Before I get into why you should play MetaZoo, let me take you back.
Back to my foundational years, when my tastes began to form. Listening to Oasis, playing Final Fantasy VII and watching The X-Files.
I don’t really like Oasis these days, Blur are better, and the remake of FFVII made the original look ancient, but The X-Files, that still holds up. I’m rewatching it now (I’m up to season five) and it really did set the scene for what we call the golden age of TV. Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad fame) was even writing and producing some of the episodes.
So why, you might be wondering, am I talking about The X-Files in an article about MetaZoo?
That would be the cryptids.
You see, it was never the overarching story of (spoilers ahead for an over 20-year-old series) Scully being abducted or Mulder finding his sister that grabbed me. It was the monster of the week episodes that sent our heroes across the United States investigating urban myths and legends. The Jersey Devil, Mothman, El Chupacabra. All of this set against the backdrop of small-town Americana, capturing a sort of nostalgia even in the show’s heyday.
By the late nineties Mulder and Scully would soon give way to Doggett and Reyes, and the quality of the show would give way to the plodding mess of the final few seasons. By that point though, Pokémon had arrived and there was something new to distract us with strange creatures and weekly TV episodes.
You’re still wondering why I bring this up, aren’t you? Reasonable. You want to know why you should play MetaZoo. Don’t worry, I’m getting there!
Myths and Monsters
MetaZoo, for me, captures something intrinsically nostalgic. That’s why I bring up Pokémon cards and the X-Files. It has art that looks like the early days of Pokémon TCG and the creatures are straight out of that FBI basement with an ‘I Want to Believe’ poster hanging on the wall.
This is a game that revels in its references, in its strangeness. Its unique, but has enough nods to other things that it feels familiar. Not just in the art, but in the gameplay too. There’s just enough of Magic and Pokémon and even Yu-Gi-Oh! that it’s easy to get started, but MetaZoo has an identity of its own. The product of a single creator, Michael Waddell. It brings to life some of the monsters and myths he very clearly has the same kind of affection for that I and many others do.
The game puts you in the role of a caster, with a spellbook full of beasties, potions, artifacts and spells. Each card is thought of as a page in your spellbook. Some are permanent (until they get destroyed) and others are once-off effects. A resource system of ‘auras’ allows you to use Beasties, which work like creatures in Magic or Pokémon, to attack your opponent and try to bring their life total from 1,000 to zero.
Not too dissimilar to other TCGs so far. Where the game stands out is in the fourth wall breaking abilities on many cards.
Giant Salamander here has 50 bonus attack damage if you’re playing in a forest (or if a Forest Terra card is played, which replicates the effect).
There are a lot of fourth wall effects like this one, so where you play, and the weather makes a difference in the game. Certain beasties will have the advantage in raining conditions, others in desert. It’s a very unique mechanic that can go as far as making some cards more valuable to players in a specific location. Beasties boosted by the rain are much better in Seattle or Ireland than Arizona, for example.
It’s this feeling of a connection to the real, this tactile evocation of the world around us, that gives MetaZoo its unique appeal. Its cards reflect our real-world myths and legends, and the battlefield is the environment we are actually in.
Take Jersey Devil, for instance.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Jersey Devil, it’s a creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. The story goes that in 1735, Jane Leeds, a local to the area, had 12 children and when she found herself pregnant with a 13th, cursed the child, saying it would be the devil. When it was born, it transformed into a monster with hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings and a forked tail.
Sightings of the creature have been reported in the area sine the 1800s and there was supposedly a $10,000 reward offered by the Philadelphia Zoo for capturing the beast. These creatures of local renown have found their way into larger consciousness through retellings in comic books, on TV and in movies. The Jersey Devil even got a hockey team named after it.
In MetaZoo, creatures like this, the ones from local lore, have broken through a Great Veil keeping them from our world. Now they’re here, bringing magic with them.
The Pine Barrens are a huge area of forest, so of course, in MetaZoo the Jersey Devil is boosted by playing in a forest. It’s also stronger at night, when most of the sightings occurred.
So if you play MetaZoo, in a forest, at night, your beastie is stronger. You might be scared half to death, but you’ll win the match and experience something that no other card game can offer. It is hard to think of a better game to bring camping or on any vacation.
These fourth wall breaking effects have appeared a little in Magic: the Gathering, with Chaos Orb and un-set cards, but never been a part of core gameplay. Of course, none of that would matter if the game wasn’t any good, but it matches these unique elements with the kind of strategic gameplay that gives TCGs lasting popularity.
MetaZoo may have a specific appeal to me. I love urban myths and cryptid stories because they speak to a simpler time where people told stories to each other and we couldn’t just debunk ghost stories on the internet. It also reminds me of classic TCG cards, with a simple, striking art style.
I have to assume I’m not alone though, in enjoying something that offers a nostalgic, tactile experience in a digital, disconnected world. In being enthralled by creatures that the creator of MetaZoo wants you to feel bring magic along with them.
Despite the strangeness, the monsters depicted on the cards, it’s a wonderful fantasy to be drawn into. That’s why you should play MetaZoo. You can try it yourself now, just click here!