Publisher: Albino Dragon
Time: 20-30 minutes
Card games can be tricky for younger kids. It can be challenging to hold very many cards in tiny hands, and privately manage their own resources.
Ink Monsters alleviates these issues by providing a streamlined set collection card game, themed around drawing kid-friendly monsters. The enchanting artwork and simple iconography helps sell the light-hearted experience, though end game scoring quickly grows complex and unwieldy.
Ink Monsters is made up of two decks of cards: 48 monster cards and 57 action cards. In each of the three rounds, 12 monsters are randomly drawn into a circle. A magic pen card is place on the outer ring, indicating the next monster that will be drafted. Each round players play from their hand of three ability cards to rotate and move the pen to a more desirable monster before they select it. At the end of three rounds, the most victory points wins.
Each monster has a point value, ranging from -5 to +5, as well as several trait icons, such as clothes, arms, and teeth. Monsters also come in five different colors, and almost all of them have either a once per round ability, or offer bonus (or negative!) points depending on the other Monsters you’ve drafted.
Once you start collecting monsters you have to start paying attention to their associated icons and powers, which can be challenging for younger kids who just want to pick their favorite-looking monsters.
I wouldn’t blame them; the card artwork is exceptional. These monsters would feel right at home within the world of Disney-Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. But what really matters are the icons and abilities each monster possesses.
For example, Alex gives you the ability to move the magic pen clockwise one to three spaces, essentially giving you a fourth card in your hand of ability cards. Lisa grants +1 point for each different colored monster you’ve collected. George lets you draw an additional monster from the deck. But that could be a blessing or a curse.
Some monsters are worth negative points, or have negative bonuses. Cary is worth 0 points, but his ‘bonus’ is that each other monster you own with hair scores -1 at the end of the game.
Juggling all these collection bonuses together becomes a bit too unfriendly with less players and younger kids, which is our typical family situation. The game doesn’t scale for the number of players, so less players equals more monsters per player. That means sifting through a dozen or more traits, bonuses, and abilities by the end of the game.
End game scoring is likewise a complete nightmare with that many monsters. It’s way more difficult than I would expect from a game aimed at 6+ kids. Thankfully Albino Dragon has released a free scoring app on iOS and Android that does all of the work for you. It’s a solid app and almost a necessity to determine final scores.
Pen is Mightier
The key to producing a great game for the under eight crowd is to minimize text. Ink Monsters comes close to succeeding but falls short with the abilities. The trait icons are easily identifiable, and all the action cards include a large visual aid indicating the action, such as a turned arrow and a +1.
Yet we still had to explain what most cards do with our six year old, and play with open hands to help her make a decision. Repeated plays helped, but there’s still just a bit too much going on. I would recommended the age closer to 8+.
On the flip side the game scales well for older kids and more players. Collecting less monsters lets you focus on specific strategies, such as monsters with hair and monsters who are pink and purple. There are also not a lot of cruel gotcha tactics. Instead players will often be left with really bad choices toward the end of each round. But there are enough negative-point monsters that everyone will have a few bad eggs in their collection.
Ink Monsters is a fun but flawed card game for kids. The artwork is absolutely amazing and every single monster card is unique, leading to an impressive replay factor that plays fairly quickly. But the gameplay is a bit too complex for what it offers, with too many overlapping traits, icons, and powers that players have to keep up with. With the amount of text involved I would at least bump the age to 8+, and I would absolutely recommend the free scoring app as practically a requirement to get through the complex end-game scoring.