Monday, September 22, 2014

Quick Review - Monsters Menace America

Monsters Menace America
Designers: J. C. Connors & Ben Knight
Publisher: Avalon Hill
Quick Review - Monsters Menace America
We actually played one and a half games of Monsters Menace America.  Two weeks ago we met at a friend's house to play, but we ended up running out of time and weren't able to finish the game.  So on Friday we met again and decided to give the game another try.  The first game went very slowly as each of us tried to figure out the rules (they're a bit confusing at points), juggled various military and monster strengths and weaknesses, and figured out what kind of a strategy you should use when playing two sides at once.  The second game went much quicker, although there was still a bit of confusion at times determining how battles should resolve.

Monsters Menace America is a heavily thematic war game.  The premise is that a number of large B-movie type monsters (think King Kong or Godzilla) are attacking America.  The military is out to protect the nation's cities and valued locations, but they are no match for the destructive forces of the mutant creatures rampaging across the nation.  Eventually the monsters get bored and turn on each other.

Each player in the game gets to control both a monster and a branch of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines).  National Guard units are also available for all players to use.  The goal is to use your military units to protect locations and thwart the destructive tendencies of your opponents monsters while you let your monster stomp as many locations as possible.  Monsters gain health points by stomping locations and lose health when they come into conflict with the military.  Monsters can also earn Infamy tokens for destroying famous places (like Graceland, or Fort Knox) and can get Mutation cards that give them special powers when they visit locations like Three Mile Island.  Military units can be deployed in military bases or players can choose to conduct Military Research to gain special powers for their military, or in some cases special weapons like giant robot soldiers.

The theme of the game is a lot of fun.  The monsters ravaging American cities is a blast.  But aside from that the game has a lot of flaws. The military felt grossly under-powered at times, especially in the first game we started - by the second game we had developed a bit of strategy that made the military a little more effective, but only slightly more so.  Usually monsters could pretty easily avoid many military confrontations, so the military was more of a nuisance than any kind of strategic tool.  The military did have a greater effect toward the end of the second game (when my monster got cornered and attacked by two players repeatedly), but because all battles are decided by dice rolls it felt like there was way too  much luck in the outcome of the battles.  Nearly every battle started with the monster wiping out all or almost all attackers in the first round of battle, except when it was my turn.  My dice rolling was so awful that my military couldn't complete any significant attacks and my monster couldn't defend against anything.  So even though I had a good strategic location, and positioned my military in ways that should have been effective, it was all wiped out just because of the dice rolls.

And then there's the end game...  Once all the Stomp Markers are placed, indicating that 23 locations have been stomped, the Monster Challenge begins.  In the Monster Challenge the monsters stop fighting the military and start fighting each other.  What this basically amounts to is even worse than a dice roll off though.  The challenging monster chooses another monster to challenge.  Then the challenger gets to roll to attack three times.  Then the challenger can trade in infamy tokens earned throughout the course of the rest of the game for additional attacks.  Each attack does damage if the die roll is greater than the defenders Defense value.  Once the challenger is finished rolling dice, if the defender has any remaining Health Points he gets to take his turn rolling dice until his Infamy Tokens run out.

One of the problems with this mechanic is that the defender may never get a chance to defend against an attack.  If the attacker gets lucky and rolls a number of high dice rolls, especially if she's collected a few Infamy Tokens, she can completely wipe out the defender, despite the defender's strength or number of Infamy Tokens.

Another problem is that it's really pretty boring.  All it amounts to is rolling dice to see if you take any Health Points off of your opponent or not.  There's no real strategy or decision making involved.  You basically roll until you have either killed your opponent or have run out of Infamy Tokens.  This gives the last player to be challenged a distinct advantage because chances are they are 1) the strongest player anyway, and 2) still have a number of Infamy Tokens left.  There is very little difference between this end game mechanic and that of Mouse Trap (see my earlier review), which is a bit disappointing considering the different target players.

Overall I found the game disappointing.  The theme is great, and the main gameplay is bordering on good.  But the end game is very disappointing and the entire game brought way too much luck into the battles to make strategy very important.  I think a few changes in the game mechanics, especially in the Monster Challenge, could make the game much more fun.  Maybe a few more military units for each player, and a tweaked battle mechanic would give the main part of the game more strategy, even with the dice rolls to determine battle outcome.  And the end game would be much better if the battles were more balanced.  Maybe only allow one Infamy Token to be used per round of the battle, or use the Infamy Tokens as dice roll modifiers or something, but the way it works now is just tedious, random, and no fun.

So would I play this again?  Not without some major overhauls on the rules.  But the game theme is pretty awesome, so if someone said they had a variant they'd like to try I'd be up for it.

Preliminary Rating: 5/10

Zorb (the giant eyeball) is in the south, Megaclaw (the crab monster) is in the Pacific Northwest, and my monster, Toxicore (he's purple, and slimy, and has three eyes) is in New England.

Toxicore is surrounded and that ended up being his downfall.

Our first game went very slowly with a variety of confusing rules to learn.  The second game went a bit quicker.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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