Cartoona Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the Kickstarter project page to back it and get yourself a copy! Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


The Basics:

  • For ages 3 and up
  • For 1 to 8 players (team play)
  • Variable game length

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading & Writing
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Creativity and art blend together to create whimsical creatures of fancy!

Endorsements:

  • Game Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

From the creative mind of artist Robert Burke comes a game where colorful and bizarre creatures are put together tile by tile. Creativity wins the day, but so does a keen mind and a sharp eye for detail. With a variety of ways to play and unlimited possibilities, Cartoona is a never-ending delight for the young and old alike.

Cartoona will reportedly be comprised of 94 colorful creature tiles, 70 game cards, 1 scoring pad, 1 scoring pencil, 1 children’s game objective sheet, and 8 player screens. For this review, per the game components provided, only the colorful creature tiles and game cards will be discussed.

Creatures, Creatures Everywhere

The center piece of the game is the creature tiles. These are colorful cardboard rectangles that show a portion of a creature. For example, the feet, the head, arms, legs, long beaks, and other creature bits. The art is simple and delightful, but more importantly, very useful. It is clear what each creature part is and how they all fit together. After playing Cartoona several times, not once did any of the players have a problem identifying how pieces were put together.

Note that I continually use the term “creature” and not “monster”. There is nothing threatening or frightening about these whimsical illustrations and the full creatures they will later become. In fact, I’d say the creatures that are built by the players are some of the most oddest, non-threatening things I have ever seen.

I should know; I’ve been to many game conventions. See what I did there?

The creature tiles , in addition to containing a portion of whatever creature will eventually be made, also contain numbers. The numbers on the tiles are used when scoring but also serve as a visual reminder which way the tile should be played. When placed in front of the player, the numbers will always be readable to the player who placed the tile. Never upside down.

Included in the creature tiles are 3 complete, single-tile creatures. These are small and the entire illustration of the creature fits on one creature tile. Hard to miss. These cannot be used to build onto a creature, but can be claimed as points (counting as a completed creature) if drawn. These tiles are optional and can be removed from the game.

The goal of all the games, one way or another, is to build the creatures. This is done by placing the creature tiles in such a way as to build a complete creature that could us as little as one tile or as many as 8 tiles. The more tiles you use, the more points your creature is worth, but so is the difficulty of completing it in time to score points. Sincere there is a limitation on how many creatures you can build at a time, the player must balance risk vs. reward in an attempt to score lots of points.

A number of rules define proper tile placement and bonus points. They are listed her in summary.

  • A creature can be started using any tile, except the smaller, completed creatures.
  • Creatures are always facing left and the numbers on the cards will always be right-side-up to the player who placed them.
  • Any new tiles placed must be next to a previously placed tile where the edges are touching and the illustrated black lines are connecting.
  • Tiles can never be placed diagonally.
  • Playing a creature tile is optional, but only one creature tile can be played per turn.
  • Only 1 creature can be built at a time with teams, or a maximum of 2 if playing as single-player.
  • Each card is worth the number of points listed on it – if a creature is ever built using cards all of the same color, they are worth double points.
  • Dual colored tiles represent the two colors shown, possibly resulting in a creature built entirely of the same color.

Example of just a few of the thousands of creatures you can build

The Game Cards

The game cards might or might not be used depending on what game variant is played. If they are used, they add a new layer of complexity and challenge to an otherwise very simple exercise in color and pattern matching. The cards provide points, goals, and even penalties. Through the cards, the players will increase the game difficulty for their opponent’s, jump ahead in points, and make the game much more competitive and chaotic. But if the added level of complexity and competition is not what you are looking for, they can be removed. Of course, you can also add the game cards in, even if the game variant doesn’t call for it.

A few of the rules are listed here in summary to provide you an idea of how the cards can played.

  • Players start the game with 2 cards and draw and play no more than one card per turn – the only exception are instant and special cards that can be played out-of-turn.
  • Playing cards is always optional.
  • Cards are played and attached to a specific creature tile – if that tile is ever removed or moved to another creature, the card goes with it – the only exception is when a tile is stolen, in which case the card is discarded.
  • Cards add or subtract the points listed on the creature tile they are attached to, but only count when the creature is scored.

There is a “Cheat” card included in the deck that is optional and can be removed from the game. The old saying “Cheaters Never Win” does not apply to Cartoona if this card is used.

Game Set Up

Regardless of what game variant is played, game set up is the same and simple.

Take and shuffle the creature tiles. Once thoroughly shuffled, separate the tiles into as many stacks as you like and place them face-down on the table in the middle of the playing area. The players will draw from these stacks on their turn. Next shuffle all the game cards and place them face-down in the middle of the playing area, too

Finally, write down the names of the players on a piece of paper and keep it close by so the points for completed creatures can be recorded.

You are now ready to play, but depending on the game variant selected, some of the above set up steps can be skipped.

Lots of Ways to Build, Lots of Ways to Play

The rule book details a number of different game variants that can be played using the simple creature building rules. Each game provides different levels of player interaction and challenge. No matter how many or how little players you have or their ages, there is a game for you to play with Cartoona. The different games are described in summary below.

 Full Game

  • This game variant plays 2 to 5 players for single-player game or 4, 6, or 8 players when playing in teams.
  • The recommended age for this game variant is 8 and up.
  • Each player draws 5 tiles and plays a maximum of one tile and one card per turn.
  • When a player completes a creature, they can score it by taking the tiles and putting them in a pile owned by the player.
  • The first player or team to 50 points wins the game.

 Basic Game

  • This game variant plays 2 to 5 players  – the recommended age for this game variant is 5 and up.
  • Each player draws 5 tiles and hides them from the other players.
  • On the player’s turn, they draw 2 tiles and play one of the two (if possible) to the table – once placed, a single tile (not necessarily the one just drawn) must be discarded.
  • When a player completes a creature, they can score it.
  • The game ends when the last tile is drawn and the player places it to the table.
  • The player with the most points wins.

Team Basic Game

  • This game variant plays 4, 6, or 8 players when playing in teams – the recommended age for this game variant is 5 and up.
  • Each player draws one tile per turn.
  • Players sit so the player turns alternate between teams, never giving a team more than one turn before the other team can play.
  • Players can build to their own or a teammate’s creature on their turn.
  • The team with the most combined points wins the game.

Solitaire Basic Game

  • This game variant plays with only 1 player – the recommended age for this game variant is 5 and up.
  • Single-tile creatures are not used and should be removed from the game.
  • The player places all the tiles face-down on the table as normal.
  • Only tiles of the same color can be played next to each other.
  • The player draws one tile on their turn, and depending on the tile’s color, it is either played to the table or discarded.
  • Play continues until 1 creature of each color type (four in total) are completed or the tiles run out.

Children’s Game

  • This game variant plays with 1 to 6 players – the recommended age for this game variant is 3 and up.
  • All the tiles are placed face-down into stacks as normal.
  • A player determines what type of creature should be built – for example, “a creature that is only purple and yellow.”
  • All the players attempt to build this creature.
  • On the player’s turn, they draw 1 tile – if they can use it, they play it to the table – if they cannot use it, it is placed face-down to the table, not on a tile stack, and never discarded.
  • Players can draw from the tile stacks or from any of the face-down tiles on the table.
  • Players can remove one of their tiles from a creature they are building on their turn, placing the removed tile face-down to the table.
  • The first player to create the creature described wins the game.
To learn more about the game and read the complete rules, visit Cartoona on Kickstater.

Prediction

I predict this game will be a big hit with the Child Geeks and Parent Geeks, but not at all interesting to the Gamer Geek crowd. In fact, I all but guarantee it and here’s why.

Cartoona is a pattern and color matching game at best. The game cards add a fun way to interact with the other players, but do not add a significant amount of depth to provide a game experience the Gamer Geeks would find challenging and rewarding. This is not a mark against the game and I would argue that the game itself is not intended whatsoever for the Gamer Geek crowd. With a game age entry level of 3, you cannot expect the game to be overly challenging.

But there is challenge here and the need for strategy and tactics. The players will need to make choices and their final scores, victory or defeat, will depend on how well they played using basic hand management, taking risks, and developing a workable strategy based on what they are attempting to build. All the building blocks to help a Child Geek grow into a Gamer Geek are here and in abundance. Based on what I am seeing before playing it with family and friends, the game has merit.

When I placed the game in front of my little geeks, they immediately thought it was a puzzle and tried to start matching all the pieces together. Even my 2-year-old started playing with the pieces and building creatures. Nevermind that one of his creatures had a head coming out of the rear end of some sort of horse-beaked four-legged oddity. A creature is a creature is a creature. Besides, he was having a blast.

When I explained the different games that could be played, they had little interest and just wanted to play with the tiles. I was happy to do so and I, again, highly encourage all Parent Geeks to turn their little geeks loose on games. The goal is to have fun and enjoy the game. Most of the time that means playing the game, but not always. If my little geeks wanted to play with the pieces, so be it. There would always be time later to play the game.

When my little geeks were finally ready to try a game, I explained how the tile matching was completed correctly and the goals of the different games, which are dependent on the game played. The tile placement rules are very straight forward and my little geeks had no problems understanding the legal and illegal methods of tile placement. The only thing left to do was to play a game or two. While I set up the game playing area, I asked my little geeks what they thought of the game so far.

“This looks like a really simple game, but I like the drawings and the funny creatures I get to make.” ~ Liam (age 7)

“Look at this, Daddy! You can create a monster with giant ears and a big mouth!” ~ Nyhus (age 4), commenting on one of the creatures in the rule book

My 4-year-old loves what he is seeing but my 7-year-old sounds strangely bored. I wonder if he is starting to get too old for these easier games or maybe he is just in a “mood”. Either way, I’m not getting any negative vibes and I think it is time to see if this game comes together nicely or is just a jumbled mess.

Final Word

As I predicted, the game is a great one for the Child and Parent Geeks to play together, and of little interest to the Gamer Geeks I introduced it to. Too simplistic for the elitists, but wonderful for children and families. A real surprise was that my 7-year-old was not really enjoying the game as much as I thought he would. When I asked him later if he had fun, he said he did but just didn’t feel it was a challenging game. My 4-year-old was a different story and loved the game. Loved it so much he wanted to take it to his room and keep it under his bed. For those of you with children, you know this is the equivalent of building a shrine around the game. Only the “best of the best” get to live under the bed!

It is clear that the game is a hit with the younger crowd, and as a parent, I very much like how the game uses important geek skills in a light way, making the game a fun and easy one to play, but it also establishes the base on which more complicated games will eventually be played. There is also a great deal of thinking involved which is a real joy as there are so many “children’s games” available on the market today that do not require much in the way of thought. A mind is a terribly thing to waste, especially when it is your child’s.

When I played the game with just adults, with children out of the equation, there was little to no interest in the game. This is due partially, oddly enough, with how the game is presented. It is meant to be visually appealing to children and that gives it a childlike quality that most adults identify as being simple. This is not the case for all adults, however. Some of the folks I played the game with were drawn to the art and wanted to learn more about the game because of it.

Game play wise, there is not much here for just adults. Adults needed the little geeks to have fun with the game and here is where the game really shines. The level of social interaction and creative play makes for a very worthwhile and rewarding experience for all involved. The end result is a game that is worth everyone’s time and a memory maker. But this is not the only sparkle to the game. Remove the “game” portion and you have yourself a delightful, creative puzzle toy for the little geeks to play with. My little geeks play with the tiles a great deal. This elevates the game, in my opinion, and sets it slightly above the other games my little geeks enjoy.

While I gave my 2-year-old a bath, my 4-year-old plays a solo game of Cartoona

Gamer Geeks, Cartoona is pretty to look at but not very challenging to play. For this reason, I doubt it will find much traction with the Game Geek group. The games do require a level of strategy and tactics to play, but not nearly enough to keep the mind occupied. The game cards kick it up a notch, but only a little. The end result is a game that is easy to play, requires creativity, but feels underwhelming if you are expecting something challenging. A fun diversion, but perhaps only once. Long story short, consider “little geeks” a necessary game component to include if you play Cartoona.

Parent Geeks, this is a fun and worthwhile game to have at your gaming table. It introduces the basics, reinforces the geek skills, and plays quickly and easily. What is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of this game for the Parent Geek is its very low age level requirements and multiple game variants with increasing level of difficulty. This makes Cartoona a welcomed game for years to come and grows with your little geek. Each level adds a bit more challenge and lot more fun. Do let your little geeks enjoy some free-play with the tiles and see what wonderful and highly creative creatures they make.

Child Geeks, Cartoona is a delightful build-your-own-creature game where you, tile by tile, show everyone at the table how creative you are! Be sure to use the same colored tiles as often as possible, but don’t be afraid to be as creative as you want to be! In the end, it’s about what you make, not how you score. Your creatures will be a wonder to behold as they slowly take shape in front of you. Laugh at the silliness and high-five everyone at the table when the last creature is built!

Cartoona is one of those games I wish I had growing up. It is challenging and open to creativity, encouraging the players to act freely. Most of the games I had as a little geek were roll-and-move and memory games. A shame, really, but the game market at that time was not accessible enough to the independent game designers and free thinkers. I do, however, count myself very lucky that I live during a time where my little geeks can play these games and I get to play with them. I might not have had the opportunity as a child, but I will certainly be happy with the opportunities I have as a parent. Cartoona delivers quality and creativity with endless variety. Truly a wonderful game for the family. Do give Cartoona a try if and when you get the chance.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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4 Responses to Cartoona Game Review (prepublished version)

  1. Marty says:

    Great review. Robert Burke is coming to our Meetup Group this coming Tuesday to demo the game, so I’m anxious to try it.

    • Cyrus says:

      Well that’s some pretty cruddy planning on our part. He could have just given the game to you for review! Oh, well. Next time…

    • Marty says:

      Haha, well I just found out myself a couple days ago. I’ll let you know what the group thinks of it.

  2. Marty says:

    Last night we had the opportunity to meet with Robert Burke and play test Cartoona. When first reading about the game, I wasn’t that excited about but I really ended up enjoying it.

    We had two teams of two play against each other and in that setting the teammates could build off each others animals. So there was some nice coop strategy going on between the teams. The cards do make a huge difference in the game. Without the cards the game would be pretty basic. However, the cardless format is perfect for young geeks.

    The game is easy to learn, quick to pickup and has a nice mechanic behind. The four players are all considered ‘hardcore gamers’ and each one of us enjoyed playing. Robert has made this game for the family/kid demographic and I think it’s spot on. It has nice artwork, each to manage tiles, and the skills involved in playing the game will be great young minds.

    Quick kudos to Robert. He wanted us to be very honest about the game and as we played we voiced questions and concerns. He was not defensive at all and took all of our suggestions seriously, wrote them down and truly appreciated our feedback. He wants to make a game that is fun for the family and is taking his playtesting seriously. I hope for him this is a huge success.

    One note, we all did say that one way to reach the older gamers was to take the same dynamic and maybe do a more sophisticated theme such as building rockets, mechwarriors or something like that. So maybe once Cartoona is a success he can expound upon the rules and bring something to market that will appeal to different demo than Cartoona.

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