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Surviving Camp Crystal Lake: A Friday the 13th Board Game Review

Nobody in their right mind would actually want to visit Camp Crystal Lake, but The OP gives you a good approximation in Friday the 13th: Horror at Camp Crystal Lake. You’ll take on the role of a camp counselor doing his or her best to gather supplies and survive five terrifying nights at the haunted retreat.

Horror at Camp Crystal Lake Gameplay

Horror at Camp Crystal Lake is based on the game Quartz by Sergio Halaban and André Zatz. The three actions you can take are identical across both titles:

  • Take a token from the supply bag
  • Play a card
  • Or return to the base to bank points (in this case, a cabin)
horror at camp crystal lake box art

The tokens are drawn blindly and are used to amass points. They are worth their individual value, and sets grant bonus points and even multipliers. But Jason tokens make up about 20-25% of the bag’s contents (each successive night adds Jason tokens), so there’s risk in the search! Drawing one is no biggie, but if you draw a second one before hedging your bets and returning to the cabin to bank your points, you lose them all and take a big ole’ goose egg for that round.

Cards allow you to do a number of things including look at a number of drawn tokens before making decisions on which to keep, trade, or return to the bag, move a Jason token from your player card to another’s, steal tokens from your fellow counselors, and more.

Returning to the cabin is a mechanic in and of itself, as the longer you stay out, the further up the bravery track you move and the greater rewards you earn. If you’re the first to scamper back to its safety, you’ll get to draw a card. If you stay out longer than any others and remain beyond Jason’s deadly clutches, you’ll gain a few extra points towards victory in addition to that card for your trouble.

The person with the most points amassed at the end of five nights of terror wins. You can preview the full rules here.

Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Horror at Camp Crystal Lake

Components

The cards are really slick, easy to read, and tell you exactly what to do when they’re played in such a way that there’s no room for doubt or confusion. That is killer! I love it when a game’s components don’t leave anything up for interpretation or send you scrambling back to the rulebook your first few times playing for clarifications.

The tokens are plastic with stickers adhered to them to indicate an item or Jason. Some of the stickers in my box weren’t applied super well and kind of wrapped around the token a bit, but that’s a relatively minor quibble.

My biggest problem with the components is the game board itself. I think the player boards get by just fine as a heavy and stiff paper, but I’d have liked to see the actual game board as a cardboard component. It just felt kinda cheap in a way. But I will say this: if the trade off was plastic tokens for a downgraded paper game board, I’m okay with that. With as much handling and shuffling and shaking as those tokens go through, I’m not sure how long printed cardboard would have held up.

Plus there’s a bag, and those always get a thumbs up from me.

Luck

The game’s design offers a really neat balance between playing conservatively and really aggressively pushing your luck. The Critical Supply card incentivizes retreating to the cabin early with a specific set of supplies for extra points. The slow but steady acquisition of points could easily beat an opponent who favors the feast or famine approach and suffers bad luck on the token draws.

It also has a balancing mechanic such that if you do get that second Jason token in a round and lose any chance at points, you get a special Escape Token that can be used in a future round to discard your second Jason token once. Kind of like an extra life that you only get by dying! Having that token as a safety net gives you a bit more freedom to press on when others might have grown machete shy.

Aesthetics

Despite my issues with the material of the game board, the design is of the Camp Crystal Lake sign (lifted pretty much right out of the movie) and that a is cool touch. The opposite side of the player boards also feature Jason’s mask. You’re supposed to flip it to this side when you return to the cabin, but you also place a little character token on the cabin to indicate as much, so it felt a little redundant to do both. But the mask is still cool and can be held up to the face for effect.

There’s also blood splatter on pretty much everything. There’s no getting around that this is a game about a rampaging killer, nor should there be! In fact, I’m 90% sure the blood splatter is why the game comes with a recommended age of 17+. There’s no mention whatsoever of death anywhere in the rulebook, and it isn’t complex enough to exclude younger players for any other reason than the blood – or possibly just the IP (intellectual property) itself? 

Interest

Horror at Camp Crystal Lake is definitely lighter fare as far as complexity goes. The vast majority of your strategizing takes the form of risk assessment, of course, and there’s really not much to think about between your turns. But turns move really quickly, and it is fun to try and heckle your opponents into going for juuuuuuust one more token when they’re clearly uncomfortable with the idea. And hilarious when that one token is their second Jason. 

I do wish the different characters had an ability that was unique to them, but I get the feeling that the game designer’s aim was to keep it simple. Some will dismiss Horror at Camp Crystal Lake for that reason alone. Not every game has to have a million moving parts, and not all games that do are good. The hobby definitely has room for this kind of game.

That said, I would have liked to see the game take on more of a survival flavor than it does. An IP like Friday the 13th begs for that kind of application! The supplies you gather are only useful for points. You don’t gather certain combos to fend Jason off or flee the camp, you know? A last man standing type game would be interesting, for instance. I get that comes with issues of its own, but I would definitely have liked to see the IP leveraged a bit more than it is with this title (which we’ve seen The OP do masterfully with Die Hard: The Nakatomi Heist).

Mood

Luckily, luck isn’t the only mechanic at play in Horror at Camp Crystal Lake. The cards allow players to interfere with the supply stashes of their opponents who have not returned to the cabin yet; swapping a lower point value token for a higher valued one of theirs or outright stealing one now and then. The designers were smart to include this element, but not make it the star. If this game involved too much of that kind of interaction between players, it would bog down really quickly. The cards that permit it are just rare enough to make them good gets and require you to play them very strategically instead of all willy nilly.

And if you get knocked out and go a round without scoring any points, the set bonuses and multipliers can easily put you right back in the runnings for the win. I watched a friend suffer two scoreless rounds only to come back and win it all with an absolutely massive score on the fifth night. I’ve also seen someone score big points on the first night and still not secure the win (I took it from him in the fifth, ha!).

Good Luck. You’re Going to Need It…

Friday the 13th: Horror at Camp Crystal Lake is a decent gateway into the press your luck style tabletop games. While other great examples of the subgenre incorporate a few more fiddly bits, Horror at Camp Crystal Lake opts to keep it simple, making it an easy to teach, easy to play game.

Fans of the franchise will be drawn to it by the power of the IP alone. This is the first Friday the 13th tabletop game ever made, after all! So many will come for the IP and stay for the tension that comes with every draw of the token.

You can order Friday the 13th Horror at Camp Crystal Lake today for $29.99.


Disclosure: The OP provided Nerds on Earth with a review copy of Horror at Camp Crystal Lake in exchange for an honest review.