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Iain K
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In Summary

"The Creature that Ate Sheboygan" is a good game with a great theme. Its roots in wargaming and low production values can be forgiven as it let's the child in all of us rampage as the movie monster of our choice. On a scale of 1-10, I give it a 6, a fun game if you approach it in a light hearted manner, much like the films that inspired it.


Background / Theme

It's the late 1970's, and SPI the leader in historical simulations (which are a lot like wargames but have rules written by lawyers) decides to diversify. Space Capsule #1 is produced, a mini-game in a clear envelope. The Creature is born.

You've seen Godzilla. You've seen King Kong. They and countless other Saturday afternoon movies are the inspiration behind The Creature.

As the 50th anniversary of Godzilla passes, it's fitting to give this venerable game another try.


The Bits and Pieces

The envelope contains a map on heavy paper stock, 100 matte finished cardboard counters measuring less then half an inch square, a four page rulebook, and a loose sheet with tables for combat results, terrain costs, and building destruction results.

Let me say before continuing, that The Creature sold for $4 back in 1979. So it's no surprise that the component quality is quite low. The map is a rare botch by noted designer Simonsen, and for some reason brings to mind Metropolis. Buildings are monochromatic boxes, the yellow ones are taller then the beige . . . well that's obvious. Park areas are uniformly filled in solid green with not a tree, fountain, or bench in sight. Now I haven't been to Sheboygan, but the map seems a little too stark.

Not to pick nits, I do have two major problems with the components. First the map uses "areas" (for lack of a better term), some of which are too small to fit a unit into. Yes, you read correctly. I'm no guru of game design, but it seems to me that if unit counters are to be placed in areas, the areas need to be physically large enough to hold unit counters.

Don't even get me started on the bridge areas, which are too small to fit units into . . . and units can also be considered to be in a separate, imaginary area, underneath the bridge.

The second issue is with the rulebook. Sure four pages sounds short, but this is SPI at its most legalize. Picture four pages of microfiche.

Perhaps an example will help convey the true horror to which I refer . . . consider the section of the rules detailing fires in buildings:

11.0 Fire
. . . . 11.1 Burning
. . . . . . . . subsections 11.11, 11.12, 11.13
. . . . 11.2 How fires spread
. . . . . . . . subsections 11.21, 11.22, 11.23, 11.24, 11.25
. . . . 11.3 Firemen
. . . . . . . . subsections 11.31, 11.32, 11.33
. . . . 11.4 Effects of Flames
. . . . . . . . subsection 11.41

People, this is why we don't let lawyers write game rules!

It also illustrates why wargamers laugh at boardgamers who complain about German rule translations.

I wonder how many 1970's wargamers became lawyers . . . or for that matter accountants specializing in tax law.


The Mechanics

Despite the rulebook's best efforts, game play is pretty straight forward. Both players begin one of the five scenarios (or make their own) with a specific number of strength points.

The human player uses his strength points to buy military units based upon the units' attack values. All units in the game have an attack/defense value, a range over which they can attack if they have a clear line of sight to the monster, and a movement allowance.

The monster's master has some more interesting choices to make in spending strength points among 5 categories: (1) attack strength, (2) defense strength, (3) building destruction strength, (4) movement allowance, and (5) special abilities. Two caveats, (a) the monster must spend 1/4 of its strength points to acquire special abilities (what fun is a monster with no special abilities?), and (b) the monsters defense strength can not exceed 15 points.

The monster's master keeps track of all these categories on a sheet of scratch paper. Only the defense strength of the monster and victory points amassed by the monster are shared with the human player.

I have found that this allocation of strength points during setup appeals to boardgamers of the German school.

The monster's master secretly records a map edge to enter upon, and then the human play positions their units as they like.

The game is played in turns of alternating movement and combat. Combat is resolved using a ratio based combat results table (CRT) and a six sided die (or you could use the number chits provided !!). The monster can whoop up on buildings as well, the results of which are determined using the Building Destruction Results Table. The monster may take damage in combat which its master deducts from any strength or movement category they choose.

The game concludes when all human units are eliminated or the monster is killed. But you've seen the movies, we all know how this story must end.

And on this point the rules have a glaring omission. There is no mention of a cute little kid named Tommy, Yoshi, or Cindy breaking through the throng of celebrating soldiers, hugging the dead goliath about what remains of its neck, and confronting the crowd of onlookers with a tearful tirade that makes us realize we were wrong about this gentle giant. If only we'd listened, confronted our own fears and prejudices, their gigantic friend could have lived peacefully in the treeless, uniformly green park.

And the game is less for that omission . . .

At game's end, the victory points amassed by the monster are compared to the scenario victory levels. The monster scores five victory points for each tall building or a populace unit destroyed, and three points for each small building.


Game Play

Game play is straightforward, and very wargame-like. Picture Panzer Blitz on a area (square grid) map. The monster enters from a secretly chosen board edge. Military units converge, populace units flee, firemen show up to battle blazes (see section 11.31) , policemen try to hurry the populace out of harms way, the monster trashes Sheboygan, and the occasional helicopter gets too close and is tossed onto the growing eliminated unit pile.

It all works pretty well. True, the line of sight rules are a bit fiddly, but nothing compared to Squad Leader.

My only issue during game play, beyond the constant table lookups, is with the realism of the stacking rules.

I know, you're saying realism . . . you've got a 3 story tall monster trashing Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and the National Guard actually cares? But if monster movies have taught me one thing, it's that hundreds of screaming people can not fit down the same street at once.

The rules allow unlimited numbers of populace units to occupy the same area (I almost said hex). Further, a single police unit can help all populace units in the area to move three times as fast (at the policemen speed). Finally, the only stacking rule (max two military units in an area) is applied after all movement takes place. So that one critical intersection can have several thousand people, tanks, firemen, and a few brigades of infantry men pass through it in a couple minutes.

Now that's not right.

How to remedy the situation without adding a couple dozen subsections to the rules isn't clear. But here's a few rules we've tested that work pretty well:

(1) Only one populace unit may occupy an area at a time

(2) No other units can occupy an area occupied by a populace unit, except the monster (see section 5.3, overrunning human non-combat units(aka squishing))

(3) Populace units move before all other human units. No other units can pass through an area occupied by a populace unit, and populace units can not move through areas occupied by any other unit (helicopters are exceptions to both).

(4) When a military unit is destroyed, it is flipped upside down in place.

(5) Every destroyed military unit in an area counts towards the stacking limit of two military units in the area. Thus as areas get filled with wrecked military equipment (or worse) they become too cluttered to move through. I mean, what populace unit would want to move through an area where a couple infantry brigades just got "eliminated"?

Yes these changes favor the monster . . . but let's be honest, we're all pulling for the monster here right?

And therein lies the last issue with game play, balance. Given the system of assigning strength points and scenario victory levels, the game is quite balanced. If you feel the balance needs tweaking, make your own scenarios. The problem is, everyone wants to be the monster. The simple solution is to alternate who plays the monster. See who can score the most points.

For the human player, tactics must involve ranged weapons. Tanks and Artillery are expensive for a reason, they can heap a world of hurt on a monster. The tanks' mobility is really nice early in the game. Be wary in higher strength scenarios where the monster can afford the radiation ability, your best chance will be tanks stacked together or with artillery (which they can also tow). Don't be afraid to use populace units to lure the monster into killing grounds clear of buildings such as the large park, river and island on the map's central southern edge. The populace unit that starts in this park is good bait, have units ready to exploit the situation should the Monster go for it.

Monster, your tactics will depend on the strengths and abilities you've chosen. You probably don't want to enter on the south or east map edges. Remember, buildings are your friend, open spaces and intersections, your enemy. I've found short streets to be optimal places to end movement. Also bear in mind, a high building is as valuable as a populace unit and it doesn't move. Of course it is a lot stronger. Two small buildings, on the other hand, have half the strength of a high building, but are worth one victory point more. But be careful which buildings you destroy as doing so opens a line of sight upon which you can be attacked.

Some final notes regarding special abilities. Ya' got to have flame, but flame immunity . . . it almost seems unsporting. Lightening throwing (project attack strength at a range of 3 areas), and radiation (keeps humans from making combined attacks involving units that aren't stacked together) can be really powerful - and hence their high cost. Jump is an affordable ability that let's you get out of tight spots and drive the squishies (i.e. humans) nuts. And flight, the most expensive special ability, if used well, can be practically unstoppable.


Conclusion

"The Creature That Ate Sheboygan" is a game with a fantastic theme. If you can wade through the rulebook, calculate combat ratios, and play with a sense of humor, The Creature can be a blast.
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Paul DeStefano
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Re:User Review
citizen k (#52410),

Envelope?

Mine is in a standard '70s size SPI box.
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Iain K
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Re:User Review
Geosphere (#60752),

I've seen pictures of the box version. But mine and others I've actually seen came in a clear plastic "envelope" with a side flap and incredibly gooey adhesive. True story !
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Dan Fox
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Re:User Review
Back in the day, TSR toyed with releasing a full sized deluxe version with plastic pieces (buildings, tanks, monsters, etc.). This was, obviously, never produced...one of the biggest gaming disappointments in my life. cry
I still think this would be an awesome project (maybe Hasbro/Milton Bradley?)
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J.L. Robert
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Actually, guys, SPI's Folio Games were packaged both with and without boxes. A box added $2-3 to the pricetag.

I've seen both versions of Creature (I own a boxed copy).
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Douglas Weinstein
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citizen k wrote:


I wonder how many 1970's wargamers became lawyers . . . or for that matter accountants specializing in tax law.



I am a 1970's wargamer who became a lawyer, but thanks to you I actually know why.
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Ray
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citizen k wrote:
It's the late 1970's, and SPI the leader in historical simulations (which are a lot like wargames but have rules written by lawyers) decides to diversify. Space Capsule #1 is produced, a mini-game in a clear envelope. The Creature is born.


I would say that decision to diversify was driven by an idea to imitative and capture some of the market from Metagaming Microgames.

citizen k wrote:
I've seen pictures of the box version. But mine and others I've actually seen came in a clear plastic "envelope" with a side flap and incredibly gooey adhesive. True story !


as were Metagaming Microgames -- gooey bagged initially, boxed (but differently) later on.

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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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wtrollkin2000 wrote:
citizen k wrote:
It's the late 1970's, and SPI the leader in historical simulations (which are a lot like wargames but have rules written by lawyers) decides to diversify. Space Capsule #1 is produced, a mini-game in a clear envelope. The Creature is born.


I would say that decision to diversify was driven by an idea to imitative and capture some of the market from Metagaming Microgames.

I would say the decision to diversify was driven by the wishes of the S&T readership. SPI floated ideas for all kinds of projects and gathered feedback for their proposals via cards that went out with every issue. They were ahead of their time in this regard, as in so many others.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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As for the standard rules structure, people who learned SPI games had a big leg up on learning new games, because of that standardized structure. It also was extremely useful when using the rules as a reference - you could find what you were looking for in SPI rules much more easily than in many rules produced today.
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Mike Hoyt

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Great review. If you want actual 3-D buildings etc. take a look at Smash Monster Rampage!
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