Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Monsterpocalypse- Giant Monster Smash!

In 1993 the then-struggling game company Wizards of the Coast released Magic the Gathering (MTG). This was a card game in which you purchased cards in packs similar to baseball cards, collected a deck of these cards, and then played a simple game against an opponent. The innovation of the game was that some cards were more rare then others. In order to be a successful player you might have to buy many packs. Many, many, many, packs.

The rest was history. To get a sense of the dimensions of the game, Wizards of the Coast gives out three million dollars in tournament prizes each season to MTG players. The history of collectible card games is far more complex than can be summarized here but suffice it to say that this genre has huge potential as a hit maker. In the process it has also spawned quite a few business disasters and bombs. And this leads us to Monsterpocalypse.

Monsterpocalypse is a collectible miniatures game. Players buy and collect toy versions of giant monsters and the have battles with them on simulated cityscapes. You buy a starter box at first but then you can purchase additional "boosters" which will have randomly selected monsters, buildings, tanks and what-not in them. You don't know for sure what you'll get in a booster box but be assured it will have Almost everything you need, and then you'll scurry off the buy another booster.

Let's talk briefly about the gameplay itself. There are certain people, ahem, who find the idea of giant monsters battling in cities to be absolutely intoxicating. Monsterpocalypse certainly delivers for those folks in several ways. Players start the game by laying out plastic buildings on a mat with city streets marked on it. Each player then pulls out their collection of miniature giant monsters. Each one is about four inches high and represents a dinosaur, space alien, robot or the like. In addition each player has a supply of smaller vehicles and helper creatures- tanks, small dinosaurs, alien saucers.

As the game commences the players take turns moving their monsters or helpers around the board. Points are scored by destroying buildings and crushing your opponents creatures and monster. It is the way you go about crushing and destroying that illustrates some of this game's strengths and weaknesses. On a positive note the game provides you with an insane variety of monster powers and actions. Certain monsters can fly, breath fire, fling enemy tanks at other enemies, cause explosions, fling lightning, or turn invisible. Would you like to throw another monster through the air? How about stomping your foot so hard that all nearby enemies fall to the ground? Or knock a building down onto opponents on the other side? There are rules for all these things and more. What's more is that the rules are pretty simple in execution even as they deliver hugely in color and dynamism.

In addition the game mechanisms force players to think carefully about how they'll move their forces. A clever system budgets out your actions so you have to always choose what creature is most important to move at any given moment and plan ahead with regard to your objectives. Speaking of objectives, some locations on the map may deliver extra points, or allow you to cause extra damage to your opponent. While it is possible to play Monsterpocalyse as a pure scrum it actually is a fairly tactical game.

There are a few caveats to the game. The first is that while the rules are simple there are a whole lot of them. Further, you really need to know them to start playing. In our trials we found that this was not a game you could learn well just by trying to play. This is not a critical flaw per se but it does rule this game out for that crowd that hates to read rules. And it does not make this a great choice for a game to buy and be playing ten minutes later, a la Formula D or Ticket to Ride.

A second caveat is that this game really needs interested players. A parent might buy Formula D and play it with their child and even if race car games were not the parent's cup of tea they could still get through in a credible fashion. In the case of Monsterpocalypse you really need to have at least two interested people- siblings, friends, neighbors. One solution to this is found through a game store. Pandemonium Books, for example, has organized play on certain nights.

Finally, the nature of collectible games has some potential risks. The publishers of the game have actually done a very good job of providing you with a good versatile starter set and boosters which are not exorbitantly expensive. Nevertheless you run the risk of introducing your child to the game and then being treated to endless requests and demands for boosters and extras. In addition, keep in mind that games like this only exist as long as they receive good support from their publishers. Unlike Apples to Apples, Monsterpocalypse has a finite lifespan. While Magic the Gathering is still going strong you never know if a collectible game is going to turn into a pile of worthless junk at any moment.

All this being said I was very happily surprised with Monsterpocalypse. It is a superb game design and packaged in a fairly affordable form, considering it's a collectible game. The rules are lengthy and detailed but the basic mechanisms are elegant and effective. If I was considering purchasing it for a child I would see if they had an interest first, and perhaps run by Pandemonium or Danger Planet to see it in action. Call ahead and I'm sure someone will be able to tell you when people meet up to play.

Pros: Gorgeous design, decent value, fun gameplay

Cons: Hard to say how long it will be supported

Beyond the Basics: lots of tactical value, good replay, and of course there are more booster boxes available to get that last piece you need...

1 comment:

  1. I, too, think Monsterpocalypse minis are cool. But if you're concerned about the need and expense of purchasing booster packs, there's another, less expensive way to scratch your giant monster itch. Firefly Games, the folks who put out the excellent children's RPG Faery's Tale, also put out Monster Island, a miniatures game you can play with household toys or the cardboard counters included in the starting book. A paired set of the first two rulebooks (softbacks) costs $10, $13 with shipping. The rules are a simplified version of the free Action! System RPG rules and include a broad selection of abilities and stunts your monster can perform. My family uses Happy Meal toys and dollar store dinosaurs to play.