King’ Critters Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 5 and up (publisher suggests 7+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 20 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • The good King’s beloved animals have been stolen from the Royal Zoo by a fearsome dragon! Time to strap on your armor and go save some critters!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geeks rejected!
  • Parent Geeks rejected!
  • Child Geeks approved!

Overview

The Royal Zoo has been the King’s pride and joy for as long as anyone cares to remember. It was carefully constructed and filled with exotic beasts from across the realms. The people of the kingdom were welcome to visit and marvel in wonderment at the strange and beautiful animals it contained. But when word of the King’s collection reached the ears of a greedy dragon, the giant fire-breathing beast grew jealous and stole all the critters from the Royal Zoo! Now the King is beside himself with grief, the critters are in jeopardy, and you have been summoned. As Heroes of the Realm, you have been tasked to save the critters from the dragon! The damsels in distress will have to wait.

King’s Critters, by Victory Point Games, is comprised of 1 game board, 28 Critter tokens, 4 Hero counters, 1 Dragon (double-sided) token, 46 Event cards (12 red, 2 white, 2 purple, 8 orange, 4 green, 8 yellow, 4 blue, and 6 rainbow), and 4 Magical Cart cards. Our copy of the game also came with 1 very small six-sided die. While excellent for storage, the die does not work very well (being exceedingly small and prone to getting lost). We suggest you replace it with a normal sized six-sided die. Not included in the game, but needed, is a small cup or a bag to randomize and blindly draw the Critter tokens.

Realm Set Up

To set up the game, first unfold and place the game board in the center of the playing area and within easy reach of all the players. Now separate the Event cards into their 7 different colors. Shuffle each deck of cards and place each deck, face-down, next to its draw space as indicated on the game board (the deck of red Event cards is placed in the center of the game board and the other Event cards are placed on the outside edges). If using the rainbow cards (blank cards the players can use to create their own Event cards), shuffle any number into as many Event cards stacks as wanted.

Now place the Dragon token on the “Dragon Asleep” space on the game board with the “Dragon Asleep” side face-up. Place the Critter tokens into a cup or a bag and blindly draw 2. Place one on each of the “Critter Start” spaces on the game board, image side up.

Each player now takes 1 Hero and a matching colored Magical Cart card. All the Hero counters are placed on the “Zookeeper” space of the game board and the Magical Cart is placed in front of their owning player. All unused Hero counters and Magical Carts are removed for the duration of the game.

Each player now takes a turn rolling the six-sided die. The player with the highest roll goes first! Play continues clockwise around the table.

A Hunting We Will Go

On their turn, the player will complete three steps in sequential order. These are as follows:

Step 1: Move

The player rolls the six-sided die and moves their Hero counter that number of space in any direction on the board following the path and counting each space they move into as 1 movement. Players can travel through and end on spaces occupied by other Heroes and by Critters, but can never enter or pass through the same space twice on their turn. When moving to the “Zookeeper” space, a player need not roll exactly to stop on it. As soon as the Hero counter moves into the “Zookeeper” space, the movement count ends regardless of how much movement is left, but only if the player wants it to. A player can always go past the “Zookeeper” space if there is no need to stop there.

If the player ends their movement on the “Zookeeper” space with a captured Critter, the Critter token is removed from their Magical Cart and placed in front of them for scoring at the end of the game, forever safe from the dragon.

Step 2: Capture

To capture a Critter, the player’s Magical Cart must first be unoccupied by another Critter and the Hero counter must have ended their turn on the same space occupied by a Critter or a Critter ends their turn in a space with the Hero. If these conditions are met, the Critter has been captured and safely placed in the Magical Cart. This applies to all players, not just the player whose turn it is. If a Critter stops in a space occupied by 2 or more Heroes who can capture the Critter, the player whose turn it is decides who the Critter goes to. If a space contains more than one Critter, the player chooses which one to take.

Once captured, the Critter token is taken off the game board and placed on the player’s Magical Cart. Only one Critter per cart is possible, which raises the question what is so magical about it? Clearly, not storage space.

Step 3: Draw Event Card

The player now draws an Event card that matches the color of the space the Hero counter is currently occupying (referred to a zones). The Event card will either be a Shield or will instruct the player to take an action. If the Event card is a shield, the player places the Event card next to their Magical Cart for protection from the dragon.

The Event card’s instructions will show the dragon asleep and awake. Depending on the Dragon’s current state of wakefulness (or lack their off), the player will take different actions. The Event cards will instruct the player, through the use of very clear icons, what action need to be completed. Some of these actions are as follows:

  • Swap location with a Hero and a Critter
  • Move a Hero
  • Move a Critter (which is just like moving a Hero)
  • Place a Critter
  • Awaken the Dragon
  • Move Dragon
  • Dragon Attacks
  • Remove Shield

If there are no longer any Event cards for that space, look at the Event card spot on the game board to determine if the action can be completed. For all Event card spaces without any more Event cards, this action is to always move the dragon to a new Event card space and then attack, but this only happens if the dragon is awake.

Example of an Event card

If the dragon is currently occupying a part of the realm where the Hero is located (Dragon token is located on an Event card space that matches the color of the Hero’s space), the player cannot draw any cards for it. Additionally, any player on the”Zookeeper” space does not draw Event cards, either.

Once the actions on the Event card have been completed, the Event card is discarded and the player’s turn ends. It is now the next player’s turn.

Let Sleeping Dragons Snore

The dragon starts the game asleep, allowing the Heroes to venture about the realm unhindered. This won’t last. The dragon will eventually awaken, and once it does, it will not sleep again until the end of the game. The only card that awakens the dragon is in the red Event card deck, and since the Event cards are randomized, there is no telling when the dragon will open its eyelids.

The game becomes understandably more difficult when the dragon starts to terrorize the realm. Specifically, the dragon can occupy certain areas of the realm (portrayed by placing the Dragon token on the Event card space of that realms color) and attack the Heroes. Any Critters currently occupying the same zone as the dragon moves to are recaptured by the dragon, taken off the board, and returned to the Critter cup or bag.

The dragon will also attack the Heroes Magical Carts automatically! If the Hero cannot defend their Magical Cart by discarding a  number of shields equal to the dragon’s attack strength (1 point of strength for every icon that shows the dragon attacking), the captured Critter is removed and returned to the Critter cup or bag.

Note that the dragon only attacks Heroes and Critters on the game board located on colors that match the Event card space the Dragon token is currently on and only once per dragon movement. The dragon will not attack again until it moves to a different Event card space. All Critters who were safely returned to the “Zookeeper” space are safe from dragon attacks.

Ending the Adventure

The game immediately ends when one of the following conditions are met:

  • The last Event card on the game board is drawn and played
  • When the dragon is placed on the last Event card space that still has Event cards
  • The last Critter is drawn from the Critter cup or bag

As soon as one of the conditions are met and any necessary actions completed, the players stop and count the point values of all their Critter tokens they returned to the zoo. Critters on the Magical Cart are not added to the final score.

The player with the most points wins the game, is the Hero of the Kingdom, and gets their name on a plague somewhere in the Royal Zoo.

To learn more about King’s Critters and read the rule book, see the game’s web page.

Prediction

I predict this game will be terribly popular with the Child Geeks, but will fall flat with the Parent and Gamer Geeks. Roll-n-move games are considered “childish” and even somewhat “insulting” to Gamer Geeks and Parent Geeks will think this to be a kids game. Me? All I can see is a dragon.

The game play is simple, but I am loving how the game plays itself out. I think my little geeks are going to love it, too. There is an element of danger as the players sneak around the sleeping dragon and race as fast as they can to collect the Critter tokens before the beast wakes up. Then the game takes on an entirely different feel when the dragon does wake up and starts to set fire to everything. Yes, very neat.

Teaching the game took a bit longer than I thought because my little geeks really wanted to know what each icon meant on the cards. We went through each card and talked about what they meant. A bit of a tedious exercise for me, but my little geeks felt very satisfied about their own level of understanding of the game once we were finished. And so, as I reset the game for our first play, I asked them their thoughts on the game so far.

“Very cool fantasy game! Really like how the dragon can move about but is asleep at first.” ~ Liam (age 7)

“I really like how we get to travel and save the animals!” ~ Nyhus (age 5)

Looks like both of my little Heroes are ready to start their adventure! Let’s go find out if the adventure is worth their time.

Final Word

Simply excellent. The game proved to be engaging and fun. My little geeks had a wonderful time playing it and so did I.

I forgot it was a simple roll-n-move game and became obsessed with finding the shortest path to the Critters and back home again. The forced movement was frustrating for everyone at the table, however. Many times, my little geeks would groan because they would travel just past or not quit far enough to land on a Critter token. The saving grace was having the ability to move a Critter from time to time, which served to help out all the players. But when the game became really interesting was when the dragon woke up. That’s when all the players at the table started to lean in and played with a renewed interest. The first game we played, the dragon didn’t show up until towards the end. The second and third game, the dragon woke up very early. In all three cases, the games felt very different.

Parent Geeks and Gamer Geeks really enjoyed playing this game with their little geeks but not with their own test groups. This is a kids game and it did little to keep the interest of the adults when played with their own peers.

As my 5-year-old moves his Hero, his older brother impatiently waits for the Event card to reveal the players’ fate!

Gamer Geeks, this game is not for you. It is meant for kids and does an outstanding job, but falls well short of being a game you’d want to play at your elitist gatherings. For you, the roll-n-move game mechanism will drive you crazy, but you won’t be able to stop enjoying yourself if you play this game with little geeks. It is fast, fun, and cleverly populates the board with Critters. It is clear that this is a game that was well thought out, but was never meant to be played at the “Big Geek Table”.

Parent Geeks, like the Gamer Geeks you will enjoy playing this game with your little geeks but not with just adults. The game is meant for kids and should be played with kids. There are some important decisions to be made in the game even though there are many elements that are random. There is an excellent balance to it that allows even the weakest player to keep up and have fun while allowing the strongest player to keep ahead without running away with the game. Well designed, well thought out, and brilliantly executed, we think this will be a family favorite with your little geeks.

Child Geeks, great ready for adventure! You’ll need to make important choices on how to move your Hero and your Critters, but these choices will not impact the game forever. You will, at most, suffer a little regret but only based on hindsight. The game starts out with little danger to the Heroes or Critters, but all that changes when the dragon comes out. Once it does, every move will be one that could lead you to face the dragon’s fire. There is little you can do to protect yourself from a dragon attack except race for the finish line. Which, honestly, is much better than trying to fight the dragon head-on.

I really like this game. It has a fantasy theme, a light Euro feel, and different game stages that change the way all players go about their turn. The random elements of movement and the card draws are forgivable when we consider this is a very well-balanced and designed kids game. It was never meant to be an adults’ game and it shows, but it is still fun. Playing it with my little geeks is a blast and I love how they stop and think through their moves and Critter placement. I can see they are considering the level of logistic difficulty and the odds of the dragon waking up. In fact, my little geeks avoided the red spaces that contain the card that wakes the dragon as much as possible, which clearly demonstrated to me they understood where the danger was located.

The game has two faults, in my opinion. First, because this is a kids game and a very good one, it is bound to be played a lot. Victory Point Games focuses more on game play than game component durability. As a result, and only after 7 games, my copy is starting to show wear. I’m going to have to reinforce the game as soon as possible if I want to keep enjoying it in one piece at the gaming table. Second, the colors on the Event cards and the game board do not match 100%. For example, there’s red game board spaces and reddish pink Event cards, which are meant to be the same color. This slowed down the game a bit and was more of an annoyance than anything else.

King’s Critters is a wonderful game to play with the little geeks and very well designed. The Designer Notes included in the game detail the journey the game took and detail the designer’s thought process on creating it. There was a lot of time and effort put into the game and it shows. It plays light, plays smart, and plays balanced. For a kids game, that’s pretty gosh darn good. Too often we see designers taking shortcuts in games because why bother putting time and energy into something that is going to be played by kids? A total shame when you consider that these games are the building blocks that will create the foundation of our future Gamer Geeks. It is always a thrill for me to find a game that plays to enrich as well as entertain. King’s Critters does this and then some, resulting in a wonderful experience and some very memorable moments.

Do get your hands on this wonderful game when you get a chance and never miss an opportunity to go adventuring with your little geeks, regardless of their age or yours.

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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