Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: a small child, fearful of what may be lurking in the shadows, is afraid of going to sleep. There are monsters, they insist, lurking all around them. They’re in the closet, under the bed, behind the chair – monsters, monsters everywhere! Of course, the child is eventually put at ease when the room was checked and there were no monsters to be found. This quiet reassurance was all they needed to fall into a restful and pleasant sleep.
The things is…it turns out there actually are monsters lurking about now. And they’re everywhere. The game of Teratozoic sees to that.
Teratozoic (literally meaning the Era of Monsters) is billed as a light card drafting deckbuilder for 2-6 players, where players guide the evolution of some truly odd and strange creatures. In this world, humans devised highly adaptable genetically modified creations to unleash upon one another – because that’s always a good idea – as expected, it got away from us. And we wiped ourselves out. What’s left was a world fit for the taking. In this game, you are the guiding hand of these monsters’ evolution.
Although the rule book is rather verbose (which assuredly will be tidied up), Teratozoic is a simple family-friendly affair. Each player starts out with a small deck of cards that make up your starting monster genes. Each of these cards have one of three colors and a numerical value from 1-6. All of the remaining cards make up a central deck with other monster bits of varying colors and point values. Your own deck is referred to as your Gene Pool, and the central deck is known as the Random Mutations deck, which are quite fitting and reinforces the theme of adapting and evolving to create the biggest, baddest monsters possible.
If you remember the 90’s Nickelodeon show Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, you’ll do well. Because you’re basically building the kind of monsters in that cartoon. Monsters you create will have all sorts of fuzzy, scaly, eyeball-and-teeth-laden components. And that’s actually a good thing!
Turns consist of drawing a set number of cards from the Random Mutations deck and your Gene Pool deck and effectively dropping them on the board. The number of cards you draw from each deck and the minimum you must play is determined by the Era that you’re in. Depending on the number of players, there are between three and seven Era to go through.
Granted, you don’t have use all of your cards, and part of the game’s light strategy is knowing when you want to play a bunch of them rid yourself of parts you don’t want or holding them back because you don’t think you can win the round and don’t want to risk the card.
But really, most of the time you’re just putting out whatever pieces you can to make a bunch of weird alien-like creatures. That’s the appeal of the game in a nutshell.
Thus, most turns have everyone simultaneously laying their cards on the table and getting to work assembling. All cards have between one and four connection points. So long as you match those parts up, you’re set. You can even create multiple creatures during your turn. In fact, many cards give bonuses if attached to a monster of a single color. You also get bonus points if you can build monsters on your turn if you have “complete” monster (one without any open connection points). They also look cooler that way.
Everyone then adds up the point values of their monsters on the table. The player with the highest total takes one or more cards from any monster on the board and adds them to their discard pile. Do you like Player A’s thorax, or Player B’s point mouths? (Yes, plural.) Then take that card. Afterwards, everyone gets to move one or more cards from their own monster and / or cards in their hand. Everything else is discarded to the central deck to be spliced, ground up, and reconstituted again.
That’s it. Really. Players keep doing this until the Random Mutations deck is empty, at which point the game progresses to the next Era. The use of Eras is interesting, allowing players to slowly fine-tune their decks into having increasingly potent and valuable monsters.
How long it takes to get through all of these Eras, however, admittedly tripped us up. Because the game is longer than you might think. The nature of Teratozoic is quite simple, and the rules are accessible for children and adults alike. The artwork further reinforces the notion that what you’re entering is a moderately quick and light family game about monster adaptation.
Teratozoic may be light, but quick is is not: it is billed as a 30-90 minute game, depending on player size. (We misread it on our first playthrough, so it came as a bit of a surprise for us too.) While the first half hour or so is particularly fun when you’re making all sorts of winged & tentacled things, the game becomes repetitive if it goes on too long and may not hold everyone’s attention at the higher time spans. Probably because everything about the otherwise lighthearted flavor of Teratozoic says “goofy filler game”.
One you reach the final Era, players can only use what’s in their Gene Pool deck, and the game ends when one player flies / slithers / runs through it. However, in one final twist, the game’s winner isn’t determined by the point value of your monsters, but by the number of physical cards used to build complete monsters.
Seemingly the idea is to encourage players to keep a balanced mix of powerful turn-winning parts with many of the smaller end pieces. This certainly helps strategically as to avoid just fixating on the more valuable monster cards, but the endgame scoring can also be a bit of a curve ball if you just spent a 45-60 minutes amassing the 40-point Mega Orange Fluffball of Doom and you lose a 12 card snake-like thing.
Teratozoic is best with people sitting around making the most bizarre constructs they can and then seeing the entertaining results. The theme works particularly well, as evolution makes the best out of a post-humanity cesspool by going from a highly unpredictable random central deck to a much more structured set of cards – and the beings created from them.
There’s a definitely some light decision-making by discerning what cards you want and how many cards to play each turn, but the game is very easy to grasp and is certainly accessible to a wide array of people. Its current iteration may be a little long in the tooth for some, but presumably that can be mitigated somewhat by adjusting Eras, whether you use all of the more advanced cards, and so on. Plus, maybe your monster won’t even have teeth by the end. You never know. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to create some things that go bump in the, well, everywhere, then check out Teratozoic over on Kickstarter before it goes extinct.
Photo Credits: Realm Monsters by Nickelodeon.