Anyone who ever spent a Saturday afternoon as a kid gleefully watching Godzilla or Gamera battle weird space dragons or giant robots while destroying the vital infrastructure of Japan has got to love the idea of Monsterpocalypse. We've played a bunch of games to see if the game lives up to the hype - and by "hype," we mean, "our fervent kaiju-loving desire for an awesome giant monster fighting game."
Privateer Press is new to the collectible gaming market, but they have a reputation for quality with their War Machine and Hordes miniatures games. The Monsterpocalypse minis are no different. The monsters are impressively large and solid, with some of the best paint jobs I've ever seen on a pre-painted mini. The smaller units (tanks, dinosaurs, UFOs, and so on) look great too, although they are not as detailed. The use of translucent colored plastics to accentuate the figures adds a lot. I particularly love the green tractor beams coming out of all the Martian Menace units. One caveat - two of four monsters in our two starter sets were damaged, but some superglue fixed them in seconds.
Game play uses an innovative action dice system that has you weighing your options with every turn. Choices are always a good to have in a game, and Monsterpocalypse makes you really feel in control of your force. You have to spend action dice each turn to move and attack with your figures. You can only use either your monster or your small units each turn, and the dice you use transfer to the other "pool" when you use them. If you're taking a monster turn, the dice you roll when he attacks go over to the unit pool. If you want to take two monster turns in a row, you'll need to conserve some dice in the monster pool.
The interaction between monsters and units seems simple at first: monsters obliterate everything in their paths, and single units can't even hit a monster. However, you can team up groups of units and actually damage the monsters (a tactic my wife uses to great effect). There are also numerous points on the map that have strategic importance. Power zones, spawn points and buildings can be controlled by your units and give you certain advantages.
The most important advantage is the chance to earn power dice. Only monsters use power dice, and they can be spent to boost attacks, to perform special power attacks, or to change into your monster's hyper form. Power attacks are sweet. There's nothing quite so fun as body slamming your opponent's monster into an apartment building, or throwing him halfway across the map so that he lands on (and destroys) three of his own units. Hyper form is an interesting mechanic that I'm not totally sold on. By spending some power dice, your monster transforms into a more powerful version. You switch the figure on the map with the hyper form figure, which is cast entirely in translucent colored plastic. Both the basic and hyper forms must be defeated to end the game. Starters and boosters come with "ultra" hyper forms. There are also limited edition hyper forms known as "mega" hyper forms. These are obtained through mail-in offers or as convention exclusives, and they can be won by playing in official tournaments at your local game store. Update: I talked with the folks at Privateer, and they explained that they've gone to great lengths to ensure that mega forms are not necessarily any better than ultra forms. They will have a different mix of abilities and stats, so they will offer flexibility when building a team, but not an unfair advantage.
The starter boxes come with a double-sided map, all the dice you need, a random monster (plus corresponding hyper form), some buildings and a handful of random units. Different building placement means each game will be very different even on the same map. Different buildings have different effects. For example, if you destroy the nuclear power plant, a radioactive hazard zone is left in its place instead of just rubble. Some buildings give bonuses to certain factions for controlling or destroying them. Having more buildings to put on the map definitely makes for a more interesting game. If there's one major flaw with this game, it's the way the figures are purchased. I know some of you absolutely hate collectible games of any kind, and Privateer's methods here are not going to change your mind. In addition to starters, you can buy monster boosters or building/unit boosters. A monster booster includes a single random monster and his hyper form. That's fine when you're starting out, but if you're looking for a certain monster or faction, or just trying to avoid doubles, you can spend more than $10 for a booster and get something you have no use for at all. There's no advantage to having doubles of monsters (other than trading), and with nothing else in the pack to soften the blow, you can really end up feeling like you wasted your money. Building boosters suffer somewhat from the same problem, but having double buildings isn't bad, and you get a bunch of units too. Since there's no difference in rarity between the monsters, I see no reason for Privateer not to sell them non-randomly. Pick your faction, buy your monsters, and then collect units and buildings through random boosters. That would make a lot more sense to me. Ultimately, though, Monsterpocalypse is a blast to play. The monsters and buildings look awesome, and there's a lot of strategic and tactical depth to explore as you learn all your units' abilities. Grab a friend, buy some starters, and while away an afternoon stomping cities into rubble.