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Kingdom Death: Monster Game Review

Keep Out of Reach of Children

Do you have a love for dark settings, tactical combat, strategic planning, and the overcoming of impossible odds? It may not be for everyone, but read our review, and see if Kingdom Death: Monster just may be the game you've been looking for.

What is Kingdom Death: Monster?

Kingdom Death: Monster is, more than any other board game I’ve played, difficult to describe. Designed by Adam Poots and published by his miniatures company, Kingdom Death, this game is better described by what it’s not. Kingdom Death: Monster is not a role-playing game, but has some role-playing elements. It isn’t a dungeon crawl, but has some dungeon crawl elements. It’s not a boss battler, but has boss battling elements.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. Kingdom Death: Monster is a little bit of so many things, that it’s sort of a Frankenstein’s Monster. In the game, you’ll be making decisions that affect your character, the group as a whole, and future story events. You’ll be managing resources, crafting and upgrading, fighting, managing your inventory, rolling dice, having random encounters, gathering loot, and much, much more

So what is Kingdom Death: Monster? Let’s dive in and have a bit of a look. DISCLAIMER: This is a campaign-style game. There are some minor spoilers, and some content in this game is definitely for a mature audience. While I’m trying to not mention specifics or get too in depth, just the nature of this game alone makes it difficult to keep everything that follows spoiler free and rated PG, but I’ll do my best.

The World

So much can be said about Kingdom Death: Monster, but I’m just going to give you a brief rundown. The world is both figuratively and literally dark; there are no sun, moon, or stars—It’s just blackness. The only light offered is the soft glow of gothic-style lanterns which can be found everywhere. The only other notable feature is that the entire ground is covered by genderless, expressionless, stone faces, all peering skyward. They come in various sizes, and their numbers are uncountable. Adam Poots has referred to this world as “The Plane of Faces.”

Plane of Faces
Your party’s first moments in the Plane of Faces gets rudely interrupted.

I’m not sure if this world is some sort of afterlife, but I do know that your characters are called “Survivors,” though the game never explains just what it is they’ve survived. They just wake up in this world with no recollection of how they got here or anything that happened before, and their eyes are covered with ink. These survivors quickly come to the realization that they’re not alone here, as the world is also populated by all manner of nightmarish monsters that just want to see your group perish.

The Phases

The game is played in three phases: The Hunt, The Showdown, and The Settlement. These phases are very extensive; an entire article could be written about their flows and strategies. The best way to describe the phases is that each of them are a mini-game all their own built into one round of the actual game. One full revolution of these is known in-game as a Lantern Year, and generally takes between an hour and a half to five hours.

In The Hunt phase, you’ll be pursuing the next fight of the game. This phase is played on a separate board, and will have you triggering a series of random events. Some of these events are chosen by rolling on a D100 dice table in the rulebook, and some of them are specific to the monster you’re hunting. The events offer players a chance to weigh risk against reward, but they’re also dangerous and can possibly leave your party crippled before it ever makes it to the fight.

The Hunt Phase
Hunting the Screaming Antelope

In The Showdown phase, players fight the monster they were just hunting. This is where most of your time will be spent. Each monster utilizes a custom AI deck to determine how it moves and attacks. This AI deck also doubles as the monster’s hit points, so when it’s empty, the monster dies. Each monster also has its own unique Wound deck which details different areas the monster may be attacked, and also lists rewards gained, lasting effects, counter attacks, and critical hit results, for each hit location.

The Showdown Phase
A Showdown against the Phoenix

In The Settlement phase, your party will be regrouping and making choices that will affect the flow of the rest of the game. Here you’ll have random story encounters, spend time discussing future strategies, craft new items, and upgrade your Survivors and your Settlement. Some of the most important decisions for the rest of the campaign take place during this phase, so there needs to be a lot of discussion over everything that happens here.

The Settlement Phase
The Settlement Phase has quite a few components and a bit of a setup, but it’s also where you’ll be strategizing for the future of the game.


Where do I even begin? Simply put, Kingdom Death: Monster is one of the most visually sophisticated games I’ve ever laid eyes on. They played the simplicity card with this one, and they played it very, very well. The game board has the art, but other than the movement squares and some marked off areas for decks of cards, it’s completely empty, which gives it a modest, yet somewhat powerful look.

The Game Board
The game board is every bit as bleak as the world you’re playing in.

On the topic of art, though, it’s so incredibly stunning. There were many artists who contributed their talents to the game, and the artwork ranges from violent, dark images, to manga, to something that I can only describe as being very adjacent to Yoshitaka Amano of Final Fantasy fame.

Artwork 1
The Hand paying the Settlement a visit

What makes the art even better is that every piece of gear, every piece of loot, every set of armor, every monster, every story event, and every upgrade has its own artwork which looks beautifully unique from every other piece of art in the game. However, the artwork is not for the faint of heart. Images of death, dismemberment, nudity, gore, humans being killed and/or fed on, all run rampant through every card and page of the rulebook.

What really makes the game stand out on the table, though, are the miniatures. These minis come in a sprue and must be assembled. They vary in size, with player minis standing at 32mm and the largest model in the base game standing at about 5 inches, but with a wingspan of 10 inches, all on a 100mm base. Some of the expansion minis are much, much larger (I’m looking at you, Dragon King). For the base game, they’ve also added a mini for each individual piece of gear you can acquire in the game.

These minis are the most detailed and wonderfully posed minis I’ve ever seen. I should also mention, they can be incredibly nightmarish. The Screaming Antelope features an antelope on its hind legs, missing its skin so that muscle and sinew are exposed. What makes it most ghastly is the cavity on its chest. It’s missing its organs, and the rib cage is opened up, turning the cavity into a gaping mouth, and the tips of the ribs into the teeth. It is called The Screaming Antelope because it…well…screams, but not audibly. It screams in your mind.

The Screaming Antelope
The Screaming Antelope is one of the more unsettling monsters you’ll find in the Plane of Faces

My Thoughts

My thoughts are many. I’ll try to be as objective here as possible, but you should probably know that I FREAKING LOVE THIS GAME! Kingdom Death: Monster is a game specifically made for people who love the challenging and punishing nature of From Software’s titles as well as dark universes similar to Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. Spending time in this world  sometimes feels like watching The Red Wedding scene from Game of Thrones on repeat, and I simply can’t get enough of that.

That said, be ready to be made an example of. This game is going to make you rethink your life choices. It’s going to punish you for using the tabletop strategies you’ve come to be comfortable with, and it’s going to get you to think outside the box, and just when you have the game figured out, it’s going to remind you that you really, really don’t.

In this game, your character isn’t your character. Rather, think of your character as a sort of expendable resource that the game will collect on when it decides to do so, which is usually at a time most inconvenient for everyone. Your “character” is actually the shared Settlement of your group, and as long as the population doesn’t reach zero, you’re still in the game. Sadly, that is sometimes the only success you’ll have, too.

This means you should never get too attached to your character. Before the end, they’ll be dismembered, disemboweled, crippled, beheaded, broken, eaten, turned to stone, swallowed by the earth, chosen for execution for no reason, and challenged to fight alone against powerful combatants. They will develop all manner of diseases, mental disorders, and phobias, and at the very least, go insane and run blindly into the black, never to be seen again.

Artwork 2
The Butcher is every bit as violent as his name would have you believe.

You should have a very healthy appreciation of the fact that death is part of what makes this world what it is. You should also have a healthy appreciation for losing, because you will lose often and harshly, and sometimes the game won’t teach you anything for it, either.

On his first night playing with my group, his first time playing Kingdom Death: Monster, during his first (and what would be his only) Showdown against a Level 2 White Lion, my buddy, Cleveland, was the last man standing. He brought the beast down, and returned to the Settlement as the only Survivor of that fight. He held his head high, and the group was equally amazed and happy for him. Then a random story event triggered an earthquake and ripped the ground open in the middle of the village, swallowing only his character. Cleveland didn’t come back to play after that.

The game is dramatically random like that at times, and while I feel it adds to the overall unpredictable and violent nature of the world, I can fully understand how it would discourage many players. Dice rolls won’t go your way, the wrong card gets drawn, a wrong choice gets made, or what feels like something good actually comes with a very heavy price.

But for all the frustrating low points the game serves you, it also has equally adrenaline-fueled highs. The right roll at just the right moment does tend to happen a satisfying amount, and will always sound like the winning Super Bowl touchdown just got scored. There have been moments where success happened at the moment it was needed most, and it got the whole table on their feet, screaming. No other game has ever offered me that.

Final Thoughts

While it’s not for everyone, with a good understanding of what you’re getting into, Kingdom Death: Monster is definitely worth trying. The price tag is steep, so I wouldn’t recommend buying before playing or watching some videos to see if it’s a good fit for you. Unless, of course, you’re like me and you are some sort of masochist who likes mind-numbing grinding and trial and error in your games.

The game is open to dropping in and out, so if you can find a local group to sit in and play through a Lantern Year with, that’s probably the ideal way to go about it. There are also some decent mods for it on Tabletop Simulator. Give it a shot, keep an open mind, and be ready to experience a game that, I promise you, is unlike any other game you’ve experienced before.

  • Excellent - Always want to play.

Kingdom Death: Monster details

About the author

Clayton Schoonover

Clayton hails from the ancient and magical village of Kellyville, Oklahoma, where he raises his young ones alongside his fair queen. He spends his days building arcane machines used for moving liquids. When he has time to spare, he enjoys games of cardboard and plastic, as well as stories told through the mystical glass window he keeps in his room of living.


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