Games: Coloretto & Zooloretto

Sometimes the simplest games are the most fun. And sometimes, not so much.

Take, for instance, the titles on my selection of Ten Great “Two-Minute” Card Games. Despite their simplicity, each has it’s fans. No Thanks! has been my filler of choice for the last few years, and I’ve been playing Slide 5 for a decade or so.

But one game on that list that has always left me cold is Coloretto. The game is played with a deck containing cards of seven different colors (the cards have no value; only their color counts). On a turn, a player does one of two things:

  • Turns over the next card from the deck and adds it to one of the rows; or
  • Takes a row of cards and drops out for the remainder of the round.

There is one row for every player (e.g., four rows in a four-player-game), and each row may contain a maximum of three cards. Once every player has taken a row, a new round begins.

When taking a row, a player puts the claimed cards into his play area. His goal is to get as many cards as possible in three colors only, and to avoid taking cards in any additional colors. At the end of the game, cards in the three chosen colors count as points, while cards in other colors count as negative points.

The central dilemma in the game quickly becomes apparent: you may draw a card in a color you desire, but you can’t keep it; instead you must add it to a row and hope that another player doesn’t claim that row before your next turn. Even if the row does gets back around to you, it’s unlikely that it won’t have been “poisoned”; upon drawing a card they don’t particularly want, players will often assess the available rows, identify one that is attractive to another player and add the junk card to it, thereby lessening its value considerably. This is what makes the game so tense–and occasionally maddening.

The “draw a card or take a row” element of Coloretto is the sort of twist that I typically love. But, for some reason, Coloretto just doesn’t do it for me.

So why is it on my list of “great” two-minute card games, you may ask. Well, I appear to be in the minority regarding my opinion of the game. It has a composite rating of 7.2 on Boardgame Geek, which is fairly phenomenal for a game this light. And, truth be told, I recognize its brilliance–which is to say, I appreciate Coloretto without particularly enjoying it. There just doesn’t seem to be enough game in there to hold my interest.

Enter Zooloretto. Designer Michael Schacht took the central mechanism of Coloretto and added sufficient bells and whistles to make the thing interesting, but not so many that the game leaves the realm of light, family fare.

Each player begins with a zoo, complete with three animal enclosures and a barn. Here again you can elect to draw on your turn, but now you draw tiles from a bag instead of cards from a deck. The tiles show either one of eight animals (kangaroos, flamingos, gorillas, etc.), market stalls, or coins. A draw tile must be added to one of the rows–or, in this incarnation, trucks–in the center of a table. A player may instead take a truck, distribute the animals and stalls in his zoo, and drop out for the remainder of the round. An enclosure can only hold one type of animals; animals that cannot be fit into the main zoo are relegated to the barn.

So far, pretty much the same as its predecessor. But this game introduces the concept of money, which can be spent to shuffle animals around, steal them from other players, or discard them entirely. (“Paulie Panda has been sent to live with Uncle Chester, who has a big farm he can roam in …”) Market stalls can also be used to eke out a few extra points here and there. As in the original, too much of a good thing is bad: at the end of the game you score points for animals in your enclosures, but lose them for the unloved critters in the barn.

Zooloretto is cute, easy to learn, short (figure 45 minutes a game), and not too confrontational (though there is an element of screw-your-buddy in the mix). My only gripe is that there are a couple of obscure rules regarding money that strike me as both overly finicky and largely unnecessary (yeah, I know I’m a hypocrite: lambaste Coloretto for having too few rules and Zooloretto for having too many). Minor grievances aside, though, Zooloretto is one of the best family light strategy games of 2007.

It Came From the Comments: Dissension! Dave writes: “I feel exactly the opposite. I find Coloretto to be a perfectly pleasant card game and Zooloretto to be unnecessary complication of the mechanics.” I’m sure a lot of people feel that way, though I’ve heard plenty take my position as well. I suspect it comes down to this: do you prefer elegance (Coloretto), or the “board game experience” (Zooloretto). I’m squarely in the latter camp.

Also, here’s Michael on Zooloretto’s suitably as a “family game”: “The first game ended in tears from my son, the second in tears from both of them … I think you underestimate the meanness of this game.” Actually, I don’t–much of the game comes down to making life miserable for your opponents. My mistake, I think, is calling this a “family game.” I was using “family game” as shorthand for “light strategy game for adults,” not “great for the yungins.” I will correct that now.

* * *

6 comments.

  1. I feel exactly the opposite. I find Coloretto to be a perfectly pleasant card game and Zooloretto to be unnecessary complication of the mechanics.

    Incidentally, Coloretto can be played online here:
    http://www.marquand.net/index.php?topic=coloretto

  2. What’s your complaint about Zooloretto money?

  3. Our family plays a lot of games. Perhaps because of this my kids (7 and 9 – at the time) are both very good game players. By which I mean, not only do they tactically hold there own, but they are good sports. Generally, they win and lose well, they pay attention when it is not their turn, they don’t gloat or sulk.

    I too appreciate Coloretto’s simplicity and beauty and was excited for Zooloretto. We’ve played it exactly three times – the first game ended in tears from my son, the second in tears from both of them, and I just about forced them to play the third as a “get back on the horse” game.

    They have no interest in playing it again. Though I’m hoping in a few years it will be back in rotation.

    I think you underestimate the meanness of this game. The “screw your neighbor” aspect of the game didn’t work at all for this family.

  4. Here’s what Bossy absorbs when reading directions of any kind: Eeeeeeeeeeeee.

  5. Heh. Michael, my experience with the two games is completely opposite. My kids hated their two playings of Coloretto (and I wasn’t thrilled with my third play, with adults). Zooloretto works out for all of us, though. There are some mechanisms in Zooloretto that mitigate the pure “take that” nature of Coloretto. For us, anyway.

  6. Just another vote for the Up With Coloretto movement, and the Meh On Zooloretto one. But then I thought Coloretto was a pretty tight and fun little game well before I tried Zooloretto, so I might have been biased.