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Subject: Just Another Crazy Dream for Me... (A Review) rss

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Kevin Outlaw
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The Wing Warrior - learn more at www.facebook.com/thelegendriders
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This review, complete with pictures, is also available on my blog at AlwaysBoardNeverBoring.


One Sunday afternoon, way back in my sepia-toned youth, I watched a film that changed my life.

The film was Clash of the Titans. And no, I don't mean that bloody awful travesty of a remake. I mean the original, which while not being an amazing film even by the standards of the day, was pure cinematic magic to me. The tale of gods and monsters, brought to life through Ray Harryhausen's incredible stop-motion animation, transfixed me. I was instantly transported to another world, and some people would argue I never really came back.

It's hardly surprising that my first trilogy of children's novels was an attempt to recapture that pure sense of wonder by creating a world populated by the same mythical beasts that had stolen my heart so many years before.

But why am I bringing this up?

I mean, why am I bringing this up besides the fact I'm a shameless self-promoter who wanted to mention my trilogy of children's novels as Christmas looms on the horizon?

Well, there is a reason; but I'll get to that in a minute. First, I need to make a confession. Several confessions actually.

The truth is, I don't really know how to start this review. I've had my copy of Kingdom Death: Monster since early in 2016, and I intended to review it a long time ago. It just didn't happen. And the reason it didn't happen, is because I simply haven't played the game enough. I like to have a really solid feel for the mechanisms of a game before I attempt to put my thoughts into a review, and that requires some serious game time.

Kingdom Death just hasn't had that serious game time.

I haven't even finished the main story campaign. I'm not even close. I have no idea when I'm going to be close.

So, why am I reviewing the game now?

The obvious answer is, the designer of the game, Adam Poots, is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for a new edition, which means more people are going to be looking to find out about the game, and I'm a shameless self-promoter.

But there is another reason.

I've been thinking about this game - this review - for so long, it got to the point where I was just going to have to bite the bullet and write it. I was starting to think it was going to take as long to deliver this review as Adam took to deliver the game to the Kickstarter bakcers. The biggest problem is, I have so much to say, but I'm not entirely sure any of it is going to be useful for anybody who wants to know more about Kingdom Death: Monster. I haven't seen every aspect of it, after all. And I understand little of what I have seen.

However, I've come to the realisation that this isn't a regular sort of game, and perhaps it isn't necessary to know everything... or anything.

And perhaps an irregular game requires an irregular review.

This is that...

Unlike many of the people who own this game, I didn't Kickstart it. I saw it on Kickstarter, and I ran for the hills. While the concept was intriguing, I was concerned by... well... almost everything. There wasn't a lot of information about the game, I didn't know anything about the designer, I believed the campaign was overreaching and the game probably wouldn't ever get made, and there were numerous images that I found... questionable.

And, to a certain extent I was right to run. The game was a long time coming, and some of it never came at all (Adam recently announced the cancellation of an expansion, and offered refunds to the people who had put down their money several years earlier for it). There is no denying the people who were braver than me got a great deal for their money, but money isn't everything. I still believe the decision I made at that time was the right one for me.

Fast-forward approximately one lantern year, and Kingdom Death: Monster loomed in my consciousness. Bakcers had received their new toys, and the buzz was that the game was good. Better than good.

Great.

No, better than great.

I bet someone, somewhere used the spelling "EVAR."

I started researching. I did my due diligence. Literally nobody was saying this game was bad. Well... maybe there was one guy. But he was ugly and weak, people called him a freak, so he lived on his own underground.

So I ventured forth to eBay, and acquired myself a brand new Kickstarter copy of the game for the princely sum of £560.

Yup, £560.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about that is my wife didn't even blink when I told her. She's cool like that.

Anyway, I put down my £560 (the most I had ever paid for a game), and shortly afterwards my copy of the best game evar arrived.

It's fair to say, the sheer awe of seeing a copy of Kingdom Death: Monster for the first time is difficult to put into words.

The box has a beautiful matte black finish, with gloss detailing depicting the enigmatic Watcher, the main villain(?) of the core gaming experience.

And the box is huge.

"Is that the coffin I ordered for you?" my wife asked. Heh. Yeah. She's cool like that.

The box is actually more like a toppled monolith: An uncovered relic from an ancient civilisation. It truly is beautiful in an unusual kind of way. It's sleek and sophisticated, yet massive an unwieldy. At first glance it appears devoid of detail, yet closer inspection reveals the glossy black images and text. It sits like an art installation on my shelf: A bold absence of colour.

It's like antimatter.

It took me a moment to realise why I liked it so much. Simply put, it's a box design that gestures impolitely at the conventions of traditional publishing and retail models. It's too big for a store shelf, and you can't even see the name of the game until you're close enough to fall into the box.

It's a box that screams artisan. It's a box that lets you know this didn't come from a store; probably because the store couldn't fit it through the doors.

And it doesn't end there. The contents are just as glorious as the packaging. There are hundreds of beautifully illustrated cards, a huge game board depicting something ripped straight out of a nightmare I had once, and the most obscenely lavish rules book I've ever had the pleasure to read.

That rules book is over 200 pages long, and almost 50 percent of it comprises full-page, colour artwork. It's an incredible feat of pure artistry. You could seriously put this book on your coffee table. Well, you could. You probably wouldn't. There's a few too many penises and ripped off faces in the artwork to really be coffee table material.

But anyway, the first thing I did after receiving my copy was to immediately sell the Kickstarter rewards. None of them added to the game experience, and I was able to immediately recoup £200 of my initial outlay.

My wife was delighted, because she said she could actually afford the coffin she'd ordered for me.

With that out of the way, it was time to assemble the miniatures. To get started, you technically only need to assemble four survivors (player characters) and a white lion (the first enemy you face in the story prologue). However, I really wanted to build all of the enemy models, so I dived straight in and put them all together.

Good Lord, what a mess that was. I have been assembling and painting miniatures for almost three decades, and I have never... EVAR... had to deal with miniatures this bad. I don't mean the miniatures were poorly sculpted; I mean they were horrendous to put together. Models were broken down into minuscule pieces that made next to no sense. One character's feet were in multiple pieces, and some characters had forearms split through the middle. Worst of all, there were no instructions for assembling them, just directions to visit a website where a fan gave relatively vague guidelines about assembling the models before eventually telling you to put 'em together however you want because nobody really knows.

(Ahem. For fans of Vibrant Lantern's website, the previous sentence may come across as disrespectful. I am stepping out my own id here to clarify that the website in question basically prevented me from smashing all of the miniatures into a fine paste, and I am very grateful for the help it provided. It's a wonderful website, and really, really helpful. However, it in no way replaces an official instructions document, and in no way forgives the omission of said instructions document.)

But that wasn't my only issue with the miniatures. You see, some of the miniatures just aren't very nice.

I can already hear people grinding their teeth here. You're going to have to bear with me, because I do think it's important to mention... Kingdom Death: Monster has a strong adult theme. The monsters are horrific, nightmarish beasts. But this goes way beyond a few tentacles and pointy fangs. These monsters have designs that are... yes... obscene. They are repulsive, and they have an almost visceral impact on the viewer. You can't help but have a reaction. Now, Adam did a pretty clever thing, and kept the really extreme stuff for the expansions; but even in the base game, there are some models that just make my skin crawl.

I have a pretty high threshold for this sort of stuff, but the human hands clawing their way out of the phoenix's cloaca is pretty much where I draw the line. The stuff in the expansions... the thing with giant penises for tentacles, the lion with a vagina for a face and a giant penis for a... well, for a penis. That's a step beyond.

Everybody has a line. That's fine. I don't care where other people draw their line. But these things are beyond mine.

And that's actually okay.

It's more than okay. It's fitting.

Kingdom Death: Monster isn't just a game. It's a work of art. And art is supposed to invoke a reaction. It's supposed to push a button. It's supposed to make you feel something. For any artist, the worst reaction possible to a piece of art is complete apathy. Whether it's love or hate, every element of Kingdom Death is going to make you feel something.

I think Adam would be quite pleased to know how much I despise some of his creations. I'm sure he would delight in the discomfort some of them cause for me. That's exactly what he wants. He has adhered to his own vision, free of the shackles of a publisher or editor, to create something special. Something horrible. Something that many people are going to think is obscene.

And sure, that means the game isn't for everyone.

But what game is?

However, despite all that, I wasn't actually that impressed with the miniatures in the end. The concepts were fine, but I thought the execution was lacklustre. Every model is quite well detailed, and the huge phoenix is a work of art that rivals Games Workshop's better efforts; but many of the models are very static. They lack the kind of dynamism that I expect from modern miniatures. Part of the problem with the survivors comes from the decision to make them little dollies you can dress up in different clothes. Manufacturing them in a way that makes it possible to put them in different suits of armour and holding different weapons enforces a more rigid stance, and I thought that was a real shame.

"Thought."

Past tense.

I'll come back to that.

Now, I'm a painter, but I don't have a lot of time to paint. I've recently spent more time painting my kitchen than I have painting miniatures. I'm certainly not the kind of person who intends to wait until a game is painted before playing, or I'd never play anything. So, once I had finished assembling the Watcher (and breathing into a paper bag), I ploughed through the rules book and set up my first game.

At this point, I should mention the rules are surprisingly streamlined. Even though the rules book itself is over 200 pages long, the actual rules are all wrapped up by page 80, and most of that is full-page artwork, lavish diagrams, and various charts and tables. There's also a very detailed walkthrough called the prologue, which gets you playing your first game almost immediately. The prologue is an impressive introduction to a game that at first seems incredibly intimidating. It surpasses Mage Knights efforts at quick start rules, and rivals the introductory games for Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower and Legends of Andor.

But I can't really talk to you about the prologue until I've talked to you about the theme.

So that's what I'm going to do.

Now...

The theme is superb; and what makes it superb is that it reveals so little of itself in the first instance. The basic premise is that four people wake up in a world of darkness, with no idea who they are or how they got there. They each have a lantern to combat the impenetrable gloom, and that's their only defence in a nightmarish landscape. Before they even have a chance to interact with each other, they are attacked by a white lion with human hands (which probably escaped from the front cover of Felinia), forcing the survivors to band together. The ensuing fight is the prologue, and the first brutal introduction to the violent, brilliant world of Kingdom Death.

If anybody survives the encounter (and yes, there is a chance they won't, in which case the game restarts), they travel to a settlement, where other confused survivors huddle around a mountain of lanterns, desperately struggling to stay alive.

But what does it all mean?

I dunno.

As you play through the game, your group of survivors go through various hardships. Random events gradually shape your environment. You learn more about your surroundings. But each discovery just creates another question. There is something ethereal and dreamlike about everything. And something cyclical too.

Basically, the game involves hunting and fighting monsters, and then attempting to advance your settlement by creating new buildings, evolving your people, developing new weapons and fighting styles, and finding new ways to survive.

This cycle of events is known as a "lantern year." How long is a lantern year?

I dunno.

That's part of the mystery.

A lantern year is enough time to hunt and kill a single monster, but it's also enough time to raise a child to adulthood. A lantern year is enough time to construct a building, but it's also enough time to learn a language.

It is all the time in the world, and none at all.

As already mentioned, the first thing you do in a new campaign (comprising 25 lantern years) is fight a lion. This is the showdown phase, a very clever tactical miniatures game in which four human survivors fight a single, massive enemy. This part of the game is intricate and beautiful. The survivors have limited weapons (just sharp rocks to begin with), and must work together to bring down a much more powerful foe. This involves moving into position, rolling at least one 10-sided dice (D10) in an attempt to inflict hits, and then rolling again for each successful hit to inflict wounds.

So far, so every other miniatures game ever.

What makes the conflicts interesting is how the monsters react. As this is a co-operative game (up to four players control the survivors), the monsters use decks of artificial intelligence (AI) cards to control their actions, and decks of hit location cards to track where the survivors manage to strike and inflict wounds. In simple terms, whenever the monster activates, the players draw an AI card and follow the instructions. When the survivors attack, they draw a hit location card for each successful attack roll they make, and then try to wound those locations.

It all sounds simple enough, but the card system creates some wonderful moments of story within each conflict. For example, when fighting the lion, if a survivor hits its "strange hand" the result of the wound roll has a significant impact on what happens next. Fail to wound, and the lion instinctively retaliates, getting a free attack against the attacker. Successfully wound the lion, and you get to take the top AI card from the AI deck (or discard pile, if the AI deck is empty) and remove it from the game completely. If the monster ever has no AI cards in its draw pile, it gets to reshuffle its discard pile to form a new draw deck. If it has no cards in its discard pile either, it dies and the survivors win.

That's pretty damned clever for all kinds of reasons. First of all, it means you don't have to track the monster's wounds separately. You know how many wounds you have inflicted by checking how many AI cards are removed from the game. More importantly, each would you inflict reduces the monster's combat effectiveness. As the AI deck gets smaller, you get to know which attacks the monster has left. It falls into predictable patterns, lurching to attack in the same way over and over again out of desperation. You learn it's moves, you learn how to counter them.

And then you kill the beast.

However, what makes the system even cleverer is the concept of critical damage. Certain hit locations have a critical effect, resulting in something amazing happening if you manage to roll a natural 10 to wound that location. Going back to the example of the lion's "strange hand," if you successfully wound the hand by rolling a natural 10, you cut the hand off. For the rest of the battle, this persistent injury affects some of the monster's AI cards.

Such persistent injury results are victorious achievements in a world of perpetual shit, but they are also little moments of horror all their own. When you are cutting off a monster's penis, or ripping off its jaw so it vomits blood everywhere, you really are walking a very fine line between triumph and trauma.

But that's the showdown: A bloody, gritty, grind to victory as you laboriously hack a gigantic monster to pieces.

And at the end of it all, you get to harvest the monster for ingredients, cutting off claws and fur, and removing organs. These treasures you take back to your settlement, where you begin the second part of the game.

In contrast to the precision and control of the showdown, the settlement phase is a bit more of a crap shoot. As the survivors return, you draw a settlement event card, which usually involves rolling on some charts to see how badly the world screws with you, After that, you may have to read a story event, one of the dozens of wonderful (and disturbing) events that fill a hefty chunk of the rules book's page count. These events also tend to involve rolling on charts to see how badly the world screws with you.

And this is also the point where the game is going to break down for some people. If rolling on a chart that has a 20 percent chance of killing you outright with no chance to do anything about it is the kind of thing that makes you want to flip the table, walk away now.

In fact, let me talk a minute about death in Kingdom Death. Let me explain a few things.

First off, death is going to happen. A lot. The clues right there in the name of the game, folks. But it's not quite as bad as it might seem. Sure, a survivor may get his head ripped off by a lion. Sure, he may miraculously survive an encounter with a screaming antelope only to return home and get killed by the dentist as she tries to heal his broken jaw. Sure, he may wander out into an acid storm and burn to death while trying to learn a new fighting style. But...

That's kind of the point.

This is a game where you don't take on the role of a single character. You control the characters during the showdown, but that's really just a kind of micromanagement; your main concern is the survival of the settlement. Survivors will die, but as long as you have managed to breed new warriors, you get to fight on. Your civilisation clambers over a growing pile of corpses as it desperately struggles to claw its way out of darkness.

It's a truly horrible thing to be a part of. A truly wonderful, empowering, thought-provoking, horrible thing.

This is a piece of art... I will keep calling it a piece of art... and like any piece of art, it has something it wants to say.

Anyway, after various random events and encounters, the settlement phase gives you an opportunity to develop your civilisation. You can make new structures, learn a language, develop fighting skills, use harvested monster parts to make gruesome new weapons. It's all rather interesting, and one of my favourite aspects of the game. However, it's also the point where you are supposed to cut some extra miniatures off the included "armour sprues" in order to make little models that accurately reflect how your survivors are armed and clothed. Which is a bit of a chore, really.

If you look at the elements of the settlement phase, it really isn't anything special. Rolling on charts, managing your resources, and developing your character between missions is something that dates all the way back to games like Advanced HeroQuest and Warhammer Quest, so this really isn't anything new. And developing a thriving civilisation isn't anything new either.

What is new, is the story these activities weave in Kingdom Death. It's difficult to explain until you see the pieces moving together in an actual gaming experience, and it isn't apparent immediately. As you play, your decisions begin to matter, and the random events begin to matter. Rather than distinct moments, events begin to link together, connecting in unique and unusual ways. Something you did right at the start of the game may suddenly come back to haunt you. A roll of the dice in your second lantern year creates a perfect storm years later, wrecking your civilisation.

After the settlement phase you get a hunt phase, which honestly feels a bit tacked on. It boils down to selecting a monster, and then generating a series of random events that have the potential to help or hinder you as you hunt the monster down. If you successfully traverse the events you get to fight the monster you selected, otherwise you fail, and your civilisation goes hungry and slips further into the darkness it so desperately wants to escape.

And all the while you are getting additional glimpses into how this alien world works. What it means. How to survive.

But as I've already mentioned, each new answer generates a new question. Each new event brings into question everything you thought you understood. The fact is, this world is like a dream... a nightmare... and all of the rules of dreams apply. Characters pop in and out of existence. They age in seconds. You get snippets of events, but not the whole picture. Time speeds up or slows down. A lantern year could be a few moments, or a lifetime. Characters meld together. And there's Freudian imagery pretty much everywhere. It makes sense in the way a dream makes sense. There are moments of clarity, enshrouded in darkness. The monsters are beyond comprehension, and yet they have human faces and human appendages. It's like they are a part of the survivors, something that isn't born out of another creature, but borne out of a subconscious fear.

There also seems to be a suggestion that characters slip in and out of this reality. Sometimes when they sleep, sometimes when they are born, sometimes when they step into the darkness. When they are away from the reality, time seems to work differently again. Perhaps this world really is a dream, and when characters vanish they have simply awoken.

Time isn't even linear, and should your civilisation fail, a new group of survivors... or perhaps the same group of survivors... awakens in the gloom, with the white lion prowling in the dark, and in the distance the smouldering ruins of a settlement that feels similar, and yet has the potential to become so much more, or so much less, than it was before.

It's wonderful, rich world-building. And it's also largely out of your control.

For my first game, I decided to play alone as a solo experience, and I was immediately entranced by the showdown scene, which has the potential to create wonderful, cinematic moments. And throughout it all I felt in control. My four desperate heroes were mine to command, and I threw them into battle and watched them triumph in the face of adversity.

However, that then led on to the settlement phase, and the subsequent hunt phase, and I could feel the control slipping away. Precise tactical thinking and clever planning gave way to dice-chucking, and random events that all seemed designed to kick my settlement into the dirt and keep it there. I sent survivors out to hunt, only to see them die in despair before they even found their quarry.

It hurt.

It genuinely hurt.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

It started to feel futile. Like nothing I did mattered. I was having an existential crisis while playing a damned board game.

I realised, with no small amount of horror, that I wasn't really having any fun.

And who was I, anyway? The survivors are so fragile and prone to death, and I was controlling all of them, so I couldn't relate to any one. And then in the settlement phase, I was making decisions for the whole settlement and all the people within it. But then I was also drawing random events to smite my settlement, and reading out story events I had no control over. And then I was picking the monster that was available for my settlement to hunt.

One moment I was micromanaging the equipment a single survivor was carrying; the next moment I was generating a global weather event.

And then it hit me.

I thought back to Clash of the Titans (I bet you thought I'd forgotten about that), and I remembered how Zeus looks down at all the mortals, and he doesn't see people. He just sees playing pieces.

Suddenly it made sense.

In Kingdom Death: Monster, you aren't a single character. You aren't the leader of a civilisation.

You're a deity.

You literally create your civilisation, cutting them off the sprues and gluing them together. You place them in a world where nothing is known beyond the confines of the playing board. You encourage them to survive.

And then you smite them.

Not because you want to destroy them, but because you want them to succeed; and nobody triumphs without adversity.

You release monsters for them to fight, you make them struggle, you build them up and you knock them down. And your survivors... survive. They face the challenges, and they overcome them. You create a strong, proud civilisation. You strip away their hope, and then watch them carry on without hope. You snuff out lanterns, and watch as they light new ones.

You tear things down so they can build them up again.

And you know how fragile your people are. You know they cannot last forever in this harsh world. But you make every moment of life they get precious. You encourage them to endure, because you want them to thrive. You want them to leave behind something great: Something more than a smouldering pile of lanterns.

Looking at the game from this mindset, everything changed.

I mean everything.

I looked again at those static miniatures, and I thought about Clash of the Titans. The survivors look almost godlike. One of them looks like Zeus throwing a thunderbolt, and one of them looks like Aphrodite. But they don't look real; they look like statues.

Like playing pieces.

I cracked open my paints, and I painted up all the survivors like stone sculptures. The only concession I made was to paint coloured rings for the bases that matched the colour of the character cards in the box, for easy identification. I painted up the monsters to look like they were carved from bone. The result is something that feels classical, like an old Chess set, and something that I feel truly captures the way the game makes me feel.

As a little bonus, I realised that I didn't need (didn't even want) all of the other survivor miniatures that come with the game. I only wanted the ones that looked like statues, so I sold off all the "armour sprues" and recouped over £200 of my initial investment.

My wife even cancelled that coffin she ordered.

With my new-found appreciation for (my interpretation of) the theme, I was able to enjoy the game a lot more. Not as a game, but as something deeper than a game. The more I played, the more the game offered up for me to contemplate and appreciate. I started to see a lot of religious allegory in the subtext. The survivors are created, naked and afraid, in the dark. Saviours are born that have the potential to lead your civilisation to greatness, but they are martyrs that are doomed to short lives, and do not live to see the greatness their people achieve.

In the end, I learned to embrace the chaos, and revel in the small successes my civilisation eked out in the face of unspeakable horror.

Unfortunately, what I didn't learn was how to have fun with the game. I love the story, love the imagination, love the campaign, love the artistry. I just don't enjoy it all that much.

Actually, I'll clarify: I quite enjoy it on an intellectual level, I just don't enjoy it all that much in the "I want to have some fun now" kind of way.

And that's a personal thing, and in no way reflects on the quality of the game.

For a start, it's so persistently dark, and that makes it something that you have to really be in the right mood for. It also means it's something I can't put on the table around my six-year-old daughter. Furthermore, I personally feel it's a solo experience. Sure, up to four people can play, controlling a survivor each, but when those survivors may randomly die during the hunt phase, or get ripped to pieces in the first round of the showdown, it feels like player elimination is always just one dice roll away.

Perhaps the biggest issue is a single campaign is 25 lantern years, and each lantern year can take two to three hours to play through. That is a huge amount of gaming time, especially if you take into account that your pathetic little civilisation might get wiped out, forcing you to start again from scratch. The sheer amount of stuff in the box makes this one of the most generous gaming experiences in the world today; but it also means it's not so much a game as a lifestyle choice. Personally, I don't want to commit that many hours to a single game, especially a game that is so perpetually bleak and revels in destroying you arbitrarily due to a few bad dice rolls at the wrong time. It's exhausting.

Ultimately, you have to invest in the story, and not in the game. You have to appreciate the ride... a very long ride... without committing to ever seeing the destination.

I have seen people asking questions like:

"Why hunt stronger monsters?"

"Why risk my heroes in a fight with the Butcher?"

"Why would I ever choose Survival of the Fittest?"

If people are asking those questions, they're playing the game wrong.

You take on each challenge much like a mountaineer takes on K2: Because it's there. Because it is an achievement. Because it is the nature of humankind to strive for greatness against all odds, to leave a legacy of bravery and defiance or else wither in darkness.

I admit, after my first few lantern years, I was sold on the concept. I was figuring out which expansions I was going to buy, and had earmarked some funds to put in an order. But then something happened: Games Workshop announced Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower.

Now, I know it's close to blasphemy to mention Games Workshop in the hallowed halls of the bakcers, but the reality is, I love Games Workshop board games. They suit my lifestyle. They are streamlined, quick to setup, quick to play. They have small rules books, yet still have plenty of scope for tactical thinking and clever gameplay. They have, for my money, the finest miniatures in gaming; and I like painting them. And I love Games Workshop's gaming universes. They are often bleak, but they are not without humour; and that's important to me. I grew up with them, and I know them well. I have often spoken on my blog about my childhood, which was not entirely unlike a lantern year in Kingdom Death: Monster. Games Workshop was my lantern at that time, and while it has sputtered over the years, it never went out completely.

Silver Tower took the funds I had set aside for Kingdom Death expansions.

Turns out that's just as well, because not long after that, Kingdom Death went back on the shelf. I started finding it increasingly difficult to make time to play it. When I did have time, I invariably lacked the desire to go through the effort of setting it all up. It didn't help that in June of this year I experienced a family tragedy, and even the thought of slogging through a brutal game of Kingdom Death was too much to bear. I couldn't even face the idea of plunging into that dark, unforgiving world, because what I was really looking for was a temporary escape from our own dark, unforgiving world.

So the game has remained on my shelf ever since. A wonderful art installation. A modern masterpiece. A piece of gaming history.

I'll never get rid of it. I'm just not sure how often I'll play it.

Some people say this is the best game ever... EVAR. I don't agree. But it's possibly one of the most important. It's a testament... no, a monument... to one man's vision. It's a statement about what's possible when you're free to dream, unshackled from the constraints of modern conformity. It's a proclamation that it's possible to fight, and it's possible to win, no matter how hard the journey is.

This is a warrior poet's cry to stand up and stand fast. To refuse to go quietly into the night.

And perhaps, somewhere in the darkness, your lantern will get snuffed out. Perhaps by something evil. Perhaps by bad luck. Or perhaps by something that simply fails to comprehend the beauty in your fragile existence.

That's okay too. Everybody's lantern goes out eventually.

But what did you achieve while it burned so briefly, and so brilliantly?
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François Mahieu
Belgium
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Quote:

Some people say this is the best game ever... EVAR. I don't agree. But it's possibly one of the most important. It's a testament... no, a monument... to one man's vision. It's a statement about what's possible when you're free to dream, unshackled from the constraints of modern conformity. It's a proclamation that it's possible to fight, and it's possible to win, no matter how hard the journey is.


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Awesome.
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James
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Midlothian
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Man is most nearly himself when he achieves...
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We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
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Beautiful review, Kevin. I really enjoyed reading this.
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Brandon Kosta
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Wow, this is amazing. By far one of the most entertaining reviews I've read. I've had my eyes on this game for quite some time, and now that the 2nd Kickstarter is live, I'll get my chance to own it. I completely understand where you're coming from (theoretically, having never played the game myself) and honestly, I'll be thrilled to own this even if, like you, I don't find the game very fun (although from my research, I certainly hope that I will). It is art and I'm one of those whose line never seems to need drawn with things like this. I love all that I've seen in the game, but definitely understand that it's not for everyone.
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Mrnemo636 wrote:
and now that the 2nd Kickstarter is live

... and already way past the first kickstarter's "mere" $2M funding, with over a month to go...
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Thanks for the tips and kind words, guys. You may be the lucky few who get to read this review, since it's now being absolutely buried under pile of Kickstarter-related threads

Enjoy Black Friday!
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Excellent review. Extremely well written. I won't buy this game because it's a little grotesque for my tastes, but like you I respect the achievement of the designer in bringing his vision to fruition.
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Excellent review!

The KS piqued my interest and that led me watching some play through videos. In one of the video, I watched how the player fight a phoenix and I thought the AI system is excellent. But then, in the settlement phase, an event struck. One of his most powerful survivor was killed by another one of his most powerful survivor. That's it. One flip of random event and he lost two of his most powerful survivors, without a single thing he could do to prevent it. Survivors killed in battle, sure, I can accept that. But in a random event without any other options? I think this part of the game is harsh just to make the game hard to win. For sure, the game is not for me.

But the again, I agree with you that thinking this as a "game" is an injustice. Despite my taste lies in different direction, I'd say that KD:M is a labour of love.
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
It's a proclamation that it's possible to fight, and it's possible to win, no matter how hard the journey is.

This is a warrior poet's cry to stand up and stand fast. To refuse to go quietly into the night.

And perhaps, somewhere in the darkness, your lantern will get snuffed out. Perhaps by something evil. Perhaps by bad luck. Or perhaps by something that simply fails to comprehend the beauty in your fragile existence.

That's okay too. Everybody's lantern goes out eventually.

But what did you achieve while it burned so briefly, and so brilliantly?

Very poetic! Food for thought! Great timing with the current KS! Excellent review! Thank you RedMonkeyBoy!
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Thanks again everyone. I really do appreciate all the kind words.

For the record, I am currently backing the new Kickstarter at the $50 upgrade level. I know that seems a bit odd considering my views, but if I'm going to hold up a game in my collection as one of the most important games ever, I feel I should at least have the best possible version of that game.
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Kevin, what you wrote? That's as good as it gets on the geek. Thank you.
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Super cool review; it read like a story! Your experiences with the game sound amazing. And the game sounds unique, unlike any other board game I've seen on the market in the past couple years. I think I would regret not joining in on this event.
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This is a great article, but it doesn't actually sound like a ringing endorsement.

1) The minis sound disappointing for the price.
2) The game doesn't sound like it's fun (Call me crazy, I'd like an expensive board game to be fun)
3) It doesn't sound like you were able to share the game's experience with anyone else.
4) The hunt portion sounds lame.
5) After spending all that money and time you have not actually completed the game.

I am grateful for your write-up as I was considering backing. Based on what I've read I don't think this one is for me. Art or not it sounds like a big waste of money.

I'm not sure I buy the board game as art argument either. Seems like empty shock value visuals (with a direction similar to smutty anime) overlaid on a primitive RPG. I fail to discern what makes this game particularly more artistic than Dead of Winter or Imperial Assault. Further, it's a heck of a lot of money to spend on a collection of minis. If experiencing surreal art is your thing you could actually fly to Spain and spend a couple of days taking in the Prado museum for less than the cost the Satan's pen pledge level.
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LordObsidian wrote:
This is a great article, but it doesn't actually sound like a ringing endorsement.

1) The minis sound disappointing for the price.
2) The game doesn't sound like it's fun (Call me crazy, I'd like an expensive board game to be fun)
3) It doesn't sound like you were able to share the game's experience with anyone else.
4) The hunt portion sounds lame.
5) After spending all that money and time you have not actually completed the game.

I am grateful for your write-up as I was considering backing. Based on what I've read I don't think this one is for me. Art or not it sounds like a big waste of money.

I'm not sure I buy the board game as art argument either. Seems like empty shock value visuals (with a direction similar to smutty anime) overlaid on a primitive RPG. I fail to discern what makes this game particularly more artistic than Dead of Winter or Imperial Assault. Further, it's a heck of a lot of money to spend on a collection of minis. If experiencing surreal art is your thing you could actually fly to Spain and spend a couple of days taking in the Prado museum for less than the cost the Satan's pen pledge level.


Thanks for reading. A lot to cover here, so I'll pile in and try not to bang on too long. I think this is going to be a precis of the review...

First off, you're right. This isn't a ringing endorsement. I think this is probably one of the most negative reviews of Kingdom Death: Monster currently on the Geek (I don't believe anybody has torn it to pieces yet, correct me if I'm wrong!). There are lots of very positive reviews you should probably check out too. However, even if I loved everything about the game I don't think I'd give it a ringing endorsement, because it's obvious there are so many elements that are going to trigger certain people. There's violence, sexual imagery, randomness, player elimination, and the full game is going to take at least 50 hours to play through once.

Everyone has their own lines, their own opinions on what's obscene. I wouldn't want to risk telling anybody to get this game without first thinking hard about where their own lines are. My wife is super cool, but even she has banned me from leaving anything related to Kingdom Death lying around the house when my daughter is about. With just cause.

On to the specific points:

1. For me the miniatures were a bit disappointing, yes. The assembly is a pain, and anybody who complained after buying Shadows of Brimstone is going to have an aneurysm. They are well-detailed, but still not quite up to Games Workshop standards, and they are also a bit static. Furthermore, I didn't really like some of the more grotesque elements. That being said, I did come to appreciate them more once I started viewing them as "playing pieces for the gods." It started to enjoy that they looked like statues, or classical chess pieces.

2. Lot's of people think the game is fun. I think it's enjoyable. As I'm playing it, I enjoy seeing the story unfold. I enjoy seeing my civilisation grow. While I'm playing, I often find myself admiring the game, but I don't often get that fist-pumping, heart-pounding sense of pure fun and excitement.

3. I purchased the game with the intention of playing it solo. My wife and daughter weren't ever going to play it with me, and the commitment to the campaign was going to limit using it for my gaming group. Once I started playing my first game, I realised that for me it was always going to be a solo experience, due to the nature of the beast. If you get your regular gaming group together several times a week (or for a whole day once a week), you could make it work. For my lifestyle, it just wasn't going to happen.

4. The hunt portion... yeah. I think even people who love the game wish the hunt was a bit more... anything. It only take a few minutes, but it just doesn't feel as developed as it could be.

5. I am sure I will get through the campaign at some point, but not right now. The size of the campaign really means you have to invest in playing through to the end.

Bonus round: I guess the thing about art is you don't have to buy into the argument. You have to appreciate it in your own way. There are countless examples of modern (and not so modern art) that mean something or nothing depending on the perspective of the viewer: Urinals on walls, unmade beds, overflowing rubbish bins, rows of soup cans.

Kingdom Death is beautiful (in a horrible kind of way), but it's not just for that beauty that I call it art. It's not just those "empty shock value visuals." It's partly because of what it means as one man's achievement to create something to his own vision; but it's also because it genuinely invokes reactions. It takes you on a journey, and it makes you feel things. It has important things it wants to say. Some people are just going to see giant penises and smut, but that's just one element of the whole.

The game is genuinely upsetting; it's upsetting to the point where things that were happening in my own life made me less likely to play it, because the game would make me think more about those real life things.

My viewpoint comes down to this: Have you seen the film Irreversible? That film is powerful, beautifully made, painful beyond belief, and almost impossible to watch. It's an important film; but I watched it once and never have any intention of watching it again. Not because it's bad, but because it hurts. Kingdom Death is a bit like Irreversible. It feels important and meaningful, but for the duration it just doesn't feel like a fun way for me to spend my time... and I certainly wouldn't want to watch it with my wife.

Oh... and one more thing... If you are new to Kingdom Death, I wouldn't think about the Satan pledge. The base game is going to give you 50 to 100 hours of play, if you really commit to it, so you really don't need to look at those really expensive levels.
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I think the minis have lots of nice detail on them, but their static poses make them pretty dull overall. Compared to the latest slew of GW stuff, they really fail as gaming minis. I do like the Spidicule (sp?) mini, though the dragon looks rather terrible.

Maybe the statue viewpoint is apt.


The style and art direction of them...well dicks, tits, and gore holes are hardly edgy or shocking. After 12 pages of such stuff, it is all just more of the same and background noise.

There is an OSR RPG called Lamentations of the Flame Princess that I really like for some of it's cool elements, ie much of it set during the 30 Years War, and the off kilter writing.

However, lots of the art is dicks, tits, and gore holes. Just for the sake of it. Lots of crazy body horror type monsters that ultimately are so bizarre they are not scary or threatening.


Kingdom Death definitely suffers from that edgy for edgy sake and it can border on just being puerile. I guess it is what KDM does to stand out in a market filled with boxes of plastic.

So much of KDM hinges on it's imagery, tgat it would hard to fault it merely for that, especially since it is exactly the way the creator wants it to be. That is a viewpoint I have always supported in games, film ,'zines, whatever.

Maybe if it had been done as Greek Mythology a la Titans, it would be the best EVAR.

It has a place for me in the same way games like Cave Evil and Lamentations do.

Good review as always.


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Ha. "Dicks, tits, and gore holes." You have a way with words, Sir. Maybe I should have used that for the title.


DegenerateElite wrote:


Maybe the statue viewpoint is apt.



I notice that in the new Kickstarter Adam is using images of painted models that have cracks on them to look more like statues. Maybe Adam himself also sees the playing pieces this way? Either way, I'm obviously not the only person who thinks they look more like statues than living, breathing things.

After writing my Kingdom Death review, I started photographing for my Burning of Prospero review. The difference in detail and dynamic posing is very noticeable. It's not surprising though, as Games Workshop has years of experience and stupid amounts of money.

I am sure Kingdom Death miniatures will continue to improve. Hopefully they will improve not only in posing and detailing, but also in how the sprues are laid out - some of the separations of small components are stupid, like half a hand, or a single tongue from a mask - and also in providing instructions.

That phoenix is incredibly well done, though.
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great review.
I am one of those people that is really not impressed with 90% of stuff you get in core game. Watcher and phoenix are great minis, but everything else is average quality. But I am used to GW/FW/infinity level of detail an posing, and this really can't be compared to them in any of the departments.

I would put them more in line with malifaux models, and I really don't have to high opinion of those.

IF I could only get game withouth models,lol...although, I could probably later on sell models and get most of KS money back...hmmm

Although if I paint them, I would probably earn money on it...
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smurfORnot wrote:


IF I could only get game withouth models,lol...although, I could probably later on sell models and get most of KS money back...hmmm



I wonder how true that will be this time around. I was able to recoup over £400 by selling off the armour kits and Kickstarter extras. I didn't even price them that high. That's just what the market paid. This time around, a lot more people are getting on board the Kickstarter and I think the potential market for resales might be smaller. I certainly wouldn't be confident dropping a massive amount in the hope of making my money back on resales.

Of course, if you are painting before selling, that's a different story.
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He definitely needs to buckle down and write and instruction manual for assembly.


That is a pretty stupid thing not to bother with. He has all the 3d models created for every little bit already, so it is just a time and layout thing. Lots of work, but earn your 5 million.


I can't imagine assembling the Sigmar box set from photos. Or Silver Tower?

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DegenerateElite wrote:
He definitely needs to buckle down and write and instruction manual for assembly.



Miniature assembly is a big barrier to entry for some people. Including instructions would certain make things a bit easier. Maybe he has something in the works for the 1.5 edition upgrades.
 
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
LordObsidian wrote:
This is a great article, but it doesn't actually sound like a ringing endorsement.

1) The minis sound disappointing for the price.
2) The game doesn't sound like it's fun (Call me crazy, I'd like an expensive board game to be fun)
3) It doesn't sound like you were able to share the game's experience with anyone else.
4) The hunt portion sounds lame.
5) After spending all that money and time you have not actually completed the game.

I am grateful for your write-up as I was considering backing. Based on what I've read I don't think this one is for me. Art or not it sounds like a big waste of money.

I'm not sure I buy the board game as art argument either. Seems like empty shock value visuals (with a direction similar to smutty anime) overlaid on a primitive RPG. I fail to discern what makes this game particularly more artistic than Dead of Winter or Imperial Assault. Further, it's a heck of a lot of money to spend on a collection of minis. If experiencing surreal art is your thing you could actually fly to Spain and spend a couple of days taking in the Prado museum for less than the cost the Satan's pen pledge level.


Thanks for reading. A lot to cover here, so I'll pile in and try not to bang on too long. I think this is going to be a precis of the review...

First off, you're right. This isn't a ringing endorsement. I think this is probably one of the most negative reviews of Kingdom Death: Monster currently on the Geek (I don't believe anybody has torn it to pieces yet, correct me if I'm wrong!). There are lots of very positive reviews you should probably check out too. However, even if I loved everything about the game I don't think I'd give it a ringing endorsement, because it's obvious there are so many elements that are going to trigger certain people. There's violence, sexual imagery, randomness, player elimination, and the full game is going to take at least 50 hours to play through once.

Everyone has their own lines, their own opinions on what's obscene. I wouldn't want to risk telling anybody to get this game without first thinking hard about where their own lines are. My wife is super cool, but even she has banned me from leaving anything related to Kingdom Death lying around the house when my daughter is about. With just cause.

On to the specific points:

1. For me the miniatures were a bit disappointing, yes. The assembly is a pain, and anybody who complained after buying Shadows of Brimstone is going to have an aneurysm. They are well-detailed, but still not quite up to Games Workshop standards, and they are also a bit static. Furthermore, I didn't really like some of the more grotesque elements. That being said, I did come to appreciate them more once I started viewing them as "playing pieces for the gods." It started to enjoy that they looked like statues, or classical chess pieces.

2. Lot's of people think the game is fun. I think it's enjoyable. As I'm playing it, I enjoy seeing the story unfold. I enjoy seeing my civilisation grow. While I'm playing, I often find myself admiring the game, but I don't often get that fist-pumping, heart-pounding sense of pure fun and excitement.

3. I purchased the game with the intention of playing it solo. My wife and daughter weren't ever going to play it with me, and the commitment to the campaign was going to limit using it for my gaming group. Once I started playing my first game, I realised that for me it was always going to be a solo experience, due to the nature of the beast. If you get your regular gaming group together several times a week (or for a whole day once a week), you could make it work. For my lifestyle, it just wasn't going to happen.

4. The hunt portion... yeah. I think even people who love the game wish the hunt was a bit more... anything. It only take a few minutes, but it just doesn't feel as developed as it could be.

5. I am sure I will get through the campaign at some point, but not right now. The size of the campaign really means you have to invest in playing through to the end.

Bonus round: I guess the thing about art is you don't have to buy into the argument. You have to appreciate it in your own way. There are countless examples of modern (and not so modern art) that mean something or nothing depending on the perspective of the viewer: Urinals on walls, unmade beds, overflowing rubbish bins, rows of soup cans.

Kingdom Death is beautiful (in a horrible kind of way), but it's not just for that beauty that I call it art. It's not just those "empty shock value visuals." It's partly because of what it means as one man's achievement to create something to his own vision; but it's also because it genuinely invokes reactions. It takes you on a journey, and it makes you feel things. It has important things it wants to say. Some people are just going to see giant penises and smut, but that's just one element of the whole.

The game is genuinely upsetting; it's upsetting to the point where things that were happening in my own life made me less likely to play it, because the game would make me think more about those real life things.

My viewpoint comes down to this: Have you seen the film Irreversible? That film is powerful, beautifully made, painful beyond belief, and almost impossible to watch. It's an important film; but I watched it once and never have any intention of watching it again. Not because it's bad, but because it hurts. Kingdom Death is a bit like Irreversible. It feels important and meaningful, but for the duration it just doesn't feel like a fun way for me to spend my time... and I certainly wouldn't want to watch it with my wife.

Oh... and one more thing... If you are new to Kingdom Death, I wouldn't think about the Satan pledge. The base game is going to give you 50 to 100 hours of play, if you really commit to it, so you really don't need to look at those really expensive levels.


I appreciate your thoughtful response to my comments. Respectfully, you say KDM is one of the most important games ever and I just don't see it. The game play is apparently uneven. The story telling aspect has been done before and better, I'm certain. The components break no new ground unless one considers so-called mature content especially noteworthy. Again, I don'the buy it. Anyone with any awareness of Cards Against Humanity should knowthat there's a market for explicit material. KDM breaks no new ground there.

Even the initially impressive commercial success of the game isn't noteworthy beyond the immediate short term, though time will tell if KDM is the next Monopoly or Settlers or CAH.

KDM doesn't strike me as an important game. Dominion is an important game. Dominion shifted the entire marketplace for board games around itself. Cards Against Humanity is an important game. CAH is so financially successful they can call upon a tiny fraction of their audience to pay them money for nothing, for poop, or to dig a big hole and actually pull it off. Settlers brought a million people to the hobby yadda yadda important game. Twilight struggle successfully executed a design while staying true to complex subject matter and delivering a fun play experience (it also struck a huge blow toward moving war gaming out of the back of the hobby store and provoked a huge conversation about what a war game even is)--important game. Even buying into your premise that KDM players take the role of mortal-smiting gods doesn't make this game significant simply because it's been done before.

You are right in that a thing can be art even if I do not find it so. We'll have to agree to disagree on that one. While broadly speaking I agree with your definition of art (which is actually pretty similar to what Edgar Allen Poe's definition)--a thing that provokes an emotional response from the audience--I call KDM empty shock value because none of the visuals I've seen in KDM provoke any emotional or intellectual response from me beyond a chuckle (I think the human book holder is funny). They are mostly boring to me. This might be because everything I see in KDM I've basically seen before from various artists.

I like my grim dark and I love RPGS and I especially love miniatures (I have plenty of 40k plays buried in my user profile to show it!) so I suspect we have a lot in common and I'm delighted you found KDM interesting enough to contribute your review, which was a fantastic read. But I am not persuaded that KDM is an important game, nor that it is a work of art.
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It's the combination of elements that makes KDM greater than the sum of it's parts. It is also not at all like anything else available. You can compare elements of it to other games, but no other game is more than casually similar. Even then the similarity applies to a single part of the whole.


Twenty years from now this game will be sought after and talked about in a way that Dominion, Settlers, and anything else you care to name off the hotness list will not.


It has often be said that the thing that makes KDM really special is the getting into something large and expanding at the very start. Getting into a hobby community focused on one game and not the latest thing every month. The last time something like that really happened in the gaming world was D&D in the mid 70s and people look at this in the same light. It is a lifestyle game and hobby that is redefining expected depth and content.

It is part of the larger boardgaming world, but it is also separate and exclusive, if that makes sense. You can go to Target and buy Pandemic or Settlers or Ticket to Ride, but many seek something different and less....commercial. Those games are the Monopoly and Clue for this generation, and so seeking the next step is natural.


The phenomenon of KDM speaks to those who are not interested in the latest point salad game or LCG or Star Wars retheme. Why do think the novelty of Legacy games is so popular suddenly. People like new things.


This new Kickstarter will open it up to more people and you will likely see it grow into something crazy.
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LordObsidian wrote:


I appreciate your thoughtful response to my comments. Respectfully, you say KDM is one of the most important games ever and I just don't see it. The game play is apparently uneven. The story telling aspect has been done before and better, I'm certain. The components break no new ground unless one considers so-called mature content especially noteworthy. Again, I don'the buy it. Anyone with any awareness of Cards Against Humanity should knowthat there's a market for explicit material. KDM breaks no new ground there.

Even the initially impressive commercial success of the game isn't noteworthy beyond the immediate short term, though time will tell if KDM is the next Monopoly or Settlers or CAH.

KDM doesn't strike me as an important game. Dominion is an important game. Dominion shifted the entire marketplace for board games around itself. Cards Against Humanity is an important game. CAH is so financially successful they can call upon a tiny fraction of their audience to pay them money for nothing, for poop, or to dig a big hole and actually pull it off. Settlers brought a million people to the hobby yadda yadda important game. Twilight struggle successfully executed a design while staying true to complex subject matter and delivering a fun play experience (it also struck a huge blow toward moving war gaming out of the back of the hobby store and provoked a huge conversation about what a war game even is)--important game. Even buying into your premise that KDM players take the role of mortal-smiting gods doesn't make this game significant simply because it's been done before.

You are right in that a thing can be art even if I do not find it so. We'll have to agree to disagree on that one. While broadly speaking I agree with your definition of art (which is actually pretty similar to what Edgar Allen Poe's definition)--a thing that provokes an emotional response from the audience--I call KDM empty shock value because none of the visuals I've seen in KDM provoke any emotional or intellectual response from me beyond a chuckle (I think the human book holder is funny). They are mostly boring to me. This might be because everything I see in KDM I've basically seen before from various artists.

I like my grim dark and I love RPGS and I especially love miniatures (I have plenty of 40k plays buried in my user profile to show it!) so I suspect we have a lot in common and I'm delighted you found KDM interesting enough to contribute your review, which was a fantastic read. But I am not persuaded that KDM is an important game, nor that it is a work of art.



I'm certainly not equating importance with a $ value. This is never going to be Monopoly or Cards Against Humanity (two games I dislike, by the way). It's never going to be on the discount shelf in Home Bargains or [insert American discount store of choice here]. It's never going to be able to compete with family games, or party games that are completely accessible.

That's okay.

I'm not sure I want to live in a world where Gran buys little Timmy a copy of Kingdom Death for Christmas.

I definitely can't convince you (or anyone) that Kingdom Death is art, and I absolutely respect your viewpoint. Art is subjective. Some people see art in paint splatters on a canvas. But just like paint splatters, you can't determine the value of Kingdom Death by pulling it apart and considering the individual components. You can't look at a painting and say, "It's just some paint on a canvas, people have done this before. And I've seen orange done better." You have to see the whole thing... and that also involves seeing what you can't see. And seeing what the artist sees: The meaning behind the physical object.

Kingdom Death is a miniatures game with an emergent story, and any one aspect probably appears in several games. However, I would argue nobody has quite done the "rolling on a chart to make a story" mechanism as well before, because Kingdom Death builds in the concepts of persistence and consequence. These events are not single vignettes that, if you are lucky, piece together to create a sensible narrative. They are moments that interlink. Events do come back to haunt you. A decision you made does have consequences later on.

And even within the random chaos, there is a kind of emergent beauty. Last night, I decided to do a hard reboot and start a new campaign. I created my starting survivors, including a male and female pair called Jessie and James. The survivors fought the lion, and Jessie's attack went horribly wrong. She fumbled her wound roll, and the lion retaliated, pounding her in the chest and killing her instantly. Dammit, that's annoying.

The other three survivors took down the lion, and found the settlement, and there they (I) decided to bury Jessie. James, who had clearly taken the loss the hardest, cut a mark into his own flesh as a constant reminder of this first loss.

And that's just wonderful storytelling.

I lost a character, but in doing so, one of my other characters gained a permanent luck boost, and inked the prologue of my new civilisation.

And the nature of the story makes it important. It's a story of hardship in a cruel world. It's a story about humanity's struggle to survive. It's a story about love, and hope, and unity; of taking the shit the world throws at you and making a handy fecal salve. It's a story about what it is to be alive.

Or maybe it's a story about dicks, tits, and gore holes. (I am still laughing at this.)

But that's seeing the game as a... game. As an experience. A thing. Beyond that, there is what the game represents: The success of an artist who had a fixed and definite vision, and managed to make that vision into a reality. And that just feeds directly into everything that Kingdom Death represents. In some ways, the game really is a (black) mirror.

Which is a whole lot of words to say not a lot really, because everyone is going to have their own response to it, and the best I can do is share mine. For example, you find the human book holder funny. I find it deeply unsettling, not least because it is part of a model in which a scribe uses two (possibly dead, maybe just sleeping) babies as foot rests. It's a powerful image. It's also way, way, way beyond my line and something I want no part of.

Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts. I've enjoyed reading them.
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Justen Brown
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Virginia
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There are a lot of parallels between Kingdom Death: Monster and Pandemic Legacy. The latter game shot up from nothing to the coveted #1 spot, overtaking longtime favorite Twilight Struggle. And nearly every critic of its meteoric rise says something along the lines of "It's popular because critics of the Legacy format don't want to buy into it" suggesting that its only audience is made up of people who will naturally enjoy the game.

And as irrational and frustrating as that argument is I can't help but apply the same logic to KD:M. The pool of players is naturally small, limiting the sample size of potential reviews. There will never be a serious discussion without a wide range of varied players. The people who are in hundreds to possibly thousands of dollars deep are more receptive to find anything positive to say to stave off whatever buyer's remorse might come with it. I was joking with LordObsidian IRL that nobody actually plays KD:M, they speculate in it like Bitcoins. I saw one person at Origins playing the game, alone, and stopped in place to stare at it for a minute like a unicorn.

And it's frustrating because I want to play the game before I form these opinions but its price is a major hurdle. And then I see sentiments like this where I can't deny your feelings for the game, but knowing that two-quarters of it are fundamentally mediocre I have to throw my hands up in defeat. And then someone says part of the appeal is being included in this exclusive thing? I couldn't hate it more without ever touching it!

Reading through the game's description the cycle of hunt/showdown/settlement reminds me of some of my favorite video games like Legend of Mana or Dark Cloud where you collect resources to rebuild lost settlements thus growing in power. But this is a miniatures game, of course, so when a fan of the game says that settlement is a "crap shoot" and the hunt phase "tacked on" it just reinforces my negative bias. Why yes, of course big breasted models straight out of Witchblade are the focus, Justen, a strong narrative or sense of place doesn't put butts in seats. Why is this advertised as a game in the first place, and not rules for miniatures combat? Is it to cross-pollinate from the wargames community to boardgamers? I'm genuinely interested in what draws people who will spend hundreds on a boxed product but not a living product like say Warhammer. My friends and I are certainly in that audience who have zero time for competitive tabletop gaming and miniature collecting but sometimes pay a premium to gussy up one or two games we really like. Is that the market here?

Generally I'm pretty positive about Kickstarter, I love it that people can establish themselves when they start with nothing. But there's a certain cynicism that's coming from these big boxed miniatures games that can't be ignored. I was on the verge of getting into Dark Souls but when I was looking for more meat to dig into the response was "expansions" that really equated to more minis. And LordObsidian can tell you about the recent Monte Cook Kickstarter for an augmented reality multi-media meta-RPG that had no actual design behind it, just mockups of plastic nonsense, pretty pictures, unwanted emails, and constantly sliding pay scales to squeeze every last drop from your wallet. "Where's the game here?" Oh, more info on the game coming soon but if you pledge $500 towards the Temple of Syrinx level you get early preview access to the beta of the prototype manual!

I never thought I'd be praising Riot Games for bursting into the scene with Mechs vs. Minions, a game with little build up that was basically announced and released within the same month. But despite League of Legends representing a side of videogames I want no part of, Riot earned a lot of my respect when Quinns from SU&SD gave them some really mild criticism that delayed the project almost a year. And it shows in its execution that the quality of the product is there, but the game is far more enjoyable than many of the big minis products coming from Soda Pop or Cool Mini.

Going back to Pandemic Legacy I find that game to truly be art. At the end you have a permanent, personal representation of your experience on top of a game that's wholly enjoyable. I'm glad KD:M touched you in a way no other game has, I've certainly shared experiences like that, but I'm both immensely skeptical and admittedly jealous I probably won't share that experience. I'll gladly play it if available, but I can't truthfully say it won't come with a lot of bias.

Unfortunately none of the player reviews shake that bias.
 
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Kevin Outlaw
United Kingdom
Devizes
Wiltshire
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The Wing Warrior - learn more at www.facebook.com/thelegendriders
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Are you calling me a fan of the game?
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