Dale Yu: Preview of Leviathan Wilds

LeviathanWilds-Logo_1200x435

The publisher webpage previewing Leviathan Wilds proclaims: “A 1-4p cooperative board game about climbing massive creatures. Created by industry veterans.”  The designer is well known to me from previous games such as Star Wars Imperial Assault and a number of Love Letter reskins (some of which we have previewed here).   The staff of Moon Crab Games are reportedly all veterans from Z-Man and Fantasy Flight as well.  Based on that pedigree, I was excited to learn more about this new release.

As the story goes: “Long ago, the once-gentle leviathans lost their minds and tore the world apart. After generations of hiding and struggle, humanity discovered that the frenzied leviathans can be restored. Climbers willing to take the risk must explore the wilds and work together to remove a series of binding crystals to heal the leviathans roaming the world.”

leviathan wilds table

The Leviathans are all found in a spiral-bound book, with each creature taking up a full double page spread.   It appears that this book is an easy way to keep an entire campaign together in one simple package, as you will work through the different Leviathans in the book as you play through the game.  In each game (scenario), you’ll tackle one specific Leviathan.  The game provides you with four different difficulty levels for each scenario – so you can customize your game to your abilities.

leviathan wilds board 1

Leviathan Wilds is cooperative, and as with these sorts of games, the team will win (or lose) together.  In the game, players are skilled and daring climbers: specialists in healing frenzied leviathans. Each climber is represented on the map by a figure and has a unique deck that contains their capabilities.

Each character’s deck of multi-use cards is unique, allowing them to climb, jump, and glide around the board in different ways.  Each card has a special ability written on it, and you can choose to use the card to activate that ability.  Each card also has a number and some icons at the top which you can choose to use to traverse the leviathan on the map.    

The number of cards left in the slim deck (ten cards to start) represents their grip on the leviathan’s body; if the deck runs out, the player loses their grip and begins to fall down the board until they’re able to reach a rest space, which resets their deck. Moving onto rest spaces also provides a way to regain one’s grip without falling. Other spaces reduce a character’s health or grip or they increase blight, a status that reduces their overall hit points.

leviathan wilds player set up2

Each player gets their own board and on this you will find a single health and blight track.  Different things in the game (threat cards, terrain), will cause you to lose health and gain blight. Health and blight represent the amount of punishment and weakening effects that a climber can take. The markers occupy the same track, and if they ever are in the same slot or cross over, you are defeated.  Your health marker always moves to the right and your blight marker always moves to the left.  It is important to note that while you can heal yourself to move your health marker back to the left, you can never fix your blight level.                                                                      

Players’ characters can move around a square grid overlaid on the creature’s body by spending action points — the number being determined by a card played at the start of their turn — and their remaining hand of ability cards to reach the crystals and reduce them to zero. Each leviathan is covered in a number of binding crystals: the cause of their sickness and frenzied behavior. The binding crystals are represented on the map by six-sided dice, used to indicate the quantity of crystal in that space. There are two colors of dice: purple dice are normal crystals, and teal dice are blighted crystals.  Victory is achieved by reducing all crystals, which vary in strength, to zero.   When you do this, you have “cured” the leviathans from their ailments. 

leviathan wilds player set up

The leviathan has its own deck of Threat cards, which triggers various effects at the beginning of a player’s turn, from targeted attacks that reduce health to effects that move players between spaces or loosen their grip. As the game progresses, the leviathan gradually gains “rage”, which intensifies the effect of its event cards.  As far as the board goes, the surface of the Leviathan has different terrain spaces with different colors and/or icons. Terrain has a variety of effects, such as causing you to lose health on entry or allowing you to rest.  The threat board is placed under the book – this helps track the threat (and rage) of the leviathan.

The game is played in rounds; each with 4 phases: Reveal Threat, Activate Climber, Resolve Threat, Draw to 3

In the Reveal Threat phase, you draw a card from the Threat deck.  This card shows how the leviathan is going to attack or harm you, but the effect does not resolve until later in the turn, giving you a chance to react.  The card has a regular effect (top) and rage effect (bottom) – the action that is enacted depends on the current rage state of the Leviathan!  If an attack is called for, place a red ring template on the board which shows the spaces that will be attacked when the threat is resolved.

LW-Diagram1_2022-06-02

Now, activate your climber by playing one of your cards.  Again, you can use the card either for its special ability or for the action points. If you choose to use the card for its skill, read and enact whatever skill is written on the card, and then place it in the discard pile.   If you use it for action points, the number in the upper left tells you how many action points you have, and the colored icons tell you which terrain penalties you avoid.  Normally red (dangerous) spaces give you -1 health for entering, yellow (difficult) spaces give you -1 grip, and blue (blighted) spaces give you 1 blight if you hit a blighted crystal in that space on this turn.

leviathan wilds cards

The basic actions are:

  • 1 point: Climb 1 – move orthogonally one space along a line
  • 3 points: Climb 2 – move orthogonally two spaces, you can jump over gaps
  • X points: Glide X – move downwards X spaces, counting down and down diagonal movements
  • 2 points: Rest- if on a ledge, you can take your discards back into your deck
  • 1 point: Heal one point
  • X points: reduce binding crystals on a die in your space by X.
  • 1 points: examine an insight marker in your space (when playing the campaign, insight unlocks new cards through the reward track)

Once the card is used (in either way), it is time to resolve the Threat card.  If the Threat deck is now empty, then shuffle the discards to make a new deck AND move the Rage marker one space down on the track.  If it hits the bottom of the track, players will gain blight as printed on the track.

LW-Diagram2_2022-06-02

In the final phase, the active player draws cards to bring their hand back up to 3.  Note that if you draw the final card of your deck, you start to fall – that is you move downwards until you hit a ledge.  There is a special rule where you can choose not to draw your final card in your deck to prevent falling.  

In most cases, the next player starts their turn by revealing the top card of the threat deck.  If a player has been defeated this round, their turn ends immediately, and they discard their deck and remove their figure from the board.  This also triggers the Final Stand – continuing in clockwise order, each climber takes one more full turn, skipping any defeated climbers. After those turns, the game ends, and all climbers lose.

The game continues until either the team wins (by reducing all of the crystal dice to zero) or the team loses (by not being able to finish the scenario before the end of the Final Stand).  If you win, you get rewards (insight) that you can use to unlock extra cards for your characters that will help you later in the campaign.  Also, you get access to that Leviathan’s memento card which gives some special abilities for later scenarios.  Thematically, the memento power is something related to the leviathan from which it came.

My thoughts on the game

The game is currently available on Tabletop Simulator, and I gave the game a whirl over some downtime in the holiday weekend.  I will give all my usual caveats about TTS (namely, I really dislike it as an interface) – and I try to account for the fiddliness associated with the controls and management of the pieces on TTS.  In this case, it wasn’t too bad, but I’m sure that the interface added 10-15 minutes to the game.

So after playing this, my friends told me that this was essentially Shadow of the Colossus: the Boardgame.  I figured out this SotC is a videogame, though one that I have no knowledge of – as my videogame experience pretty much ended at Sonic and Herzog Zwei.  Leviathan Wilds provides a challenging cooperative experience, and I enjoyed the group puzzle solving that it offered.  In that sense, it reminded me a lot of Andor – where the team had to work together on each quest to gain the objective while trying to only kill the bare minimum number of enemies.  Here, you have to work together with your teammates to reach the dice and remove them from the board.  Sometimes a direct line works best, and other times, you have to make long ranging plans.

You have to get to the dice and reduce them all to zero.  There is a lot of cooperative decision making in order to figure out how to best accomplish this.  You have to puzzle out where you want your climbers to be – to mitigate possible attacks from the threat cards.  Most of the attacks have a small but deadly radius, so you want to leave some space between you and your partners; because while you can move to get out of the way of an attack – your poor partner generally can’t, and they’ll take the brunt of the damage from the threat card.  We have found that there are plenty of times where it is valuable and useful to electively drop from your current location onto a ledge below; sometimes to get out of range of an attack or to separate climbers – othertimes, it’s just a more efficient way to move around!

LW-Diagram3_2022-06-02

There are some hand management issues as you have to have adequate cards in your hand to efficiently do the things you want to do whether this is due to the penalty canceling icons or due to a useful special ability on the bottom.   The size of your deck also is your grip score – and if your deck empties; you’ll fall until you can rest on a ledge.  Sometimes this is a useful event; othertimes, it is a necessary evil.  Each character also comes with a special ability, unique to them, which encourages cooperation and working together.  Some characters have special abilities that make it easier to move, while others can resist injury better – and this asymmetry gives the players some extra tools to use when trying to plot their strategy.

In the end, this feels to me more like a logistics game than a combat game.  You’re not really fighting anything here – your goal is to get to the dice, take the actions to reduce the dice to zero, and try to avoid the penalties on the attack cards.  Thus, it’s all about movement and placement of your players.  This is one of the weird games where it might actually be easier with fewer players.  With 4 active players, there can be a fair amount of collateral damage; there are 3 chances for your climber to be hit by an attack between your moves – and the game moves into the final phase as soon as any one climber is defeated.  In my limited experience so far, my hero in a 4p game took a lot more unexpected hits than in the 2p game.  Sure, you also have more moves to get to the dice and manipulate them… but those attack cards can be brutal!

The game seems to move pretty quickly, and our group was able to figure it out with just the game rules and Tabletop simulator without much issue.  In most turns, my hand of 3 cards gave me the opportunity to reach one of the dice, but there was a lot of risk calculation in figuring out which times it was worth stretching for a particular move versus resting to restore the cards to my deck, etc.

We are still getting our feet wet with the game, so I can’t really comment on the campaign feature, but I can already see how it will be interesting as we have to decide which mementos to use each game, and we’ll get to explore different leviathan maps. There are only 5 maps on the electronic TTS version right now, and you can already see how each layout will create new problems for the team to solve.

leviathan wilds board 3
The art is not quite done, as most of the cards just have placeholder sketches, or sometimes just a placeholder icon.  But, the boards seem to have the finished art already, and man, they are definitely nice to look at.  I can only assume the rest of the art production will be the same high quality.

leviathan wilds board 2

Despite the fact that I’m really not a fan of the Tabletop Simulator interface and physics, I’ve enjoyed my first few games – and I’m definitely looking forward to getting a chance to try the game with my regular group with a physical copy.  We’ve not had a lot of success with long campaign games, but this could be one that fits our group well, and we could play a scenario or two each week while we try to get in all the other new games.

Please note that all pictures here taken from their website or TTS module, and may not reflect final art.  Also, the rules are likely still somewhat in flux, so things may still change in the future.

If you’re interested, the Kickstarter info link is https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mooncrabgames/leviathan-wilds

The project is currently set to go live July 12.

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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