Dale Yu: Essen Preview of Zoomate


  • Designer: Ching Chun Hung
  • Publisher: Intelligent Monkey
  • Players: 4-7
  • Age: 7+
  • Time: ~20 minutes
  • Preview copy provided to me by Taiwan Board Games

Each fall, I look forward to a care package sent to me from my friends at Taiwan Boardgames.  I have felt for a long while that the games from the Far East are underappreciated, though their exposure seems to be improving each year!  Sure, there are always hits and misses in each box, but I do love the exploration of the new games…

Well, there is a backstory here – but I can’t make much sense of it, so I’ll just throw it out there.  In some futuristic country, there is a power plant where Team Fire and Team Water are warring for control.  There is also a third team, which is Neutral, which strives to make sure that neither Fire nor Water takes control.  Each player is an animal (not sure why): octopus, monkey, cow sloth, iguana, buzzard or frog.  In most games, there will be one Fire player, one Water player and the rest are Neutral.  These roles are secretly assigned to each player at the start of the game.  You may not show your role to other players.

you’ll get one of these cards at random, and it will tell you if you’re team Water, Team Neutral or Team Fire

Each player gets a hand of 7 action cards: Move (2), Door (2), Switch (2) and Mind Control.  There is also a control panel where you will play your cards – there are two slots here for action cards.  The board shows the four rooms of the power plant.  Each one will have a control marker placed on it.  Flip one marker like a coin, and place it in the corner surrounded by doors.  Make the opposite corner match the first marker.  The opposite faction will control the other two corners.  Then, each player places their animal standee in any of the four rooms.

The game is played over five rounds, and there is a card to help keep track of this.  At the start of each round, each player draws a Play Order card (simply a number from 1 to N).  This tells you when you will take actions this turn.  Once you know your turn order spot, all players then secretly and simultaneously program two actions facedown under their board.  When all players have chosen, the player with the “1” order card reveals the card he played in the First action spot and executes it.  Then the “2” player does his first action…  You must always do your programmed action if possible, even if it does not help your cause.  When all first actions have been taken, the second actions are now done, again in turn order. 

Here Move has been played for action 1 for General Octopus. Who knows what Action 2 might be?!

The actions:

Move: Move your figure to an adjacent room.  You cannot travel through doors.

Door: Move a Door tile and slide it on the axis where it lays to the other door slot.  One door always moves horizontally while the other always moves vertically.

Switch: Turn over the control marker in your room to the other side.

Mind Control: Choose an unused Mind Control tile  and place it facedown on another players unresolved Action card.  Whenever that action card is resolved, the Mind Control effect must first be resolved (move, door, or switch) before the Action happens.  Return the Mind Control tile to the supply to be chosen again.

After the second actions are complete, check to see if one team has automatically won – that is if all four markers are Fire side up or all four are Water side up, then that team wins the game.  Otherwise, move the round marker forward one space and play another round.

If the game makes it to the end of the fifth round without a team winning automatically, a winner is determined at the end of that fifth round.  If the markers are even (2 Fire, 2 Water), then the Neutral team wins.  Otherwise, whichever team has 3 switches in their color face up wins the game.

As with most programming games, the game is less about control and more about laughing at everyone’s plans being derailed.  Here, there is a bit of secret identity going on, though it’s hard not to give away your identity sometimes – because after all, you’re trying to get to your victory condition somehow.  It helps to know that there is only one Fire player and one Water player…  If you are a Neutral and you can figure out either of the solo players, it can at least give you a target for your actions.

The theme is interesting (and I do wish that I understood the backstory a bit better – I’m not sure if there is more description in the Taiwanese rulebook), and I’m not sure why animals were also thrown into the mix – but hey, whatever works for the designer.  I don’t have many other post-apocalyptic animal themed games, so this fills that slot for me.    I did think that the artwork on the standees is a little weird. All of the animals looked strung out on drugs – but in the end, it doesn’t matter – they just tell you where you can take your actions.

Thus far, it seems like the Fire and Water teams win more often because it’s a difficult thing to get the 2-2 tie on markers in the final round when there are 3 or 4 neutral teammates choosing actions, and as they are not allowed to communicate between them – pretty much anything can happen.  When you throw in the added monkey wrench of the mind control tiles, it’s the sort of game where you just sit back and watch it all unfold.  In a 5p game, say you have the “5” action spot; this means that there will be at least 9 actions taken before your final programmed card is played.  Even if you try to predict what some of the other players will do – the possibility of derailment is high, so essentially you have almost zero idea what the board state will be whenever your card is revealed.  Maybe you should flip the marker over in your room?  Maybe you’re better off just trying to move because surely none of the nine intervening actions will flip over the marker where you are, and you just want to keep it where it is?

If this is your sort of thing, and you know who you are, Zoomate could be a cute addition to your game collection in the filler genre.  Games are quick, maybe 10-15 minutes in reality – and that’s the right length for me for this sort of thing.  It’s something that you can play quickly, maybe as a closer to a night or maybe if your group is waiting for the table next to you to finish up so you can re-arrange the players.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Essen Preview of Zoomate

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