Review – Miller Zoo

pic7275561

 

Designer Thomas Dagenais-Lespérance

Publisher Randolph

Category Cooperative, Campaign

Length 30 minutes

Release Date 2023

Player Count 1-6

Miller Zoo is a lightweight campaign game for families, with a slight legacy element. Over the course of several games, as players manage the titular zoo, they will face new challenges and surprises. Ready to try your hand at being an animal keeper?

Review

Miller Zoo is a cooperative game based on a real-life zoo in Quebec. Taking on the roles of the zoo’s actual staff, players work together to care for the animals, recruit new ones, and manage problems that arise.

The goal of the game is to complete the scenario objective before the resource deck runs out. In the introductory game, this objective is to receive 7 animals into their appropriate habitats.

Miller Zoo uses a few different kinds of cards. Resource cards are the core of the game’s economy—each one shows 1 or 2 resource icons. Needs cards represent the needs of the animals, such as hunger, medical care, or grooming. Players can spend matching resources to resolve these needs. Animal cards represent the creatures themselves, including their needs, the cost to receive them, and the habitat where they will live.

Each game round represents a day of zoo operations. There are 4 phases to the round:

  1. DAWN: Everyone draws a hand of 4 resource cards.
  2. MORNING: Each player draws a needs card and places the indicated problem token(s) on any animals in the zoo with matching needs. For example, if a needs card showed hunger, the player would have to place a hunger token on all animals with the hunger icon.
  3. AFTERNOON: Players spend resource cards to move about the board, discard matching problem tokens, or receive new animals (more on this below).
  4. NIGHT: Once they are done spending cards, if any problems remain on the board, players must resolve a crisis. To do this, they continue flipping cards from the resource deck until matching icons have been found for every remaining problem. Since players lose if the resource deck runs out, crises hurt because they waste cards.
Raphaël the turtle is hungry…

…so we spend a food to remove his hunger token!

As for recruiting new animals, the board consists of 7 spaces: 3 habitats and 4 reception spaces. When receiving a new animal, players must spend resources equal to the animal’s reception cost (e.g. 2 yellow, 1 green, and 1 blue resource). Then, the animal can be moved into its new home.

Play continues like this until either the scenario objective has been met, in which case players win, or until the resources run out, in which case they lose.

Miller Zoo is intended to be played as a campaign, and it includes a few legacy elements which change the game from one round to the next. Unlike many legacy games, which significantly increase in complexity as time goes on, Miller Zoo remains pretty simple throughout the campaign.


There aren’t many lightweight campaign/legacy games out there, so Miller Zoo fits an interesting niche. Its gameplay is very simple—basically just playing cards to match icons—so it works well as a kids game, or as a game for kids and adults to play together. In the latter case, the grownups can help to guide the strategy, but the kids will make plays that make them feel smart, as if they solved a problem on their own.

I don’t think Miller Zoo will hold the interest of most all-adult game groups, but this doesn’t bother me. The rules state that when an animal is received into the zoo, players should celebrate by imitating that animal’s sound; clearly this game is aimed at younger players.

What could be in these envelopes?

The components of Miller Zoo work well, and the animal illustrations are lovely and evocative. Even though the game is mostly just symbol matching, players feel a sense of moral urgency when an animal is thirsty or in need of medical attention. Despite its abstracted gameplay, the theme does come through.

In terms of design, Miller Zoo doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s a decent co-op nonetheless. The fact that it’s based on a real zoo gives it a cool, real-world connection, and it makes me want to visit the actual Miller Zoo someday.

Bottom line, this game won’t wow the average adult gamer, but it’s a good choice to play with kids.

A review copy was provided by Hachette Boardgames.

The Bottom Line

While this game will not hold the attention of an all-adult game group, it is a good choice for kids and families to play together.

 

7

Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.