Now that my Macedonians are finished, I’m choosing to ignore what I really should be doing (DBMM terrain) and looking around at the other painting projects that I’ve had on the back burner for a few years. Two of them are vying for my attention: an adventuring party (just for fun) and brightening up my Space Hulk terminators.
I thought it’d be nicest to work on the adventurers, mainly because I’ll be painting each figure on its own and that seems like a real luxury after years of bulk painting. I’ve got a dozen miniatures covering the whole gamut of classes from barbarian to bard, from two of my favourite sculptors: Tre Manor from Red Box Games and Kev White from Hasslefree Miniatures. In true nerd style I settled on painting them in the order that they were introduced into the D&D canon, so first up are the fighter, cleric, and wizard.
For the wizard and fighter I have two retired minis from Red Box Games, Herbert Hedgewyrd and Vilhanna of the Shield. They’re both ready to go, just needed minimal cleaning up and undercoating. The cleric took a long time to find – cleric minis can be boring figures, usually a dour individual in chainmail carrying a shield and a mace looking very judgemental. However I really like Mother Morrigan from Hasslefree, she’s interesting and powerful-looking enough to join the ranks of my crew. I didn’t think either of her weapon choices were particularly fitting for a cleric though – either one two-handed warhammer or two smaller warhammers – to me the iconic front-line cleric should always have a shield.
Making the shield
I had a look through my bits box and didn’t find any suitable shield, so figured I’d have to make my own. I started by blu-tacking together the arms and a suitably-sized piece of plasticard to check it for size – I’d hate to have made up a shield and then found it was the wrong size.
I googled images of medieval knights with shields to get a rough gauge on size as a starting point. They were smaller than I thought, roughly from foot to groin, but it still took me a couple of goes to get it right.
Next step was to take the plastic rectangle and make it actually shield-shaped. For this I googled more images, found a shape that I liked and that suited her armour style, and made a couple of measured cuts to get the basic shape. From here I took a file and rounded the whole shape off, then did another test fit to make sure I was still on track.
However it looked a bit boring, especially compared to the detail on the rest of her character. Sure, I’m going to be able to add some detail when I paint it, but I wanted some physical detail so it didn’t look like just a bit of shaped plasticard.
First step was to bend it – this was pretty easy, I just found a small round cylinder and pushed the shield up against it until it maintained a curve. Second step was to add a lip around the face of the shield. For this job I used one of my favourite modelling materials, that nice foil that you get around the corks of sparkling wine. It’s great stuff – pliable, able to be neatly smoothed, but easy to cut and shape. I put the shield over a sheet of it, cut out the shape, then free-handed a shape out of the middle which left me with a rim I could tidy up and superglue to the plasticard.
I was very happy with it at this stage, so I removed the second hammer and glued everything together. Two little steps left do to: smooth out the edges of the shield with putty (I used Prince August’s mastic plastique) and make the leather straps that Morrigan will use to actually hold the shield. I used the wine foil again to make thin strips then used superglue to attach them.
Once the straps were on I felt that the shield detail matched the rest of the miniature, and she was ready for a coat of paint. If it was originally sculpted it would probably have wood grain but that can easily be painted on.
Four years after I first ordered them, I managed to finally paint and base 297 men, 4 women, 75 horses, 3 goats, 2 bulls, and one faithful mutt:
This was a massive project for me. It’s my first army-scale force in over a decade, my first historical 28mm army, and by far the largest ever painting project I’ve undertaken. It was so big that I had to break up the project over the years as doing it all in back-to-back would have burned out my enthusiasm very quickly, so that probably doubled the time it took me.
I finished a 400AP DBMM army early last year so I could play in ValleyCon at the Hutt Wargaming Club. What’s taken me another 18 months is all the extra options that I got along with it, so now I can theoretically field about 570AP.
I’m taking a break from historical minis for a while, next up will Blood Angel Terminators for Space Hulk and some D&D-style adventurers from Red Box Games and Hasslefree Miniatures. It’s been nice to be able to spend time on one mini at a time without getting stressed out about the other couple of dozen that I have to paint in exactly the same way!
I’ve found that most wargames follow a general rule: as the miniature count goes down, the terrain density goes up. Malifaux is no exception to this, so you need a reasonably-sized collection to put together an enjoyable game. Nothing as out-of-control as Infinity, just some buildings, obstacles, a few forests, some scatter terrain, that sort of thing.
Terrain has traditionally been something I’ve lazily left to other people to provide, but a few years ago I thought I better stop freeloading and get some of my own. First stop was Sarissa Precision, purveyors of fine old west-style buildings. The Battle Flag Blackwater Gulch range also caught my eye, but they were too big, and much more expensive! I bought seven of their buildings and painted up four of them, invariably drifting off to some other project… so since then I’ve been playing on the same set of partially-finished terrain.
During that time I discovered that Malifaux isn’t that fun with large, clunky buildings. Even the smallest Sarissa buildings, which are only 10cm square, really clog up the board. I’m now glad I didn’t rush to paint all my buildings right away, as I don’t really like playing with them as is.
To remedy this, I came up with the idea of having a ruined town made up of L-shaped buildings, with two walls missing. This frees up all that internal space, is easy to move around in, stops preventing pushes so much (something I feel bogs down Malifaux), while still giving almost the same amount of cover and line-of-sight blocking. I spent a few hours and put together a table layout that I felt would work well. Malifaux doesn’t make this easy as you have to factor in two deployment options (6″ and 12″) for all four sides, plus two options for each corner! I found that the grid layout of a town suits this quite well, as you can have two lines of walls at each 6″ and 12″ mark, leaving a reasonably open 12″ x 12″ area in the centre. So, something like this:
My plan is to have an impact crater in the centre of the board, near the rear corner of the hotel, which has sparked the ruin of the town – while also nicely marking out the centre. Buildings provide most of the cover at 6″ and 12″. Two exceptions are the fence and “Welcome to …” sign on one edge, and a hedged and fenced railway line on the opposite edge.
I’d just finished a block of troops in my DBMM army, and was going up to my parents’ place where I can use Dad’s bandsaw, so took the opportunity to test out my theory of how to turn a perfectly good Sarissa building into a ruin.
Overall I was really happy with how easy it was to make – a bandsaw makes short work of MDF – and it’s still very sturdy even with the single join. I painted it the next day and feel like it came out really well. It was my first time stencilling and while it wasn’t perfect I think the rough-painted look fits the old west aesthetic very well.
I printed out the top sign on paper and cut out the letters by hand with a craft blade. Next time I might try laser-cutting a stencil onto some thin material.
The next job is to mark up the rest of my buildings so I can get them all cut next time I’m up at my parents’ place. I hope to report back in a few weeks with more finished buildings!
Terrain: My usual: fairly open in the middle, scattered small soft and hard cover around the centre with a lot of blocking hard cover around the edges.
Som’er Teeth Jones, Dirty Cheater, Can O’ Beans
2 x Skeeter
Lenny, I’ll Love it and Pet it…
Burt Jebsen, Dirty Cheater
3 x Bayou Gremlin
Jack Daw, Writhing Torment, Twist and Turn Convict Gunslinger
2 x Desperate Mercenary
My plan: Use my heavies to control one side of the centre to prevent a possible Inspection, while being close enough to score both the strategy and Show of Force. I assumed that he’d probably win the Extraction tussle so I had my Bayou Gremlins to charge in at the end of each turn to score my strategy points.
How it worked out: I had a strong opening, by the end of turn two I had taken out the hanged and a desperate mercenary and had moved Gracie and Lenny into a threatening position to get into the centre the next turn. We were both scoring strategy points but as predicted Jack was able to move it further back into his own half. As there were no non-Master upgrades in the opposing crew Show of Force was quite simple to score.
From turn three onwards it became a sprawling melée in the centre around the informant marker. We exchanged models for no great effect however I was having to shift more and more into the centre to get the strategy points. By the middle of turn four my position was looking very precarious – only Gracie was nearby and one Bayou Gremlin in range.
Somer and the slop hauler were stuck in the backfield drawing the attention of a guilty and Jack Daw. They both managed to escape relatively easily (Jack failed to give Somer Tormented and the guilty pushed back into the centre). Somer used this opportunity to charge into the melée and managed to summon a pig after giving himself a crow and dispatching a wounded Desperate Mercenary with his pig sticker – the extra activation and significant minion in the centre of the board really tilted the game back in my favour, I don’t think I quite appreciated at the time how important this was!
The last turn was very quick and just decided a the last few crucial VPs. Gracie had been neutralised for two turns by the nurse and in hindsight it was obvious that she was a target for Take Prisoner. I foolishly moved my last non-Tormented model away from her so Jack Daw was able to push Somer away (he’d been given Tormented by the guilty earlier in the turn), then moved in for the 3 VP capture.
Score: 9-9 draw.
I’m becoming familiar with Jack, it’s my second game against him and I was a lot wiser to his movement tricks. The volume of pushes that his crew gets did still take me by surprise a few times and I need to always have it in the back of my mind when I’m planning my turns. Also listening to the Jack episode of Schemes and Stones helped! 🙂
I finally got to use Somer’s Come & Get It! trigger! I’d always seen it as a bit of a gimmick, but if you’re able to get the crow with Do it Like Dis! and either focus or charge in (or hit someone reduced to 1 Wd already, maybe from Hard to Kill) then it’s a great way to get an extra body on the ground. Piglets are a real pain – Df 6, 5 Wd, – to Sh attacks, and having one in the right place can be critical. Something to think about when I’m low on models to contest something.
This is the most important – I have to think more about my opponent’s schemes. This was two-fold:
I was pretty sure that he had taken Frame for Murder, the Trapper is always a favourite sucker model, so I should have ignored the trapper till after turn three. He was fairly inconsequential where he was so if I just left Gracie until after the Trapper had activated I could have hurled her into the centre for much greater effect – Lenny’s Ram and damage avoidance makes her nigh-unstoppable.
Also towards the end of the game it was obvious to both of us that we’d both chosen Taken Prisoner. If I’d thought about it more it was obvious it was on Gracie – Jack struggles with her Armour, the Nurse had been nullifying her to keep her where she was, and he was pulling the Informant marker further away from her to keep her alone. Then in my last activation I handed him 1 extra VP by moving my slop hauler right away from Gracie. The hauler was only on a single Wd so was unlikely to have survived anyway but at least it would have meant a few flips!
Modelling and painting miniatures is the part of the hobby that I spent the most time on by far. It can be a gruelling task, spending your evenings hunched over a small desk working on a never-ending pile of toy soldiers, but I find it’s always worth it when you finally get your latest model or army on the table.
Like almost every other gamer, I’ve watched as my pile of unpainted miniatures has grown larger and larger. I’ve found that this was sapping my motivation – I’d buy something on sale (or, my eternal weak spot, a limited edition miniature) and add it to the end of the queue, then by the time I got to it I found I wasn’t that interested it any more. Kickstarter made this far worse but thankfully it only took me one big pledge to find that out. I felt bad painting something up straight away instead of getting through my old stuff first.
So a couple of years ago I made the decision to not buy anything else until I had everything I owned painted up and ready to use. I sold a lot of miniatures that, once I was honest with myself, I knew I was never going to game with. So all my unpainted Infinity went (including all my limited edition stuff), and all my various Hasslefree, Reaper, and Red Box purchases that I kept making for some ephemeral RPG experience I was collecting miniatures for but never quite knew what it was going to be. I’ve been working through my backlog and now only have a handful of Malifaux and Infinity models left, plus a lot of Space Hulk miniatures. My resolve did crumble somewhat and I ended up with about 300 miniatures for a DBMM army – my excuse was that Foundry were dropping their amazing bulk-buy deals so by doing so I saved myself a few hundred dollars. (Usual excuse!)
So after all that, staring down the barrel of nearly 70 Space Marine Terminators and Genestealers has led me to the surprising decision of getting them professionally painted. Long ago I thought I would never become one of those barbarians who does so – what’s the point of gaming with miniatures that you didn’t paint yourself? This was another me in another time though, a me who had much more free time on his hands, and couldn’t care less if he spent every evening and the entire weekend painting (even if he should probably work on his essays for uni). I’m in a much different space now and I have other things I want to spend time on. I want to be able to spent my hobby time doing the things that I really enjoy, putting together models that I’ve only just bought and enthusiastic about, and not feeling guilty that I haven’t done my “homework” and cleared my backlog first.
Once I made the decision to have them painted by someone else I felt a massive sense of relief. Besides my DBMM miniatures they make up the overwhelming bulk of my remaining backlog – 69 minis compared to about a dozen for everything else. I set about researching who I could get to do them, I wasn’t going to paint them myself but I still wanted them to look at nice as possible! After a few evenings’ research I settled on Awaken Realms in Poland. Their prices weren’t cheap, but pretty reasonable given their quality, and their example work looked very impressive. After a few emails with their team to confirm I spent a few weeks preparing the miniatures and looking up source material before shipping them off half-way around the world.
This really got me thinking about my hobby, and why it is that I paint. Do I really enjoy painting that much if it causes me all that anxiety? Or do I get stressed about because I enjoy it? Or is it just because it’s been a big part of my life it for 23 years and I can’t imagine not doing it? I’m so close to it that it seems I can’t think rationally about it, not being able to see the wood for the trees. At times it seems a little daft to think about it that much, but it is something I spend a huge part of my spare time doing so it’s worth taking it seriously. I’ll have a clearer idea once I’ve done two things: totally cleared my backlog (most of a DBMM army still to go…), and played some games of Space Hulk with miniatures I paid to have painted. I look forward to being able to report back.
My plan: His lack of blasts meant I could bunch up and benefit from a bevy of auras, so I was going to move all my heavies up together popping heads and picking them up. Somer could be delivered safely to the other side of the board while I also took opportunities to exhaust the other crew. I didn’t give much thought to my opponent’s plans – might need to work on this!
How it worked out: The board was quite odd and forced all the action to occur in one small area, the gap between the large rock and the barrels in the bottom right. This worked out okay for me at the start – Hayden’s emphasis on shooting attacks wasn’t that good for Headhunter so I was happy to bide my time there. The Desolation Engine came screaming in and Gracie only just survived thanks to her armour 2 and Lenny’s damage prevention. I was able to turn the Engine into a head marker and two abominations, one of which was exhausted and another turned into a second head marker. Things were looking pretty good.
I lost Gracie and Lenny quickly thanks to Leveticus and the trapper. Leveticus was able to jump around a lot, I understood this in principle but hadn’t seen it before. Despite this I was able to exhaust him a couple of times (turns out when he dies he doesn’t lose it, useful!). His damage wasn’t as apocalyptic as I was expecting (praise be to the errata) however he did damage Somer enough to get below half-health which cost me a crucial VP.
In the last few turns the damage dropped significantly, the only major event was me foolishly throwing Burt into Leveticus to try to exhaust him one more time. All this did was occupy a few more AP and deliver a head marker straight to the enemy. We were easily able to get into each others’ deployment zones and were too focussed on this to try to stop each other from doing so!
Score: 7-8 loss.
Gracie with Lenny behind her becomes a serious tank. She was only taking 1 or 2 damage each hit from the Desolation Engine.
If I’m taking Undercover Entourage, I really need to take some healing. One bad damage flip is all it takes to knock off at least 1 VP, if not all 3. At the moment I only have slop haulers, I could look at some lightning bugs.
I finally got to use Somer’s Bigger Hat Than You. Amazing ability! Won initiative, used my high cards on Somer’s activation, and saved a high card to guarantee this action would succeed. Bayou Two Card meant I was still able to cheat (sort of) in defence and the rest of the turn went much easier on me because we each had no hand. Coupled with Survival of the Fittest it’s a pretty mean combo.
Leveticus is incredibly mobile, but quite predictable. If I took something to take out the waifs *cough*pigapult*cough* it would be harder for him to get where-ever he wanted.
If I’m sacrificing models in Headhunter, it has to be worth more than 1VP. Otherwise it’s only an even trade at best.
My plan: Send out the taxidermist with the piglets and a skeeter to take one table corner for Inspection. Have everyone else huddle behind some cover while summoning more gremlins, lobbing exploding piglets, and flinging gremlins over to the other table corner. I’d feed gremlins into the centre to contest the strategy, expecting them to die every turn. Som’er would have to move into the centre on turn 3 or 4 (depending on the aggressiveness of my opponent) to make use of his boomstick.
How it worked out: The taxidermist was able to advance to the corner almost uncontested, his only opponent being the witching handler who engaged a piglet for three turns without killing it! Very lucky pig. Sonnia flamed the other piglet and injured the taxidermist but then had to move into the centre. So they claimed that corner from turn two on.
The pigapult performed wonderfully: lobbed three gremlins into the other corner, one of which also ran into the opponent’s half and placed scheme markers for Leave Your Mark. Its fire was mostly ineffective except for turn four in which it finished off Samael, a stalker, and killed the rifleman outright.
Som’er and the gremlins did their part too. He got eight bros in the first three turns, then moved into the centre to damage Samael, Sonnia and the Guardian. He helped to contest on turn five.
Score: 10-6 win.
The pigapult is a wonderful, wonderful thing. For strategies which you have to contest the centre it intimidates your opponent no end. And being able to lob minions all over the board is great for breakthrough-style scheme pools.
Som’er (or any model with a powerful ranged attack) pairs up very well with the pigapult. Som’er damaged quite a few models which the pigapult was able to finish off very easily.
The guardian is a real spoiler – Ml 7 with a 3″ range. I have a very poor understanding of the Guild robots so after the game I read up on all the models that I faced and he stood out as a particularly good one. Still, only eight wounds, so unless he gets his Df trigger off he’s not too tough.
I ignored Show of Force because I wasn’t planning on taking it, however that just encourages your opponent to take it because it’ll be easy points. Even with Anna sending off the handler into one of the corners, just leaving Hopkins to score it, she still earned two points and nearly three from it. Even taking a single 1SS upgrade on a tough enforcer can be enough to deny the points.
Piglets are very good at staying alive if you’re prepared to cheat. They are awful to control however! I would have been better off either swapping them for bayou gremlins, or taking a hog whisperer instead of the taxidermist.
Terrain: Fair bit of blocking terrain but a mostly open centre. Crews would be able to advance under cover but to contest the stashes they would be exposed in the middle of the board.
Som’er Teeth Jones, Can O’ Beans,Encouragement
Skeeter x 2
Gracie with Saddle
Jack Daw, Writhing Torment, Twist and Turn
Montresor, The Creeping Terror
Ama No Zako
My plan: Split up into two forces: Burt, Gracie, Lenny and a Skeeter on one side, and Som’er, Francois, the lone Bayou Gremlin, the Slop Hauler and a Skeeter on the other. Each would attempt to hold their stash marker. Burt, Gracie, and Lenny would aim to also take out Montresor and any minions they could.
How it worked out: Burt, Gracie, and Lenny worked wonderfully well. They took out Montresor easily and one minion a turn while contesting the stash marker. Gracie was able to dance around a bit and get the boys into position, however she did get paralysed by the Nurse so didn’t have as much direct impact as she would have liked. Lenny’s immunity to conditions made him perfect against the Nurse and Hanged. Burt was just enjoying Lenny’s ram and hitting with 4/5/6 damage.
On the other flank Francois went screaming into Ama No Zako in an attempt to kill both of them with Dumb Luck. It took a couple of turns, some soulstones, and some healing from the Slop Hauler but he did succeed eventually. The exchange was worth it as it nixed his Hunting Party. Jack Daw cursed Som’er and the Slop Hauler which decreased their effectiveness, especially when Som’er got paralysed by the Nurse. Luckily he was standing by the stash marker the whole time! At the end of turn 4 he just managed to remain on it despite the best efforts of Jack and the Crooked Man.
We called it near the end of turn 4 as it was getting late and the outcome was fairly obvious by that point.
Score: 6-4 win, probably would have been 9-5 at end of turn 5.
Lenny, Burt, and Gracie make an amazing team with a ton of synergy. Main thing I need to work on is positioning Burt and Gracie so that he can pull her into combat with his built-in trigger. As she’s on a 50mm base it can be hard to get it to work.
Skeeters are good at taking off the last few wounds off incorporeal models with Pull My Finger, however I need to remember that they can shut down triggers from 13″ away and this can be far more useful. If I’d done that to Jack on turn 4 it would have been impossible for him to leap around and threaten Som’er.
Nurses are awesome and I can’t wait to get some into my Zoraida crew! Nurse/Lenny seems too good to be true.
I’ve decided to start recording all my games of Malifaux to note my successes, failures, and, most importantly, my learnings. A large part of the fun I get from games stems from learning and mastering their systems, so it makes sense to do what I can to improve that.
It’s a good time to start too because I’ve just ended my sabbatical with the Viktorias and am returning to my primary faction, Gremlins. I’ve been playing them since I got into Malifaux at Gen Con 2011 with Ophelia and picked up Som’er Teeth Jones a year later. I’ve used those two for five years now, mainly Ophelia in v1 and Somer (sans apostrophe now) in v2.
Where I’m sitting at now is with a collection of about 50 miniatures to choose from. They’re mostly original metals with a scattering of plastics. I’ve got everything from v1, including 13 Bayou Gremlins, except for McTavish because I wasn’t a fan of the original model. Unpainted I have the new Zoraida box set and the Nightmare Whiskey Golem, and I’m making eyes at Brewmaster. I’m not a fan of Wong or Mah, but Zipp and Ulix interest me, especially after reading previews of the Iron Skeeters.
I haven’t picked up any new models for a long time for a couple of reasons. First, I find the new models difficult to paint due to the incredibly fine level of detail. Secondly, I don’t like having a backlog of painting projects so have spent the last couple of years not buying anything. I’m getting to the end of my pile of minis so am looking forward to expanding my collection again soon!
I consider myself a fairly competitive player, I can beat most of my opponents on a good day but am far from guaranteed a win! I have a few models that I rely a lot on (Burt, Gracie and Saddle as anyone would tell you). I only have a couple of regular crew types: Somer the Summoner, or Somer leading a crew of ram-intensive heavies. My only regular mercenary is a convict gunslinger for taking out hanged.
I’ve got a few goals for keeping a diary.
First off, I want to think more about the scheme pool and come up with a plan each game, and then look back and see how that plan worked out. I can be pretty sluggish when playing and most of the delay comes from me not coming up with a plan beforehand.
Secondly, I want to learn some more finesse with synergistic models I already use together. Malifaux can be a very fussy game and I often activate models in the wrong order, or get them in the way of each other, and by writing down what went wrong I can make sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes.
And lastly it’ll help cement the knowledge of the crews I face. I don’t play that often (maybe 2-3 games a month) so I often have forgotten what a particular model does before I face it again. The best games are the ones in which both players know all the models on the table so this will help me get up to speed faster.
I’ve now played Kingdom Death: Monster on two separate occasions: the first was a weekend-long 20 hour binge with my brother and a friend, the second a few months later with just me and a friend for about six hours. The verdict: it’s the game that I wished Arkham Horror was.
Brief recap: Kingdom Death began as a range of boutique horror miniatures. They are known for producing extremely high quality miniatures depicting the denizens of their unique dark fantasy world, melding traditional Western fantasy and anime sensibilities with a strong horror theme. The miniatures are often creepy and sometimes disturbing, contrasting sexually-charged imagery with mutant monsters, gory detail and perversions of reproduction. This culminated in their most notorious work, the Wet Nurse (not linked here, but Google it if you’re curious and not at work), which brought a lot of attention.
A game was always in the background and after three or so years of just selling miniatures, in late 2012, the Kickstarter for Kingdom Death: Monster was launched. The range had already built up a massive fanbase so the success was never in doubt, only the scale of it. A month later it ended with just over two million dollars pledged. With that amount raised the scope of the project increased hugely and it only just shipped in mid-late 2015.
So what is it?
Whatever else it is, this is a BIG game.
There are plenty of sites and reviews that will extol the virtues of the production, but suffice it to say that most everything is absolutely top notch. The one fault I would say is that the book is quite flimsy for such a large and often-referenced manual. I’d have loved to see a hardcover edition, especially with multiple ribbon bookmarks because you’ll be doing a lot of flicking back and forth.
The game itself is a multi-session co-operative game, much like Hero Quest and Warhammer Quest (one of its early inspirations). You meet up regularly, hopefully in the same group of four players, and play through a campaign over many sessions. I found it to be very close to a role-playing boardgame.
There are two main parts, plus one small minigame glueing them together. The first is the Showdown phase – you pit your four bravest (or most foolish) warriors against one of the terrible monsters that inhabit the world. The second is the Settlement phase – you take the materials that you gained during the showdown and use them to expand a fledgling settlement, build arms and armour, and do what you can to lead your people in this desolate land. The Hunt phase occurs between the two and depicts your survivors attempting to track down one of the beasts.
The monsters that you fight during the Showdown phase are the stars of the show. Which is good, because you’ll be spending a lot of your time hunting the same monsters again and again! At first I thought this could get quite dull – staring at the same five miniatures (the monster and the four survivors) for hours on end and we grind our way up the resource ladder. However these monsters are the cleverest and most interesting card-driven foes I’ve faced.
Each monster has a deck of cards that controls its actions, and you randomly construct this deck from a set of specifications for each monster. Pick so many cards from deck A, so many from deck B, add this card in, shuffle up, and you’ve got yourself a monster. This means that each monster has its own themes while also still being able to surprise you. Generally lions will charge all over the place so you want to avoid standing in front of it, but one might be fond of knock-downs and mauls while another likes to play dead.
They can do stupid things sometimes – in one battle we were able to game the system and kite the monster for most of the battle, dealing damage with almost no risk of return damage. Though, perhaps we had just worked out how to hunt that monster effectively? I suppose one person’s clever tactic is another’s cheesy game-breaker!
When we started there seemed to be a lack of depth to the system – just roll some dice, hope for hits, and fingers crossed the monster missed in your turn. However while it is a simple system, we did pick up a lot of subtleties that we didn’t pick up on straight away. One of the most important realisations was that you can spend survival points to take actions at specific points during the monster’s turn as well as your turn. This led to a bit of a brain-explosion moment as we all realised how powerful that could be and got to working out some nasty combos.
Overall I was pretty happy with how the showdown phase played out. I was expecting a watered-down miniatures experience typical of miniatures boardgames, but it was a satisfying and dynamic game that presented us with interesting tactical puzzles to solve every turn. Plenty of difficult decisions during each game helped keep everyone on their toes.
One thing I’d have liked to seen though: whenever you injure the monster you flip a damage card at random. This means that when attacked from the front you have an equal chance of hitting the monster’s head, leg, belly, or any other body part. I’d have liked to have seen a system that tagged each damage card to a particular side of the monster, and you flipped until you found an appropriate one. This would add another layer to the system that you could learn and plan for, as well as making the story of each encounter be more coherent. Of course the trap mechanic would have to be re-worked for this to stay balanced.
The settlement phase and the hunt phase both provide more of what I see as the role-playing part of Kingdom Death: Monster. I know it’s not really role-playing, but because the outcomes of your choices are so unpredictable we all found it best to think “Well, what would the characters do?”. This is quite anathema to us grognards so we had to consider it as roleplaying to make sense of it.
These parts of the game are where you are most exposed to the flavour and themes of the world. Random events occur constantly and often you are presented with a choice – pick a character to handle a situation, or pick between two equally horrible scenarios – and then you find out what happens. Often this involves the dreaded phrase “roll a d10”, something which very quickly came to replace Arkham Horror’s “you are devoured” as our group’s stock phrase to instil terror into the other players.
This part of the game can seem very harsh. Because you’re making so many rolls, and any 1 or a 2 is generally awful, you’re often only a short string of bad rolls away from a doomed settlement. Our first game quickly hit a downward spiral when we lost our only three women to childbirth, so the five remaining men led a short, doomed existence. All that because we rolled a one followed by two threes. So to get the most out of it you have to abandon any hope of steering your way through this dismal world, just roll with the punches and hope you roll the odd ten every now and again. And don’t get attached to your characters.
No talk of Kingdom Death: Monster would be complete without talking about its universe. It is a strange world. When you start playing you are controlling four characters who have just woken up on a plateau of white stone faces, eyes crusted with black ink and dressed in loincloths. They can’t communicate, have no idea how they got there, and their lanterns are the only light in the world. Instantly they are attacked by a huge white lion against which they must defend themselves. Like I said, pretty strange.
It is a very dark world. Bad things happen. Not just regular bad things as you’d expect in most games – people dying, getting badly injured, that sort of thing. In the games we played we had people lose legs, go insane (this happened regularly, and was usually a good thing), die during childbirth, one character had his genitals destroyed by a monster.
As I mentioned earlier it is also a highly sexually-charged world. Most of this comes from the horror theme and the ever-present juxtaposition of the beautiful with the repulsive. This I find unsettling (no doubt its purpose) and often disturbing. One specific page, which you’ll be referencing a lot, depicts a naked man kneeling in a pile of viscera and several dismembered body parts that instantly reminded me of the awful Dead Island Riptide statue debacle.
This would be fine if the motivation behind it was purely to infuse the same sense of unease in the players that the characters are facing. However it’s pretty obvious from a lot of the art in the rulebook, the player miniatures, and the range of pinups sold alongside the game, that the designers have made the decision to crank up the sex appeal for the male gaze. Not really much to be said here, it’s the same stuff we’re used to: male foes are generally fully-armoured (only one has a bare face), the females are lucky to be wearing anything more than a few straps. Same goes once the players start wearing armour, the female versions often follow the usual designs.
This is such a disappointment because the game starts out so well – you have two male and two female survivors that are treated identically to each other and are, as far as miniatures go, quite restrained and tasteful. It’s only once you’re immersed into it that it shows its true colours.
Overall I’m happy with the time I’ve spent with Kingdom Death: Monster. I fear we shan’t see a game of its scope in a long while so it’s nice to be a part of it. And if the game itself wasn’t big enough the expansions are now shipping – all of which take up about three times the space as the original. This really is a labour of love and despite any reservations I have about it I’m glad that such a thing exists and has been made to a superb level of quality.
Overall I enjoy the game but I feel that despite many improvements to the typical co-operative formula it does fall victim to the usual problems of games without some kind of human intelligence behind part of it. The monsters can get into strange degenerate behaviours, the hunt phase can be nonsensical, repetitive and nasty, and sometimes you just wish there was a way you could have more influence over an important die roll.
So it is a flawed masterpiece? In my mind, yes. The showdown phase is crunchy, difficult, and rewards planning. The settlement and hunt phases that join it together are flimsy, random and give you no foresight into the impact of your decisions, so you can’t make meaningful choices. The problem stems from the fact that these two systems feed back into each other so strongly – if your key warrior picks the wrong answer to a story event or rolls poorly she might end up maimed or killed, even though she’s an unstoppable whirlwind of death in the showdown phase.
Having said that, if you can bear the frustrating randomness of a game that hates you, and can stomach the tone, odds are you’ll like it. Plus the minis are beautiful!