Kingdom Death: Monster is (pardon the pun) a beast of a game. One big black box weighing in at close to 10KG at over 2 foot long and 1 foot wide. Its contents, move the 900 cards, lots of plastic and a stunning rule book.
Digging into it is a real treat, though I advise you not to go through every single card too closely. Just make sure everything is there, then pop it all back to avoid spoilers.
What Type Of Game Is It?
KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER is a campaign board game of epic proportions. It sits somewhere between a resource management game and a miniature war game. It’s also the only game I have played (since some old school RPGs) that will happily kill your party and force you to start over before you reach the actual game. At time of writing this review I’ve probably played the game for somewhere in the region of 100 hours and have successfully not made it to the halfway point.
How Does It Play?
The game remains fresh by introducing elements of randomness in some of the key areas. One of these areas is in the tech tree. You can develop new technologies (I use this word loosely) which in turn, allow you to add to the innovation deck based on what you have developed. For example, once you have innovated hovels, you can add the partnership and family innovations to your deck to perhaps find the next time you innovate. This means each time you start a new campaign, you may develop differently requiring you to tackle events in a different manner.
Combat is another area where there is some randomness. The creatures AI deck is made up of cards from 3 or 4 different decks. Each of these decks contains attacks ranging from deadly to ‘oh… well.. guess I’m dead then’. The rules will tell you to take a number of cards from each deck, then shuffle them together and draw one for each turn the monster takes. This means you never know what the creature will do next. This AI deck doubles as the creatures health pool. To kill it, simply deplete it of all its AI cards, then do one more wound to finish it off.
Wounds are dealt by attacking in some fashion, however, it’s obviously not as easy as it sounds. Landing a Hit is one thing. You then draw a hit location card which will describe the area you have hit and, if applicable, what a critical wound will do. Some hit locations will just be outright impervious to damage, but there is one special trap card for each creature that will not only cancel any damage you're about to do, it lets the creature perform a devastating attack against the person or persons closest to it.
The size of the game is only eclipsed by its price. There are also more than a dozen expansions that add even more content to the game.
More About The Gameplay
KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER can be played alone or with up to 4 players. Some variants exist for more players but it begins to really unbalance things so I wouldn’t recommend going above 4 players.
The game begins with 4 people, 2 men, 2 women, waking up in a strange place with carved stone faces all around. You are immediately attacked by a huge lion with weirdly human features, hell bent on killing everyone. This is your introduction. Wake up naked, try not to die.
The first time my group played this section we got lucky. And by lucky, I mean only one person died. It was a glorious death. The character died after ripping off the lions… ahem… cats don’t like having those things removed by force.
After this encounter begins the game proper. You found your home near the ‘lantern hoard’, roll for amount of population you have, go through a few story events and then spend what little resource you have on creating some armour and weapons before heading back out to find another one of these lions to fight.
This is the flow of the game. Go fight some impossibly big creature, try not to get killed on the way or during the fight, then get back home, do some admin, build better gear, hope nothing happens at home to kill you, tackle some story events, then start back over hunting again.
As the game progresses you unlock more things to hunt, so far in our playthrough we have the white lion, screaming antelope and the phoenix, the latter of which we nicknamed the ‘time travelling cancer pigeon’ I wont spoil exactly why that is. We have fought the butcher, had some really weird dreams, lost several people on our way to find something to fight and for the most part let everyone go partially insane.
The game is inherently out to get you. From the instant death mechanics during the hunt phase, the fact that monsters almost always get the first turn in combat, you aren’t even safe during the settlement phase as childbirth can result in mum dying, child dying and dad being so upset he wanders off into the darkness to die too.
If the following phrase appeals to you, you’ll probably enjoy KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER
‘You’re naked, here’s a stick, go kill God’
What Makes It Worth Such A Huge Price?
If you enjoy putting together minis, these are some of the best looking minis I have ever come across. The level of detail is frankly insane, and I can honestly say I have never had to glue hands onto a phoenix’s butthole until I bought this game.
In terms of table space, you’re going to need a big table. Our dining room table is about 6’ by 3’ and is just enough room to set this game up and have all the bits you need to hand.
Play time is difficult to calculate. We normally play for a few hours at a time which equates to maybe 2 hunts and 2 settlement phases, as you get further in the game, settlement phases get a little longer as you have more you need to do, check and upkeep. Our longest running campaign is probably at the 35 hour mark right now.
The full campaign is estimated to be up to 160 hours long.
The game is evolving over time. This review is based on the 1.5 version, though I have the 1.6 update ready to apply to the game. This contains some corrected stickers to pop in the rule book, some re-worded cards that replace some more contested descriptions etc.
Should You Buy It?
If you have the cash and this seems like the kind of game you’d enjoy, I can’t recommend it enough. If you are on the fence, watch some gameplay videos, see some other reviews and then make your decision. This is a lot of money to spend on something you don’t know if you will enjoy.