Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Giant monsters don't come cheap


The makers of Godzilla Raids Again (1955), the very first of many sequels to the original Godzilla (1954), figured out that what a giant monster really needs is another giant monster to fight with. Nearly every Godzilla film since, right up to the most recent American version from earlier this year, has embraced this truth, and introduced countless giant antagonists for the big lizard to fight with. The real thrill of a giant monster movie is in the sheer scale of it all, seeing unlikely behemoths beat the tar out of each other and lay waste to whatever city was unfortunate enough to be their battlefield.

The makers of Monsterpocalypse, a collectible miniatures game first released in 2008, understood this, and the thing that makes Monsterpocalypse such a great game is the importance it places on the environment the game takes place in. Sure, almost every tabletop miniatures game has rules governing terrain to a greater or lesser degree, but the thing that sold me on Monsterpocalypse the first time I played it was the fact that destroying buildings was part of the game, and there were all manner of options for throwing your opponent's giant monster into structures that would then catch fire or explode in a cloud of radiation.

The thing that very nearly un-sold me on it, and kept me from keeping up with the game's later expansions, was the utterly absurd way in which it was released.

In my review of Marvel Dice Masters I defend the idea of collectible games, explaining that the thrill of chasing rare cards or figures is part of the fun. But I also point out that rising costs are what has drained all the fun out it, and Monsterpocalypse was a perfect example of that. The game's randomly packed starter sets and booster packs were very expensive, and it could easily cost $100 or more just to get enough pieces for two players to play with even the smallest bit of figure variety. The way it was distributed and priced, it was clear that the main target market was dedicated players who would buy in bulk from online discounters.

Was it too expensive? We didn't think so at the time, although I don't want to think too much about how much we spent on the game. I remember our first few games being utterly thrilling, with a sense of fast pace and excitement that you don't often see in a turn-based tabletop game, and this still held true when we got our figures out of storage recently to set the game up and play.

However, Monsterpocalypse falls down in a few important areas, mainly a result of it being designed for and marketed to competitive tournament gamers. One of the things that soured us on playing the game at our local game store was that the publisher released a strategy guide which included fairly detailed instructions on how to play each of the game's factions, what figure combinations to use, and so on. This meant that most the tournament players tended to play the same figures in the same way, which cut down substantially on the variety of challenges that is usually one of the main reasons to play in tournaments in the first place.

Another limitation, no doubt informed by the game's emphasis on tournament play, is that it is strictly a two-player game. There is nothing specific in the game's rules that would prevent it from working as a multiplayer game, but all of the different map boards allow starting areas for two players only, and each starter set only contains enough of the game's proprietary dice and counters for one player, so extra sets of dice (or extra starter sets) would need to be purchased for each player.

Monsterpocalypse is a blast to play, which makes it all the more unfortunate that it has so many barriers to playing it, barriers that are almost entirely a result of the very specific and exclusive community the publisher wanted to build around the game.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) The game itself is terrific, but the publisher's decision to market it to a very specific audience creates a few too many limitations, and stops Monsterpocalypse from being a truly great game.


Date played: May 26, 2014

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