Rise of Moloch is the second game in the World of SMOG, an alternate vision of Victorian London, a place where the dead act as cheap labour, Zeppelins fill the sky, and strange magical forces hover at the edges of perception. Rise of Moloch is a stand-alone game in which 1 player controls the agents and minions of the mysterious Moloch, whilst 1-4 others team up to control the brave Gentlemen of the Unicorn Club. The Unicorn is home to the finest men and women of Victorian London, intent on saving the realm from such nefarious threats. Will the Gentlemen successfully defend the empire? Or will Moloch rise, to the ruin of all? Is the game any good? Let’s find out.
Rise of Moloch – what’s in the box?
Rise of Moloch is a CMON game, meaning it comes with a good number of miniatures. I really liked the figures in this game, as both the hero/agent miniatures and the multiple copy minions were really well done.
The terrain tiles and overlays for the game are also good, with the basic boards offering a fairly generic landscape of rainy London, whilst smaller overlays provide buildings and other specific points of interest.
The whole game has a really strong steampunk aesthetic, and the graphic design draws the theme and mechanics together well. In addition to the miniatures, you have high-quality art, as well as loads of boards, cards, and tokens. As if all that wasn’t enough for you, it even comes in a box that can comfortably store all the components after the tokens have been punched, without needing to spend time/money on a new box insert. Overall, I couldn’t be much happier with the components than I am.
Sounds good. How does it play?
Rise of Moloch is a scenario-based Skirmish game. There are 6 “Chapters” in the base game, designed to be played as a campaign, although there are also rules for jumping into them on a stand-alone basis. (Technically there are 7 scenarios, but 2 are alternate versions of the finale, with the one chosen being determined by how the campaign has gone so far). The scenario book which comes in the box shows you which tiles and overlays to set up, where to place Gentlemen and Allies, and where to place Moloch’s Agents and Minions.
Objectives will vary from game-to-game, and the Moloch player will always be trying to do something directly opposed to the Gentlemen (note: despite the advertised “2-5” player-count, there are always 4 gentlemen, so you really want to play with 5 when introducing the game to new people). Sometimes 1 side will be trying to get a figure off of the map (or kill those who might block that figure), whilst the other side is trying to neutralise that figure or its escorts. In other chapters, players will have to collect objectives that are spread around the map.
I liked the scenarios which came with the game – they are all interesting, and really produce a different play experience, as you try to accomplish different objectives with otherwise similar tools. That said, if you play this lots, you might find that you want more than 6 chapters included, which would mean trying to track down an elusive expansion, or simply crafting your own.
I go, you go
Gentlemen and their Allies, as well as Agents and Minions are activated in alternating order, via an activation board – at the start of each round, players secretly decide in which order they want to activate their figures, placing their cards face-down in corresponding order. I really liked this, as it makes for some interesting decisions in terms of when you activate in the round, and ensures that there’s a fair amount of back-and-forth, rather than just having one player go first and wipe the other one out before they can get an attack in.
Defending the Realm: The Gentlemen
The heroes of Rise of Moloch are the Gentlemen of the Unicorn club (the term is not intended to be gender-specific). In the core box you get 1 for each of the 5 classes, and you will always pick 4 gentlemen for a game. More gentlemen are available in expansions, but you will never have more than one character from each class in play at once.
Characters in Rise of Moloch have 4 key stats: Agility, Punch, Trigger and Health – Agility points are spent to move, open doors, and pick things up. Punch denotes how many dice to roll when making a melee attack, and Trigger is how many dice you roll for a Ranged attack – although only if you have a suitable ranged weapon. Lastly, Health is the number of damage you can take before being neutralised.
Some of the upgrades available for “Monster” characters
Gentlemen are the most detailed of the various characters, with spaces to carry equipment, special abilities, and access to decks of upgrades. There are 5 upgrade decks, one for each class, meaning that each Arcanist, or each Monster will always have a common thread to their powers, even if they all have their own unique behaviour.
Rising: The Agents of Moloch
Moloch is an ancient and decidedly non-benevolent deity who has been sleeping for centuries. Now, however, a small group of the power-hungry or simply mad have decided to attempt to resurrect him. As the chapters progress, both sides will be vying for pieces of the coveted “Moloch Stone” artefact for the bonuses it provides.
Agents are double-sided, offering 2 versions of the power in the yellow box
His agents are sinister, larger than life characters, they have the same sets of stats as Gentlemen, often with a larger health pool, along with their own abilities, although they cannot use gear or equipment, and don’t get upgrades in the same way.
The Agents include a priestess who looks like she has just wandered in straight from the Pyramids, a pair of suspect-looking plague doctors, and a family of criminal circus freaks. Each is drawn and sculpted with character, and has their own unique abilities, with the players being able to choose between 2 different sides.
Easily overlooked, but crucial to the Nemesis cause, are minions – mostly zombies or clowns! With only 1 health, they die easily, but the minions are a crucial tool in the hands of the Nemesis player. Any character in Rise of Moloch who tries to move out of a space adjacent to an enemy figure (diagonally or orthogonally) takes 1 damage, meaning that careful position of minions can prove really powerful in controlling the board and the flow of the chapter.
Give us the tools, we’ll finish the job
I love the way that Rise of Moloch just drips theme, and the various goodies your gentleman can be kitted out with are a big part of that – each gentleman has space for 3 pieces of “Equipment” (usually weapons), but they can also take any amount of “Gear” – often single-use items to give a one-off benefit (cancel damage, make a free attack).
These weapons from the Royal Arsenal are a bit more powerful than the standard equipment you get
You need a ranged weapon to make a ranged attack, but there’s far more to the equipment in the game than that – anything from a finely crafted weapon to using a drain cover as improvised armour. “Gear” is an even looser category, including bottles of whisky or a self-propelled top-hat. With a bit of luck, one of your gentlemen might even find themselves in possession of a trusty hound.
Something in the Ether
Emma can always make a ranged attack as one of her actions, adding the +1 from her gun (1) to her basic Trigger stat of 4 (2). By spending 1 Ether (3) she can heal for each damage this attack deals, or for 2 Ether (4) she can make a whole extra attack!
Targets are Hits, Hats are Dodges (save vs a hit). Umbrellas are saves if you have cover. Crowns are Hits for the Nemesis and a choice between a Hit and an Ether for Gentlemen
Whilst your gentlemen will do a fine job of battling with their fists and the equipment they have managed to gather, sometimes more powerful abilities will be called for, truly stretching things to the limit. This is the moment when they will required to spend Ether, the games quasi-mystical currency.
Each gentleman starts with a limited amount of Ether, and can only replenish their supply under very limited circumstances (generally, when they roll a Crown on attack, they can choose between counting it as a Hit, or gaining an Ether), so they need to spend it wisely, but it can provide the boost needed for a vital breakthrough.
The Nemesis always has the 2 ‘basic’ powers, and adds others over the course of the campaign
As an added dimension, Rise of Moloch also has a feature called “The Price of Power” – every time a Gentleman spends Ether, he must give it to the Nemesis, who can then spend it to activate powers on their own cards – bonus activations for minions, drawing chaos cards (villainous events designed to disrupt the gentlemen), or even trigger remote attacks and spawning new minions. I loved the tension this created: again, it gives the gentlemen a real choice to make between triggering all of their powerful effects, and trying to starve the villain of resources.
The Intermission Board: each top-hat represents space for 1 Gentleman to visit that location
Whilst the scenarios themselves are good fun, a large part of the charm of Rise of Moloch, is the amount of scope you have for upgrading your character over the course of the campaign. Equipment you acquire stays with you, and after each chapter, there is a market phase where you can visit the club to learn a new upgrade, the market to buy some gear, or one of 3 locations chosen randomly from a deck which may offer a chance to gain some more powerful benefits.
The interesting trade-off, is that each of these locations has a number value: the more powerful the effect you can access, the higher the number. Before the next chapter, the Nemesis will get to spend points equal to the total value of these locations to give their agents and minions extra powers or stat-boosts for the upcoming chapter. This leads to some interesting tension within the ranks of the gentlemen as some individuals want to grab the best toys, whilst others want to deny the Nemesis access to these additional benefits.
Rise of Moloch: Final Thoughts
Moloch Agent Ira is about to eliminate the Damsel and win the scenario.
Not so fast! a heroic bobby leaps across the burning building to act as a human shield. The gentlemen fight on!
Rise of Moloch is a really fantastic game. Most of my past experience with 1-vs-many games has been disappointing: either they don’t balance well, or the down-time is too long. Rise of Moloch can be swingy, but we never felt like there was a scenario where only one side had a chance.
The theme in Rise of Moloch is brilliant, and it soaks through every aspect of the game. There is a good chunk of written lore included in the box, and it feels like this is just a window into a much larger world. The art is great, and the miniatures are even better.
Overall, the only real disappointment with Rise of Moloch is the lack of variety: only 5 heroes (with 4 used in every game) and only 7 chapters to a campaign. There are expansions out there, but none have yet received a retail release, so it’s mostly a case of hunting the secondary market. I’d also have liked the game to be scalable for a number of gentlemen other than 4, but it’s not too much trouble to control 2 at once, so the game is very manageable with 3.
Overall I’d give this 8.5/10 – great fun, but I wish it was easier to play with 2, and that there was more of it.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.