Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tommy's Take on Camp Grizzly

I like slasher films. I pretty much think Halloween (the original) is the perfect slasher film, but I am a big fan of the Friday the 13th film series (for the most part).

Camp Grizzly is, largely, Friday the 13th with the serial numbers filed off...and it is also an absolutely crazy amount of fun.

ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: Nothing to see here. I paid for Camp Grizzly with my own money (twice).

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Camp Grizzly flew under my radar when it hit Kickstarter, I'm sad to say, but I did get my hands on a copy a couple of weeks ago. Copies are currently available for $50 apiece. My group and I (with my wife joining in on the last game) played a mini marathon and, to my surprise, the game not only oozed with theme, but had some remarkable differences in each session.

The game is set in Camp Grizzly, which is haunted by Otis, in the year 1979, with all the short shorts and feathered hair that implies. You play one (or more) of six camp counselors who are gathered around the fire and having fun, when the bear-masked killer Otis makes his startling appearance.

From then, it is a fight for survival as you move around the camp grounds, trying to gain any three of the items needed to trigger a Finale. Along the way, Otis is stalking you and growing stronger with every kill (there are a number of NPC campers, counselors and other "cameos" that Otis can kill off). Like any good campgrounds killer, Otis knows the camps better than you, and can not only take shortcuts to get to you, but sometimes he flat out disappears and reappears across the camp to kill people.

The game looks completely unassuming in a thin, square box, with simplistic card designs and cardboard standups (I did not spring for the optional minis). Heck, even the game board looks like a throwback to the most classic of the 80s "roll and move" licensed cash-in games.

And yet, these aesthetics only add to the charm...especially once gameplay begins and you realize that they take nothing away from it. The camp grounds begin to feel claustrophobic as Otis stalks his prey around the camp and they start getting cornered. Each camper has a special ability: Kevin the Lifeguard can move to join nearby fights and save his friends, Tracy the Scream Queen can lure Otis in her direction, CJ the Coach can give allies bonuses to their fight rolls and so on. That's not all, though. The counselors can get Survival Cards, which give them additional abilities, such as Crawlspace (which lets you slip off the board to escape Otis at a moment's notice), Scrappy (which lets you fight Otis without weapons), "We Thought You Were Dead!" (which brings a dead Counselor or Camper back to life - and weakens Otis) and Virgin (which makes you a little more immune to general bad luck).

Each round, you also get Cabin Cards, which can be weapons like chainsaws and shards of glass, campers like Kimberly (who will keep you from Foolin' Around - maybe saving your life) or Lunchbox (who you can outrun, with disturbing consequences, but it keeps you alive) or Angela (a creepy girl with a knife, who will probably star in her own campground horror movie later). You may also draw in Cameos (like the sleazy boyfriend of one of the counselors, the creepy old man or even the head counselor) that move around the board with their own agendas, who may also cross paths with Otis and become part of the body count. The story of Otis even unfolds in rumors you can discover in game, plot twists often reveal Otis' off screen victims (or set your counselors up in bad situations, like skinny dipping) and Otis may just outright attack whoever is drawing cards.

The game ends if everyone dies, or if you successfully complete a Finale at one of the four corner spaces (Van, Boat, Ranger Tower or Barn - and each location has two of them...I have made it a point to only read the ones we've played, keeping myself spoiler free). However, if Otis gets too powerful, the whole thing spills back to the opening campfire and the Counselors have to fight Otis to the death in a showdown.

In our three games, we won the first one (with two survivors, one of whom missed the climax because he was lost in the woods while Otis picked off most of the others who tried to swim to safety), we won the second in a brutal fight to the death at the campfire, and all of us but one died in a stunning plot twist while trying to escape in a van...the sole survivor (played by my wife) managing to escape Otis at the end. I intentionally left out spoilers for you, because that's half the fun.


- Set-up, teardown and footprint are all kept in check here, with the relatively simply layout paying off in spades in that regard. No sprawling board pushing everyone off table here, just a couple of decks of cards, a handful of tokens and the character sheets.

- The 70s are in full force here, as some of the weapons you can improvise to fight of Otis with include rotary phones and Polaroid cameras...to say nothing of the hair and clothing. One of the cameos even seems to be HEAVILY inspired by Donald Pleasance (Dr. Loomis in the Halloween films).

 - While there is no overt nudity, the sexploitation and violence is heavy in this game (especially the violence...the sex is mostly innuendo and butt/cleavage shots). There is an R-Rated expansion coming which is supposed to optionally veer the game into the torture porn genre (ala Saw or Hostel).

- The game supports 1-6 players, and you can easily double up on counselors if you like, In two of our three games, me and another play ran two with no problem (my wife stepped in on the last game and took over one of my characters) so we could fit all six counselors in.

- As with any game with an elimination condition, potential downtime of watching everyone else play the game can be a concern. We never saw this much in our first set of games, but really bad luck can leave a  player on the outside looking in for an extended stretch, which really isn't much fun for anyone.

- This game absolutely nails the slasher film tropes, from swivel chairs with dead bodies to creepy old men shouting warnings to last ditch maneuvers to temporarily fight off the killer, or getting caught in a sudden downpour, or picking an inappropriate time to go skinny dipping...heck, there's even a crappy, abusive boyfriend who will cut and run at a moment's notice, taking one of the means of escape with him.

Pretty much a perfect love letter to the slasher genre (specifically of the summer camp variety), and I was thrilled when we played it, as a slasher movie seemingly came to life on the table (though there was still certainly some gamey moments as well). Not only did the slasher movie fans at the table love it, but everyone else seemed to as well. Light learning curve, heavy theme and a good amount of replayability? I'll take that at my table anytime.