Friday 9 June 2023


The Game

Zoorena is a Malaysian local game, designed by Mike Ooi, who focuses on making games with broad appeal.  Zoorena is a card game which comes in a small package. There are 10 types of fighting beasts in the game. You challenge one another to battles. If you win, you score points by claiming your opponent's beast card. The stronger the defeated beast, the more points it is worth. The game ends when the deck runs out or when one player reaches 5 trophies. The highest scorer wins. 

Zoorena is a game for 3 to 8 players. You start the game by having everyone draw a card. You will always maintain having one card in hand. That's your beast. On your turn you only perform one action. The most basic thing you can do is to challenge another player to a battle. You compare your beasts privately, and the higher numbered beast defeats the other one. The winner claims the loser's card as a trophy and places it before him face-up. The loser then draws a card to replenish his hand, because you must always have one card in hand. Simple. 

Instead of a one-on-one battle, you may gather two or more people to gang up on one opponent. The attackers add up their strengths, so it is often hard for the defender to win. However even if the defender is defeated, only one of the attackers will benefit, because the defender has only one card to surrender. The weakest attacker gets to claim the card as his trophy. The rest get nothing, other than the satisfaction of having won an unfair fight. 

If you don't feel like attacking, you have other options too. You can discard your beast and use its special ability. Only some beasts can be used this way. You can also discard your beast in order to draw a new one. Finally, you can choose to do nothing. Sometimes that's the wise thing to do. 

The basic rules are simple. The key to the game is the special abilities of the ten types of beasts. They are numbered 1 to 10, which seems like a big gap. The strongest beast is ten times better than the weakest. However once the special abilities are taken into account, the comparison is not so straight-forward anymore. Also since you can decide to gang up on a player, the 10's are not as invincible as you think. 

The 1's cannot attack, but they defeat anyone attacking them. They are the best defenders. They can also create confusion. Let's say a 6 attacks a 1, and loses. The 6 is revealed, and you may then think the winner is a 7 or above. If you confidently attack using your 10, believing you will win even if the defender is a 10 (attackers win ties), you will lose your precious 10 to the lowly 1. 

This 4 above is Hang Tuah, named after the Malaysian folk hero. His special ability is if he participates in a joint attack and wins, he has the opportunity to switch to a different beast. 

10 may be the strongest, but Hannibal cannot win trophies. The loser's beast is discarded instead. So it's actually rather useless. There's a card which forces the loser to discard a trophy. That one is a scarier card. 

The Play

I played Zoorena for the first time at the local game designers showcase event at Vivae Board Game Cafe. The designer himself taught the game. We did a 4-player game. The game moves at a brisk pace. Being the first game, it takes a bit more time to read the card text and to understand the implications. You do need to appreciate the card powers and understand how they interact to fully enjoy the game. 

This is a 4-player game in progress. The face-up cards on the tables are the beasts we have defeated and claimed as trophies. They are open information so everyone knows who is closest to five trophies and who has most points. The leading player has a big fat target painted on him. 

This is a game in which you target specific people to attack. You also gather multiple people to attack one person. If you are not very comfortable with these, the game may not work for you. Still, victory is individual. Alliances are temporary and they are just for convenience. You don't have true allies. Collaboration only works when you think you'll get something out of it. This is a game with some politicking, since there are negotiations, alliances and persuasion. You have to appear weak and divert attention to your opponents. 

The Thoughts

Zoorena is a light game. It's the type that's suitable for boardgame cafes - casual, easy to learn, plenty of player interaction. It is almost a party game. I imagine it can get pretty rowdy. Part of it is inspired by Love Letter. Guessing your opponents' cards is an element I like. There's also the politicking and player manipulation aspect which encourages player interaction. 

It's a small package that fits in your hand. Only 50 game cards and 4 rules and reference cards. 

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