Freshly downsized and reorganized, West End Games recently announced their merger with the French game design company, Yeti. The first product of this merger is the tabletop card game Zoon.
So far, two decks have been released, but West End has announced their intention to publish more decks in the future. Specifically, they plan to release two new decks (of two different tribes each) every two months.
The story behind this game is that the Zoon are warring tribes of genetic experiments that humans left behind on Earth. Half human, half animal, the Zoon fight while humans observe their behavior from space. Essentially, Zoon is Stratego with cards.
It’s a two player game played on a 6 square by 6 square battlefield. Each player controls a tribe of Zoon, and the victor is the first person to capture their opponent’s flag, called their “emblem.” Each deck of Zoon cards contains a rules card and two complete armies. Each army consists of 12 Troop cards, 3 Trump cards, and 1 Tribe card. Troop cards represent the soldiers in the army. The opponent’s emblem is also a troop card.
Trump cards are special cards which may be used to modify gameplay and are held in your hand until used. Some trumps may be reused, some may not, depending on the text on the card. Tribe cards give specific instructions as to the special abilities of your tribe.
Read every card carefully and refer to them often. Victory in Zoon relies on your ability to exploit every ability to its fullest (or on your ability to prevent your opponent from doing so).
Each player places their 12 Troop cards face down on the first two rows of their side of the battlefield. The game does not actually include this battlefield, but instead suggests that you imagine that is on the table in front of you and play accordingly. Players determine who goes first, then take turns, each moving one Troop card or playing a Trump card on their turn.
Although the game is played with all of the Troop cards face down, you may examine your own troop cards at any time. This is a good thing, because they each move in their own way and because they each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
To move one of your troops, consult the diagram on the bottom of the card. This diagram will indicate how that particular troop may be moved. In some cases, additional information about a particular troop card is on your Tribe card, so keep it handy. You cannot move your troops through squares occupied by one of your own troops, but you may move it into a square occupied by one of your opponent’s troops. If you do so, your movement stops and combat between those two cards begins.
Combat is the most innovative aspect of Zoon. Every card has a number printed on each corner of its face. To carry out combat, each player spins their card (still face down), selects one of the four corners on their opponent’s card, and turns the card over to reveal the number under the selected corner. High number wins; low number is removed from the game. In the case of a tie, move the attacking piece back one square. Occasionally, a star is revealed during combat rather than a number. In such cases, consult the appropriate Tribe card for further instruction. If you manage to defeat your opponent’s emblem in combat, you win.
Overall, Zoon was well-produced and attractive. All of the cards are printed on stiff cardstock. The backs of all of the troop cards and trump cards are color-coded so you can tell your army from your opponent’s quickly. The face of each card bears an amusingly cartoonish illustration on a black field. Trump cards also bear specific instructions pertaining to their use. Troop cards have a movement chart printed at the bottom and either a combat number or symbol printed on each corner. Text on the cards is printed in white. The rules card and tribe cards are also printed in white letters on a black field.
Now, the bad news.
Firstly, in an effort to keep all of the Zoon rules on one card, an extremely small typeface was selected. It is much smaller than that used on the other cards and since it consists of white letters on a black field, they’re difficult to read, particularly during play.
Secondly, Zoon suffers from poor editing. It’s clear in many places that the original text on the cards was translated verbatim from French without making the necessary idiomatic adjustments. The rules frequently refer to concepts which haven’t been introduced yet. The rules are often vague. The rules are poorly edited (for example, they say that during setup “each player keeps in their hand the Trump,” but there are three Trumps. Did they mean to say “Trumps” or are we supposed to draw one Trump only for each game? After consulting directly with a West End Games, I was informed that all three should be held). With such short rules, there’s no excuse for poor editing.
Thirdly, the lack of an actual board makes Zoon difficult to play. Because there’s no board, it quickly becomes difficult to keep track of each of the squares on the map. We finally decided that the only way to continue playing was to first make a 6 x 6 grid on a sheet of poster board. The rules card makes no suggestions about how to prevent or deal with such a problem.
Furthermore, there is often not enough room on the playing field to spin the cards for combat. We took to spinning them off to the side, but then it became difficult to remember from where we’d pulled them. Using a coin or token alleviated this problem, but again, the rules card was no help at all.
Finally, because there are so many different cards, all played face down, you’ll spend more time consulting your own cards (if only to remind yourself which cards are where) than actually playing. Compare this to Stratego, in which you can always see your own pieces and can instead concentrate on deducing the location of your opponent’s pieces.
It could have been an enjoyable little strategy game, but instead, it’s more like some twisted version of concentration in which the cards keep moving.
I wanted to like Zoon, I really did, but I just couldn’t.