Happy Otter Games have taken the Pixar approach when making Creature College, by trying to design a game that is squarely marketed at younger gamers but has more than enough strategy to keep grown-ups happy, and do you know what, I reckon they've pulled it off.
At its heart Creature College is a bidding game. You will bid on a variety of creatures available each round and at the end of each term (three rounds) you'll send your creatures off to battle. There's also a simple dice system that gives you a random choice of some juicy bonuses to acquire.
On the surface it's a very simple game, bid on the creatures you want, win points for being victorious in battle and get some extra points for a secret, set collection mission. But scratch beneath the surface and there's a lot more game underneath.
You can concentrate on winning battles, make set collection your aim or just grab as many victory point bonus cards as you can. Then there's the option of denying your opponent, bidding on creatures from elemental groups they don't have or purposefully setting up to defend against their attacks.
You have limited slots for bonus cards and can't swap them out, so you have to think carefully how to use the dice rolls to build up your bonus most effectively. For a game wrapped up in such a cutesy package there's a significant amount of decision making available.
And that is Creature College's big draw, it's light and bright enough at you can play with kids but at the same time you could put this in front of a group of hard-core gamers and they would delight in the strategies and tactics available. It's no beard stroking cube shuffler but there are a good 45 minutes of meaningful decisions and cute monsters.
There's also very little randomness to the game, you do have dice but you'll never feel screwed over by them. The monsters that come out are random but that just makes the bidding round more interesting. There is however, the school bully.
Once per term Kevin will emerge and everyone will have to battle him. It's the only cruel element of the game, as you'll have to squander precious creatures and power ups to take him down, but even then you know he's going to come around eventually and if you can adequately prepare for his arrival you'll be fine. Personally I found this one of the most fun aspects of the game as everyone looked at their hand of monsters and sighed with exasperation as their plans fell apart.
I played an early prototype and there were a couple of minor issues, mainly to do with the iconography on the dice and how they apply to the upgrade card options. These changes are in hand apparently, and shouldn't affect the final version.
I should make clear that even for a prototype this game was extremely well produced, clear iconography, colourful art, lovely tactile components and even decent box control, for those that are interested in that kind of thing. I have no doubts that the final version is going to look superb.
Creature College set out to make a game suitable for both kids and grown-ups alike, and I'm happy to say that Happy Otter Games have managed to pull this off. There's enough meat to it to keep everyone happy from young gamers to seasoned hobbyists, and it's not often that happens.
Creature College is on Kickstarter now.
This Kickstarter preview is based on a prototype version of the game played with the game's designer. In the interest of full disclosure the designer also bought me a pint of beer, it was a Dark Side of the Moose and it was superb, but you're here for board game reviews and not beer reviews.