Theme and What is it?

Ink Monsters is an upcoming card game for two to six players from Albino Dragon.  I received a preview copy at Gen Con 50 in advance of the coming Kickstarter project.  In Ink Monsters, players will try to claim the best monsters through skillful card play.  Players will use monsters’ special powers to affect gameplay and collect monsters with matching attributes for potential set bonuses.  See who can earn the most points through three rounds.

Gameplay Mechanics

Ink Monsters features set collection and order manipulation through tactical cardplay.  There are two large decks of 48 cards each, one is a purple deck of the titular ink monsters and the other is a blue deck of power cards that players can use to manipulate the magic pen.  There is a card for the aforementioned magic pen as well as two cards used to indicate which direction the magic pen is rotating around an inner circle of monsters.  The two decks are placed in the middle of the table.  The top 12 ink monsters are drawn and placed face up in a circle surrounding the two draw decks and the magic pen is placed randomly outside the circle, pointing to an ink monster.  Each player receives three power cards and play begins. 
On a player’s turn, they may choose to play a power card.  These cards primarily allow players to move the magic pen around the circle in various ways.  Some allow players to trade cards instead.  Once a player has chosen whether or not to move the pen, they collect the monster below the pen and draw a power card if they played one.  They should always end their turn with three power cards in their hand.  Each monster card shows the point value, a row of icons along the right side used for the set collecting aspect of the game, and a power at the bottom.  If the monster features an instant power, the power triggers when the monster is collected and players resolve the effect.  Some monsters have powers that may be triggered once per game round.  Lastly, there are monsters which have end of game powers which yield points for monsters with certain icons.  Among the monster cards are ink spots.  Ink spots have a negative value determined by the total number of ink spots a player has.  When all monsters have been collected, players begin a new round with 12 new ink monsters.  After three rounds, the players tally their points and the one with the most is the winner.

Initial Impressions

When I first sat down to play Ink Monsters, I had no idea what to expect.  I like other games that feature line manipulation and I had not seen it done in a circle before so this would be a new take on that concept.  While this might seem like a small difference, the potential for how this might impact an order manipulation mechanic had be intrigued.

Quality of Components and Insert

I previewed Ink Monsters from a beta copy.  I do not know what the final box will look like or if it will have an insert.  Above I have shown an early prototype box.  Even with it being a the beta copy, the cards are of decent thickness and I would expect them to be either of equal or greater quality when the game goes into final production.

Artistic Direction

The art in Ink Monsters has a vibrant, playful style.  The power cards primarily describe how players can manipulate the location of the pen, but the icons work well and clearly to illustrate the description.  The monsters themselves are really well done and are very kid-friendly: think kid’s movie rather than Lovecraft.  The icons are clear and easy to read and the monsters share a cohesive style that doesn’t overpower the card and manages to feel vibrant.

Fun Factor

Ink Monsters is quick and fun at the table, particularly if players are using a lot of power cards to move the pen and interact with other players.  In the rules as I understood them, players were not required to play a power card on their turn.  However, I could see things getting very interesting if players were forced to choose one of their three power cards to play on their turn, thus making the best out of what they have available.  Moving the pen to potentially setup a bad draw for another player is about as “mean” as the game gets.  The trade card can let you steal a few points from other players, but again, relatively tame which keeps the game fun and enjoyable, particularly with younger players.

Difficulty and age range suggestion

The primary mechanism in Ink Monsters is collecting the monster that is under the pen and understanding how to best manipulate the pen’s location through your power cards to get the most points.  The game indicates that it is for players ages 6 and up and I agree that they should be able to understand the game well enough to play.  However, they might be a little young for understanding the best strategic and tactical choices to make in obtaining ink monsters and players of that age will certainly require assistance in tabulating their points as the end of game set bonuses begin to stack, though regularly acquiring multiple bonuses may be more frequent on lower player count games.

Conclusions

I enjoyed Ink Monsters.  It is a fun, light, set collection game that plays in about 15 to 20 minutes.  The bulk of the game is not particularly complex.  The main complexity comes from trying to orchestrate your power cards into facilitating the set collection, but it doesn’t bog down because you only ever have three powers to choose from plus any monsters you may have acquired that have a power.  There are some nice moments when players are able to string together a combo and acquire two or even three monsters in a turn.  The end game tabulation of scoring can get a little squirrely if player’s have multiple monsters with set bonuses as most monster cards feature two to five set icons.  However, since all the points come from your final collection of monsters, it is easy to recalculate and/or check your math if it is a little late in the evening and focus is starting to wane.  I like that the artwork is so kid friendly and does not ever veer into scary or frightening territory.  Kids will likely laugh at more than a few of the monsters and it makes for good family fare.  I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the future of Ink Monsters from Albino Dragon.

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