I got to sit down and try out Osprey’s new Kobolds and Cobblestones game this weekend and I wanted to do a quick review. Just a warning, I didn’t like it. And that’s unfortunate, because I really wanted to like it.
Osprey has been putting out some awesome little “bring your own minis” rulebooks lately. Frostgrave is easily the best known of these and a personal favorite (I’ve got 7 plays in the first quarter of this year). But nearly all of these games have been winners. Gaslands is essentially Car Wars with matchbox cars and rules that don’t require CPA certification to apply. Dracula’s America has a great theme and a quick execution. Rogue Stars is the game you want when you’re trying to figure out how to play BSG as a miniatures game (or Star Wars or Star Trek or Deep Space 9…). And I’m super-excited for Ash Barker’s new zombies with a Necromunda spin, Last Days. In short, I love this series.
But wow. This game left my gaming partner and I totally deflated. Conceptually, it’s great! You take a gang of fantasy creatures in a crime-ridden seaport city to the streets in scenario-based battles! It’s got campaign play with character growth (and death)! And you don’t need dice or rulers! You use playing cards for measurement and for combat!
And here’s where things run off the rails. Let’s be clear, I like card-based games – I play Malifaux nearly once a week. But this system just falls flat. In the K&C system, you compare poker hands to determine who succeeds in a battle. If the attacker succeeds, he may do damage (though more often, a stun result is generated). If the defender succeeds, he doesn’t take damage. This mechanism suffers in two places. First, poker doesn’t really give that much range in terms of one hand being better than another (it’s essentially 10 levels). Given your hand size in the game is 5 + the leadership of the boss (typically 1), you’re building your poker hand from a pool of 6 cards. But wait! You don’t get to use all those cards! You can only use as many cards as the fight value of you the model attacking (with modifiers for ganging up). So for a model with a fight of 3, your best possible hand is 3 of a kind (or level 4 in this system). Your far more common result will be a pair. Here’s where it breaks down. As long as the defender plays a card of higher value than the pair, the difference is 1 (level 2 – level 1), which is a stunned result with no damage.
To say that combat dragged on is an understatement. It just never ended. So we started using actions to discard cards from our hand to try to set up kill hands. After about 20 minutes of this, we realized we were really playing some degenerate form of poker, not a miniature game.
There are other elements that weren’t great. Miniature movement often felt a bit klunky and the campaign system is really more of a tack-on than a full-fledged system. What kills us about this game is that its totally salvageable. A few tweaks to combat, and I think this game will be awesome with lots of great flavor. As is, its one that we’re not eager to pull out again anytime soon.