Kingdom Death

September 28, 2015 by Tim

I don’t talk a lot about board games here (or, I guess, anything else for the last few months that I’ve been up to my eyeballs with Kickstarter book stuff), but I’m a massive fan of good tabletop gaming. Especially over the last couple of console cycles as video games have steadily been gravitating away from shared-screen multiplayer experiences, more and more I turn to board games as the method with which to enjoy a game in person with friends.

Fantasy Flight games consistently produce games that are favorites of mine, and Plaid Hat’s Dead of Winter is regular in our rotation (easily the best zombie board game I’ve ever played, and there are a lot to choose from).

But there’s one game that I’ve been waiting nearly three years for, the promise of what could be a personal grail piece for me, and one of the first things I ever backed on Kickstarter, when the platform was still relatively new. Kingdom Death: Monster.

When it was announced, at least to me, it sounded too good to be true. The scope of the ambition was ridiculous, and it hit on a number of mechanics and genres that I just absolutely love. And althought the wait has been quite a bit longer than was intially anticipated, having received my core game last weekand becoming obsessed with it over the weekend, I can say that the game has delivered on every level.

I feel like the description I use in the comic is fairly accurate: Dark Souls + Monster Hunter + Civilization. You start out with a party of four next-to-naked survivors, humans that have just awoken in a world of complete darkness. They are immediately set upon by a vicious beast, and need to fight for their lives.

Should any of them survive, they are rewarded with resources gleaned from the monster’s carcass, and they head to the lone beacon on the horizon, a pile of lanterns in the dark. There they begin their settlement, and their civilization. Over the course of three repeating game phases, you are tasked with improving your settlement by building locations, innovating on moral principles and guidelines that will shape your society’s future, crafting gear and items from the resources you’ve found, and conceiving new survivors to expand your colony.

From there, because your tribe needs food and resources to survive, you dispatch four hunters, equipped as best you can, to hunt a monster of your choice. Over the course of the hunt phase, you will encounter random events and various choices until you finally catch up to your prey (or it catches you).

And then finally, the brutal showdown phase, where your four survivors must face off against a deadly creature that is controlled by a deck of AI cards that dictate its actions. This AI deck also doubles as the creature’s life bar, and you discard a card from this deck every time you would the monster. In this way as it becomes more injured, its actions become more limited and predictable, but also leave the possibility that the few cards left could be its most devastating attacks.

Some wounds your survivors face are temporary, and will heal if they make it back to the settlement after a successful hunt. Others, are permanent. If you’re blinded in one eye, your accuracy is forever decreased. If an arm is torn to shreds, that survivor will never again be able to wield a two-handed weapon. Death can come suddenly, and is also permanent.

The survivors come and go. Even if they live through many successful hunts, eventually they will grow too old to hunt, and must retire. It is your settlement that must persevere. It must survive and grow strong enough so that your warriors are ready to face the ultimate challenge and defeat the watcher at the end of the game.

The game oozes a dark and grim brutality that will be familiar to any fans of the Dark/Demons souls series. The fact that the odds are stacked so high against you, and the thrill of defying those odds is, for me, the biggest draw of a game like this.

Kingdom Death: Monster is billed as a “boutique cooperative survival experience,” and it lives up to that description in that the game’s components will be best appreciated by hobbyists that aren’t shy about assembling the miniatures (which are some of the highest quality plastic sculpts I have ever seen).

Because the game is entirely focused on cooperative play, with the monster’s actions governed by clearly-defined rules, it’s possible to play the game solo. I would love to find a way to stream or record a session or two to share it with you, if I can manage to find an appropriate way to do so. Unlike streaming a game screen, streaming a tabletop game with so many elements presents some challenges.

But at any rate, keep an eye on this one if it sounds like it’s up your alley. It’s an expensive investment (I backed the Kickstarter for $150, and the game now retails, if you can get it, for $300+) but the final product we’ve received is every bit the high-end quality you’d expect for the price. And I can’t imagine a campaign ever playing out the same way twice, just with all of the choices and options you can make, so it’s not likely to be a game you’ll tire of.

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