‘Ere we go, ‘ere we go, ‘ere we go... (I’ve never understood this particular chant. Where are we going? And why did we leave the ‘h’ behind? Come to think of it, are we sure the ‘ere is short for ‘here’, and not ‘there’? The latter makes rather more sense.) With great thanks to @pachyderm pro and @ZooBinh for their entertaining diversions into the US and aquatic realms, it’s time the ZooChat Cup came home. Or at least as close to home as it can be, when it’s themed around Europe and being run by an Australian. When I left off, with Berlin Zoo’s keepers drinking champagne straight from the bottle as the Prague line-up sprawled disconsolately on the grass, wondering how they let pre-Cup favouritism and a late-match lead come to nothing, I promised a second edition with some changes. The aim is to produce closer contests, more debate and some different factors to throw into the mix. Hopefully they work! First of all, the number of zoos are set to expand, from 64 to 80. All 64 zoos from the first European Cup will re-appear (as an aside, I’m dispensing with the ‘S2’, ‘S3’ numbering system used by my colleagues, before it gets too confusing). I’ve selected 16 new-comers, but while they still come from a variety of different parts of the continent I’ve chosen to weight it slightly more towards the countries with zoos that are best known here. There’s little hope of fostering debate if you can’t find people who know what they’re talking about. That might work for the United States Congress, but not here. Now, I know what you’re thinking. 80 into 1 doesn’t go, if the idea is to have head to head match-ups until everybody’s knocked out but one. But that isn’t the idea, at least not entirely. I’ve split the 80 zoos into three groups. Sixteen leading zoos - all of last Cup’s quarter-finalists, plus another eight that I thought were for various reasons unlucky not to make it - are featured here. These Group A zoos are Beauval, Berlin Tierpark, Berlin Zoo, Burgers, Chester, Cologne, Doue-la-Fontaine, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Planckendael, Plzen, Prague, Rotterdam, Vienna, Wroclaw and Zurich. Below them (and perhaps slightly more contentiously, but I know I can’t please everybody) are a further 16 zoos that I’ll call Group B, and which are the next tier down. All third round zoos from the previous Cup are either in this group or Group A, with the remainder again falling to my judgment. These zoos are Amsterdam, Antwerp, Basel, Bristol, Budapest, Copenhagen, London, Magdeburg, Munich, Nuremberg, Pairi Daiza, Paris Vincennes, Stuttgart, Twycross, Wuppertal and Zlin. The remaining 48 zoos in the field make up Group C. Because I know you’re dying to know, they are Amersfoort, Amneville, Attica, Augsburg, Barcelona, Belfast, Bern, Cabarceno, Colchester, Cotswold, Dortmund, Dresden, Dublin, Duisburg, Dvur Kralove, Edinburgh, Erfurt, Faunia, Gelsenkirchen, Hamburg, Hanover, Helsinki, Karlsruhe, Kerkrade, Kolmarden, Jersey, Jihlava, Lisbon, Marwell , Moscow, Mulhouse, Munster, Odense, Olomouc, Ostrava, Paignton, Paris Menagerie, Poznan, Rhenen, Rome, Rostock, Salzburg, Tallinn, Valencia, Warsaw, Whipsnade, Yorkshire and Zagreb. I’m sure I’ve missed out some zoos and included others that you think were the wrong ones, and I’m *very* sure people will disagree with which zoos are in which category. Humour me: this is a parlour game for a few dozen zoo nerds, not the UEFA Champions League. Neither fortunes or reputations are at stake. Now, what’s the point of the groups? Well, one thing I think I got wrong last year was having a strict knock-out format in which there were an awful lot of lopsided contests, especially in the first two rounds. So I’m entering zoos into the draw in stages, to try to ensure more even match-ups all the way through. The Group C zoos have been divided up into sets of three, which will compete in three-way contests (for example, Hamburg vs Erfurt vs Kerkrade, all in the one poll). These matches will be kept short and sweet - you’ll have 48 hours to vote - and because I am an Australian and abhor first past the post voting, an absolute majority of votes cast will be required to win. If no zoo has a majority, the two leading zoos will go into an ‘extra time’ poll. One day, with a new category. The winners of these three-way matches will each meet one of the 16 Group B zoos in the second round. But the latter group’s easy ride comes at a cost. There’ll be two categories - one ABC-flavoured, one more diversity-oriented - and one of the two will be the category the Group C zoo won through the first round with. So they might have gotten a free pass to the second round, but at the cost of conceding some home ground advantage to their underdog opponents, who have already demonstrated their strength in one of the two categories under debate. Group A enters the field in round three, and once again they’ll have to compete on one of the two categories their opponent won with in round two. I know this seems complicated so let me give an example from the beginning: Hamburg, Erfurt and Kerkrade compete in a single category - birds - in the first round. Hamburg wins 10 votes, Erfurt 8, Kerkrade 7. Hamburg leads, but doesn’t have an absolute majority with only 10 votes out of 25. Kerkrade is eliminated and Hamburg and Erfurt go into an extra time poll, drawing carnivores as the category. This time Erfurt wins, 13 votes to 12, and goes through to the second round. Erfurt meets Basel in the second round, with two categories to face off over. It carries the category it won in - carnivores - into the match as a home ground advantage. As this, along with primates and ungulates, is considered an ‘ABC’ category, the second one is drawn randomly from any of birds, ectotherms or miscellaneous mammals. In this case, let’s say it’s ectotherms. With these two categories in play, Basel beats Erfurt 13-7. Basel goes into the third round and draws its local rival, Zurich. It carries the category it randomly drew against Erfurt - ectotherms - in as a home ground advantage. It cannot have both so carnivores - the category Erfurt brought with it from the first round - is not considered this time, so the second category is drawn randomly from either primates or ungulates. Zurich draws primates, and so the third round match is between Basel and Zurich, with ectotherms and primates as the two categories. Let me know if I’ve made sense, or if I need to explain further. After the third round, I hope you’ll finally have the hang of all this newfangled complexity, and so that’s when I’m going to change things up again. The old ‘seeds’ from the first Cup are out. Each Group B/C survivor will have to face a Group A zoo, but after that any two Group A zoos could draw each other. We could get a Grand Final rematch between Prague and Berlin as early as the fourth round, for instance. That’s not all. I’m going to completely change the rules for how you judge the zoos at this point, too. One thing that I think made the first Cup a little predictable by the end was that relatively more people voted based on collection than on other factors, such as exhibit quality, conservation programs or the like. You can still do that - the criteria remains up to you - but once we get to the business end I want to make you think a bit harder. The taxonomy-based categories will be out, and ‘biomes’ will be in their place. I’m still tinkering with the exact form they’ll take but an example might be ‘rainforests’ or ‘grasslands’. You’re absolutely free to count up which zoo has more species that fit within the given biome and vote for them, but it won’t be as simple to do it as it was last time. I’ve gone down this route *because* it complicates the debate. It’s a little more open to interpretation, and that carries the risk that people will consider species and exhibits that really shouldn’t be. I won’t be making rulings on whether species x falls within biome y: that’s for you all to argue between yourselves if necessary. But please remember the spirit of the game, which is to consider *only* the relevant exhibits and to be open to having your mind changed by a good argument. This game is not simply about voting for your favourite zoo: if I wanted to do that I could put a lot less work into it. Another thing I think I could have done better last time was the timing of polls. Being on Down Under time, a lot of matches would have been finishing mid-morning UK time. In deference to the large number of voters being in Europe I shall endeavour to post them so that they conclude around 10PM to 11:30PM GMT, but this might not always be possible. That’s when I’m supposed to be getting ready to pretend to work for the day. I hope this new and - fingers crossed - improved European ZooChat Cup is as enthusiastically greeted and passionately debated as the last one was. We’ll be kicking off shortly.