Dale Yu: Review of KuZOOkA


  • Designer: Leo Colovini
  • Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
  • Players: 2-6
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Pegasus Spiele
  • Amazon affiliate link – https://amzn.to/3VbCUqu


KuZOOkA was a high target of mine from SPIEL 2022 as it combined one of my favorite designers, Leo Colovini, with Pegasus Spiele – a company who has been giving me 2-3 hits per Essen cycle annually in recent years.  KuZOOkA has a clever humorous theme – 

It isn’t easy being a zoo animal. The enclosures are far too small for your needs, the daily routine is boring, and the visitors to the zoo are too obnoxious. For years, the visitors have been gawking at you and throwing all sorts of trash into your enclosures.  And now, due to an unfortunate incident, you are all going to be transferred to a smaller zoo in 8 days.  Now it’s totally clear: You need to break out of the zoo, ideally within the next seven days.  There are multiple ways to escape in KuZOOkA, but you need to work together with the other animals — in secret — to pool the trash left behind by zoo visitors and develop an escape plan that makes use of these items.  To make matters worse, you find it difficult to communicate with the other animals. The monkey screeches excitedly and the elephant trumpets loudly, but what are they trying to tell you?  What trash can they contribute to the escape plan? Which escape plan is the most promising? You must find a way to communicate. It’s high time to break out of the zoo!

The title itself, KuZOOkA is based on the word kuzuka from the Swahili language, which means “breakout”.  In this cooperative game, the different animals in the zoo need to work together to get out together.


Each player has one of the ten animal cards with a unique power, and you play on a game board that features a path composed of spaces in six colors, with each space having a number in it.  There are two sides to the board, the standard side and the more difficult “high security” side.  You can choose whichever animal you like, though the rules do give suggestions for particular animals to be played if you are new to the game.


The difficulty level of the game is chosen and the matching card is placed on the table.  The experience deck is put together with the Level 10 card on the bottom and the Level 1 on the top.  In each round, a number of item cards is dealt out to players, based on the top card of the experience deck – this will vary based on player count.  The experience card may also instruct you to deal some cards face up to the table. Cards show a colored item of trash, e.g., a red ice cream spoon or a purple scarf.  There are 6 different colors, and the player aid card tells you the distribution of these cards.

On a turn, you may place one of your animal tokens on the path farther than any other animal token, say, in the 1 red space or the 2 purple space, to give some indication of what you have in hand. (The first player is limited to one of the first five spaces.) The next player places one of their tokens farther down the path, and so on, with each placement giving players a chance to suggest what cards they hold in hand.  The path is split up into blocks of five, and a player may never go so far ahead on the path as to completely skip a block.  A player can use their animal power once during a round.  You use this path to tell the other players what you have in your hand or what plan you support.  However, you may not verbally communicate anything about your cards – after all, you’re all different animals!


At some point a player will decide that instead of placing an animal token, it’s time to attempt an escape. At that point, all players reveal all cards of the color matching the location of the animal token furthest down the path. If you have more cards, you gain experience stars equal to the number depicted on that space — and with experience stars, you can purchase a higher starting experience level, which means you’ll have more cards in play, including face-up cards visible to all. If you have exactly as many cards as the number depicted, you gain experience stars as well as a universal tool card that counts as a joker. If you have fewer cards, you fail.  The player who triggered the escape attempt gets the starting player token.


Shuffle all cards, then deal out the current number of cards and start a new round. If during a round you manage to reach one of the six final spaces on the track and you have at least that many cards of the designated color, you escape and win the game. If you fail to do this by the end of the seventh round, you lose.

You can increase the difficulty of KuZOOkA by requiring more stars to advance in experience level or by playing on the opposite side of the game board, which requires you to win universal tools in order to succeed in the final six spaces.

My thoughts on the game

KuZOOkA has an interesting theme where the different animals work together to escape the zoo by ostensibly making some MacGyver-ish plan from the litter scraps they are able to collect.  There are a number of different species in the zoo, and each has their own special ability; and as you choose from ten different animals, each game might play out a little differently as you always need to figure out how to maximize the special effects of your species.

The basic side of the game has proven to be more than enough challenge for us (or maybe we make remarkably stupid zoo animals).  At the base level, you have to get nearly every card of a color out into play in order to escape.  Thus, you’ll need to work hard to gain experience stars to trade in for more cards into play each time.  Sure, I suppose you could get a super-lucky deal early on and get all the red cards into play in the first 22 cards dealt; but more likely than not; you’ll have to push your experience up so that you can get a much larger portion of the deck into play – and then once you have accomplished that; you’ll have to figure out which color has been fully dealt out.


Of course, having wild cards will definitely help you succeed; but this requires you to hit a prediction exactly in a prior round.  While this is possible; it is not a simple task to do.  And there is definitely a bit of risk/reward, because if you push the count too high in your quest to get an exact score; you might overshoot and then gain nothing for the round instead.  For as helpful as it is to have a wild card, having a zero-star round can sometimes be catastrophic for your chances to win.


Though we haven’t even thought about trying it yet, the more difficult side of the board requires you to gain a few wild cards as most of the win conditions are +1 or +2 cards over the full count of the colors in the deck.  As we’re currently lucky to even get a single wild card over the course of a game right now; this makes the difficult version essentially impossible for us to win right now.   

The game is colorful and nice to look at; the cards all have emotive art of the different species, and my multilingual set lets me practice my German a bit as the special action rules for each species come on separate cards, so I always take the German one first to see if I can read it.  The board can be a bit dizzying; and while all the information is there, we definitely make a point of pushing our wooden tokens off to the side so that you can also read the number/color underneath it!   As this is the only information that you can communicate with the team, you’d really like to be able to see who said what things.


For me, this is definitely a game that depends on player count – and for me, the fewer the better.  My first game of this was with five players, and I’ll admit, I almost wanted to pack it up and never play it again.  At the higher player count, each player simply doesn’t have a lot of time to affect the game.  My first statement might by 1 red, but then by the time it gets back to me, I’m already looking at something like 6 red as my next statement; and heck, it’s unlikely that I get to say anything else in that round.  I just feel like there isn’t enough time to impart information on the group before someone is forced to call it at that count.  And with such limited opportunities to say anything, you rarely do more than say what your most popular color is.

On the other hand, at 2 and 3 players, the game is admittedly quite clever.  You can definitely spend the start of each round trying to signal what colors you are strong in – and then later, try to suss out exactly what everyone has in their hands.  As you get more opportunities to give information, you are not just limited to parroting what your most prevalent color is, but instead you get a chance to work with the limited communication system in a way that feels more than random.  Also, as there are fewer special abilities at play in a lower player count, you have more room to experiment with combinations that might work well together OR deal yourself random animals and enjoy figuring out how to make them work together.

Amazon affiliate link – https://amzn.to/3VbCUqu

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Dale (2p)
  • Neutral.  Dale (3p), John P, Lorna
  • Not for me…  Dale (5p)

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.
This entry was posted in Essen 2022, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of KuZOOkA

  1. I was in Dale’s initial 5 player game… and agree wholeheartedly about his critique of the game with that number of players.

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