Everyone loves to visit a zoo. But how about managing it on your home table? Find out which are currently the 5 best zoo board games on the market in 2023.
Introduction to 5 Best Zoo Board Games in 2023
For a regular Joe or Jane like me, zoos are pretty much the only place we can see exotic animals live and up close. However morally questionable they are (the animals are held in captivity after all), they are also a valuable asset in animal research in preservation.
If nothing else, they inspire millions around the world and encourage them to explore the natural beauties of our world. Every kid remembers the first they went to the zoo and saw animals like elephants, tigers, giraffes, and others. It’s truly a magical moment.
Of course, zoos made their way into gaming. Working at a zoo is a dream job for many, after all. And games allow you to focus on the fun parts of it, rather than the mundane everyday routines and long hours. But in games, it’s about planning your zoo layout, building pens, taking care of animals and visitors, and making money.
Video games paved the way with various “theme” games, but board games are following their path and there are several available on the market. In this article, we take a look at the Top 5 Zoo Board Games currently.
If you click on an affiliate link, it will take you to the Amazon store. If you then buy something, I will earn a commission – I am a member of the Amazon Associates program, as well as others.
Playing time: 45 minutes
Players: best with 3-5
Zooloretto is the most accessible game on our list. It’s perfect for families, as its game mechanics cater to both beginner and advanced gamers.
You are, of course, managing a zoo. It already comes pre-built for you (you can expand it later), so your main task is to populate it with animals. Therefore, players draw animals from a stack and add them to wagons, which hold up to three. Instead of drawing an animal, you can take a wagon and place the animals on it in your zoo.
Here’s where the fun begins. Each pen can only hold one type of animal, so there’s a strong element of set collection involved. Moreover, if you have a male and a female in the same pen, you get one free offspring. There’s the breeding part. 🙂
The animals you can’t or don’t want to place end up in your barn, scoring negative points. But there are ways to manage those, too. There are also coins in the draw stack (they can be used to rearrange animals, discard them, or buy them from other players), as well as vending stalls, that šrpvide extra points at the end game scoring.
While the kids are kept busy with collecting and breeding animals, more advanced players will try to snatch animals from others, hoping to sell them back to them later, fill the trucks that others want with unwanted animals, and so on. Something for everyone.
Playing time: 90 minutes
Players: best with 2-4
This game is definitely the odd one out on our list and that is for several reasons.
The theme is zoo-ish … if you stretch it a bit. You play as an imp family, starting a business of breeding and selling pets. But these are no ordinary pets – they are to be sold to Dungeon Lords (incidentally, this is also the title of the prequel) to work in their, well, dungeons. Therefore, you’ve got all sorts of magical monsters you can breed.
Perhaps the stand-out game mechanic is the bidding in the worker placement phase. Players simultaneously prepare different-sized groups of imps (workers) and the largest group gets to act first. Prepare a bigger group to make sure you’re the first to get the wanted actions space or prepare several smaller groups to carry out more actions?
Pets demand different food and items, they can grow and gain value, while the Lords also have their peculiarities and demands, which you will try to fulfill one way or the other.
But behind a silly theme with an equally silly (but wonderful) artwork, lies a deep strategic eurogame that uses worker placement, resource management, and bidding as its main mechanisms. It’s not for casual players, as the learning process is lengthy, but the game is full of variety and offers different strategies.
Dungeon Petz is an excellent strategy game for more advanced players, particularly those familiar with its prequel and other works of Vlaada Chvatil.
New York Zoo
Playing time: 30-60 minutes
Players: best with 1-4
All right, we’re out of the deep end and back in the shallow waters. But, since this is a title from another famous designer, Uwe Rosenberg, the game is far from being a brainless faff. You’re managing a New York Zoo, expanding it, and adding animals.
Tile placement is the name of the game. On your turn, you either take a tile or you take animals. If you want to take a tile, you must have an animal to place on it. If you place two animals of the same kind, they will breed, once an enclosure is full, you can empty it to buy an attraction, and so on.
Many small nuances create a trademark tight and tactical game, very akin to Patchwork, another tile-placement small game by Uwe. While that one is completely abstract, New York Zoo at least feels it has some theme around it and it’s a lovely tile placement engagement.
Playing time: 30-45 minutes
Players: best with 2-4
If you’re looking for an even lighter polyomino board game, bears are your answer. Here, your zoo is focused entirely on different bear species and their appropriate enclosures. Brown bears, polar bears, Kodiak bears, and even koalas – the variety of species are plentiful.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward. You start with one piece of the park map onto which you lay polyomino tiles of various shapes and types. Further tiles and map pieces can be unlocked by covering certain icons on the map. On top of that, you can fill your map with kiosks to cater to the ever-hungry visitors.
When you fill out all 4 pieces of the map, your park is scored. For advanced play, you can include achievements that mix things up a bit. All in all, Bärenpark is a very simple and laid-back tile-laying board game that anyone can instantly enjoy. Another game perfect for families and kids.
Playing time: 90-150 minutes
Players: best with 1-3
If you ever wanted to experience zoo management to its fullest, your best bet was video games. That was until Ark Nova came around in late 2021. You’re in charge of several aspects of zoo management, in particular:
- the overall layout of the zoo: pens, kiosks, pavillions, special enclosures, and attractions,
- the species of animals in pens,
- managing associations with universities and other zoos.
While the appeal (how attractive it is) of your zoo directly influences your earnings and victory points, the bulk of the latter will be earned by doing precious conservation projects. Your mission is not just to manage your zoo to make the most money, but to help preserve and thrive endangered species.
For that purpose, fulfillment of conservation projects will demand you to collect various sets of animals (i.e. animals from Africa, birds, reptiles, etc.) or you might even release an animal back into the wilderness. While this will hurt your financial appeal, it will do wonders for your conservation points.
The game is driven by a clever action selection mechanism. There are only 5 actions (draw cards, build, add animals, play sponsor cards, associate), but the actions grow stronger the longer they are unused. Therefore, you are always weighing whether t use the action you need now, or use another action and push the first one further right, making it stronger for later use.
The end-game trigger is also interesting. It happens when your points and conservation tracks, starting at opposing ends, meet. Thus the length of the game directly depends on how hard players try to win, allowing you to even play at a leisurely pace, taking it all in on the way.
Ark Nova has quickly risen through the ranks and some even consider it among the best board games of all time. While this might be a stretch, there’s no denying that it’s really really good and definitely the best zoo board game available.
Do you like what you just read? Consider subscribing for more content: