Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Kingdom Death is Going to Replace Every Boardgame I Play

Uh... yeah.

So this weekend Jason, Frank, Jocelyn and I got together to play Kingdom Death: Monster. I was of two minds about Kingdom Death before playing. The first, of course, was that its exploitative artwork was idiotic and juvenile (and maybe even Bad For Games). The second was that it seemed interesting, like something I would really like in that it was supposed to be ruthless, weird, and gross. These two thoughts were held in tension throughout the weekend until I finally got to play it. The title of the review kind of gives it away—turns out the "like" side won.

Whatever problems I have with the artwork are cured by the game design. I don't have to stare at the large-breasted drawings and what-have-you. Really, all the Kingdom Death survivors should be gaunt creeps, not well-formed Adonises—which, by the by, is what I named my founder, since I had the beardless young fellow as my survivor model—but at some point I make the concession to the game that other people want things that I don't and maybe they get something out of it.

The concept of Kingdom Death is fairly refreshing. I'm assured by my friends who can play Dark Souls (because they have PCs) that its Dark Souls-like. This renews my interest in ever getting to play Dark Souls (I won't ever be able to), but that's besides the point. I have very rarely played a game that felt like Kingdom Death unless it was one that I designed. Even then, I tend not to stray into the particular realm of semi-sexualized body horror that KD inhabits.

To start with, everyone immediately writes up a character, like a pen and paper game. However, everyone's character, save for gender and name, is exactly alike. These are the Founders of the society in Kingdom Death. You get a fragment of stone and some cloth... and are immediately pitched into a battle with a baby White Lion.

That's this guy.
Before you really understand what's going on in this insane and awful world, you have to battle a beast. Only once you've slain it do you move on to build your first settlement, which we named Golgotha. Adonis, Enoch, Solaris, and the other founder who's name I've forgotten, moved in right away.

There are a number of vastly different phases in the game. These have their own contribution to the gameplay loop. Settlement phase comes first, where you grow your society, picking attributes (whether or not you carefully cannibalize the dead to recover precious resources or bury them in graves, for example) that affect the shape of your culture. You discover technologies (as soon as you kill the White Lion you discover Language, for example) and they affect the abilities your characters have and the items they're able to create.

Then you move on to the Hunt, whereby you seek out a hideous beast to fight and slaughter for its disgusting organs, bones, and pelt. The Hunt phase actually resulted in the most deaths over the course of our 4-lantern-year game on Sunday. Solomon, one of the new survivors, had his brain stilled by the raucous voice of the Hooded Knight. The other deaths that occurred happened when we drew a Murder story card during Settlement and the murderer (crazy Solaris) and her victim (the other nameless founder) were lost.

The final phase is the Showdown, where you actually do battle with the beast you've been tracking. This is where the AI deck comes into play (each monster has a randomly constructed AI deck built out of a pool of that monster's card types) and where the game really shines. The battle mechanics are simple and fast, meaning you can fight, win, and die in about 20-30 minutes and then return to the settlement with your loot to spend it on shit.

The flavor is pretty interesting, but the persistent mechanics that mirror games that are more traditionally in the digital realm are what draw me to this game. Also, its almost infinitely replayable due to the variety of things that might actually happen in any given campaign. The game is 20 lantern years long (each year encompasses the three phases) and has boss battles, heredity, research, weapon crafting, and branching story options based on card draws.

It's also hyper expensive and difficult to assemble. If Frank hadn't bought it, I never would have. So, consider the $400+ price tag before you rush off to find Kingdom Death today.

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