Thanks to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of today’s game.
Happy Halloween! Seems like a perfect time to talk about
I Can’t Even With These Monsters is a game designed by Daniel Solis and originally published last year by Smart Play Games. Level 99 has released the second edition. It’s a 2-6 player card game that takes 15-30 minutes to play. It’s one of three games in the I Can’t Even series (along with I Can’t Even With These Marvelous Supers and I Can’t Even With These Spectacular Supers). The three games all share a common trait – the player with the highest ODD score will win.
ICEWTM comes with a 56 card deck, along with a scoreboard and 12 cubes. Each player gets a cube to score with and another as an identifier. Everyone starts with a score of 10. Players are dealt 9 cards to start the game (8 in a six-player game), and then you are ready to go.
A game takes place over seven rounds. In each round, players will simultaneously choose two cards from their hand to play in front of them, turning one face up, the other face down. Then, in turn order, each player will take one card from in front of another player and add it to their own hand. This could result in a player having no cards left. When all players have picked up a card, everyone reveals what they have in front of them and bank the cards. You’ll score points for the cards going into your bank at this time. This will continue until seven rounds have been played. At that time, the player with the highest odd score will win the game. So, if the scores are 40-36-32-11, the player with 11 points will win. If all scores are even, the highest even score wins.
So what are the cards you’ll find in the game? There are seven different types:
- Amalgam: Scores one point per different monster in your bank.
- Blob: Scores points based on how many blobs you have in your bank (1-2-4-8-16-32-64).
- Ghost: Lose 3 if this was face-up, gain 3 if it was face-down.
- Ichthid: Score 5 for every even Icthid (2nd, 4th, or 6th). So your 1st, 3rd, and 5th score nothing.
- Invisible: Score 7 points, and lose 1 for each other card in your bank.
- Mummy: Score points equal to the round it is (1 for the 1st, 2 for the 2nd, etc).
- Vampire: You score three, and everyone else with a Vampire in their bank loses a point per Vampire.
- Werewolf: Score 1 per face-up Werewolf in any bank.
COMPONENTS: The cards are all well-designed – it is very clear what each one is and what each one does. As you can see in the above picture, the cards are all pretty cute – this game pays homage to a lot of classic movie monsters while making them all look quite non-threatening. The scoreboard is thick cardboard and glossy, which is unfortunate – one bump and the cubes marking the score will slide around. This is especially bad because a one point difference in either direction could knock you out of the running – make your score even instead of odd. The scoreboard is labeled I Can’t Even, meaning it’s compatible with the other titles in the series. The cubes are pretty small, which works for the scoreboard. The box is twice as big as it needs to be, but it seems to be a standard size box for Level 99’s smaller games – it’s the same size as Anansi and Tomb Trader.
THEME: As mentioned before, this game pays homage to classic movie monsters. The theme is not super important, however – you could call the cards just about anything. Which makes sense due to the games in the series being interchangeable. However, it is apparent that there has been some work in making the cards even a little thematic. The Werewolf, for example, works best in packs – the more there are, the higher they score. The Ghost is most effective when it’s unseen. The Amalgam (aka Frankenstein’s monster) scores points for having a variety in your bank. I always appreciate those little gestures, even when a theme is not necessarily that important.
MECHANICS: This game alternates between using simultaneous play and turn-based play. Playing your cards and scoring is done simultaneously, while choosing a card from an opponent is done in turn order. It’s important that players play their cards face down, then simultaneously flip one face up so that other players aren’t seeing what you do before making their decisions. The turn-based card choices do help you find out what others might be going for, though it’s important to note that cards taken will not go into play this round, you’ll just know that your opponent has it available for later. This introduces a slight memory element – you might be able to deduce the face down cards if you know what someone has been taking and you never see them face up.
The simultaneous scoring can get a bit confusing. For example, with Vampires, you score three and everyone else loses one for each Vampire they have in their bank. If you bank a Vampire at the same time as someone else, you each score three and lose one because Vampires score when they go into your bank. And if you already had Vampires, you’ll lose more points.
The big hook of the game is the final scoring mechanism of needing an odd score to win. This makes the end game decisions very important and makes the final scoring round feel fairly climactic. It doesn’t matter if someone is way out in front of the pack – if they end up with an even score, they’ll lose. And remember, as per the title of the series, you literally can’t even.
STRATEGY LEVEL: This game is honestly a bit of a crap shoot. You get a hand of nine cards in the beginning, and never get dealt any more. However, you hand will get new cards as you take cards from your opponent. If you take a face up card, you know what you’re getting, but if you take a face down card, you don’t. Because other players can take your cards, you never know exactly what you’ll end up banking. This makes the game very tactical as you’ll need to adjust on the fly. The first five rounds are generally about putting yourself in a good position to win, and the last two are about trying to manipulate to ensure that you’ll have an odd score in the end. There’s not a lot of strategy, it’s more like a push-your-luck game at times.
ACCESSIBILITY: This is a pretty easy game to get your head around. The biggest hurdles to get over are how the simultaneous scoring works, and the odd score needed in the end. The box says that it’s for ages 14 and up, but I will say that I lost my first game to a ten-year-old, so I think more people can really get into this.
REPLAYABILITY: You’re never going to have all of the cards in the game, and that lends itself to the replayability of the system. You’re constantly having to come up with new ways to put your cards out and react to what your opponents are doing, and I think this game will take a while to really grow old. You can also get the other games in the series to mix in and add a little more variance.
SCALABILITY: I tend to like this one better with more players – more of the cards are in play, and the level of chaos goes up (which I like). But the game does work with two players – it is much faster, and you’ll always get to bank exactly one card.
INTERACTION: Because you’re taking cards from your opponents, there is a god amount of interaction here. You can’t just play your own game, you have to guess what other players will do and try to compensate for that.
FOOTPRINT: You don’t need a whole lot of room for this game – just a spot to play your two cards and an area for your bank. The size of table you need really depends on the number of people you have playing.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I like this game. It’s silly and light, and there’s not a whole lot of thought involved. At the same time, it’s pretty clever and has a really interesting hook with the scoring. I’d recommend this as a good game for this time of year, and one you might even pull out from time to time the rest of the year.
Thanks again to Level 99 Games for providing a copy of I Can’t Even With These Monsters for review, and thanks to you for reading!