Dale Yu: Review of Monster Lands

Monster Lands

  • Designers: Gorka Mata, Victor Fernandez, Sergi Sole, Daniel Schloesser
  • Publisher: Second Gate Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 90-150 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Second Gate Games

Monster Lands is one of the many dice placement games that I saw at SPIEL 2018.  I had set up a meeting with the publisher to look at the game at the show, and I’m happy to say that the booth was getting such a great response from the crowd that they were at risk of selling out of games… As such, I was set up with a review copy from their US distributor which came in the mail around the holidays.

In this game, players each lead their own clan of warriors trying to be the one which gets the most glory and Victory Points in order to become win the crown of the Lands of Discord.   Each of your clan members will be represented by one or more dice (red=strength, purple=magic, yellow=persuasion) – and these dice will be placed on different areas of the board to give you actions.

The game revolves around a central board.  Around the periphery, you will find the seven buildings of the Citadel.  The rest of the board is collectively referred to as the Outside (as in Outside the Citadel) – there are two lands which are seeded with Monster tiles, and there are also space for Mission tiles.  Spots for dice are found underneath all of these. Loot tokens and a waiting area for the Citadel are also in this area.

The game has a boatload of components that need to be selected, shuffled and stacked prior to play – and you can divvy up the jobs of setting up the deck of Mercenary cards and the Assignment tokens that go with them. Trap tokens and the Equipment deck are set up near the board.  Land Cards and Monster cards are placed in the Land areas and a Path header tile is placed near each. Finally, the Loot tokens and the Mission tiles are placed on the board.

Each player gets their own player board with a score track and then spaces for tokens underneath.  The player marks their starting Glory and Reputation stats with markers. Reputation is the combined reputation values of all your Mercenaries.  Your Glory is determined by defeating monsters, claiming missions, etc. Both factor into your final VP count. Each player also gets 2 Clan cards, one serves as the Leader (placed to the left at the board) and one is a Mercenary (placed on the right). Each card also gets its matching Assignment token.  Choose a start player, and give them the start player token.

The game is played over 6 rounds, with each following the same four phases: Dice Pool, Deployment, Adventure, Cleanup.  The game ends at the end of the 6th round OR at the end of any round when one player has at least 30 Glory.

In the Dice Pool phase, players collect all of the red, purple and yellow dice that they are due.  To figure this out, look at all of the Clan cards in your area and take the dice as depicted on each card.  Also look at the location of your glory marker and take whatever dice are seen at the left of that particular row on the score track.  To end this phase, each player rolls his Yellow persuasion dice.

In the Deployment phase, players take turn to do a single action on their turn – by deploying one of their dice in the Citadel, in the Outside or in a Settled Land.  Once you run out of dice in your pool, you pass for the rest of the phase. You may have cards or tokens which can modify dice into other colors; you can use those abilities now if desired.

In the Citadel, you place dice into one of the buildings to immediately take the action of that particular building.  Your persuasion dice can be used to generate a discount. If you play the first Persuasion dice in a shop, the discount is equal to the number on your die.  If there are already Persuasion dice present, as long as yours is lower in value than previously played yellow dice, you can sum all the yellow dice there. If you play a higher die, you start a new discount chain.  Each shop has an icon that tells you which dice are eligible for use at that location

·         Hunter’s Lodge – use Red or Yellow dice to buy as many traps as you can afford.  The cost of the trap in Gold is printed on the tile. There is a selection of 6 traps in the shop.  If you use a Persuasion die, you can discount the cost. Place the trap on your player board, you can have up to 5.  Traps can be played later in the game.

·         Alchemist – use a Purple die to buy a combination of Venom and Potion tokens.  You can have three of each. Potions can later be placed on Mercenaries to heal wounds and Venoms can be used to gain +2 in attacking strength.

·         Bazaar – Use a Yellow or Red die to buy any equipment displayed here (taking any discounts), and then equip the card underneath any of your unassigned mercenaries.

·         Tavern – use a Yellow or Red die to hire a Mercenary card. You must have enough excess Glory to hire the new Mercenary from the supply of four (If you do not like the current four Mercenaries on offer, you can spend 2 gold to refresh the supply. ) – that is after hiring the card, your Glory score may not be lower than your Reputation score on your board.  Take a discount in cost if you use a yellow die. Immediately take the dice as shown on the new card; if you gain a yellow die, roll it now.

·         Mine – play one or two red dice for gold as indicated next to the slot you fill

·         Armory – use a Red or Yellow die to buy up to 3 defense tokens at 2 gold each (minus any discount).

·         Pawn Shop – spend as many dice as you like for 1 gold each

In the Outside, you send Mercenaries to fight for Lands or deploy dice to the paths leading to Missions.  You can also provide dice to help protect the Citadel if there is a Monster at the entrance.

·         Mission Path – Place the token of the Mercenary you send out onto the space at the top of a Mission path as well as dice as indicated on the Mission tile.  Some missions require a dice roll to succeed while others simply require you to meet a requirement to succeed.

·         Land Path – Each Land has a Land Card and a Monster card at the top; you can place your Mercenary marker on any available path and then place the dice as shown in the top of particular header for your chosen path. The bottom of the header shows you what things you can use to reinforce your initial dice allocation. You can also add Trap and Defense tokens to the path though each of those is placed in a space where you could have otherwise placed 2 dice

·         Citadel Path – there could be a monster card threatening the Citadel; if there is, you can place your Mercenary/dice on either of the two paths.  There are bonuses which are placed on your Mercenary token – if your Merc survives the battle, you will earn those bonuses.

In Settled Lands, you can deploy dice to gain a benefit from a Land card.

·         If you have conquered a Land, you can place dice in that Settled land (more on this later).

In the Adventure Phase, you resolve all of the placed Mercenaries: Missons, then Land, then Citadel.

·         First do dice rolling Missions – all players there roll their dice – rewards are granted to all people that meet the roll criteria and penalties are given to all those that fail

·         Then do contract Missions – all players present are given the opportunity to discard the shown resource(s) to gain the reward

·         Next, Land A and then Land B is resolved – any played traps are Revealed, and then the monster starts fighting Mercenaries from Left to Right.  The monster rolls black dice equal to its shown strength. You can discard a Purple die played in that path to remove a black die. Any rolls of 3 to 6 are hits against you.  You can use Defense or Potion tokens to nullify hits. If you are hit once, your mercenary token is flipped over to the grayscale side. If you are hit twice, you’re dead. If you’re still alive, you can then roll your dice to try to defeat the Monster or capture the Monster (though you have to have played a Trap to be able to capture).

·         If the Monster is defeated, you can instead roll dice to try to capture and Settle the land card.  If you meet/exceed the target, you can then place any of your Mercenaries which are of matching category on the land.  For the rest of the game, this is considered to be a Settled Land and you can place your dice there to get a benefit. If you fail to capture a Land, you get a Loot token as a consolation.

·         Then Defend the Citadel – again reveal traps and then roll against the monster.  If your Mercenary dies here, you get a +3 Glory bonus.

In the Cleanup phase, you remove Mercenary tokens (keeping them injured if so), adding panic to the citadel if a Monster still threatens it, pay wages to your Mercenaries based on your current Glory score (or else your unpaid Mercenaries will abandon you).  Then remove all dice from the board, replace the Mission Tiles as well as any other empty spots, and give the First Player token to the player with the least Reputation and play another Round – unless you are at the end of the sixth round OR a player has 30 or more Glory at the end of any round.

At the end of the game, scoring is fairly simple:

·         Convert your current Glory and Reputation scores on your board to VP at 1:1 ratio

·         Score trophy VPs as shown on any Monsters you defeated

·         For each of the four affinities (Fire, Air, Jungle and Water) score 0/1/3/5/7/10 for 0/1/3/4/5/6+ icons of that type on your Mercenaries and Lands on hand at the end of the game.

The player with the most points wins.

My thoughts on the game

Monster Lands caught my eye in my prep for SPIEL 2018 as it felt like dice placement was the theme of the year, and I really wanted to see all of the different ways that folks were using this mechanic.  The game looked to be on the more complex end, and when I first opened it up, seeing a 32 page rulebook pretty much confirmed that this was going to take awhile to digest. It took awhile to get the game to the table in part because I never felt confident in my ability to teach the game, and I don’t like to be the one introducing/teaching the game until I feel like I understand it.  I did try a solo game which helped a lot. I also required a fair amount of BGG research to get answers to questions as they came up.

For what it is worth, there is an unofficial FAQ for rules questions that seem to be asked a lot (some of these questions are covered in the rulebook while others have been answered by SGG folks) – https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2084856/inofficial-faq-so-far .  It’s a nice single reference, but the fact that there are 20 things that need to be clarified does say something about the rulebook…  Admittedly, I think some of the issues arise from the fact that there are multiple versions of the rulebook floating around (due to multiple updates during development and the KS campaign).   But – it’s hard to feel confident about the game rules when there are so many things that require clarification.

As it turns out, it is a long and complicated game, clocking in at 3+ hours for my first multiplayer game – sure, there was teaching involved, and the usual delays with a first game, but I’m guessing that 2-2.5 hrs for a 4p game would be the norm here.   There is simply a lot to consider with each action, and I find that I have look at a lot of different things to decide what my best play is. Do I go to the citadel to try to get more mercenaries or equip myself for adventure – but if I do that, perhaps I lose a choice column in the lands as those are first come/first serve…    

Timing can definitely be an issue for the Adventure phase (i.e. getting in the right lanes for stuff) – when fighting off monsters, sometimes you don’t want to be in the first lane to go – because you’ll never be able to do enough damage!  But, if you wait too long, maybe you’ll miss the chance to be where you would really like to be… Or maybe you really want to settle a Land. But, of course, in order to do that, you have to have your turn after someone has already trapped or defeated the Monster.  Or, in the citadel, you might be checking out the needs of the other players as well as what yellow dice values they have as you try to maneuver yourself into a huge discount for something you want. But – you could be pipped by someone who plays before you in turn order, or maybe it turns out that someone goes earlier and just buys the thing that you really wanted!  

And while you’re calculating all this stuff, make sure you pay attention to the affinity icons, because that scoring can really add up in the end if you can concentrate your stuff into two of the affinity suits because the 10 point bonus for 6+ of a single affinity can be a huge part of your total score (winners have been 50-60s).  As you can see, there is a lot to consider each time you decide what to do with your action.

As far as this being a dice placement game, that is true in the strict sense as you do place dice in the different locations, but oftentimes, the dice are merely cubes.  You don’t always roll them nor do you worry about the value on them. However, I can see where design-wise, it was easier to just make everything be a die because then when you do need to roll something, you don’t have to go and get one from the general pool.   And, with this being a KS game, having the scads of bright shiny dice were probably as blingy as you’re gonna get for the euro-gamer crowd as there are no minis. But, I wish there was more to the dice here. It seems like more than half of the time I am placing a red or purple die, they are just cubes.

So, as I said, I think that the game will get a little quicker with more familiarity, but I think that this will be too long for me and my group.  I think maybe 8 or 10 years ago, I would have thrived with this sort of game (in the 120-150 min range), but those days have passed me by. And, I think that the issue here is me and not the game.  I suspect that other OGers (say Mark Jackson or Ted Cheatham) would really like this sort of game. There are a lot of mechanisms, and this is one of those cases where the game would maybe have been better for me to be a bit more streamlined.  And, for the record, I have only played with the tutorial and basic levels – I have not added in any extra modules or cards as we had enough to digest as it was…

The artwork is whimsical and cartoony.  Most of the gamers that I showed it to felt positively about the style, and I agree with that assessment.  While the game is complex, the actions and icons on the cards are easy to interpret, and that helps a lot – because at least players aren’t constantly trying to reach for a rulebook to figure out what a particular item or mercenary does…  The board seems cluttered at first glance, but once you get into the game, it makes sense and you can find the information you need fairly easily.

Overall, this is a game that I am glad to have tried, but I don’t see myself getting this to the table much more in the future (and I would never play this with anyone with even the slightest AP tendency).  Again, I think this is more because I just don’t love this sort of long and convoluted game much anymore. I hope to trade or gift this to someone who prefers this style of game better as I think there is promise here of this being a great game for the right person.  I’m just not that person.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Alan How: I think the game promised more than it delivered. The clever idea of deciding when to go on missions is interesting but not as exciting as when I backed the game. The development of options as you pursue paths could be interesting but the interaction was more denial of action spaces and the competition on missions was lower than I expected. Also, my first play was marred by the wrong group of people who were quick to criticise and slow to play. As Dale says with the right group this could be pretty enjoyable but with so many games to consider if a game does not excel after a few plays there are plenty that do.

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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6 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Monster Lands

  1. This makes me sad. Love this game. Was easily the highlight of Essen for me.

  2. Dale Yu says:

    Curt, to each their own. I really had high expectations for this, but man, the downtime was the huge killer. How long are your games taking?

    • 2.5 hours with 4 players.

      • Dale Yu says:

        Cool — so your time comparable to our experience. I always worry that maybe we missed something or did something wrong. I am glad to hear that you liked it. I know at least one other OG writer has played it (Mark Jackson), and I think he did like it. He just didn’t have a chance to comment here, but I think he’s writing up his own thoughts to be published soon.

  3. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Monster Lands – Herman Watts

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