As a kid I drooled over the big, colorful collection of mail-in offers for books. There was always a catch of course – you could cancel at any time, and they never did tell you just how much it would cost to collect the entire set. My family didn’t have a lot of money at that point so I unfortunately was never able to collect the entire set of anything. I once made it as far as six books before we had to cancel the subscription.
Those same companies are still around and have wisely adjusted their tactics to suit the latest trends – specifically, card games. And thus we have Weird ‘n Wild Creatures, which is concentrated cool stuff for boys distilled onto cardstock.
Weird ‘n Wild Creatures comes in two formats: a colorful index-card style sheet filled with interesting tidbits about the creature and a playing card with the critter’s Attack, Defense, and Life. The influence of games like Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering are obvious. But wouldn’t it be nice if kids actually learned about real critters as they played? Wonder no more – Weird ‘n Wild Creatures aims to teach as well as entertain.
The starter kit contains 18 creature cards, 16 trading cards, 8 divider cards (for the eight different categories of critter), 2 activity cards, 1 glow-in-the-dark die, a cardboard container for the trading cards, and a plastic box to contain the creature cards. Depending on how much you want to pay, future installments send you more creatures to add to your collection. You also get a bonus item meant to entice the parent to buy this set – in my case I got walkie-talkies, which my three-year-old boy will enjoy more than the fossil kit referenced on the web site.
The creature cards are gorgeous. They’re not sturdy enough to handle much abuse, but they are fun to read. Some of them feature timelines, others focus on the creature’s interesting traits. All of them are beautifully illustrated, colorful, and eye-catching. Every animal is in an action pose that looks like it will eat the reader. The creatures are divided into eight categories:
- Monsters of the Past: Dinosaurs and other prehistoric/extinct creatures.
- Nightmares of Nature: The biggest, baddest, fiercest creatures on earth.
- Toxic Terrors: Poisonous creatures (snakes, lizards, sea creatures, insects)
- Monsters of the Deep: Fearsome/giant sea creatures (sharks, deep-sea creatures)
- Tiny Terrors: Insects and other small creatures.
- Strange Wonders: Weird and wonderful creatures – more fascinating than ‘scary.’
- Monsters of the Mind: Creatures from myth and legend.
- Monster Mania: A variety of games, activities and exercises to help kids get more out of their series.
Monster Mania features crossword puzzles and other games. We haven’t collected the whole set yet, but so far there are three different games. The first is a simple game of war – whichever player puts down a card with the highest attack level takes both cards and adds them to his deck until his opponent runs out of cards. The second game uses the die only to determine who goes first, then it’s one creature vs. another in an attack vs. defense comparison, with the losing creature sent to a graveyard. Play continues until one of the players runs out of cards. The third game is more Magic: The Gathering style – each player places five creatures face up and then chooses the attacker/defender, rolls a die, adds in attack/defense bonuses, and the loser goes to the graveyard. It essentially “taps” the creature, but since Wizards trademarked that phrase, creatures that attack “can’t attack or defend again until after the player’s next attack turn.”
The die is a tiny six-sided with pips. It glows in the dark, which is neat, but you’ve got to ask how kids would play the game in the dark since you can’t read the cards. My son loves the die – he sees daddy playing tabletop games and hoards dice like a dragon hoards gold – but as you can see from the Monster Mania rules it has little utility.
The trading cards aren’t made of much sturdier stock than the creature cards and will likely suffer more abuse. I suspect I may need to print my own after the boy plays with them for a while.
Rules-wise, the creature comparisons don’t make a lot of sense. It’s hard to stack up a Tiny Terror against, say, a Monster of the Past like a T-Rex. Fortunately, there are also gold cards which have special abilities. From what I can see so far, the attack and defense numbers go as high as 10. The life points go to 100 and also don’t always match the ferocity of the beast. This is probably as much about making the game random as it is to make it fair — a kid with a pile of Tiny Terrors would get destroyed by a player with Monsters of the Mind. To rectify this, I will be covering each monster as part of my Little Monsters column, basing its Attack/Defense/Life off of standard d20 statistics. I can’t help myself, these kinds of things really bother me.
The container is a simple black box with very little design on it. It looks like it will hold a lot of the creature cards and is the one part of the set that’s sturdy enough to handle kid-usage. There’s also a flimsy little deck box for the trading cards which is hard to open, came bent in the package I received. It will be replaced by a true gamer’s card box, my son’s first.
Still, this is an excellent idea for geeks of all ages and a great way to get young gamers interested in the various fauna of the past, present, and myth. My son loves looking at the cards and collecting the set. We also plan to use the cards as part of Crypt & Critters, so stay tuned for a featured Crypt & Critters-compatible beast each week.