Editor’s Note: My full review of Nature of the Beast will appear in Counter magazine.
The animals are at war – and most of mankind is oblivious to the conflagration. Forest beasts are warring with farm animals, while the conflict between furry city dwellers and suburbanites has grown deadly. The animals are smart, able to use various items to aid in their quest for domination. Occasionally they even enlist the aid of select humans, hoping to tilt the balance of power in their favor. The animal kingdom is not peaceful.
No, this isn’t the latest M Night Shyamalan or Sci-Fi channel thriller. Rather, it is a fun and clever card game from new designers Matthew and Mark Anticole and their homegrown company Eye-Level Entertainment. 2-players lead their animal forces in combat, attempting to be the first to flood their field with nine animals.
Each player possesses a deck that is divided into two separate decks: troops and tricks. Troops contain the various animals that a player has in his army, and each corresponds to the environment of the deck being played. The trick deck contains various special powers that can be used during the game, as well as an assortment of items, terrain and even a human or two. The decks are kept separate, and are easily distinguished by their different backs.
The object of the game is to fill a 3 x 3 imaginary grid with animals. Each player has his own grid, with conflict occurring across the grids with little regard to an animal’s location. Conflict isn’t the sole tactic in the game, however, as hand management and the maneuvering of cards into the proper positions is of equal or greater importance.
Victory goes to the player who first fills his 3 x 3 grid with animals. This will require the player to properly maneuver his cards, and cleverly utilize the powers of the animals and trick cards. Combat will be a necessity, but it generally does not dominate play.
While not a collectible card game per se, Nature of the Beast is similar in terms of game play. However, it is easier to grasp and play, and does not get bogged down in a seemingly infinite number of card combinations, exceptions and rules minutiae. Most turns will involve a limited number of actions, so players don’t get overwhelmed with too many options. Yet, the system provides numerous options and choices, making for a challenging game.
I also admire the total package, which is truly outstanding, especially considering this is a first release from both the designers and the company. The cards are durable with excellent graphics, and the information and icons on them are easy to understand. Each card even contains a clever and appropriate quote or statement that enhances the atmosphere of the game. Yet, in spite of all this information, the cards remain uncluttered.
The rules, too, are very well written, and filled with atmospheric stories and easy-to-understand examples. I’ve read rules to some collectible and expandable card games that left my head spinning. Not so here, and I was able to play the game quickly, with only a few returns to the rules for clarifications. The only minor quibble is the box itself, which is a tad bit thin and contains no insert. Still, it is functional and attractive, down to the “This game will not chew on the furniture” disclaimer!
High marks to Nature of the Beast, and kudos to its designers. They have given us a fun and challenging game, which is professionally produced and extremely reasonably priced. Hard core CCGers may find the game on the lighter side of the complexity scale, but most others will find it easily accessible, challenging and fun. While expansions for any game don’t normally entice me, new cards may help to keep it fresh, and add tantalizing new possibilities and card combinations. I’m looking forward to many sessions leading my animals to dominance in this clandestine war.
Mark Anticole, one of the designers, led Richard, Rhonda, Kevin and I into the perilous animal wars. I had played several times previously, as did Rhonda, but Richard and Keith were new to the game. We opted to play the short version of the game, wherein only a 3 x 2 grid needed to be filled to claim victory.
Rhonda was the first to threaten victory, but I managed to destroy her gasoline-toting mule, setting her back a bit. Kevin was similarly dealt with, as Rhonda used her powerful rooster to deal him a blow. Rhonda was once again on the verge of victory, but needed just one more action to accomplish the task. Richard was able to fill his grid on his turn to claim the victory.
Finals: Richard 6, Rhonda 5, Keith 5, Greg 4
My rating: 7