|Cost: $35 From: FX Schmid Players: 2-5 Playing Time: 30-60 minutes Type of game: Family Skill level: 5 Complexity: 4 Reviewed by: Joe Huber, Issue 19, Summer/Fall/Winter 1998|
Take one part Sternenhimmel, one part Hol's der Geier, throw in some cows, and what do you get? Probably something at least close to Zoff in Buffalo, a Nuremburg 2-5 player release from FX Schmid.
The game (described below for 5 players; the differences for 3 or 4 are minimal, and the rules for 2 players not much different) is played on 11 pastures, which can each hold from 6 to 33 cows. Initially, everyone is dealt 2 pastures, and places one cow in each. The the real game proceeds, with five rounds. Each round players take two of their ten cow cards, and two pastures, pairing a cow card with each pasture card. These are chosen secretly, then simultaneously revealed.
The rules for placing cows are straightforward:
Players then place the number of cows on their cow card, provided this number does not cause a tie. If it would cause a tie, the player places as many as possible without causing a tie- perhaps none.
If a pasture fills, bonuses are immediately awarded. The first place player gets their bonus cow, if any, first. She may place it on any open space that does not cause a tie, if any such spaces are available. The second place player then gets their bonus cow(s) (players who get bonuses never get a smaller bonus than the first place player, and often get larger ones), and so on. This can cause a ripple effect, wherein a bunch of fields fill simultaneously.
The game ends when the last space is filled, when a player runs out of cows, or after the fifth round. In the third case, bonus cows are awarded for unfilled fields. Unlike the normal bonuses, these must be placed in the field in which they were awarded and can cause ties.
The player with the most cows placed wins. Much like Hol's der Geier or Sternenhimmel, there is not so much 'luck' in Zoff in Buffalo as there is psychology. Playing against expectations is often the best strategy - assuming, of course, that you can determine what other players are expecting.
Zoff in Buffalo is a typical lightly-themed German game - the game has nothing to do with cattle drives (the theme it claims to have), and I've never thought of Buffalo in terms of the famous cattle drives that happened there. That said, cows are a lot more interesting than constellations, and as a result the theme is enough to cover the abstract placement game underneath. The game works sufficiently well with 3-5 players, but perhaps best with 4. I have yet to play it two person.
Zoff in Buffalo is also a typically light German game. While there are often tough choices to make, it's not difficult to derive the possible results of any action, and the rules can easily be covered in five minutes. It is also a fairly short game; while the game length listed on the box is 60 minutes, I've yet to see a game go much over 30 minutes, even with a rules explanation.
Overall, I'd recommend Zoff in Buffalo to anyone who enjoys the basic bluffing mechanism of Hol's der Geier. While the production values aren't as high as in many German games (no sets of painted wooden cows, sorry), the pieces are functional and offer a reasonable value for the money. Add in the fact that the game flies along and depending upon your tastes you have the makings of a good opener, closer, or filler.