You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Creating a board game is difficult. If you announce a game for 2-4 players, then within a day, people on Board Game Geek will be discussing a solo variant- or a way to expand for up to 5. If you make it competitive, someone will want a cooperative version. Make it co-op, and someone will re-work it for head-to-head. Automate any major process and there’s bound to be someone out there who wants to take control and play it themselves.
Ultimately, designers have to draw the line, make their decisions and stick to them. A game simply can’t be all things to all people.
Unfortunately, it feels a lot like Krosmaster Quest is trying to do just that. It’s a head-to-head game that’s also co-operative. Players control characters called Krosmasters in an environment directed by an all-seeing “Demon” who is controlled by one player – or by all the players taking turns. It’s a combat-based game about KO-ing opponents, apart from when it’s also an adventure game full of crafting and buying.
Obviously, there are lots of games out there which are complex, and combine these elements, but in Krosmaster Quest it seems that the different aspects of gameplay can be slotted in and out at will, and the overall experience is a bit like turning a small child loose at a pick-and-mix stand. Yes there’s a lot of goodies, but you know you’ll just end up feeling sick.
What’s in the box? More than fits!
Opening up Krosmaster Quest it’s clear you’ve got plenty of bang for your buck. There are 5 miniatures for player-controlled Krosmasters, 2 miniatures for boss “Mobs” (enemies / monsters), a stack of cardboard scenery pieces, hundreds of tokens, boards to keep track of your character, various locations, and stacks of cards providing quests, references and more.
In fact Krosmaster Quest has so much in the box that it doesn’t really all fit. There are two nice-quality storage trays for keeping all the little pieces organised, but these feel very generic, and it’s largely trial-and-error for HOW you organise the components, rather than feeling any sense of having been custom-made, or in any way designed specifically for Krosmaster Quest (they actually have photos on their Facebook page sharing different approaches people have taken to using the storage trays).
The player dashboards have various card-board covers which you have to punch out the first time you use them, but you’ll then need to find an alternative way of storing them as they don’t just slot back in: most of them can be more-or-less wedged into place, but they’re likely to pop out at a moment’s notice. Some people have also recommended gluing the cardboard scenery pieces together, as some are a little flimsy, but you need to dismantle at least some of the components (I tend to go for the trees, as they are both fairly simple and take up a lot more room when assembled) in order to fit everything back in the box.
What are we doing? Where do we begin?
Krosmaster Quest comes with a large rulebook, and a much smaller scenario booklet. It recommends that, rather than wade through the rules first thing, you begin with the scenarios, picking your way through a handful of tutorials, which begin very short and simple and gradually develop complexity. The problem with this is that it doesn’t explain how some of the most basic concepts work (for example the custom dice which come with Krosmaster Quest: 2 of the faces are more-or-less “wild” faces that allow you to change it to a different side, which massively changes the results of what you roll – that information just isn’t in the scenario booklet).
Krosmaster Quest comes with A LOT of cards – there’s a glossary in the main rule-book, but it’s incomplete, and at various points the scenario set-up will call for a card which (apparently) doesn’t exist – leaving you to make a best guess as to which card they mean. Even when you do have the right card, it’s not always immediately obvious what it means.
A final problem with the Tutorial route, is that it makes so many changes to the game set-up in order to simplify things that once you get to playing a “normal” scenario you have no real notion of how much of your character’s board should be covered, what things you start with, or how the terrain is set up.
Krosmaster Quest: What’s the theme?
As noted above, Krosmaster Quest is set in the fictional “Krosmos.” The Krosmasters the players control have been captured by Demons and are trying to prove their greatness in an attempt to win their freedom. During the course of a game, aside from other Krosmasters, you will battle against “Tofus” and “Gobbals” (very, very loosely, these seem to be a bit like variants on birds and sheep respectively) and when you defeat them, you gain resources to use (feathers or beaks from Tofus, wool from Gobbals). For some reason, the beaks in particular I found rather jarring, although corpse-looting is a well-established aspect of computer games like this.
Everything in Krosmaster Quest is very colourful, even cartoonish, and you can see the Japanese influence in the art style. The minis are all pre-painted, and done to a high standard, although it’s a bit garish for me. Some games come with their own new theme, and do a great job of drawing you into their world, this one seems to just assume that you’re engaged already.
I also want to say that I feel like this sort of blend of activities – mixing exploration, combat, crafting and equipping items, trading resources – works better in a Computer Game than a Board Game, and that this probably contributed to everything feeling a little bit off.
Does Krosmaster Quest work? Maybe?
For all the confusion around overall objectives, a lot of the mechanics underlying Krosmaster Quest seem to be quite sound. Once you get the hang of how things work, a lot of the terminology and iconography makes sense, and some of the many, many components actually become fairly easy to keep track of. The mechanics they have brought in for crafting and trading are quite neat and fairly sensible (this isn’t one of those computer games where you can carry 3 tons of rock or a motor car in your backpack).
Each turn in Krosmaster Quest, you have a number of action points, and one option for what to do with these, is to spend them turning a nearby tree or ore vein into wood or metal. Equally, when you destroy monsters, you can harvest their wool, feathers, or whatever else they leave behind. These resources are stored in your backpack, until you go to a “market” scenery piece to sell them, or to a crafting table, where they can be converted into armour or other equipment to make your Krosmaster more powerful.
The options for what equipment can be crafted are set by a number of tiles pulled at random from the box at the beginning of each game: every one of them has the resource cost for crafting on the back, and the benefit when equipped on the front, making it fairly quick and easy to remember what they do.
That said, I don’t want to give the impression that everything in Krosmaster Quest is straightforward. The Krosmasters who come with the game all have oddities to their individual abilities, and it tends to require a dig around the internet before you can even get close to understanding what’s going on. Krosmaster Quest doesn’t seem to have a particularly active online community, so if you post a question on somewhere like a Board Game Geek rules forum, you might have to wait a fair while for a response, if you get one at all.
In this example, Ktsu Mi can gain GG by killing the 2 pictured Tofus, or by visiting the series of terrain features on the left-hand card, in order.
On top of all this, I think the biggest problem with Krosmaster Quest is its overall lack of focus. In head-to-head mode, you win by gaining GG (Gallons of Glory), but they way to get those GG can be any mixture of killing monsters, completing quests (which might require you to harvest certain materials or visit particular places), or even just by paying cash. You do have the opportunity to attack other Krosmasters, but Krosmaster Quest feels skewed in favour of the defender, so you can probably get a long way by ignoring the enemy who is attacking you, and building yourself a big weapon whilst they waste their turns failing to KO you.
If you play Krosmaster Quest in cooperative mode, you’re more likely to be given a clear objective like taking down a boss monster, although lots of scenarios still only end when one of the Krosmasters manages to gain the required amount of GG. The only real difference about co-op mode in this case is that everybody wins at that point, not just them. It’s also worth sparing a thought for the player controlling the Demon whose only hope for victory is to reduce all players to zero GG, or run the clock down (if that scenario has one).
The scenarios where you have to take down a boss monster definitely felt more engaging – there was a clear end goal in sight, and any time spent wandering the map, harvesting resources and getting kitted out felt like a coherent part of a long-term plan: tooling up for the final battle. Where Krosmaster Quest fell flat for us, was during the many scenarios with more abstract win conditions – like the one where you gain GG for shearing
sheep… sorry, “Gobballs”.
I think the all-over-the-place nature of Krosmaster Quest also makes it a difficult one to introduce to new players. Once you’ve played this enough times, you’ll probably be able to get your head around when you need to fight and when you need to farm or craft, but introducing Krosmaster Quest to a new player will put you back to square 1 as you present them with a bewildering array of options. In competitive mode, that’s just going to lead to you crushing them, whilst Co-op mode seems doomed to a particularly bad case of alpha-player syndrome.
So who is Krosmaster Quest for? The fans!
Krosmaster Quest is only the latest in a series of products set in the “Krosmos” and the box comes with several bits of paper encouraging you to collect the full set of products. The chances are that a lot of people out there who already have a selection of Krosmasters, have played Krosmaster Arena, and have been looking for a game with more scope: something which allows them to get out and explore the world, form alliances and battle for loot will find Krosmaster Quest well worth it. It certainly offers a wealth of possibilities, and all kinds of different directions that they can take their ideas in, the fact that they will already have mastered the combat aspect from other games in the series will also take away a lot of ambiguity in the rulebooks.
For me though, with no prior investment in this world, it just felt too vague: I never really felt like I knew what I was doing – or more importantly WHY I was doing it -instead, it felt a bit like aimless wandering, and by the time I’d finally figured out the mechanics, I’d lost interest in the theme to the point where I didn’t want to just wander round a map picking things up without a clear end goal in sight.
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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.