GTM #215 - Kung-Fu Zoo
by WizKids/NECA

Kung-Fu Zoo is an insanely fun and addictive dice-flicking dexterity game for two to four players, releasing in February 2018. Think of Kung-Fu Zoo, designed by Charlie Price, as a cross between traditional marbles and billiards, but with animal cubes. Each games is fast-paced, fun to watch, and highly competitive, making it an ideal game for tournaments and weekly game nights.

Nightly, once the gates of the zoo close, all-out kung fu mayhem takes place. The zoo animals compete in tournaments to see who reigns supreme. Then, just before the zoo opens the next morning, the animals go back into their cages and rest up for the next night. There are two ways to play Kung-Fu Zoo — Cage Battle and Points Battle.

In a Cage Battle, players control a team of dice-animals and take turns flicking them off the rails into the arena. Your goal is to knock your opponent’s animals into cages or onto their backs, stunning them. The position of your animals in the arena determines whether you can flick an animal and, if so, from where on the rail. “Feet up” animals, for instance, are stunned and can’t be flicked at all. But “face up” animals can be flicked from anywhere on any rail (as opposed to the midpoint of any rail, which is the default launching spot). Finally, like in billiards, if you sink an opponent’s animal, you get an extra turn.

Points Battle is similar in that you take turns flicking your animal team into the arena, but in this variant the goal is to score more points than your opponent. Points are awarded at the end of each round (a round consists of both players flicking all four dice into the arena) based on the position of the dice left on the board. For instance, the animal’s face is worth five points while its feet are only worth two points. Each team has its own colorful reference card to make calculating scores easy.

The idea of zoo animals having kung fu fights is fantastical and funny, so we thought the name of the game should be equally as silly. Hence, Kung-Fu Zoo was chosen. The game evokes the notion that the animals are trained martial artists, which would explain why, for instance, a zebra might beat up some cheetahs. In the wild, the zebra would likely end up as the cheetah’s lunch. But if the animals were all using kung fu, the fight might be more competitive. Finally, kung fu fighting suggests the battles are more sporting than if they were just trying to kill each other like in the wild. As explained by game designer Charlie Price, “Kung-Fu Zoo, after all, is a refined sport. No one is trying to kill anyone. They’re just super-bored zoo animals that enjoy controlled, sanctioned, after-hours kung fu fights. They’re all just a bunch of friends letting off some steam.”

Which brings us to the animals themselves. While they’re all normal d6 dice, they look like animals, complete with faces, feet, tails, etc. We think they look very cool and are an important part of the game’s balance. Dice do funny things when flicked. They can be predictable, but not totally controllable. So, while players can guide the dice in the right direction, the dice still have a mind of their own — just like animals. This factor adds an element of chaos into the mix. Meaning, while the game rewards skill, it still has random elements to it, which keeps things competitive for players of varying ages and skill levels. Price explains that the goal was to develop an accessible, skill-based dexterity game that’s competitive for all ages. “I love that I can play against my kids and I don’t have to let them win — they can beat me fair and square. We all laugh and have a lot of fun. In fact, we recently held a 20-player tournament with player’s ages ranging from 8 to 73. Our first-place winner was 14-years-old, the second and third-place winners were age 51 and 12, respectively. That made me happy.”

Mr. Cuddington — the talented husband-wife duo of David Forest and Lina Cossette — illustrated the game. Mr. Cuddington is responsible for the artwork for Unfair, Santorini, Steampunk Rally, Charterstone, Brass, and other games.