Artist: Tom Breitenfeldt, Klemens Franz, Oliver Freudenreich, Gary Locke, Barbara Scholz
Gamewright makes kids games and Zeus on the Loose another feather in their cap. It is one of the educational games that is quite often mentioned along side, Slamwich and others in the series. Since my child has reached an age where she can comfortably enjoy gaming with adults, I snagged a copy of the game and gave it a go with her. Since then, Zeus has been a staple of our game nights and she continues to enjoy it.
In Zeus on the Loose, each player’s goal is to have Zeus on your side when the count reaches 100. Players each are given a hand of 3 cards where a single card must be played to a pile in the middle known as Mt. Olympus. Cards range from 1-10 and players must announce the value of the card out loud. As subsequent cards are added to Mt. Olympus, all players must add the value of the card they play to the grand total from Mt. Olympus. That’s right, folks. This is a Math game. Zeus can be won over to your side if you play a card that hit any multiples of 10. So, say the total is 73 in Mt. Olympus and you play a 7. The grand total of 80 is adequate to bring the Zeus over to your side and play continues. Eventually, the game will cross the threshold of 100 and whoever has Zeus on their side will win the game.
Of course the game wouldn’t be all that fun without special cards. You see, the gods love playing number tricks on mere mortals. The special cards feature almost all the popular gods and goddess in the Greek pantheon and they allow players to alter Mt. Olympus. For example, some gods will allow you to flip the numerals in Mt. Olympus (say a 72 to 27). Others like Poseidon will subtract 10 and win Zeus over. Finally, you have Hera, the mother of all gods and she is insanely powerful. She immediately moves the stack to 99 and claims Zeus. That means that unless the next person has a special card or a 1, Hera will win the game. The special cards adds spice and plenty of chaos to the game. Actually, for most games, I would say this is a huge negative. But not for Zeus on the Loose. I think you need the chaos. It injects the right amount of craziness to make the game unpredictable, and to make math fun. There are always squeals of delight when someone sneaks out a victory from defeat, particularly with the special cards that allow you to steal Zeus away. So, this is the very rare occasion where the randomness from the special cards is a huge welcome.
Clearly the game is targeted for kids. This is not something you play with adults and so, my rankings will reflect that. There is no reason for any adult to reach for this game because for one thing, it is not really possible to plan ahead. With kids, this is also not the best game to teach strategy, but it is more than adequate for a few laughs and also makes math fun.
Initial impressions: Good (kids)
6 years 2 months: Zeus is perfect for my child at this stage of her development. Her math skills are growing and this game serves to accelerate mental calculations. While the game is all about addition, you can also clearly flip the script and make it a subtraction game. Perhaps a few special cards might need to be removed or altered to make that work. Clearly, the game benefits only if the kids can add or subtract at a reasonable pace. If it is too slow, the game drags. But as adults, we do extra time to kids so that they can make those mental calculations. At 6, she can do that at a reasonable speed. Most importantly, she is having fun doing it. This calculation would be extremely tedious and unimaginable if we were doing it rote. Zeus has turned this into a game and for that, it gets 2 thumbs up for me. The question is whether as a game, it teaches kids anything else. I guess, not particularly. There is hardly any strategy to the game, really. You play cards to grab Zeus whenever you can because you just don’t know what Mt. Olympus will look like when it reaches you again. Or if it ever reaches you. The game length is highly variable and unpredictable. For example, I have played Hera in the first round and won the game immediately. Again, as a kid’s game, this is NOT a big deal. So, with that in mind, I really give this a strong recommendation. I do think that Sleeping Queen is way better in some ways in that it teaches kids some strategy even though the math is more limited in that game. All told, this is another quality product from Gamewright and certainly, a top 5 in the series. I would put this right alongside Sleeping Queen as one of their top tier learning games.