Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: Kobolds and Cobblestones- Osprey Wargame Series


The Osprey Wargame series has been one of my favorite sources of rules systems. They are typically a quick read and bring interesting mechanics and ideas to the table. The price point and length of the rules have introduced me to all sorts of interesting games. This in turn has spurred my own creativity and game design.

Today, we are going to take a look at Kobolds and Cobblestones. This is a game of Fantasy gang combat for control of the underworld of a cosmopolitan fantasy city. As I was thinking about the game, I was surprised to read their take that Kobolds are a form of lizard man style creature. I have been forever stained by the old Ad&D Monster Manual that had art showing them looking like little dog men. The idea of them being lizard-like frightened and confused me! However, I got over it.  It turns out I was the one completely out of the loop!  



This game does not have an design notes. However, I did read in the acknowledgments that the game was built by “making it up” as he went along with some of his gaming buddies. I like the spirit of this approach. Now let's take a closer look and see how it all hangs together.

Things I Liked
This game was very innovative when it came to its core mechanics. It did not go with the old movement stand-bys and instead did something very different. The main tool for movement in the game is a standard Poker card, using either the width or length to measure distance. This game uses no special equipment.

The game does not stop there. It then decided to fore go normal gaming conventions and use those same standard poker cards as the way to resolve opposed actions. I was expecting a draw mechanic like Malifaux. Instead, they went a different rout where you use cards in your hand to create opposed Poker hands, play blackjack, or do a simple card flip to determine the outcomes for melee, missiles, and magic. It was very creative solutions and a fresh approach. I would have preferred if it stuck to one approach instead of three, but there is no denying the creativity of the mechanics.

The game also has a clever Critical Hit mechanic, where the number of cards from an 'aligned” card color used in your combat hand can trigger an escalating series of events and special interactions. The critical hit mechanic flowed in easily and elegantly with the combat/magic rules.

Unlike other games, no gang is expected to be made-up of only the same race. Instead, race mixing is encouraged. I like that idea and allows you to use a selection of miniatures that you have on hand.

Things I Did Not Like
The game is very innovative with mechanic resolution. However, the core game play relies too much on existing card games for my taste. It is essentially playing no draw poker with minis. Once you get beyond the card interactions, the game has very little nuance beyond hand management and usage. For example, there is little benefit for tactical maneuver, morale, or command and control in the game. Thankfully, the Campaign rules force you to think of the meta a little to act as a Morale limitation.

The game could end up with a lot of table clutter, or off-board book keeping. Many models have multiple wounds. In addition, there are various effects from the critical hits that will impact models throughout the turn. Tracking the number of effects could be a turn-off for some players.

In addition, the game has certain “leaders” that you must use one of. I am not a fan of such “named Character” approaches to games and prefer to build my own characters that grow and build as a campaign progresses.

Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game uses three decks of Poker cards. One for each player's combat hands, and a third for an Event deck to help resolve non-combat event such as initiative, set-up, some magical effects, etc. In addition, you will want the Jokers as measuring tools, but not in the deck. This system uses alternating activation, and I think could scale well for more than one player at a time.

Gangs can choose not to spend all of their starting cash on members, and instead use them in game to bribe models, heal, siphon off magical energies and other little tricks and treats. Any many games, such excess cash at gang creation is simply lost or of no use in-game. This was a clever way to make use of it and force some more choice during list building.

As mentioned, the game comes with a campaign system which is a huge plus in my book! It covers the basics such as model death, recruiting new members, etc. Do not get to attached to your runts and thugs as they will die pretty fast. However, as you gain Notoriety, you use this as cash to “buy” new figures for the gang. Unlike a game like Necromunda or Mordheim, most of these gang members will be pretty disposable. This fits more of the Frostgrave model.

The game also comes with 8 scenarios. They also include optional objectives to increase the re-playability even further. These follow some standard tropes, but are well executed designs.  Plus, using the 2x2 board and the ability to Move/Dash you will get to the action quickly with these scenarios.

A note on the artwork. The book uses stand-alone character art similar to the Rogue Stars book. I like the style of the artwork as the gangs have a more Edwardian/Elizabethan vibe to them instead of a standard Medieval Fantasy style. I liked it. However, the way this artwork was used was unsatisfying to me due to the white space. In addition, the miniature pictures in the book were uninspiring to me as the palette did not pop enough. These are minor quibbles, as they are painted nicely and the city terrain is very cool. However, it just did not grab me.

Final Thoughts....
I was pleasantly surprised by the cleverness of the core mechanics, but I felt they were still just a bit wanting and a bit too light. Like many of the Osprey Wargame Series games, this would be a great short series of games for a club, or even a stand-alone Convention game for relatively new wargamers. I do not think it has the depth for longer campaigns or heavy rotation. However, I still found myself impressed with the rules and re-thinking the use of cards in my own designs again. To me, it was worth the read just for that and I can see myself giving it a go with my family.

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