Monster Lands (2018) review
Come On! The kingdom is in danger! Our beloved Queen Gimelda needs you to protect the kingdom against hordes of monsters that have only one goal... destroy everything. Armed with your courage, you answer the call of your Queen. For this, you will take the lead of a small warrior clan consisting of ... two people. Yes, I agree it's not much ... But you will be able to recruit more during the game. Oh, and then you are heroes or maybe not? A hero does not need an army though?
Monster Lands is a game of Víctor Fernández, Gorka Mata, Sergi Solé Pascual, Daniel Schloesser. Yes, there are a lot of people, but published by one publisher, Second Gate Games. The illustrations come from the artist Enrique Fernández Peláez. All these names do not tell you anything? However, this Spanish team has already created and published the B-Sieged game: Sons of the Abyss (in collaboration with CMON). Unfortunately, not having this game I could not give you a detailed review, but I can tell you that despite obvious flaws (and may be less with some adjustments) it's a good tower defense game. In short, Monster Lands is their second game, which succeeded on Kickstarter. Released in 2018, this time with the publisher Second Gate Games alone. It is playable from 1 to 4 players in its basic version.
Monster Lands proposes mechanisms mixing the eurotrash with the ameritrash in the same manner of Champions of Midgard. The games have mainly a lot of dice and cards. The dice will represent your abilities and attributes : strength (red), magic (purple), persuasion (yellow). Each die has its own uses. Your clan is represented by a small individual board. On this board, you will follow the evolution of your Glory and your Reputation. These two values are essential during the game and at the end of the game. You will also find your storage capacity of the equipment. Finally, on the left is your leader (this is a card and an associated token) and on the right, your clan members (cards and tokens again). Each card corresponds to a character who will give you new dice but also new abilities during the game. The more your clan recruits, the more your fame will increase. To acquire new characters, we will have to go and recruit them at the tavern. You will have a choice between several warriors. But you can only take one if your difference between your Glory and your Reputation allows it, otherwise they will refuse to join you.
Once the setup is done, it is time to play. You have a number of dice equal to what your team and your Glory (depending on the individual board) gives you. The dice will allow you to carry out your actions. The main board is divided into three sections.
The first is the inside of the Citadel. The actions available inside will allow you to recruit or equip either traps or weapons. It is also possible to mine to gain gold, or simply perform odd jobs to gain one piece (this actions are available at all the time as a last resort). To achieve the different actions, you will need dice of the corresponding colors. Small bonus: the persuasion dice will offer you a reduction in the cost of the gold coin.
The second zone corresponds to the Outside. This is where you will be able to go on a quest or combat monsters or conquer territories. The real life of a hero. To achieve such an action, you will have to position yourself. Once again, it will depend on your dice. The Queen's missions are easier but offer smaller rewards. Confronting monsters or conquering territories are more dangerous things. The rewards are higher. Glory and Fortune await you there. But beware, even if the Queen loves the martyrs at the cause, death can wait for you there. To start such operations you will need to place one of your heroes and an associate, with dice and possibly traps, potions or shields to help you. Space is limited. It’s first come, first serve. Unless you choose caution. So you can decide to send your hero into one of the four available zones a little further away, hoping that another warrior will fail before you to benefit from the result of their die. In any case, be careful, the monsters attack first and can do large damage.The first is the inside of the Citadel. The actions available inside will allow you to recruit or equip either traps or weapons. It is also possible to mine to gain gold, or simply perform odd jobs to gain one piece (this actions are available at all the time as a last resort). To achieve the different actions, you will need dice of the corresponding colors. Small bonus: the persuasion dice will offer you a reduction in the cost of the gold coin.
The last area of the board corresponds to the entrance to the Citadel. Less used, this area comes as a last resort or if your plans didn't work like it will be and the monster escapes you. In the event that a monster has been attacked and they has escaped alive, they then disembark at the entrance and begins to wreak havoc. In rare cases some have the ability to go there directly. Panic, represented by tokens, will expand in town, closing shops or areas. As a result, the associated action becomes inaccessible. To prevent this, or to calm the populace, you can go to the entrance to fight the monster present. The castle guard can help you. Here, all the dice can possible be used to fight against the invader. As in a normal fight, you can protect yourself or use traps.
Each player will therefore position their dice to perform the appropriate actions. Be sure to be equipped before placing yourself to fight or to go on a quest because once settled, you go with what you have on the back. It is not possible to add things later. Monster Lands therefore offers real choices during the turns. Be well equipped and prepare for future adventures, or position yourself correctly. Each die can not be used for anything else. Places are popular and there will not be enough for everyone. Sometimes there is real risk taking. Resources can become scarce, if you do not pay attention. To equip oneself well and to recruit well are two essential things. Gold is indispensable. Many actions will ask you for it. At the end of a turn, you will also pay your mercenaries, with the risk that if you don’t, the most famous warrior of your team leaves (the more famous you are, the more expensive it will to pay your team). Fortunately, to overcome this, you can instead offer them a territory, except your leader (which you have conquered previously and which corresponds to their affiliation).
Luck is very present in the game. But many small factors can control it. Fights and quest will depend a lot on your dice rolls. Even a preparation considered indisputable may end badly if the spell goes on. However, if using the right objects, you can still get away with it.
The humor of the game is omnipresent especially in the bias of illustrations. These are really beautiful. A cartoonesque style very appreciable and sticks to the universe. Moreover, level immersion, all actions or ideas are in adequacy. Even without figurines, we started to love our characters and to be afraid for them when the monster is lettin off steam. The way to fight monsters is also a good mechanism. You will have the choice between trying to capture them or kill them. Imprisoning them brings more rewards but is more difficult to achieve. You will have to be well equipped and avoid quickly using all your dice at the same time, to not exceed the required value. Another good idea is the land. Available if you have killed the monster, they can bring you good bonuses, you still have to conquer them and they correspond to the type of warrior that you have (thankfully we can offer a round of beers for helping us). But they can also help the monsters by giving them a bonus of dice (they hunt on their own land). The game offers a lot of interaction but it is more indirect: take advantage of the failure of another player, position where they wanted to go, buy the first object or the coveted mercenary. We felt the rise in power during the game.
Monster Lands offers two versions of its game: a normal and a deluxe (only available at the KS). The deluxe is clearly the best. The majority of cardboard counters are replaced by wooden pieces (with the design printed on them). Not all, unfortunately. The dice are engraved and personalized. These small details can change the feeling. The normal version seems a little more cheap. Cardboard tokens may have trouble coming out of the punch board, at the risk of tearing out the nearby artwork. The dice are basics. There are no bags to pull the pieces at random (not that it's really need). The quality of the cards are identical in both versions. They are standard cards. The KS version of the game (not necessarily the “Deluxe”) adds a very nice bonus without being essential. The components of the normal version can therefore struggle to be convincing, but overall everything is playable. The graphics and its consistency are a big bonus for the game.
The game ends if a player reaches thirty glory points at the end of a turn, or when the game reaches the sixth turn. You’ll count the points: the glory, the reputation, the different affinities of your team, the trophies of monsters …
The game remains a very pleasant game to play. Controllable randomness makes it easy to find something to think about without having everything destroyed by a simple roll of the dice. But this is not a too calculating game either. Monster Lands offers an experience at the crossroads of mechanics. Simple in the rules, easy to play, beautiful and fun. But it is not free of mechanical defects. It can sometimes be considered long, especially at four players, compared to the gaming experience it brings. In addition, it is important not to miss a turn (do nothing). The slightest mistake can be fatal. The game can switch to a certain win-to-win effect if a player does nothing in a round (and there, the happiest experience becomes a nightmare). The more equipped you are, the more recruited you are, the more powerful and hard to stop. Especially if the others are late in their recruitment for example. The rise in power can also quickly find its limits, the end of the game can become a little too easy. On the other hand, the game offers a great replayability with all its possible adjustments from one part to another: difficulty, direct interaction, more monster at the same time, ability to turn the market ...
Monster Lands remains an original experience, simple in the rules, having many good ideas, very fun and having a great replayability. Defending the kingdom is a risky business, which takes time, but so pleasant that we return without the slightest regret.
An expansion exists. Besides the fact that it adds some new cards, the interest is mainly on the possibility of having five at the table and the addition of very powerful and practical weapons.
Technical Score 8.5 / 10
I have the Deluxe edition. Wooden pawns and dice are nice, too bad that there are still things in cardboard. These particular pieces would have been better metal. Especially that the cardboard elements are not in an irreproachable state. The insert is quickly forgotten.
The rules are well done, easy to read.
My BGG Score 8/10
Simple in the rules, beautiful, original, stuffed with good ideas, fun, the game is still not free of defects. The score could have been higher. But the game is very pleasant and it would be a shame to miss it.
Combined Score 8.25 / 10
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