Review: Zoo Ball
Designer: Duncan Molloy
Artist: Lauren “Iguanamouth” Dawson
Publisher: Osprey Games
Category: Action / Dexterity, Animals, Sports
Players: 2, 4
Price: $30.00 Amazon
Zoo Ball is designer Duncan Molloy’s second published game. Molloy’s first game was Secret Santa, also published through Osprey Games. Employed at Osprey, Duncan runs the board and card games division of Osprey Games.
Osprey Games is an imprint of Osprey Publishing, originally established in 1969. Osprey Publishing is a longtime book publisher, including many prints of wargames and tactical historical military titles. The King is Dead is Osprey Games first printed board game. Osprey Games has also published titles such as Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, Frostgrave, Odin’s Ravens, Escape from Colditz, and the upcoming reprint of London, by Martin Wallace.
In my early introduction to modern board gaming, I tried quite a few different genres, including bland euros, heavy ameritrash, and plenty of fast dice and card games. Originally, I enjoyed social deduction games like The Resistance or Shadows Over Camelot. I now actively flee from them. The longer I gamed, the more I learned I prefer engine-building games, or titles that reward planning for the end-game. In fact, I’ve moved so much into lengthier games and bigger, heavier games, that I never get to spend much time with shorter games, let alone dexterity games.
Zoo Ball has been an extremely refreshing breath of air for me. It’s one of many titles I’ll be reviewing over the next few months that have reinvigorated my love for simple games that pack a lot of love and energy into short timespans.
Zoo Ball is a 2 or 4 player disc-flicking dexterity game.
After spending an agonizing 15 minutes assembling teams of animal stickers onto 16 discs, you’ll unpack the bumpy mat onto a table, and begin flicking your life away.
Zoo Ball teaches rather quickly, with only two and a half-ish pages of large fonts telling you how to play. Most of the rulebook holds blurbs of once-famous Zoo Ball professionals giving color commentary on both their glory days, and how to actually play the game. The back and forth is clever and made us guffaw as I read them out loud. It’s cheesy, sure, but it helps set the tone of the game. In a Vlaada Chivatl sort of way, it’s a bit confusing to learn a game while reading humorous quips, but thankfully Zoo Ball is so easy to pick up that it’s only a bother on the initial reading of the rules.
Speaking of rules, they couldn’t be easier to memorize. In a two player game, both teams pick their four discs of the same color. On your turn, you can either flick 1-3 of your defenders, or flick your scorer. After this, the other players chooses what to do. This continues until one player flicks his scorer into the opposing player’s goal (or circle). After this happens, the scoring player gets a single point, and both players reset their discs.
The first player to 3 scores wins the match and bragging rights until you play again.
You will play again. You might even play five games in a row. You might take turns in one v. one stand-offs with new players taking over for the loser. Zoo Ball has that weird aura to it that you might remember from your younger years. Maybe it was like doing one v. ones in Halo 2 on Lockout with buddies because you only had two controllers. Maybe it was warming up before a pickup game with first person to 3 baskets declared winner. We’ve all had these moments in life to some extent, and Zoo Ball channels this beautifully.
Strategically, some players might rely on initial Hail Mary flick to get their scorer across the mat. If you knock your disc off your opponent’s side it restarts back on your own sideline, so this balances heavy hitters and fast offense. This can be used to the defender’s advantage as you can counter a big hit up front by using defenders to knock the scorer either away from your goal, or off the sideline for a restart.
Choosing to activate your scorer or defenders are key to the pacing of each game. Every round, you’ll need to decide whether or not delaying your opponent’s scorer is more important than getting your scorer into better position. You’ll gauge the short distance your opponent has to score, and ultimately decide you can do better. You’ll flick your scorer across the mat, only to miss and have your opponent follow up with an easy score. Sometimes you’ll biff and flick the mat, barely moving your own piece. Other times, you’ll hit an amazing shot from across the field, bouncing off an opponent’s defender, scoring an absolutely clutch goal.
Zoo Ball makes for exciting moments and lots of come from behind victories. Dexterity games are so different from other genres of board games. This makes Zoo Ball very accessible for many age groups. I just played a number of games the other evening with some friends my age. We blasted some Daft Punk and Starcraft and flicked the night away.
Aside from the rulebook, my only other beefs with Zoo Ball are component related. The mat is quite bumpy, and I think in order to keep it flat, you’d need some heavy books sitting on it for a day or two. The rulebook instructs specifically not to iron the mat, so I won’t, but I’d love some kind of instructional on how to care for it and keep it flat. That said, the creases and raised areas basically create hills and slopes. Sure, it adds to the character of the game, but it’s a crapshoot on people who like the hills and people who think they take away from the game. At this point, I find the raised areas amusing because of how it affects players trying to defend their goal, only to send discs sledding off a ramp over and above my scorer.
Another issue is discs will go flying off the mat with a high frequency. In fact, we’ve had the wooden discs get knicked on various surfaces around the house. I currently have one inoperable team with a disc that snags on the mat when flicked. I’ll need to sand down the disc to use it again. It’s a downside because I imagine this can happen commonly, and it’s not a typical issue with board games. The solution is to either flick lightly and penalize for long shots, or set up barriers around the mat.
That’s another thing about Zoo Ball—it seems to beg for player-created rulesets to add to the fun.
I haven’t played four-player yet, though I’ve heard it’s far too random to enjoy. I’ve brainstormed different mat types with friends. Like tennis players adjust to different types of courts, I’m imagining the differences in playing on a marked up steel surface, or directly on a wooden countertop. The game is silly enough that you could even add various items from your house onto the mat to add obstacles to flick around. Zoo Ball gladly presents these opportunities to switch things up.
I very much enjoy this game. The price sits at $30, and I do think that’s a bit high. With all the fun in the box, I’d be more satisfied at a $23-25 price point, though I think it’s worth what you pay.
If you are looking for a good dexterity game, look no further. This one is raucous, hilarious, and full of fun.
A review copy of Zoo Ball was provided by Osprey Games.
The Bottom Line
Zoo Ball is a fast, fun, and accessible dexterity game with high quality art and components. Though the mat is a bit of a pain, the game offers tons of replayability, and is a hit every time it comes to the table.