Author – Doug Levandowski (@DougLevandowski) & Matt Gaby
Where to Buy – https://douglevandowski.itch.io/arcane-zoo
Back in February I reviewed Arcane Zoo and, while I enjoyed it, there was one thing that I didn’t like. You can read the past review here if you are curious but, to summarize, the game featured some sentient creatures in captivity which struck me wrong. Aside from that, the game was phenomenal. Now, any of you who read my reviews know I don’t like saying negative things about games. In fact, I only review games I like because I firmly believe there’s enough negativity in our hobby and I’d rather not dump all over an indie designer’s passion project.
Still, I posted my review anyway. Shortly after, the author, Doug Levandowski, contacted me. You might know Doug from any number of his games, but I believe his most well-known work is Kids on Bikes. He’s a wonderful game designer who has brought a lot of quality fun into our hobby but…I had no idea how he was going to react to me pointing out what I considered a flaw in Arcane Zoo. Honestly, I was expecting defensiveness but that was the polar opposite of how Doug responded.
The author retweeted the link to my review and said it “exposes what was clearly a serious blindspot for me. I’m not sure how we missed that before, but it’s a completely valid critique and one that I’m absolutely taking to heart.” It would have been so easy for him to ignore what I pointed out. I was (and am) a relatively new reviewer and my sway in the hobby isn’t vast enough to impact his book sales, after all. But that’s not what he did. Instead, he set to work editing and reworking Arcane Zoo because he felt it was the right thing to do.
I’m happy to say I’ve recently read the newest version of Arcane Zoo and it is wonderful. All of the many, many positives I pointed out in my last review are still 100% accurate. It’s a fun, innovative solo RPG with a fantastic theme, unique mechanics, and a shocking amount of replay value. Also, you can pretend to be a magic Tiger King and that’s always a good time. And now I can play it guilt free because the author made the sentient creatures hired performers instead of exhibits. That Doug found an elegant solution to the issue speaks volumes about his skill as a designer. Instead of replacing the problematic creatures with non-sentient beasts, he found a way to keep his preferred monsters in the game without making it feel exploitative. It’s just…such a perfect fix.
I recommend this newest edition of Arcane Zoo without hesitation, without qualm, and without concern. Hell, even if I didn’t care for the game itself (and I love this game), I’d recommend it because this is the exact response to criticism I want to see in our hobby. Thank you, Doug, for being open, for listening, and for working to make Arcane Zoo even better than it already was.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this book, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. Sorta. I mean, I did receive an updated version of the game with the edits but since I paid for it originally, that doesn’t feel like getting anything for free. I appreciate it, though!