I see board games in the store and they always look so cool and then I buy them and bring them home, I’m so excited to open them, and then I play them, like, twice… This column is dedicated to the love of games for those of us whose eyes may be bigger than our stomachs when it comes to playing, and the joy that we can all take from games, even if we don’t play them very often.
Years ago – the internet tells me it was March of 2017 – I Kickstarted a little game called Campy Creatures, making it one of the earliest projects I have ever backed on the platform, so I guess we can blame it for the terrible addiction that will leave me broken and penniless someday.
Manufactured by Keymaster Games, who have more recently put out the popular game Parks, Campy Creatures is, as the box declares, a “Ghoulish Game of Deduction & Bluffing.” What that means, in practice, is that each player assumes the role of a “mad scientist” with an identical hand of creature cards. The goal is to capture mortals, who are dealt out randomly each turn.
When the time comes to capture said mortals, the players all choose a creature card from their hand and play it facedown in front of them. Then all the creatures are revealed at the same time. Each creature card has a strength value as well as a special ability that activates when it is played. The strength value determines what order players will capture mortals in, though abilities can affect this.
Different mortals have different values themselves, and the player with the most points worth of mortals at the end of the game is the winner. Of course, there are monkey wrenches that necessitate unique strategies. Some mortals are worth negative points, for example—you want to get rid of those—while others are worth different amounts of points based on how many you have. Teenagers are worthless except to the player who has the most and second most.
Fundamentally, the mechanics will feel familiar to anyone who has played this kind of bluffing game before. The creatures and victims and mad scientists are all just set dressing over a pretty simple mechanic. Because each player has the same hand, the bluffing and deduction aspect comes in as you try to guess the other players’ strategies, and overcome, react, or cope with them via your own cards.
An expansion was released, also via Kickstarter, in November of 2018, which added additional cards to the base game, including new monsters with new abilities, as well as a “location” mechanic that slightly complicates the scoring, but the basics of gameplay remained largely the same.
While some games of this type give you the ability to incorporate new cards into your hand over the course of the game, that’s not the case in Campy Creatures. Everyone has the same nine cards from the start of the game to the end, and all of your strategies and plays come down to how you use those nine cards, and in what order, with the prominently-featured “clash-o-meter” used primarily to resolve ties or situations in which two abilities might activate at the same time.
Campy Creatures is a fun game – easy to learn and quick to play. In a lot of ways, it’s the opposite of many of the games that we feature here at I Played It, Like, Twice, because it’s small, quick, and inexpensive. The base game will run you $25 on the Keymaster Games website; the expansion around $15. At the time that I write this, you can also pick it up at Barnes & Noble. And a game of Campy Creatures usually takes half-an-hour or less – making it an ideal thing to play around the table on Halloween, maybe in-between visits from trick-or-treaters.
What made me pull the trigger on the game, way back when I wasn’t Kickstarting every third game that came across my desk, was the artwork. I’m a fan of the classic movie monsters, and the art for Campy Creatures was specifically designed to evoke the movie poster art of the 1950s, just as the creatures themselves reflect that throwback vibe.
Rather than slashers or the like, we have classic creatures from the days when movies were in black-and-white. Alien invaders and a Pacific Rim-style kaiju, sure, but also vampires, werewolves, mummies, invisible men, swamp creatures, a blob, and King Kong with the serial numbers filed off. The expansion set adds a man-eating plant, a “rogue robot,” Frankenstein’s Monster, and a giant spider.
The art is by Josh Emrich, who also worked on the card game Caper – also from Keymaster Games – and it’s obviously popular, as on his shop he has worked it into pins, prints, refrigerator magnets, and even glassware.
The look of the game – combined with its relatively low price point – may have been what sold me on Campy Creatures, and is certainly what makes it a perfect Halloween diversion, but a good look can only go so far. Fortunately, there’s a simple bluffing and deduction mechanic operating under the hood. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it works, and games are quick and fun enough that you might even play this one more than, like, twice…