Camp Grizzly is a game as edgy as the wicked implements its antagonist will use to disfigure your soft gushy canvas. A 70’s campsite slasher flick with a touch of crass humor, excellent art and a very interesting game churning beneath the maelstrom of violence is right in my wheelhouse. It’s certainly a subject matter that instinctively gets pushed to the fringe of the industry, and it pulls at my consciousness like a noose dragging my limp body through the mud and leaves of the wild.
Let’s not piddle around the bush Otis just decorated like a Christmas pine with CJ’s tattered remnants – this is a simple and direct title that proudly bears the standard of its publisher’s creed. This is old school Ameritrash that could be thrown up there with Thunder Road and Nexus Ops. It’s direct, colorful, and violently interesting. This is the type of game the industry needs more of.
The nature of the design is most similar to something such as Last Night On Earth where you’re scooting around the board trying to pick up objectives that are seeded on the map in order to trigger an end game. Players each receive a unique character with a special ability and a bit of flavor. Starting cards from the Survival deck add a bit of additional identity and division between capabilities.
What works a bit differently here is that the game controlled protagonist is a twisted brute in a bear mask named Otis. Frighteningly stereotypical, his demeanor and varied depictions are only matched in pure awesome by his uneven and jilted stalking around the camp grounds. Typically he’ll just move a couple spaces in the direction of the nearest camper, but cards and events will trigger erratic attacks and difficult-to-predict ambushes. You’ll be searching the tool shed and looking for some type of object to most efficiently pierce human flesh, when a hairy bastard with a baling hook will sneak up on you like a sinister tooth fairy coming for its pound of flesh. At best you can hope to fight Otis off and delay that cruel conundrum known as death.
The board is particularly interesting because movement is point to point between cabins as opposed to a free ranging board with spaces. Some cabins are only connected via nature trails that require you roll to avoid being lost in the woods; a juicy and thematic touch. This movement system works exceptionally well overall to force bottlenecks and promote risk. The level of fear and tension is commensurate to the claustrophobia enforced by the playing surface.
While you’re gathering these objective tokens that consist of items like a crank, rope or battery, other characters of unscrupulous nature will begin to surface and muck up the plot like the most discriminate of B-horror flicks. Dubbed “Cameos”, individuals like the local Sheriff will come to seemingly save the day but will be devoured like fish hand-fed to a starved great white. The rub is that these fools will harm your characters and generally create dysfunction that you will have to either deal with or avoid. It’s interesting and unique and I totally dig it.
There’s also this slick little game of danger where your character will be chosen to partake in skinny dippin’ or getting it on with another camper. This results in drawing a handful of cards with a strong possibility of Otis busting in on your jam and shoving a bloody hook in your groove. This can result in you losing items as you high tail it nude out of the cold depths or even discarding your virginity card you drew earlier in the game that’s more beneficial than you’d think. Life is a chaotic ball of nerves that Otis is ready to untangle with a quick slice of the shears.
I see Karen and think, “wow, a disturbed artist who is painting her future terrorizer.” Otis sees Karen and thinks, “wow, a disturbed artist who is painting her future terrorizer and who will serve as a tasty snack.”
In the midst of the bloodiest scavenger hunt in cardboard etched history, you will be referring to a selection of cards that detail the end game phase known as finales. Each finale requires a specific set of three objectives be found which is particularly interesting because it means the climax of our story is stuck in this Schrodinger’s cat-like state of multiple path existence. It has that excellent and satisfying feel of discovering that exploration mechanisms grant, and it’s one of my favorite elements of the design. The synthesis of a Left 4 Dead style final stage with a touch of Resident Evil quirky item procurement fills my belly like a massive Thanksgiving feast.
What really drew me to this release was the bold position of Camp Grizzly shooting for somewhere between Nate Hayden and Flying Frog Productions. It has a little of the gruesome and evocative dare of the former and also a bit of the mainstream polish of the latter. The result is a more smooth experience than Psycho Raiders but perhaps with a bit less personality. I think overall this is a rousing success and really hammers home its core focus with thematic mechanics that bolster the atmosphere. It works well at a variety of player counts and its only fault is that the particularly random event deck may sometimes result in wild swings and the occasional lack of satisfaction. I’m willing to pay that price over and over again if it means I’ll have experiences where Otis shoves a chisel into my skull, guts my good friend Ben, and then swims ferociously after Colin only to fall inches short before disappearing in the dark abyss of the night.