Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de

Monster Lands


Victor Fernandez & Daniel Schloesser

2nd Gate Games


No. of Players:

G@mebox Star



Actually Monster Lands by SECOND GATE GAMES has been one of the most anticipated games this year. The game had been financed through a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and this campaign once again has been a clear sign that strategic dice games are still in high demand for the boardgaming community.

So, what is special about Monster Lands? The general setting certainly is well known: The Queen's lands have been overrun by a horde of fantasy monsters, and in her need the Queen has turned to the clans of the land, asking them to thwart the threat and to win back the occupied provinces.

As you can see, it's once again up to the players to save the day by recruiting powerful clan members, purchasing useful equipment and by sending those fearless Heroes out into the wild. As can be expected, the game will be won by the player who accumulates most Victory points, and in the major part these can be gathered in form of Glory points which are awarded for killing or capturing monsters, by liberating lands and by defending the royal citadel against approaching monsters. However, during the course of the game the players also will recruit new Heroes for their tribes, and the reknown of each Hero adds to the player's total score of Reputation points. At the game's end both scores for Glory and Reputation are added up in order to determine a player's final score.


The prowess of each Hero is measured in the form of dice, and depending on a Hero's reputation and cost each Hero which is added to a clan will provide the player with new dice for his dice pool. Three different types of Hero dice exist in the game - red Strength dice, purple Magic dice and yellow Persuasion dice. The former two types of dice usually are used to fight monsters when venturing into the wilds, whereas the Persuasion dice are more useful for actions within the Citadel where the players have to hire and equip their clan members.


Speaking very roughly, Monster Lands operates on a dice placement mechanism with the players taking turns to assign dice to various positions on the gameboard, allowing them to take the action associated with each position. Dice placed at the locations within the Citadel give the players access to new Heroes and Equipment cards, and they can also purchase Traps and Potions/Venom which are useful for fighting monsters. In addition, Strength dice can also be dedicated to the Mines, increasing a player's treasury in case he is short on money.

Depending on the location, players can pay with Strength or Magic dice, but in most cases a player may also use Persuasion dice. The Persuasion dice are the only type of dice which are rolled in advance of the Dice Deployment phase, because they do not only allow the players to take an action, but the player also will receive a rebate for their purchase at the location where the dice is placed. This rebate is equal to the value of the dice, and it can be increased even further if there is already a Persuasion dice at this location. If the first placed dice has a higher value, the rebates of both dice are added together, making it an interesting consideration for the players to go for a late placement.


In contrast to the Persuasion dice, the Strength and Magic dice are usually placed in the lands outside the Citadel, taking their place in paths assigned leading to this round's monster(s). In order to fight a monster, a player has to send a Hero, and this Hero can be strengthened by a number of dice, traps and potions. Each monster (and the province which it occupies) can be approached on four different paths, and the dice which are required (and optional) for each path are depicted on a special tile which has been drawn together with the monster card at the beginning of the round. The requirements differ a bit from path to path, and so a player has to decide which path (and dice) he wants to use. However, in the following Adventure phase the paths will be evaluated from left to right, and so a player who possibly made a placement on a path to the right may come too late because a player who has made a placement more to the left may have already defeated the monster.

Regarding the structure of a game round, the aforementioned Adventure phase follows the Dice Deployment phase in which the players took turns to place their dice onto the gameboard. All actions within the Citadel (hiring heroes, buying equipment etc) already were performed during the Deployment phase, but the Adventure phase only starts when all deployments have finished. Now the paths leading to the monsters will be triggered one by one, with each assigned Hero rolling his dice to beat the monster's capture or slay values. However, before the Hero gets to attack, the monster first deals out a strike, trying to roll enough hits to defeat and remove the Hero. Only if the Hero survives the first onslaught his own dice will be rolled in order to see whether he defeats the monster (and thus receives the rewards for capturing or killing it).


If the monster is not defeated, the next path in board order will be activated, giving the next Hero in line a chance to prove his prowess. Once again the monster deals out an attack first, but if the Hero gets to carry out his own strike he may now add the results of the rolls of ALL previous Heroes to the results of his own roll, making it much more probable the he will succeed.

If the monster is slain, Heroes on the remaining path(s) still have a chance to perform a noble deed, because now the province associated with the monster will be open for conquest. So, the next Heroes in board order now may roll their dice to see whether they can reach the conquest value of the province, earning the player the corresponding Province card.

Indeed, the intricacies of the combat procedure do not stop here, but there are even more options available to the players to increase their chances in combat and conquest. So, apart from Equipment cards which may generate re-rolls or additional dice, Magic dice may be sacrificed to weaken a monster, Armour tokens give additional protection to the Hero, Venom can be used to generate additional hits and a Potion may keep a Hero alive during the monster's onslaught. Traps on the other hand can provide the player with additional dice, and the use of at least one Trap token also is necessary if the player wants to defeat the monster using the (lower) capture value.

As can be easily guessed, it is this combat procedure which unites elements of luck, timing and planning, thus forming the central element of Monster Lands. Here the game shows its true strength, since the strategical impact of this combat procedure is much more pronounced than in any other modern game using a dice placement mechanism. It's not just a place-and-roll kind of decision which the players have to take, but instead the players have to focus quite consequently on the timing of each of their actions in order to send well-prepared Heroes into the battle. All equipment must be purchased before sending out a Hero - there is unfortunately no mail delivery of swords or potions to Heroes out in the field. However, wasting too much time for gaining equipment may result in other players sending out their Heroes first, and this may mean that only unattractive monster paths may be left for the well-prepped Hero. Finding a balance is crucial, especially since a Hero who wastes equipment for an unsuccessful attack may strengthen the heroes following him on later paths.

The overall good impression of Monster Lands is amplified by a number of additional rules and options which underline the strategic potential even further. So, players can also send their Heroes to perform missions. These are easier to fulfil than defeating a monster, but on the other hand the rewards for fulfilling a mission are less attractive. In addition, a monster which is not defeated for a full round becomes infuriated, moving towards the Citadel gates and causing Citadel locations to close down. So, players may lose important resources until a monster at the gates finally is defeated.

There are also some interesting rules focused on the players' tribes. Each Hero available in the game belongs to one of four elemental affiliations (fire, water, wind and nature). Collecting Heroes of the same affiliation will give the players end-game bonuses, but it is even more important to build matching pairs of Heroes and Province cards (which also belong to the four affiliations). A Hero assigned to a matching Province card will settle the province, giving the player access to special dice actions associated with the province, and furthermore the player will not have to pay upkeep for that Hero anymore. Especially in later rounds it may become quite expensive to support a large group of Heroes, and so a content Hero on a settled land leaves the payroll and is immune against desertion.

Finally, regarding Heroes is should also be mentioned that the aggregated total of the Reputation of all of a player's Heroes may never exceed his Glory score. So, the game designers have put a very clever and realistic limit to recruitment, since a player who wants to assemble a large clan needs to be famous enough to attract all these well-known Heroes.

This list of specialities could be continued even further, but the details given here should be more than enough to convey a realistic impression of the astonishing playing depth which can be found in Monster Lands. Up to now my most popular strategic dice games were Nations - The Dice Game and Ancient Terrible Things, but with Monster Lands the team of SECOND GATE GAMES has succeeded in taking the whole combination of strategy and dice rolling to a much higher level of sophistication. The bandwidth of options available to the players successfully helps to mitigate the inevitable element of luck associated with the rolling of dice, but at the same time there remains a nagging element of uncertainty because you never know for sure. It's up to the players to go for high risks or safer variants, but in the end success in Monster Lands is all about taking the right degree of risks.


Finally, the game also can score with its lavish outfit, both in terms of graphics and optional rules. The strong-edged cartoon artwork is state of the art, and the rules feature variants both for solo play and for more player interaction. Taken together, all this makes Monster Lands an absolute MUST for checking it out!

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Copyright © 2019 Ralf Togler & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany