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Subject: Lord of the Dead - Paths of the Dead - down to the basics review rss

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Tiago Perretto
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Thinking about my next move.
So, if my only options are these, then I shall...

About Lord of the Dead:

1) What is it?
Lord of the Dead is a micro hex-and-counter game - a tribute to other microgrames of the type from the 70s and 80s. The rules and scenarios are printed one one side, and on the other is the board and informations about each side turn, units and spells. Small tokens to mark units, the different Lords of the Dead, spells and even cards, to be used in a diceless variant also comes with the game. And all fits inside a letter - not even a big one.

The gist of the game is simple: the Lord of the Dead wants to reach the cemetery. The villagers want to stop it from doing so. There is little more than this to it. Both sides will need to use the best of what they have in order to win - or not, if one of the almost broken (either too easy for the villagers or too difficult) Lords are taken; but it is nice that these are there, if the two people playing have wildly unpaired skill levels.

In spite of being so little, Lord of the Dead have a lot built in: scenarios, even solo ones, different Lords, variants. On the other hand, the small format kept too much out - the rules have some gaps, misunderstandings, contraditory points of view and corner cases can arise easily in many situations. A better rulebook is needed - be prepared to scan BGG for answers.

2) How do you play?
As is said, the Lord of the Dead wants to reach the cemetery, using its might and spells to accomplish this. The villagers want to stop it from doing so, mostly using sheer numbers. The different Lords are trying the same thing, only with distinct attributes and powers. On the side of the townspeople there are also several different person, ranging from the common Farmer to Paladins, passing by Thugs, Foresters, Shamans and others.

The battle occurs on the hexagonal board, with the Lord starting on the far side of the cemetery. There are variants that allow for the use of the buildings and terrains depicted on the board as actual places that can be used, otherwise they are mostly for show.

The Lord of the Dead can use spells (powered by souls it harvest) and some abilities to advance towards the cemetery. The townspeople receive more help the closer the Lord is, and its the player from this side decides which units to field, as each have unique strengths, weakness and cost.

The play is over if the Lord is killed (townspeople win) or if it reaches the cemetery (Lord wins).

3) Which are the decisions made during play?
For the Lord of the Dead player is mostly the path to be made towards the cemetery, which spells to use (as each costs energy, and some only activates a turn later) and where and who to attack. The play of the Lords tend to be more of brute force, going ahead killing and using spells to help in this.

For the villagers side, the decisions rest mostly in the best way to build a defense to slow the Lord, in order to have field more units. Also, to pick the type of units to bring, as each have a cost and can do one or more things differently than others (like having more attack, or movement, or being able to make ranged attacks, or even some special abilities). Positioning and selection are the two most important decisions to be made throughout the play.

4) What are the good things in the game?
- Really small footprint for the components;
- Portable and packs a lot of game (solo, 2 player, different scenarios, variants, etc);
- Solo play option;
- The graphic design is well done and the art is good even for the small counters;
- Good replay value.

5) Which are the bad news?
- Too small for its own good, with important information being hidden during the play (on the other side of the board), and some key explanions/clarifications missing;
- Due to the goal of the KS being that the whole game could be sent by a normal letter, the tokens are very thin and difficult to handle (outside the board, on it they are ok).

6) How do you feel while playing?
As if looking those artists that sculpt grains of rice or the points of a pencil. It is a marvel to see the degree of detail and skill one can puts in such a small thing. Yet, one won't claim the end results properly matches a The Last Judgment, a The Calling of Saint Matthew or a David. When one opts to go micro, some elements will have to be left out, cut, reduced and/or simplified, and all of these can lead to problems.

As a multiplayer game, with a simple rule - that the townspeople get more help the closer the Lord is to the cemetery -, the scenarios tend to end with a good amount of tension. The solo option is a great inclusion, but is sort In don't really care for: without: AI for one of the sides, I'm left with taking the decisions for both sides, trying to make the best for both. Is nice to see some plans developing, however there is no surprises (except being lucky with the die) and a lack of emotions for most of the time, until the die makes a dire defense work or a crazy attack finds its mark.

While Lord of the Dead is, indeed, an accomplishment in putting so much game in so little space, the game that was put there simply isn't all that good, regardless of size or quantity. Some fun can be had here, and it sure travels easily. Maybe a bigger, more polished and flesh out version of it can make the game better - and will likely happen soon, as there is a deluxe version coming. But, for what may be one day called "1st edition", it is too late - and the vague rules is all you will get. But is enough to make it work for most of the time. Therefore, in the end, is it worth? Hell, for the original price ($8), it sure is, in spite of the flaws.


Image credit: csferguson

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