete your construction board, before your opponents.
Though gameplay initially seems simple (and it is really easy to grasp) with just two options on your turn, the choices you make need to be strategic and carefully planned, because as well as filling up your zoo with enclosures and attractions, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got enough animals in your various enclosures when it’s breeding time!
Set-up is relatively straightforward. All of the adorable meeples need to be placed in their respective piles. You take a game board, dependent on your player count, and take the starting meeples indicated by your board.
The main zoo board is placed in the middle of the play area and the polyomino tiles placed in the little gaps, according to their colour lightest green to darkest green. Take your time with this, as getting any of the shapes in the wrong spots may cause the game to be slightly unbalanced.
The elephant meeple is placed on the red spot on the main zoo board.
The attractions need to be organised according to size and placed within reach of all players.
You’re ready to start!
Let’s Build a Zoo
On your turn, you may move the Elephant meeple up to four squares (you may stop before though). When the Elephant meeple lands on your chosen space you follow the actions of that space. You’re limited to two different types of space. There will either be tiles and so you must place the topmost tile on your personal zoo board OR there will be two animals on the space and you then collect both of those animals (you may place animals inside enclosures if you wish - up to 2 per turn).
If you’re after one animal, in particular, you may also land on an available animal space and instead of taking the two animals shown on that space, take any ONE animal of your choice. This can be handy when you’re getting close to completing an enclosure or the animal you seek is about to breed!
Once you have taken your turn, the other players take their turns moving clockwise.
To place a tile into your zoo board, you must also have an animal to place into that enclosure. This can either be from the three holding enclosures on the top left of your board, or you may relocate an animal from another enclosure, so long as you don’t leave an enclosure empty.
As you progress around the board, breeding will be activated for animal types. If at that point you have two or more of one type of animal in the same enclosure, they breed! You may take one more of that animal and place it in the same enclosure!
Once an enclosure is full, you may empty the entire enclosure in order to take an attraction! Attractions are great because they are either large tiles that take up a decent amount of space on your board, or they’re small 1x1 or 1x2 tiles that you need for those awkward gaps you’ve accidentally left behind. When you empty an enclosure to take an attraction you may keep one animal, to place into your holding enclosures.
In A New York Minute
New York Zoo is a race to the finish line. You’ll want to fill up your construction board as fast as you can, but as you need to place an animal in every enclosure you acquire you’ll want to keep an eye on your animal population too. Plus, as mentioned, filling animal enclosures is the only way to get your hands on the smallest tiles that’ll fill any potential gaps you’ll have!
Penguins and Meerkats and Roo’s, Oh My!
New York Zoo is immediately a very attractive game. The meeples, the tiles and the main zoo board are all of high quality and look and feel good. What I really enjoy is the choice of animal meeples that they went with. I certainly didn’t have any Arctic fox or Red kangaroo meeples before!
I was a little disappointed, however, in the quality of the construction boards which are just made from cardstock. They work, and it’s not a huge deal, but I was expecting something more robust, along the lines of the Calico boards.
New York Zoo is a lovely, lightly strategic tile-placement game that is so visually appealing. Its gentle racing gameplay isn’t too stress-inducing, and as such, I find it a calming, enjoyable experience to play.
The components are great and it feels well worth its value.
As the game doesn’t take up a massive chunk of time, roughly 30-45 minutes, it’s easy enough to get to the table. Games are never going to be greatly different from each other, but I still think New York Zoo has good replayability due to the abstract nature of play.
I do wish sometimes there were some point-scoring objectives, to deepen the strategic elements. I’d love to have certain restrictions on where attractions could be placed for scoring points, for example. Or trying to end your game with an enclosure full of Meerkats. I suppose this is always something you could house rule if you were trying to make the game more challenging for yourself.
All in all, the game works. And it’s nice to have some games that don’t feel like the world ended when you lose!
If you enjoyed the drafting, tile placement and puzzley nature of New York Zoo, you might want to try similar games like Barenpark or Patchwork. If you’re looking for something more challenging, with more objectives and complex scoring, you could try to get your hands on the wonderful Isle of Cats.