Things Get Played - Kingdom Death #1
So after dinner last night, with Critical Role running in the background, I sat down and started to learn one of the biggest Kickstarter games around, and the biggest I have in my games library: Kingdom Death!
Hooray! That's right, Kingdom Death: Monster, the game of simulating the ever growing profit-and-loss spreadsheet of a doomed multinational company! Wait... No... Come back! I joke, it's a really cool game. Those are just character sheets. I swear!
So, I've glanced through the rules a bit, and watched a 'how to play' video while putting the Butcher together, so I had a brief understanding of the rules. Luckily, the game is designed to play the Prologue event first, after assembling the Prologue sprue (Kingdom Death being the first company I have encountered to arrange a game intro like that, which I appreciate). But before I did that, I decided to grab the cards I was likely to use out and sleeve them, because I paid too much for this game to damage cards straight away...
Admittedly, that took longer than I expected, but this game is loaded with cards, with most events being card driven for AI on the creatures you hunt. Having said that, the Prologue guides you through the setup of the first game, creating four survivors clothed in rags and armed with pointed stone fragments. And it starts by introducing you to the starting monster you fight, a sweet, fluffy -
JESUS F***! IT'S A LION!
Yep, the fearsome White Lion. Granted. The Prologue one is luckily a bit easier to fight than the others you can face in game, but you're still hitting on a 7+ when you attack it. But surely Sinya there will get a hit in, right?
Well, I guess there is a reason this game has Death in the name...
OK, so I had a bad start. It got better. And because of the way the Prologue is set up, this game is actually quick to pick up the main combat mechanics. The AI control of the monster is pretty good. Damage removes AI cards from it's deck, so it loses attack methods, eventually falling to a basic attack at the very end, but having a few tricks. Initially I thought that the board may have been too big, but then I started seeing how this monster worked. Not only does it batter you around the head causing insanity (Because it's a lion and you're a human in your underwear with a stone!), it knocks you down and drags you around the board, away from your friends.
To be clear, the situation for survival in the Prologue is definitely safety in numbers, while also trying to show yourself as the leat threat when it comes time for the Lion to attack. So help your friends, but run faster than them. Like I said, the board seems huge (It takes up most of my dining table), but when the Lion starts dragging people around and you have to retreat other survivors to set up counter attacks, it's suddenly claustrophobic. Eventually, beaten and bloody, one Survivor (Hwesta) bleeding out and missing the next game, the Lion was cornered on the edge and bludgeoned to death by poorly armed, maddened humans.
But that's not the end of the game. The Prologue is similar to the intro of most current video games which teach you a very basic version of the rules, but there are other elements you haven't touched on yet. That Lion is still useful, so hack it up for pieces, new humans!
Resources! And no variety! Turns out I didn't shuffle well, so this is going to be a strange start for my new civilisation...
I'm going to gloss over the next few steps, and might expand on them after a few games. After the Showdown (The part where you fight the Monster), you have a Settlement Phase where you build your community, gather new survivors, and craft items. I didn't do much of that last one, due to having barely anything beside a few bones, and I was keen to try another fight again.
The Hunt is interesting in that your characters don't say "We want to fight a White Lion again" and are suddenly on the board with it. First they have to hunt it, and risk losing it, or the creature setting up an ambush, as well as having to encounter strange things in the darkness. While I don't have photos, this was a part I really like. It gives me the impression the world is a lot bigger than the dozen or so monsters you will end up fighting, and the giant tables remind me of the old pick-your-own-adventure books. My survivors found a Gambler, and even that can cause problems before you get to fight the Monster itself. And the higher the level monster you want to fight to gain more resources, not only is it tougher, but you have a larger number of encounters to get through with potentially harmful things.
The bottom line here is that merely trying to find something like a White Lion in the first place is a dangerous prospect. You might find it, and already be hurt, while it lies in ambush. And on top of that, the higher the level, the more tricks they have, so the more dangerous it would be.
So after deciding 1am was a fine time to keep hunting, I set up to fight the Level 1 White Lion. Terrain entered play, and I briefly looked at the rules, focusing on trying to take down the Lion. This was my first mistake. A few minutes in, Laivindur (My bearded survivor) was beaten to a pulp and killed:
...Followed shortly by Fainu (I had the wrong sheet out)
Sinya went later, and Pilin was left waving a stone in the Lion's face, when I realised what had happened:
A) I had been forgetting to use Survival in some cases (This is important)
B) The Tall Grass terrain adds to your Evasion, making it harder to hit.
I'd basically spent 45 minutes half-asleep playing the game to my disadvantage. I decided to see what would happen to this final Survivor but redo this match in the morning (Yes, I should have just started with new survivors, but I was barely able to read the dice at this point, so figured I deserved a do over. I don't have money riding on this).
Saturday morning I started again, keenly aware that I probably should have created some new characters, but at this point I'm essentially treating this as a trial campaign, and will restart after my first fight with something that isn't a Lion.
Seen here is me trying to be a bit sneakier. Using the terrain, I hid as many Survivors as possible! The plan was to use the terrain to hid a bit, then trying to hit it all at once to hopefully get some hits in within a short time and get a few key attacks off it.
Here I am, sneaking around while the Lion sniffs the air, trying to figure out where we are. This part was actually a bit edgy, as potentially it could grab someone and run from the rest of the group, messing my plan up. I just had to be -
Nope, it got someone. Seriously, the Lion is a dangerous enemy, and this is the second weakest thing in the game. Everything is dangerous. The tree knocked one Survivor over when they looked at it! Not only that, but one of the Lion's tricks is the Grab, where it moves away from the Survivor's but drags someone with it. At the same time, hitting the monster can be just as dangerous as letting it hit you: if you fail to hurt it a reaction might cause it to run, attack, or both! Understanding this was the first part of me understanding how some of the tactics in this game worked.
See that? Sometimes you hit the Lion, and it spins around and hits you. This can suddenly mean that the Survivors in good locations previously are now in bad positions, and you're about to be hurt big time.
Eventually, I managed to drag the lion around 3/4 of the board and get a few hits into it, defeating it...
This earned me a few resources (As well as others earned during criticals, events, and the lead up to the Showdown):
Good, not as many bones this time...
This has also meant that I get to build a Cattery in my Settlement, and make items based on the White Lion, which opens my Survivors up for more weapon options, should I have the right resources.
So what are my thoughts so far? I actually have quite a few of them from what I have experienced so far. The first is that the phases flow into each other pretty easily. This is a good thing when you are trying to move from one to the other easily, but made it hard for me at first to decide what point to stop at. At the moment, I think pausing between a Settlement and Hunt Phase gives you the best option to take a break, as records are noted and most paperwork is done, ready to be picked up for the next game.
Second, this game would work better with more people. I had no trouble running this for myself to understand the rules, however there were times I would forget to perform actions, or forget there were injuries on Survivors already being threatened, while others had none. A group of people I think would find this easier, as they are focusing on their own character, with some turns controlling the Monster as well, to track their moods and abilities. At the same time, I think if you haven't played the game yet, run a small solo campaign first to learn the rules before showing others. The charts and pick-a-path style of book are easy to understand, but you need to know what you are looking for at some times, and while the book is intimidating at first, it's not designed to be read in one hit.
Third, prepare to lose. This game is brutal. Even the basic Monsters are mean and deadly. Winning in this case meant that I had a lot of injuries spread among the group, and was willing to sacrifice some characters in order to lure the Lion. It's a bit bleak, but that's what people expected from the game.
Four, if you see an opening, take it. I realised this too late when I first realised what the Terrain did. Eventually, your damage should hinder the monster in some way, in my first case reducing it's accuracy, and later removing it's Grab action and slowing it. When this happens, you need to grab that chance and use it to your advantage. Less accuracy? Hide in the grass to up your Evasion. Slow movement? Spread out and set up countercharges when it storms around. No Grab action? Don't be afraid to trigger it with missed hits, and arrange it to redirect into corners. It's a tactic and you should use it if appropriate.
But at the end of it, what do I think?
Honestly, I really liked this. Beyond the great models, I love the choose-your-own-adventure style of campaign play, the growing settlement, and as bad as it seems, I like the dark "We're all screwed" feeling in the game. This is a co-operative game, and needs to be played with a team focused on winning and able to communicate as well as plan. I think it has that in common with Pandemic, where you must work together as a team, and due to the difficulty, winning actually means something. This is a co-op game, so your victory has to be shared among the group, but be a big enough threat that you realise you can't do this on your own. It's also got a lot of replay potential from what I can see. Very few quarries should act the same from what I can see in the way the AI deck is generated, and the seemingly random AI, different terrain, and character customisation meant that you could fight five Level One White Lions, only to have them all act differently, so tactics from one might not work on the next.
And after all that?
... I really, really like this game. I'm looking forward to playing the next few games of this campaign, then starting a new one from scratch with a stronger understanding of the rules. And introducing friends to it in order to see how it works as a group vs. solo. I paid several hundred dollars for this game, and I feel I got my money's worth, and then some.
If you've played Kingdom Death: Monster, or bought it via Kickstarter, or have any comments about what I wrote (a lot of) above, please share it in the comments below.