Tuesday, May 13, 2014

♪♫ "They Say He's Got To Go, Go-Go..." ♪♫ - "Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars"

As soon as I laid eyes on Godzilla as a kid I was completely fascinated with him.

 
Unfortunately this was way back before the advent of home video and there were no Godzilla movies in theaters so I had to be content with reading about his exploits in books and magazines.


Let's face it: Godzilla is kid catnip ("Kidnip"?). How can you go wrong with a giant, fire-breathing radioactive mutant dinosaur who stomps paper-mache cities into rubble and then gets into Pier 6 donnybrooks with hyperactive, wiry Japanese dudes in rubber monster suits? As such, I've always thought that Toho's pantheon of daikaiju would be perfect board gaming fodder.

There've been a few attempts to bring Godzilla's exploits to life in board game form, but they've been pretty forgettable. So far we've seen an ancient roll-and-move crapfest, a completely random kiddie game, and a two hunks of landfill (enlinkified here and here) featuring that Dean Devlin / Roland Emmerich iguanabortion G.I.N.O. from 1998. 

In fact, the only titles that have come close to doing the Big "G" a modicum of justice were a released-only-in-the-east wargame called Mothra vs. Godzilla (1982) and a promising, unpublished prototype called Godzilla's Rampage (2010) which, by all accounts, seems to be dead in the water now.

But then some tantalizing photos started to show up on Board Game Geek about a year later. I followed the trail of breadcrumbs back to the Toy Vault website and read the following excitable press release:

Toy Vault, Inc. is thrilled and excited to announce Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars; an officially licensed multi-player board game featuring the King of the Monsters – Godzilla!

It’s an all-out brawl of monstrous proportions and Earth is the battlefield!  The Xiliens have pitted Godzilla, Rodan, Gigan and King Ghidorah against each other in a catastrophic battle and only one monster will emerge victorious!


In
Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars, players pick a monster and a scenario, stomping over terrain and destroying buildings on their warpath - all while fending off aggressive military attacks, bombs, traps and, of course, other KAIJU! Special abilities are used to eliminate the competition or to tuck their tail between their legs and run away before they are taken out.

The game is jam-packed with pieces sure to please any gamer. Along with the four fully painted 2 3/8 inch plastic Kaiju figurines, the game also includes 90 stackable plastic tiles for building skyscrapers, four individual monster playmats, 86 terrain and power tokens, and much more.  You’ve never had so much fun ravaging the world as you will when you play
GODZILLA: KAIJU WORLD WARS!


The box cover art offered one particularly intriguing detail: the name of Richard Berg, a veteran designer of over one-hundred and forty titles who is known in many circles as "The Pope of Wargaming". Additional photos featuring the deluxe components, such as the stackable buildings and highly-detailed miniatures, also led me to believe that this was slated to be a top-shelf production. At the very least, Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars wasn't going to be a cheap, childish, fly-by-night knock-off.

Now, back before the advent of the innernetz with all of its webzonez, chatroomez and pod-cats I woulda just gone ahead and blindly bought this thing, assuming that it does what it says on the tin. But now, thanks to handy and informative resources like Board Game Geek, blogs and video reviews you can research the shit out of a purchase before you drop so much as one cent.

And it's a damned good thing 'cuz when the game was finally released in the summer of 2011, it looked as if Berg and Toy Vault had laid a Mothra-sized egg. The rulebook was incomprehensible, the Info Cards were conflicty, the building pieces didn't stack, the military chits were inadvertently cloaked and the Rodan figure was, by all accounts, complete drunk off his ass

I was completely crushed. The Godzilla game of my dreams turned out to be a vast, stinking pile of Hedorah run-off. I abandoned any thought of buying it and moved on to greener pastures.

But then something miraculous happened. Undaunted by the Toy Vault's shabby treatment of the game, designer Richard Berg became a one-man interactive F.A.Q. factory on Board Game Geek. Then, on July 20'th he happily announced:

OK, Zillites . . . Good news.
 

Just spoke to the folks at Toy Vault, and in the next few weeks they will be reformatting and redoing a spanking new rules book, much like you see in most games, with illos and the latest version of the rules as I have done them. They will be making it available - probably pdf - thru their website for downloading.
 

Not sure exactly when this will happen, but it is on their production schedule for work by a new graphics person.
 

And sales have been nice . . . (which is more interesting to me than you folks, I assume . . .)
 

Like Hannibal, keep an eye open . . .

Clearly this dude wanted fans to dig this game. True to his word, Richard ushered in new ruleset in December that actually made the game playable. Still acutely interested in the game, I devoured this new manual and quickly decided that there was a game here after all. So I picked up a clearance copy online and began the arduous process of making some semblance of sense out of it.

Even armed with the 2.0 instructions I royally botched up my first solo run of the game, totally ignoring the Advanced Game Building Destruction rule which requires the use of the "Size and Strength" card. Frustrated, I put the thing back on the shelf were it's been collecting dust for the better part of the year.

But now, with a hot new Godzilla film on the horizon, I felt compelled to break it out again and look for that diamond in the rough. Last Wednesday night I managed to lure fellow G-Fan Matt into what I still hope was a vaguely-legitimate play-through of the "Monster Law" scenario. 

***

VICTORY CONDITIONS

The first Kaiju to score 35 Destruction Points OR the last Kaiju standing wins, whichever comes first.

To ensure that every monster was featured on the board, I decided that we'd use two Kaiju apiece.  

MONSTERS SELECTED

Me: Gigan and King Ghidorah 
Matt: Godzilla and Rodan

SETUP 

As per the scenario details, Matt and I split the Buildings, Parks and Lakes up amongst each other. I rolled high and had the privilege of placing the four Restaurant Buildings, which promised 3 Health Points to any Kaiju who paused for a snack! 

I decided not to include any Fire or Rubble in the initial setup, since, contrary to the pre-painted apocalyptic art on the board, the city would be unsullied prior to the arrival of these behemoths. 

***

Gigan marched four spaces west past the first city block, pivoted and then clawed a four-story Building into ruins. Rodan turned north, waded through several predominant structures and then trundled back into the street, taking partial cover behind a highrise. The Big G himself meandered due south, pummeled a three-tier structure into ruins and then contemplated stomping a two-floor Building into oblivion. Later, King Ghidorah followed suit, heading due West to kick the bejesus out of another four-floor tenement.       


When all of the Player Action Rounds were over, we diced up a random Event and got "Electric Surge". As the only Kaiju currently standing ankle-deep in shredded Building, Gigan got shocked for four points of damage. Ouch!

 
Not long after, in a moment of cosmic balance, the military launched a devastating "Nuclear Strike" on the most destructive Kaiju at the time: Rodan.  After this attack rendered the entire southwest corner of the board completely valueless, the bat-like beast stumbled away from the fallout zone only to find himself dancing beak-to-beak with Rodan.

The hooked horror hadn't been idle. After annihilating a three-story structure he'd continued on in a westerly direction, attracted to the smell of fast food. After gobbling down the entire Restaurant and regaining three Health Points he looked up to see Rodan stumbling away from a mushroom cloud. Immediately the battle was joined!

On the other side of the board, Godzilla spied his three-headed rival in the distance and made a bee-line east, flattening a three-tier Building and a pair of two-level tenements in the process. Ghidrah responded by giving his arch nemesis the cold shoulder and smashing the asbestos out of yet another four-tier office Building.


From a more meta perspective, Matt did a considerably-better job collecting "Brace Yourself" and "Power Up!" cards, which could be used to shrug off harmful Events or deliver devastating attacks. In contrast, I tried to score Destruction Points as quickly as I could by going after the largest Buildings on the board.

Just as Rodan was about to get a hook through his half-melted face, the mutant pterosaur took wing, flew over Gigan's head and landed a few blocks away from King Ghidorah. After grabbing some Chinese (literally) and regaining three Health he met the colossal golden winged dragon head(s) on. That quick snack must have had a spinach-to-Popeye effect on Rodan since Monster Zero's attack got reversed, sending him tumbling back into the Pond he'd just waded through!

Meanwhile, in a surprising move, Godzilla changed course and charged at Gigan, thrashing a four-story Building en route. Picking up the gauntlet, Gigan kicked a two-level hotel out of his way and the two titans exchanged blows, with the alien Kaiju getting the edge in damage.


Still looking for a sneaky Destruction Point victory by picking on some more poor, defenseless Buildings, Ghidorah got to his feet and then took to the air, landing in the northern hemisphere of the map. Feeling jilted by his cowardly dance partner, Rodan cheered himself up by flying back mid-board to help his fair-weather friend Godzilla double-team Gigan. Together they whaled the fertilizer out of him, reducing him to 1 Health Point. If not for Matt's consistently low rolls and my timely "Defend" card play, Gigan would have been creamed right there on the spot.

  
But then, in what has to be one of the coolest, most thematic moments I've experienced in a board game recently, Matt played his "Power Up" Card and Godzilla blasted Gigan with his "Atomic Breath Ray" just as soon as he landed. Soundly trounced, Gigan beat a hasty retreat off the board, returning to Monster Island to lick his wounds and re-think his priorities in life. This scored Godzilla a ten-point Destruction Point bonus and snatched the initiative away from King Ghidorah.


But Ghidrah was still at full Health and perilously close to the 35 Destruction Point benchmark. Embracing a "no-more-duckin'-and-hidin'" philosophy,  Monster Zero took flight, pitching just a few spaces away from the grievously-wounded Godzilla. He then tried to claw his way through the intervening Building to get to his foe but despite his immense "Size And Strength" King Ghidorah just didn't have the juice to fly, crash through the Park and kick his way through the tenement.

'Zilla, on the other hand, had no trouble smashing through the same Building to maul his rival while Rodan displayed his ability to multitask by cheering and convalescing from the sidelines.


By succeeding where Ghidrah had failed, Godzilla snatched the momentum away from the tri-headed terror. On his very next turn, the King of the Monsters turned, smashed through the closest Building and collected just enough Destruction Points to score 36 and the big win!   


MATT WINS!!!

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Fuck you, I like the stackable Buildings. Just twist 'em ninety degrees and they work fine, ya dingus.
  • The expertly-painted figs are worth about forty bucks alone, IMHO.
  • The board is colorful and functional. Well, maybe a bit too colorful. See my related rant down below in the CONS section...
  • Except for the Info Cards and the Military counters (again, see below), the rest of the components are perfectly acceptable.
  • The Kaiju actually play quite different from one-another. Gigan deals a shit-ton of melee damage, Rodan is great with hit-and-run tactics, King Ghidorah trashes is real estate with ease and Godzilla is the total package: well-balanced in hand-to-hand combat, ranged attacks and demolition. The Special Abilities add even more to this.
  • I love, love, love the tense Advanced Combat Card mechanic. The random die roll and the Weak Point effects ensure that, like in any good wrestling match, reversals can happen anytime and attacks are never a sure thing.
  • Thematically the game works as a whole. Yes, we had to pause frequently to find and then decipher a specific rule but we just decided on a quick interpretation and then plunged ahead. If you're willing to do some homework, the game can be a huge blast.
CONS
  • As soon as crack open the game, just go ahead and burn the shitty photocopied pamphlet masquerading as a rulebook you'll find inside. Then print out and review the Second Edition of the rulebook post-haste. It isn't perfect but at least it'll give you a fighting chance to play the game. If you're one of those crazy people who thinks that a game should be playable right outta the box, then you need to avoid this one like a late-night showing of Godzilla's Revenge
  • Even armed with the newer rulebook, vagaries, inconsistencies and fiddly bits will continue to frustrate you. I'm still not convinced that we played huge chunks of the game properly. Here are a few things that we either forgot about, totally fucked up or had lingering questions about:    (1) During the Player Action round, we played it so that individual Kaiju take all of their available Actions and spend all of their Energy until they either tap out or pass. Although this didn't preclude reserving a small amount of Energy for defensive maneuvers, we didn't know that you can also use these remaining points to take offensive actions later in the Game-Turn if you can still afford to do so. (2) Since Attack Cards can only be used once during Combat, do "Size and Strength" Cards get used up when employed for Building destruction attempts? The way we played it, we'd spend the EP's to move into a Building space, then spend one EP to play "Size and Strength" and then roll to see if we actually destroyed it. If we failed, we just spent another EP to try again and again, so long as we had some points left. Which begs the question: can you move into Building spaces without destroying them? If so, are the Kaiku climbing around on those things like King freakin' Kong? Also, how does this relate to # 3 listed below? (3) Like so many other things, the Restaurant rules are annoyingly vague. Do you gain Health back if you destroy them or only if you successfully enter their space? Since I thought that Kaiju can't move into Building spaces unless they destroy them, I always assumed that Restaurants provide a one-time-only three Health Point bump to the monster that eats it. (4) I'm pretty sure that even Richard Berg himself couldn't get the Military movement and attack rules to work as written here. The Military should have its own separate turn, maybe  right before the Event Card phase, where unit's owners can move and then attack any enemy Kaiju within range. (5) Can you throw Military units at Military Units? Fucked if I know... (6) Can you trash Parks and Gardens? Whelp, they don't have a DP value so I assume no.
  • I have no idea why the city map looks pre-destroyed before the monsters show up. I'd much prefer a pristine, clear-looking map that you can customize with cardboard tiles to represent specialized Buildings or terrain.
  • All of the monster figs stand up perfectly thanks to their tripod tail action. Rodan, on the other hand, is an annoying fuck who keeps falling backwards on his ass like a frat boy on a free brewery tour. One day I'm just gonna snap and hot glue gun the clumsy fuck onto a plastic Blood Bowl base.  Then, of course, he won't fit back in the box.  Grrrrrrrrrr...
  • I know that the military is supposed to use camouflage, but in a board game when you're supposed to remember to use them, it's a giant pain in the knutz. The nondescript Tank and APC markers will blend into the board so much that I guarantee you'll end up forgetting about them constantly. Why weren't we given some cool-ass minis to represent the vehicles, too? Oh, right, they wanted to produce this game as cheaply as humanly possible. From here on in I'm gonna crib stuff from my Monsters Menace America game.    
  • If one player's Kaiju is consistently leading in Destruction Points, they can keep sniping the buyable cards, leading to a considerable advantage. Well, at least there's a two-card hand limit.  
  • The Info Cards look like they were designed by a six-year-old on a DMT bender using Microsoft Paint. 
  • The rules governing Tail destruction are also pretty chicken-or-the-egg. For example, do you have to table the "Size and Strength" Card on a voluntary Tail-related Building destruction attempt?
  • Even the Scenario details are wishy-washy. For example, in the "Monster Law" scenario, you're only supposed to collect "10 Destruction points for defeating a Kaiju" if you're playing with three or four players. Even though our game had only two players I applied this rule because we were using all four monsters. The set-up instructions for this and "The End of Tokyo" are also unnecessarily convoluted.   
***

I've wracked my brain as to why this game feels so slapdash. At first I thought it was because it was rushed out, but in one BGG forum thread Richard Berg told fans that it could likely be released as early as February 2011. It actually shipped four months later which seems to indicate that Richard thought that the game was done, at least from a design perspective. So what happened?

I think blame for the game's shortcomings rests solely on Toy Vault. After they cut Berg loose I think they tried to produce the game as cheaply as they could, which meant the inclusion of a bargain- basement rulebook and some cheeseball Military counters. This is a bloody shame since even a cursory glance at the forums on Board Game Geek shows that Berg is a super-passionate G-Fan and he really wanted people to like his game.

Well, Richard, I'm here to tell you that you needn't worry. The Second Edition rulebook clearly indicates that there's a great game in there somewhere just waiting to burst out. Personally, I plan on cobbling together my very own Third Edition rules sheet which will hopefully have me stomping cities with a song in my heart ad infinitum.

***

Out of the box, burdened by the original rule book, Godzilla: Kaiju World Wars scores only two pips out of six with a downward tilt into that Destoroyah foot-crater.


Armed with the Second Edition rulebook, the game jumps to three pips outta six, with a healthy tilt w-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-y up. Like at least a hundred meters up.

 
***

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