I love clever little games and I like cooperative games, so I was more than happy to have the opportunity to play Kreo, especially since Julien, the designer, was so nice to sit with us and guide us through the theme and his creative vision while doing so.
This continues in the line of small games that Cool Mini or Not has been publishing (or, in this case, distributing, if I am not mistaken) with critical success in recent times. This strikes many of the same chords as The Grizzled (coop, card based, sequential play without shared information) but actually does so in a smarter (and certainly less gloomy) way: players can (spending resources) show each other cards and even swap some, while trying to not play cards that would destroy the progress made by other players. While this will not replace Hanabi as my go-to quick cooperative, information based game, it provides an interesting (and very beautiful) gaming experience.
The game is entirely composed by beautifully illustrated cards, with the addition of a few glass beads. The graphic design is clear and efficient, with clearly marked succession of cards presented both on the cards themselves and on a summary card. While the information to communicate is limited, the game does so in an efficient and artistic way, and, beyond any other consideration, I think no one would argue that the game is visually pleasant. The card stock is of top market quality, as it seems to often be the case with big companies today.
Gameplay and mechanical analysis:
At the beginning of the game, the entire deck is dealt to the players; it consists of elemental cards (fire, air, earth, water), “Nature” cards (things like Atmosphere, Fish, Plants and finally “Planet”) and negative red cards that, when played, will harm the players.
Each turn, players choose a card from their hand and place it face down on the table. Then, in turn order, they reveal it and play it to the appropriate spot on the board. They are trying to play nature cards and complete them with element cards, so that the “next level” of nature cards can be played (you need atmosphere to have animals, as an example) and completed in turn.
The tricky part is that players are not allowed to communicate directly. However, they have a certain amount (8 at the beginning of the game, split as they want amongst them) of glass beads that they can use to “telepathically communicate”, to keep with the theme of gods recreating Earth. These allow the players to, for example, show a card to another player (1 bead) or swap 1 card, sight unseen, with another player (2 beads). Like Hanabi (the feeling of which this game evokes quite distinctly, despite the obvious difference that you see your own cards!), what exactly the other player is trying to tell you is going to be ambiguous.
With some cards waisted and some incidents (e.g. the red cards, that players will be forced to play at some point and that will remove element cards from the board), the sequence will slowly grow until, if you are fortunate and skillful enough, the planet card will be playable, played and completed with elements to win you the game.
While it shares certain elements and feelings with other games (Hanabi as mentioned, King’s Arthur swapping of cards in Shadows over Camelot, The Game's sequential play, etc.), Kreo is its own thing, and stands autonomously as a fun little puzzle, to solve cooperatively, with all the positives and negatives one could expect from the genre. Admittedly, I like them in general.
Variety and Replayability
This is where my concern lies with this game. While I certainly haven’t played this enough for this to become a problem, I can see it becoming a little stale. The fact that you have all cards in player’s hand limits the variability that a slow drawing could provide, negating the possibility of a game where certain cards become available at an earlier or later time than what would be convenient.
The game can however be difficult to win, especially using the advanced rules (which I highly suggest) that cause some variation to happen when some of the element cards are played. This will provide a certain replay value, and Kreo could certainly come out easily when new players are present.
Julien Prothière was, bar none, the friendliest and more welcoming designer I had the chance of meeting at GenCon, equally excited at introducing us to his creation and at having the possibility to express his ideas in French to American customers and reviewers, which created a delightful atmosphere while we were trying to create a survivable one in the game (bad pun, I know, let it slide and keep reading). This is, to my knowledge, his first design, and a very solid one. I look forward to his future work, and I hope he takes on some more substantial design, despite the fact that this little game definitely got me interested and I enjoyed my time spent playing.
If you like quick, clever games, with a cooperative nature, a short mechanical arc and beautiful components, Kreo offers that and more in a beautiful package. It will probably not be the highlight of your gamed, nor will it provide memorable gaming experiences (“remember that time I played the blue card and I revealed a green?”), but if the premises above intrigue you, I think you will be extremely satisfied with Kreo, which should hit general distribution soon.
I hope you enjoyed my review and I look forward to comments and feedback. For more reviews, both written and video, please check out my geeklist, here on bgg.
Thanks for reading