Sunday 13 November 2016

Cardboard - Creature College board game review

If you've ever felt a burning desire to fight an eight-foot high hamster named Kevin using a rag-tag band of elemental creature creations (and let's face it, who hasn't?) then I may have found the game for you!

Creature College box art

After being drawn to the Happy Otter Games stand at UKGE by their adorable logo and my magpie-like attraction to brightly coloured game components I met super-friendly designer Orhan Ertughrul. He kindly gave me a copy of their recently Kickstarted monster-fighting game Creature College to check out, which I have taken an absolute age to review (sorry!)

Creature College was designed to fill a tricky boardgaming balancing act - to be fun for younger players at the same time as being engaging for their parents - and I think it does a pretty good job.

Players take on the roles of students at the eponymous Creature College, Aldebaran University, where they'll fight it out over three terms to win the coveted Creature College Cup. Collecting creatures, completing missions, building a research lab and battling other players will all bring you the victory points needed to win.

Creature College - player mats

Everyone gets a player mat and set of tokens to use over the course of the game. You then have to choose a special ability and a mission for your character which fit neatly onto your mat for later reference.

Creature College - special abilities

Creature card decks are set up for each term based on the number of players taking part, and the game is ready to go.

Creature College - game setup

Each college term (Autumn, Winter and Spring) consists of three bidding rounds followed by a battle round, with progress marked on this handy Term Track:

Creature College - round structure

Bidding round

The bidding round is where players collect monsters to join their team, fight battles and complete mission conditions.

Creature College - creature cards

Players bid for creatures using their set of bidding tokens, labelled from 1 to 9. Each token can only be used once per game, so this gives you something to think about in terms of how early to use up your high numbers or forcing others to use higher tokens to get what you think they want.

Creature College - bidding round

Once everyone has their creatures they can update their elemental track based on the colour of the creature they won, (hopefully) moving one step closer to completing their mission and increasing their game-end score at the same time. Everyone then gets a throw of the 'card' dice, allowing them to take research lab or battle cards depending on the symbols shown.

Creature College - card dice

Research lab cards come in three flavours:

  • Gem research cards add to the number of green battle gems you win from battle victories (or reduce the red gems you receive for a loss).
  • Element track research cards help you move your marker further up an element track and gain more points at the end of the game.
  • Victory Point research cards give you points at the end of the game.

Creature College - research lab cards

These cards are played immediately and fit into the research lab spaces on each player's mat until all the slots are filled.

Creature College - research lab

Battle cards stay hidden from other players until you use them, and give you bonuses in fights with other players.

Creature College - battle cards

Every so often during the bidding rounds this not-so-little chap shows up:

Creature College - Kevin the Giga-Pig

If Kevin the Giga-Pig arrives during a bidding round, at the end of that bidding round everyone will have to try and defeat him.

Creature College - fighting Kevin the Giga-Pig

Players who can't match the combat strength show on Kevin's card get trampled and have to take red 'loss' gems worth -1 VP each as shown on the card. Kevin gets tougher and tougher as the game goes on, so whilst there's no prize for beating him, it gets more and more important not to get squished!

Battle round

After three bidding rounds, a battle round is played. Players choose a single element from their creature pool and use one or more creatures of this element to battle the players on their left and right. Once used in a fight, these creatures are tired out and can't take part in any further fights during the game.

Creature College - creature and battle cards

You can choose what order to resolve the fights in and decide whether to throw in any of your Battle Cards to tip the balance in your favour. The prize for winning: delicious-looking green 'win' gems. The price for failure: equally delicious-looking but more disastrous on the points front 'loss' gems.

Creature College - win and loss gems

Win gems work a bit like the gold and silver dome tickets in The Crystal Maze (showing my age, there) - green ones are good (+1 VP), but any red ones you've picked up will count against you (-1 VP) when points are tallied at the end of the game and might cost you your abseiling activity weekend in Hull... Wait, no, that's still The Crystal Maze. But suffice it to say, you want your pile to look like this:

Creature College - green win gems

And definitely not like this:

Creature College - red loss gems

Another good way to stock up on victory points, as mentioned previously, is to complete your Mission. At the beginning of the game you'll be given a choice of three Mission cards which show a particular combination of Elemental cards.

Creature College - mission cards

If you can collect monsters of the appropriate combination by the end of the game you gain victory points as shown on your mission card.

Creature College - mission completion

At the end of the school year all the points from battles, missions, elemental scoring tracks and victory point cards are added up, and the player with the most victory points wins.

Even without small children to test on, we found Creature College to be good fun. It's light and easy to learn but there are still lots of meaningful decisions to be made. I love the bidding mechanic; being able to only use each token once makes you plan your bids carefully, not just plunging in straight away with the big number tokens in case you need them later in the game to win something you desperately need to complete your mission card.

The game moves quickly and the minimal downtime on each turn means small attention spans shouldn't wander too much! I can see the battle round taking an a long time with the full 6 players though.

The artwork is colourful, fun and occasionally creepy - see the knife-wielding teddy or this terrifying little guy:

Okay, I don't think he's supposed to be creepy, but he definitely scares me a bit!

As far as box content goes, the game components are brilliant quality. There are colourful gems, wooden tokens and chunky, well designed player boards all held in a sensible box insert. The rules are nicely written and clear, with lots of examples to help you pick things up (although if I'm being picky, they could do with another proof read to polish up a couple of blips).

Fun for all but the more hardcore of gaming groups, Creature College would make a great addition to any family collection (especially for anyone stalling for time until the next Pokemon release later this month!)

Creature College

Designer: Orhan Ertughrul
Publisher: Happy Otter Games
Players: 2-6
Age: 8+

Happy Otter Games logo

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