Privateer Press brought a sneak peak release of Monsterpocalypse starter boxes and boosters to GenCon this year and I decided to pick one up to see how the game played. I’ve never been a fan of collectible games but Monsterpocalypse’s relatively lax rarity distribution seemed like it might not be too bad for casual play. After a few games I’m not 100% sold but the game showed enough promise to be worth a critical review.
The first thing that’s worth mentioning is the complexity of the game. Giant robots and monsters rampaging around a city – complete with plastic buildings and a nice gridded map – screams beer and pretzels to me, but Monsterpocalypse is no beer and pretzel game. Between dice management, territory control, terrain effects, positioning, and the models’ special rules there is a lot to think about during play.
That said all of the Demos ran at the Privateer Press booth ignored the models’ special rules and terrain effects. These games ran faster and were much more beer-and-pretzel than the more complex games I played using all of the advanced rules. Just playing with the basic rules are certainly a possibility if that’s what you prefer and it’s just as fun.
Now as I said I’m not a big fan of collectible games. Personally I’d love it if Privateer Press took a cue from Fantasy Flight and decided to repackage Monsterpocalypse as a non-collectible game but I don’t see that happening. Fortunately PP has at least done a few things to minimize the impact of the collectible aspect. First, all monster miniatures are going to be the same rarity. That means you have a 1/10 chance of getting any specific monster in a blister instead of 1/100 for a certain rare.
Second, each Unit Blister sold will contain four models – two commons, one uncommon, and one rare. Comparing this with the number of models in the first set (14 common, 10 uncommon, 12 rare) and you can see that the distribution isn’t too terrible. Still collectible is collectible and if I get into Monsterpocalypse it will be through the secondary market that is sure to develop for the game.
It’s also worth noting here that you can use units from other factions in your army, but they cost you extra to bring into play. So if you really want to play the Godzilla faction but your units are predominantly Martians you can still play the Lizard King, you’ll just have less units on the board at a time.
As far as the game pieces themselves go, many of the models look far better in person than they have online. The Terrasaurs and World Eaters are especially attractive, though the Martians and Shadow Sun Syndicate are both rather sub-par. I think it’s because areas on those two factions that aren’t translucent plastic are typically unshaded metallic paints so they lack the light shading and highlighting of the better paint jobs. Simply put, the organic models look far better than their metallic compatriots.
The two major game pieces of Monsterpocalypse are a mixed bag. The sliding damage tracker that is included for tracking the hits your monster takes is sheer genius – it completely eliminates the need for tokens on the board or dry erase markers for cards. However this is offset by the failure that is the Monsterpocalypse dice. Any game that uses “special” non-standard dice immediately loses points in my book.
Let’s face it, we gamers can be clumsy folk, and especially when gaming in a game store it’s easy to let dice slip (or be knocked off a table) and get lost in couches, under shelves, or what have you. And since each of the city maps has the pools in which you place your dice at the outer corners it’s not going to be hard for an errant elbow or rampaging offspring to send the dice scattering. The smaller lighter dice PP has used means they’ll be easier to lose and the non-standard sides means you can’t just go out and replace missing dice by raiding your old board game collection. They unique dice certainly add an interesting aspect of the game (and are required for the three die types the game uses) but in my opinion they’re not all that practical.
As I mentioned in the intro, game play can range from simple to complex depending on which rule set you use. The basic rules involve you having two pools of action dice – one for your monster and one for all of your units. Each turn you choose to activate either your units or monster, and move dice from the appropriate pool into the other one as you move, attack, or perform other actions. So as your monster rampages around the city he adds dice for to your unit’s pool for them to use during your next activation.
All units have 1 hit point, your monsters have 5-9, and most attacks do a single point of damage. However monsters take additional damage for being thrown through buildings or into fires and clouds of radioactive waste. The game ends when your monster’s two forms – his normal form and his “powered up” alpha or mega form – are destroyed.
From there you can ramp up the complexity by adding in the special effects of the map (rough terrain and cover) and special abilities of your monsters (which there are tons). These advanced rules do add a layer of strategy that some people will enjoy but it pushes the game right past beer-and-pretzel level very quickly so the casual gamer may not enjoy it as much.
As a gamer who prefers slightly complex rules, I found Monsterpocalypse to be a nice game to play casually with my normal opponents as a diversion from our usual games. Since we’re willing to share our units and monsters to have a relatively even more interesting game the collectible aspect doesn’t deter us as much but I am concerned when the game releases how big the “Victory through Credit Card” aspect will come into play. But for now it’s a solid game that’s very enjoyable as long as you have the right expectations set regarding rules complexity.