Zuuli game review; a fierce and friendly card game published by Unfringed Things

Publisher: Unfringed Things

Designer: Chris Priscott
Artist:  Chris Priscott

Release Date: 2022

1-5 Players

Age: 8+ (6+ tried and tested!)

15 mins

Favouritefoe score: 9/10

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Live Play through and Rapid Review Videos coming soon!

Zuuli by Unfringed Things: * Card Drafting * Pick and Pass * Developing * Tableau Building * Filler * Strategy * Fun * Light *

Always fancied being a zoo-keeper, but never had the room to house hephalumps? Well, thanks to publisher, Unfringed Things, and debut designer Chris Priscott, you will soon be able to add Zuuli-ologist to your CV!

Containing a bucketful of cute, as well as a sprinkling of think, this friendly looking little card game provides a fiercer gaming experience than first meets the eye!

Filler Up!

Zuuli is quick to set up and quick to play. As snappy as a crocodile lurking within the deck, you can exercise your zuuli-ology muscles within 15 minutes. It sits comfortably within the “filler” category of games, leaving plenty of room for a more substantial experience.

But, and as will be explained later, it doesn’t always end at a neat quarter hour. And in fact, on more than one occasion, it has become the starter, main course, and dessert of our gaming feast. But more on that a little later.

Played over 3 rounds (“years” in Zuuli speak), you will be selecting animals and placing them in the most suitable (and profitable!) enclosures each time.  The enclosures are a mixture of any of the 3 different habitats (jungles, plains, and water), and come in various shapes and sizes.

Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Suitably Snappy!

The cardinal rule in Zuuli is that an animal can only live in an enclosure if it is suitable. And suitability is determined by (a) habitat type, (b) animal trait, and (c) space.  And that makes sense.

You wouldn’t house a fierce angler fish in the dry, dusty plains (well you might, but it would quickly become a fried fish supper!). Nor would you put it in with a cute tree frog looking to find its new best buddy. Likewise, a Zuuliphant (ok, ok, an elephant) is a big  beast needing plenty of room (5 spaces in fact). Squeezing it onto an Open Air Island with space for only 2 wouldn’t work in any dimension, and definitely make for a humpy hephalump!

So, when planning out your initial zoo design, you have to mix and match your animals and pen types in a way that complies with the cardinal rule. And for all those that do, you get to multiply the value of the animals held in each enclosure by the “satisfaction” value on the relevant cage, vivarium, or pool.

If you can’t house an animal anywhere suitable, however, they have to be discarded and their value gets deducted from your annual tally.

Zuuli by Unfringed Things
Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Picking Plots!

So, how do you actually build your Zuuli-oo?

Well, everybody begins Year 1 with one purple backed ‘new plot’ card and 9 random white backed cards from the deck. Keeping one card (yep, only one!), you then pass your hand of 8 cards to the player on your left. The picking and passing continues until you have a full compliment of 9 cards again.

Ideally, your first round hand will be a mixture of animals, enclosures, and upgrades. But the anatomy of your opening salvo will very much depend on what you picked, as well as what has been picked for you.

And the right mix is a delicate balance to strike indeed. Mainly because you need everything, but not necessarily all at once. And definitely not all in year one!

You need animals – it would be a sad day at your Zuuli without any Lionzzzz, Slothies, or Jellyfishies! But, as mentioned above, you can only keep them if they each have somewhere suitable to live.

But you also need enclosures. And you need enclosures with enough space, as well as the right kinds of habitats. Not only that, but some of the residents also have their own high maintenance requirements (yes, Lion, I am talking to you!), which you will need to consider when allocating them a desirable des res.

Zuuli by Unfringed Things
Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Fierce friends?

And if that lot wasn’t enough, you’ll need to bear in mind that God’s creatures aren’t always bosom buddies. So, those with sharp teeth and even sharper tongues usually have to stick together. Enclosures for just one fierce animal type are therefore the order of the day. In comparison, the cuddlier ones are social butterflies, and so can mingle together like undergraduates at a fresher’s week house party. So long as there is enough elbow room for the lot, that is.

Not bad in the tricky trade-off stakes for a 15 minute card game, right?!

Zuuli by Unfringed Things
Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Mature Mammals!

Now, if in year one your Zuuli-oo looks more like Zombieland after Tallahassee and Columbus have spent a week or two hanging out there than San Diego’s diamond standard zoo, don’t be disheartened.

Whilst you may take a hit on points at the end of your first round (cold comfort to know perhaps but you can never go lower than zero) by having too many enclosures and not enough inhabitants (or vice versa), think of it as laying the land. After all, points are better late than never, right?

You see, ass you go into years 2 and 3, you’ll be getting more cards (albeit fewer) each time. And picking and passing is still the way your hand builds up. But, you will be able to move the animals you have previously settled into your existing enclosures around, as well as adding in the latest residents.

True, you can’t relocate habitat extensions or space expansions laid in a previous year. And you can still only add animals if they are suitable in terms of space, trait, and habitat type. But you can indeed do the Tree Frog tap dance and re-jiggle your animals to better suit new room and board arrangements.

Zuuli by Unfringed Things
Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Cute but Crunchy!

And that is possibly the biggest and best surprise in Zuuli. That you can and want to develop. You can better optimise the limited use of space as your place (hopefully) gets busier. You can go back and rework what you have done before.

Without doubt, the colourful, water squrting Zuuliphants (nope, I really tried but I just can’t call them elephants!), and huggy-bear Sloths make it look like a cute, kid’s card game. Playtime also slap bangs you into the core zone when it comes to engaging little gamer’s attention spans.

But, behind those sweet smiles hides a sprinkling of sharp strategy. Certainly enough to keep you second guessing yourself at the initial picking and passing stage, as well as the later building phase each round. Have you optimised your hand? Have you designed the best Zuuuli-oo you can?

And, if Zuuli was a one and done type game; deal, build, score, end, then the experience would be alright. Fleeting, predominantly luck driven, and probably forgettable. Nothing special. But Zuuli isn’t that – there is a slick of special sauce on this unassuming gaming snack.

No. The designer’s clever combination of reducing hand size, and re-organisation of your tableau, means that you suddenly have a chance and therefore a responsibility to do better. To turn the game around with some smart choices.

Your Zuuli-oo in Year 1 will look very different to the end position in Year 3, and that is all down to you. How you mitigate the luck of the cards drawn (and meddled). How you best maximise what you have ended up with. And if you don’t?  Well, don’t plan on heading back to your shelves any time soon. Because this game will challenge you to do better. To sit there until you are no longer ashamed of your paltry attempts at animal husbandry! Oooft…..now that is a lot for a little box!

Zuuli by Unfringed Things
Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Satisfying Snack!

And that is precisely what I meant when I said that this snack can turn into a 3 course gaming meal. Playtime doesn’t really vary from game to game. Not unless you have a serious AP attack. You’ll still be sitting back, surveying the end results after around 15 minutes. But, like a tube of well-known spherical shaped fried potato snacks, once you pop, you might find it tricky to stop!

This game gets under my skin. It shouldn’t. It should be a simple case of build a zoo, and if it is isn’t as Madagascar marvellous as my opponents, then never mind. But I can’t leave it.

If I have made terrible decisions that have led to my Zuuliphants being discarded, then we have to go again. Because, even when it doesn’t make any sense, I can’t seem to pass a happy helphalump to another player. Year one should be about enclosures, and not ellies! But I can’t let Zuuliphant go! And it isn’t just me. My 6ft 3 Shadow Meeple wants them. I want them. And we aren’t done until we are each happy with our Zuuli-oos!

Zuuli by Unfringed Things
Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Solo Savagery!

Now, I have been told that I am my own worst critic. And without doubt, Zuuli gives me a cute colourful mallet with which to hit myself over the head. Multiple times. In quick succession. And with each game only lasting 15 minutes, there is no really excuse. I must and I want to try harder.

And, with Chris adding in a super simple to operate solo automa on top of the normal multiplayer mode, I can challenge myself anytime.

Going up against “the Collector” feels personal. There is no way I am going to let them take my zuuliphants! Especially as they don’t seem to care – they are aaaaaall about the numbers. Cold hard mathematics for them. So, in my mind, it becomes my job to rescue the Anteaters, Giraffes, and of course Zuuliphants……I am a woman on a mammal mission, and I won’t stop until I am done!

I won’t tell you the ins and outs of the Collector’s rules yet – I am  saving that for a solo feature. But, rest assured that the tricky decisions you face in multiplayer mode are just as tense when facing off against the animal snatcher!

Zuuli by Unfringed Things
Zuuli by Unfringed Things

Portable Petting Zuuli-oo

This game is a compact cardboard punch that is more fun and crunchy than it should be. And I love It for that. Indeed, it is probably why my review is so long! (Apologies to those still with me!)

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not expansive. It’s not glamorous. It’s especially not dripping in pinch worthy components or extras (although there could be some customisable cards in the finished product.). It simply is a deck of cards with cute illustrations on them. On that basis, it won’t necessarily appeal to those looking to lose themselves for hours in a Terraforming Turtles type experience. Nor will it attract those who don’t like the juxtaposition of cute illustrations and crunchy play. Not everybody likes a mismatch or surprise, after all.

But it pleases my eye. And more than that, it tickles my brain cells just enough when time is tight. It basically suits my life and my gaming opportunities as they are now. I can play it with practically anyone, almost anywhere. And I can have a different, but no less enjoyable experience, every time.

Mini-meeple wants to play it. My mother-in-law wants to play it. I want to play it. And we each play differently, together as well as alone. Strategy on. Strategy off. It doesn’t matter. Build a nice zoo. Hate pass your opponents into animal oblivion. Save the Zuuliphants from the Collector. Make an Anteater attraction just because you love them. It honestly doesn’t matter. You’ll have a brilliant mix of frustration and fun, whatever you decide.

And decide you will. Because, underneath the cute colours, hides a herd of small but prickly decisions.  Trade-offs that aren’t always obvious, and an experience that makes you pause for thought. Zuuli is a game that honestly reflects the effort and dedication that its creator has invested in making an experience for all to enjoy. And that passion and energy, my friends, is the beating heart of this little box of surprises.

Ultimately, Zuuli is a quick, little game that has made a lasting, big impression.