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Zotto Word Squares Review by Dy Edington

Poppo Brands, LLC
PO Box 150
Prides Crossing, MA 01965

Q: What is more challenging than Boggle and does not take as long to play as Scrabble?
A: Zotto, a new word strategy game from Poppo.

This game provides a creative twist on a familiar landscape for those who enjoy word-based family games. The components for Zotto are simple: 5x5-inch scoring pads for building words; one popper, containing a lettered die; and pencils. The goal of Zotto is also simple: build as many words as possible inside the scoring grids, using the random letter that shows on each roll of the die. When the grid is full, the round is over.

Mastering the game, however, is not as simple as it sounds. It would seem from the directions that anyone with a grasp of basic phonetic composition could easily best the game. After three rounds, I was duly humbled. The directions are easy to follow, and the game is easy to play. The creators of Zotto, however, added a few challenging twists to the rules of the game that will keep even the most avid phonics-lover on her toes.

First, players must play the letter that comes up on each roll of the die. There are three "pass" spots in the margin of the scoring sheet, so you can put up to three unwanted letters there and move on, but once the die is rolled again, all previous moves are set and cannot be changed. The strategy portion of the game provides an excellent opportunity for risk evaluation, and for learning from hindsight.

Second, players must be willing to be flexible in their strategies. No amount of planning can outwit random letter selection. Or, in the words of my nine-year-old son near the end of one round, "Oh, I'd give my eye for an 'i'!"

Zotto is an excellent family game that can be played with very little preparation and without the need to set aside a large block of time. The lack of peripheral parts that could get lost makes Zotto a good choice for travel destinations and small spaces. We enjoy the combination of strategy and chance. Additional score sheets are available from Poppo's website in Adobe Reader format at no additional charge.

Zotto is recommended for ages 8 and up, but I would say it would be most enjoyable for ages 10 and up. It is not a game I would recommend for beginning readers or for children who struggle with spelling. The skill required to predict and plan possible word combinations is a bit much for an emergent reader. The flow of the game, which does not move forward until every player has made a final decision on placing the current letter, does not offer the novice speller the opportunity to work through the process of word building, and it can put enough pressure on the young player to negate the enjoyment of playing word games. For younger players, Poppo does produce a similar game geared for beginning spellers and emergent readers.

Zotto retails for $14-$16 and is available at a variety of stores. If you are interested in purchasing something to liven up family game night or those laid-back afternoons, Zotto would be a good addition to your family game cabinet. It is one we will enjoy for many years to come.

Product review by Dy Edington, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2008