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[Review] Zeus on the Loose

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Zeus on the Loose (Gamewright, 2006 – Jason Scheider) is a brand new game with beautiful cards and artwork. Yet as soon as I read the rules, I knew that the idea wasn’t quite so new, as I’ve played similar games with my children in the language institute, using a deck of playing cards. Not only that but Ohno 99 is also a similar game, although the victory conditions differ. However, all that aside, Zeus on the Loose is a game that encourages counting, so I was glad to get it into my math classes, to help the students in that regard.

I was actually surprised by the instant popularity of the game. While it certainly isn’t one that I would find very interesting, it’s rather chaotic and involves a lot of addition;, my students loved it and continue to request it until this day. The theme was of some interest to them, but it was the actual gameplay that appealed to them; and as it actually did help their math skills, who was I to argue?! Zeus may not be the kind of game that appeals to me, but every teenager I’ve introduced it to enjoys it – especially girls.

The game is made up of a sixty card deck, made up of forty numbered cards (four each of “1” through “10”, and twenty special cards. The deck is shuffled and four cards are dealt to each player, with the rest forming a draw pile in the middle of the table. Next to this draw pile is placed a plastic figurine of Zeus, and the player whose first name is closest to “Z” goes first.

On a player’s turn, they simply put a card in the middle of the table (“Mount Olympus”) and announce the new total. The total in the middle of the table starts at “0”, and each numbered card played adds its number to the total sum. For example, if the total is “53”, and I play a “5” card, the new total is “58”. Whenever a player plays a card which results in the number being a multiple of ten OR plays an identical number card to the one currently on top of the pile, they immediately take the Zeus figure and place it in front of them, stealing it from another player if they have to.

In fact, a player can play a number card out of order, if it matches the current number on top of the pile. This not only gives them Zeus but changes turn order so that they are the current player. Players may also play one of the eight different god cards, which have different effects:
- Apollo and Artmeis allows a player to steal Zeus but keeps the current total the same.
- Ares changes the total to fifty, no matter how high or low it is. The player also steals Zeus.
- Athena skips the next player but keeps the current total the same.
- Hermes reverses the digits in the current total.
- Aphrodite rounds the current sum to the nearest multiple of ten and steals Zeus.
- Poseidon subtracts ten from the current total and steals Zeus.
- Hera changes the value to 99 and steals Zeus.
After a player plays a card, they redraw and play passes to the next player.

A round ends when the total either matches 100 or exceeds it. If the total exceeds 100, the player who currently has Zeus wins the round. If the total matches 100 exactly, OR a player causes it to go over 100 by playing an exact matching number card, then the player who played the final card steals Zeus and wins the round. The winner of the round gets a letter of the word “Zeus”, starting with “Z”. The first player to get the entire word “Zeus” is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The striking cartoonish yellow plastic Zeus is the centerpiece of the game and is indeed most needed, as players are constantly grabbing it and placing it in front of them. The cards are very well designed with great artwork by Gary Locke, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite game artists. After several plays (I think about six), the cards are showing slight wear, so perhaps better card stock could have been used, but everything fits easily in a plastic insert in a small box as wide as a DVD and an inch tall.

2.) Rules: The rules are printed on a twelve page foldout sheet, but that does include five pages of information about the Greek gods. They are very well formatted, with lots of small color pictures. The game, however, is tremendously easy to teach, especially for those who have played one of the many variants that are out there. The special cards are easy to understand, and the only rule that might be tricky (for younger folk only) is the duplicate number rule.

3.) Math: As a mathematics teacher, I’m always interested in games that help promote the usage of arithmetic skills, and they certainly are in Zeus on the Loose. Obviously, addition is a big factor, with some subtraction and rounding included. The math isn’t overwhelming, but I watched kids add AND have fun at the same time – a good sight for a teacher.

4.) Special Cards: At first I couldn’t believe that one third of the cards were special cards – and assumed that they would overpower the game. However, none of them are too vital, and the only one with massive repercussions (and it has a distinctive different color tone, to help show this) is Hera. Playing Hera is a big risk that a player can take; because while it allows them to take Zeus and most likely win, if the player after them has one of the “1” cards, they will lose. The rest of the special cards can be useful, but sometimes a player gets tired of stealing Zeus (which happens incessantly) and would rather simply make the total higher.

5.) Strategy: One thing that I’m not a big fan of in Zeus on the Loose is how the first several turns of the game really don’t mean anything. You can throw out any card you want – with the exception of Hera and possibly Hermes – and it won’t change anything. Not until the sum goes above seventy do you have to put thought into the game. Even grabbing Zeus early means nothing, since the chance of retaining him until the end is practically impossible. Near the end, there’s still not a lot of strategy – you simply play a card, hoping that the person after you doesn’t have the card that will mess up your carefully (or quickly) laid plans. Zeus on the Loose is more often won by luck than by strategy.

6.) Fun Factor: But for some reason, kids seem to really love this game. It’s most certainly not the addition factor – because I teach math, and I KNOW that kids don’t enjoy it that much. It’s just fun for them because it has a bit of “tenseness” about it, as players try to push the number up to 100 but not close enough that another player can win. In my gaming times with the kids, Zeus on the Loose is in constant circulation; and I have hundreds of games, so that should tell you something about its attraction.

So while I wouldn’t recommend Zeus on the Loose for an adult gamer, as it’s too simple and doesn’t offer enough choices that are really meaningful, I would recommend it for children – especially older elementary and junior high. Not only does it teach Greek Mythology and mathematics, but they have a lot of fun playing it. And I’m not that forgetful – Zeus on the Loose is EXACTLY the game I would have loved at that age. People with lots of contact with children should really give this game more than a glance.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”

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