Last week, I got the opportunity to try out several board games published by “Cool Mini Or Not” (CMON) at a demo event. This was a unique opportunity for me to be hands on with several games without having to shell out cash for them first, and it was convenient because I had never gotten around to trying anything CMON has published. While I had heard of several of these games via discussion and advertisement of their Kickstarter campaigns, I wrongly assumed they were all indie titles. So to find out that a group I remember for offering Hot-Or-Not style voting on pictures of painted gaming figures was behind this large array of games, and that they would be holding a local demo session, I was intrigued, to say the very least.
Over the course of the evening, I got an opportunity to go hands-on with several games. I had heard of both Kaosball and Zombicide, but Arcadia Quest was brand new to me, and for good reason – it isn’t available at retail yet, although I understand that will change as soon as they’ve finished shipping to Kickstarter backers.
I’ll come back to Arcadia Quest in a subsequent article, because I’d like to get a little more hands-on experience with the game first. That playthrough showed promise, but there were some odd dynamics going on between the players at the table that made me want a mulligan before reviewing the game. For now, imagine Dungeons and Dragons got together and had a child with Sorry!, and it came out looking like Fire Emblem as a board game.
Zombicide isn’t really my kind of game. I never bought in to the whole zombie craze in recent pop culture, and the game forces some decisions that just don’t make sense; if one player starts doing more than the others to move the game along, that character gains more than their share of experience, and the quantity of enemies being spawned is solely based off of the most advanced character’s experience points. It was odd playing with only two people, as that meant we each had to control 3 of the 6 characters (always 6 in play for game balance purposes), but I was glad to finally get a chance to try it, because I’ve heard great things about the game, and I can recognize where there’s fun to be had, even if I won’t personally enjoy it.
There was definitely some hard decisions to be made regarding allocation of limited resources, not least of which was time – the pressure was intense as we played keepaway with the zombie horde. But the game seemed to fall in to the same trap that several other cooperative games like Pandemic and Forbidden Island do: one player steps up and creates a plan; and either all the other players just follow that plan, or the whole group loses the game. Perhaps my problem was not knowing the other player in the demo, and the fact that he had played the game before, so his plan was The One And Only Path To Victory ™.
Still, with the right group of players who can work cooperatively at problem solving, these kinds of games can be a whole lot of fun You’re definitely matching wits against some steep odds, and I always enjoy a challenge on this level. I would definitely be willing to give Zombicide another shot if a group of my friends wanted to play it, especially if I got to break out my copy of the awesome Cardboard Tube Samurai promotional character and figures being handed out at this event. If you decide to give Zombicide a try, take my advice and skip the first mission – from what I’ve gathered it’s the longest and most difficult in the game, and thus the least welcoming to new players. The base game costs around $90 retail, and the expansions are anywhere from $20 for a new character to $100 for a new “season” kit including more maps, scenarios, and zombies.
Ninjas running from Zombies, Ogres doing hand to hand combat with Amazons, and Warlocks having firefights with Cowboys… Oh, and there’s a ball too. My favorite game of the evening by far was Kaosball, a 2-4 player sports game that had a bit of an American Gladiators feel. I expected this to be their version of Blood Bowl, but the mechanics are vastly different and I credit that as being part of why I got my butt kicked so badly.
The game looks relatively simple on the surface, players take turns activating one model per turn, fighting for position and over the eponymous Kaosball. Each team has players that are designated as Runners and Bashers, with a limited subset of actions available to both. Only Runners can score points, and only Bashers can move around and attack the enemy. All players on a given team have the same modifiers to a given category of activity – Ball control, tackling, and fighting. Any contest of skill between two players involves those modifiers being applied to a blind-bid of a card from players hands with a given score value from 1-5. There’s a secondary level of strategy available here, as you can only play a given value once per quarter of the game.
Runners score points for being in designated scoring zones at the end of each of the four quarters of play, or for holding the Kaosball and being in one of those same zones at the start of any turn. The points scored for this rise as the game goes on, making late game heroics count for more. Points are also awarded for killing opposing figures and lost for fouling, but only if you get caught doing it! There can also be some bonus points awarded based on bonuses purchased for your team (see below).
Before a game of Kaosball begins, both teams are allocated a set amount of cash, and can bid on a random assortment of bonuses for the game, as well as “Ringers”, mercenary players who bring unique abilities to the field. My ringer, for instance, had some form of a poisoned weapon, and was able to scratch an opposing tackler, killing them instantly. On the other hand, my opponent purchased an ability that scored him a point every time his players won a fight, which added up quickly.
I do have a couple of gripes about the game. The static statistics bug me thanks to my Blood Bowl background. In Kaosball, a Runner is just as good at defending itself as a Basher on the same team, and the Bashers are just as good at holding on to the ball as Runners, although they can’t score points with it. Also, the fact that you activate one figure per turn meant that my opponent and I both had two figures that moved no more than once during the game, even factoring in casualties. This was exacerbated by my team’s special ability, which allowed me to push back any opposing players adjacent to the figure I activated – any time I pulled in a new figure from my starting area, I had to give up that ability’s usage for the turn. There ended up being multiple completely unused pieces on the board that never contributed to anything. That just screams design weakness, but I don’t know what a potential fix would be that wouldn’t change the entire flow of the game.
Despite losing horribly, I enjoyed the game and exploring its’ mechanics. I can only imagine how crazy things would get in a four player match. The Ringers and purchased team abilities add a lot of variety to the experience, as does the fact that there are a total of 18 different teams available. The core set includes 4 of the teams for around $100, and individual team expansions cost about $25 each (when you can find them in stock).
There were a few more games available which I didn’t have time to get to this week, but I hope to get back to, as this is rumored to become a monthly event for CMON to visit the venue with a rotating selection of their games to try. I’m especially excited about one game that I didn’t see because it’s still in their development pipeline, and the name escapes me, but it’s supposed to be a cooperative take on the Dominion deckbuilding mechanics, facing a set of neutral encounter decks that are going to be near impossible to defeat at the highest difficulty levels.
As for what I saw but couldn’t play, Rivet Wars appears to be a steampunk alternate history take on World War 2, with a bit of a fantasy twist. I really wanted pictures of this one, because the figures were wonderful; little squat tanks with a bit of a cartoony twist, a la World of Warcraft style art. No description I can come up with will really do them justice, but without being at the table, the snapshots I took didn’t turn out. The gameplay is grid based tactical combat, played on re-configurable map tiles. This one, unlike all of the other games present for the demo night, was explicitly for two players. I’ll give it a try at the next event if possible and let you all know how it goes, as well as get some better pictures of the figures.
Dogs of War was on the next table over, and looked to be a bit intimidating at first; in diametric opposition to Rivet Wars. Rather than having a tactical map of some sort for a board, it’s all assigning cards to an order of battle, and keeping score through a protracted campaign. The game can be won by crushing your opponents in battle, or by outmaneuvering them politically, and I get a Game of Thrones feel out of what was described to me about the aesthetic. Again, I’ll definitely test this out when another opportunity arises.
All said and done, I enjoyed the evening and having a chance to go hands-on with several of these games that I wouldn’t have otherwise tried. These games are all very well made, with game pieces crafted to a quality you would expect from a company called “Cool Mini Or Not”, and they all have lots of replay value. You pay a premium price for the quality though, as the starting point for almost all of these games at retail is $100 before even thinking about expansion content. While I still say to support your Friendly Local Gaming Store, if you were to so happen to buy a Cool Mini Or Not game from Amazon, the referral might cover my
lunch visit to the mess tent the next day. Just saying.
— The Tabletop General