Not all of us are genius enough, or evil enough, to aspire to the infamous heights of the world’s Frankensteins. Nah – instead we’re content to play the role of Igor, basking in the shadow of the mad scientists’ greatness, performing all of the humble, if sometimes dirty, work. Never mind for the moment that Igor was not in Mary Shelley’s literary classic, that he didn’t show up until the 1931 Boris Karloff film, and even then his name was Fritz. But now, thanks to veteran designer Michael Schacht, you can assist the evil doctor in messing with the natural order until your heart’s content – in fact several times during a lunch hour!
How it Works
Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom is a simple shedding game, with a fixed layout and a pinch of a “take-that” mechanic. Your goal is to get rid of all your cards first or, failing that, play as many as possible to minimize the number of points you receive. Anyone who can learn and enjoy basic card games like Uno will do just fine with this title. Furthermore, fans of other, more obscure, layout shedding games like Kings in the Corners or Fan Tan (Sevens) will find this one right in their wheelhouse.
Game play is straightforward. First, place the four “machine” cards on the table with the ‘plus’ signs face-up (the other sides have ‘minus’ signs). Each machine is a different color, which basically serves as suits. You will play cards of corresponding color next to the four machines – this is the layout. Next, deal either 10 or 12 cards to each person depending on the number of players. Finally, deal 8 cards to a separate reserve deck and set aside any remaining cards out of play.
Each colored suit has 12 cards; two copies each numbered 1-6. You must play a card to the layout on your turn, if possible. At the start of the game, you can play any card to its corresponding machine. However, if a machine already has cards, you can only play according to the ‘plus’ or ‘minus’ displayed. If the machine’s ‘plus’ sign is up, then you may only play a card equal to or greater than the number currently at the top of that stack. It is just the opposite when the ‘minus’ sign is shown. If you play the same number, you have two options. You can flip a machine card of your choice to its other side. Or you may force another player to draw a card from the reserve deck. Also at any time, you may play a 1 on a 6, and vice-versa, regardless of which sign is up on the machine card.
If you cannot legally play you must pass, but you’re still in the game and might be able to play on your next turn, or later. When the first player has played all of his/her cards, everyone else gets a final turn and then tabulates scores for that round. You get 1 point for each skull and crossbones depicted on the cards in your hand; 2’s and 5’s are worth 1 point and 3’s and 4’s worth 2 apiece. Play a number of rounds equal to players in the game and then aggregate total scores. The player with the fewest points is victoriously chosen to serve as Dr. Gloom’s new intern.
Creator or Master?
Now, maybe you noticed throughout the previous section that I made zero reference to theme until that last sentence. Or maybe it didn’t cross your mind at all, in which case such singular obliviousness would equate to the actual experience of playing the game. To say that Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom is not thematic is an understatement. The mad scientist veneer is simply a nice excuse for the cute monster artwork, which admittedly is good in a light-hearted style. Yes, Trolliphants are indeed very cool, but you’re not really making them. You’re simply trying to shed your hand and proceed to do so without thematic consideration. This is decidedly a mechanically driven title and could even be played with some creative culling of a standard 52-card deck.
To be sure, those mechanics are solid. The rules are simple, as is the actual game play. This is not a terribly deep title, nor is it designed as such. However, like all card games, skilled play does require some subtle strategy. By making an opponent draw from the reserve deck, you can deliciously stick an opponent with an extra card at an inopportune time. This minor spite element will be familiar to any seasoned card gamer. I mean, who doesn’t get a kick out of schluffing the Queen of Spades off to an unsuspecting schmuck in a game of Hearts?
But unlike trick taking games, you’re not necessarily stuck with that extra card in Crazy Creatures. You have the chance of getting rid of it in a subsequent turn. On the other hand, rather than be a jerk, flipping a machine card may prove more advantageous to both aid your own progress and impede that of others. Observation and awareness, two traditional card gaming virtues, will serve you well here, too.
As a pure card game, Crazy Creatures will appeal on different levels, but suit a few situations nicely. For serious hobby gamers, Dr. Gloom’s monstrosities will serve as a nice quick filler before, between, or after other titles. For dyed-in-the-wool card gamers, the horrifying reanimations should provide a bit lighter fare, I’d say in the same vein as Gin or Rummy. For casual gamers, the mad Herr Doktor will prove an enjoyable social experience on the same level of something like Tichu (only quicker). And as for families, the fiendish laboratory experiments will offer a relaxed bonding time similar to Uno or Phase 10 – and can even teach younger kids basic numbers and critical thinking.
Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom is accessible to a broad range of groups, plays smoothly, and moves briskly. These little beasts transport easily, set-up quickly, and require no food. It’s even easy enough to skip the writing pad and keep score in your heads. If you’re looking for a thematic mad scientist game, this title will not fulfill. It is not very deep and won’t be an instant classic. But as a light, traditional-style card game with some subtle strategy and spite, it should deliver well as a filler, for social gaming, and for families.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Stronghold Games for providing a review copy of Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom.