Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Review: Dwarf Kings Hold (Dead Rising)

A few days back I made a post about my love of board games.Well I decided to go out and do something about it, I've pre-ordered the Gears of War from OG Games and am really looking forward to getting my hands on it when it is finally released around Septemberish. However along with the other games I was keeping an eye on Kingdom Death and Super Dungeon Explore they're not out now and that's left me twiddling my thumbs somewhat, but there is currently a dungeon crawler of sorts out for you  to purchase right now and that's Mantic Games Dwarf Kings Hold. So I placed an order with Mantic on a Friday evening and on the Tuesday, after the bank holiday Monday, I had a nice new shiny box. I have to be honest and say this game had a hell of a lot to live up to for me because I used to pay things like this as a kid with my dad and I'm sure the rose tinted nostalgia glasses have elevated what were quite poor games into paragons of gaming excellence bar none. It was games very much like this that I first cut my teeth and that got me into this hobby in the first place. A lot to live up to then...

Product Description

It came in a box, with some artwork on it!!! The box isn't the shiny, shiny top of the line cardboard box you get with say a Fantasy Flight Game or Wizards of the Coast product, and to be fair the game isn't aimed at the same 'production values'. Nope the box does its job just fine and the art work does its job too, bringing back memories of 80's cartoon Dungeons and Dragons with the Eye of the Beholder and its single animation, ah good times, first nostalgia points. Inside the box you get a few plastic spru's containing 22 Skeletons, at least I think that's how many I counted and 7 Dwarfs, oh yeah and a dog. There is a load of card tiles and all the dice you'll need to play, in a lovely shade of green that brought memories of the original first edition Warhammer Fantasy dice, ah happy memories came flooding back, nostalgia points for that too! There's also a little black book (no not that type you dirty, dirty people) that contains the rules, nothing flashy just a nice quality functional book again designed at keeping the cost down.

The game itself is actually quite a concise little set of rules. As you'd expect from a grid tiled board game, movement and facing play a huge part in the balance of the game as does use of orders as the various scenarios limit such things to either side, that's called resource management kiddy winks and is something you'll need in later life when the bank managers on the phone and the bailiffs are at your door! Onto the scenarios, there are 6 in all and as you'd expect they range from the easy to learn intro game right the way up to the mammoth veteran slog fest. However I'd be a big fat liar if I said I'd played them all, although the ones I have played I found fun to play and it doesn't take too long to play through a game so I think its more than possible to rip through 3 or 4 games in an evening after work. I also think the more adventurous and experimental of us (no sniggering at the back) might be able to come up with our own scenarios, no not with whips, handcuffs and pony tails, what the hell is wrong with you people!!!

Gameplay 8 out of 10

Right first things first this game is deceptively simple at first glance. I don't mean there are hidden rules designed to catch you out and make you look like a fool... oh no, what I mean is that it's a brutally simple game to play as the rules are quite straight forward and easy to understand. You can read through them no problem in about an hour and know what the rules are no problem. However its not that simple a game in practice, it has layers... many layers, like a San Franciscan bohemian hippies outfit!!! On the one hand its a really simple and easy game to learn, but on the other the tactical depth the game offers after multiple play throughs is as deep as Franz Kafka in a very deep hole, yeah that is deep. However it remains a fun and engaging experience throughout. 

Detail 8 out of 10

I've been told by many people that the Mantic miniatures are... well crap. I'm not too sure whether I personally have low standards or the people I've spoken too have very high standards, but they're anything but crap! The undead are actually really, really nice models and would stand up well, I personally feel against any other companies plastic skellies and I love skellies as I used to paint them by the bucket load as a kid. This was because I hit on a really nice way of painting rusted armor and bone that made my miniatures look far better than my technique actually was... so there's some more nostalgia points! The Dwarfs aren't too bad either, I can see what some people are saying about the size of them when compared with the elves (which I saw the other day) but next to the Skellies they look about right and I quite like the look of them and for detail and quality they stand up to other companies plastic Dwarfs just fine and I should know I have a sizable Dwarf army.

The card floor tiles are functional and well designed. They have your typical dungeon tile artwork on them but unlike some boards I've seen recently the artwork is consistent and has its own unique little style that reminds me an awful lot of the airbrushed artwork I used to see in things like Dragon Magazine in the 80's you know female warriors with... erm... huge assets crammed into a metal bra... tin cans if you will, wizards with big floppy... hats (had you going) and gold stars on them, what I'm trying to say here is that the product wins even more nostalgia points. The rulebook is a small and simple affair that is there to just give you the rules, its a no thrills black and white affair which is a bit of a shame, but colour pages cost, as does commissioning artwork and realistically I'm not too sure how much such details would add to the package as a whole.

There are however two points where I think the product could be improved 1) Assembly guide for the mini's... OK so they're not hard but my stand in child for the day (the other half) came out in hives at the thought of putting them together without instructions and 2) bases. The figures come on little round stands but if you have hyperactive pets and they knock the table they'll come crashing down and you might find it hard to remember where everything was, which as I'm sure you can understand is a tad annoying. However these are minor gripes and if you have 4 Maine Coon cats like I do then I suggest you shut them out of the room before proceeding with a game, because they do so love nicking off with skellies (I'm looking at you Tybalt)

Quality 7 out 10

This score is dragged up to 7 out of 10 because of the quality of the rules and the miniatures contained within. The tiles are not the best, thickest, shiniest card pieces on the market, say like the current Talisman board or if you've not seen those the recent re-release of Space Hulk. However as a design element Mantic have been wise enough to realise this and so haven't gone for the usual 'jig saw' join of other similar products and you just place the tiles next to each other. The genius in this is that actually they might be less likely to get dog earned and damaged through use than all those expensive tiles, again showing the attention to detail put into the product to keep the price down, and ensure that lower production value doesn't harm the final product, I'm sure others have done it, but still. Nicely done.

Service 9 out of 10

Well what can I say? Ordered on a Friday night over the bank holiday weekend and arrived the following Tuesday, the first day that it could have. It was well packaged and not damaged. Is there really anything more to add? Oh yeah there is!!! They also package in with the game a spru of Mantics new and utterly brilliant looking Orcs, I know its a sales and marketing ploy, that they're currently using, but seriously it was a nice touch and actually looking at them, I'm super impressed with them. So much so that they might just tempt me into getting a Kings of War Orc army... damn you Ronnie, damn you!!! Shame I just don't have the cash to splash right now or I would.

Price 10 out of 10

Now this is a really rare thing for me. As most people who know me will attest, while I have no problem parting with my cash, in fact I'm sure my much better half would sometimes wish I wasn't so easily parted with it; but it's rare that I think anything I buy is bang on fantastic, couldn't get better value for money if you tried... but I'm giving this a 10 out of 10. Why? Because Jake Thornton has done a great job writing a fun little Dungeon Crawler that evokes memories of past classics, with quick accessible game mechanic of its own that just makes me smile. I don't have kids but this game makes me wish I did so I could force them kicking and screaming into the hobby like my dad did to me all those years ago. Also combined with the more than just functional miniatures and the nice artwork on those floor tiles all for £34.99 I'm not too sure what's to grumble about! Its a fantastic little game in a box at a really reasonable price, and that I guess is what Mantic Games is all about.

Overall 9 out of 10

I have yet to play many other new board games (and if anyone out there has any good ones do let me know in the comments), but honestly I'm not too sure many will be as much fun as this. I'm sure there are other games out there with way more complex rules and needing all sorts of different dice from D6 all the way up to D100's but will they be as quick and entertaining? This evoked all the memories I had of being a kid playing game after game with friends and family, rattling through them in an afternoon or evening. If you have young kids and want to introduce them too the hobby lets be clear about this their aren't actually any wargames currently on the market that allow you to slowly introduce the concept of miniature gaming to them; board games like this used to do that job and I can see Dwarf Kings Hold doing it again for another generation and at a very reasonable price. I don't know if its the sort of board game I'd want to play all the time, but if I'm tired and the TV is looking like there's nothing but rubbish on then I can see me cracking this out and sitting down and actually having a little quality game time with she who must be obeyed... perhaps we should get cracking on those kids so I can have more opponents. Peace out!


  1. Nice review - I looked at Kings Hold, but ended up getting the DnD Ravenloft game - better quality components and co-op play.

    Btw, the Gears of War game is looking IMMENSE.

  2. @Vladdd309 haven't looked at getting any of the D&D board games yet, so I wouldn't know what sort of price I'm looking at, although from what I remember its about £10 more. Also been told by a friend that the Tiles any better in terms of card quality than DKH. I also think the DKH is probably aimed at a slightly different market, as it'll be less complex quicker and maybe just meant as a purely fun game, not to be taken seriously at all for just two people. I might pick up Ravenloft though to see what its like. Cheers for the heads up!!!

  3. Ps. Gears is looking fantastic!!! More excited about the board game than I am the 360 game... man I need to get out more, I'm starting to look anemic.

  4. I have a friend who used to work for WoTC, they're local to my hometown after all, and he got his hands on all kinds of D&D stuff, RavenLoft included....So much fun.
    I've only heard good things about Mantic....well aside from Goat Child's horrific reviews, which pain me deeply. *sigh* Other matter though..
    If Mantic can produce something that will pull me away from my other games, more power to them.
    This one looks and sounds great.
    I almost want to curse your name for expanding my gaming budget.
    Still, more fun, is, well, more fun.

  5. Sorry Relic, my disease is catching mate. Its spread to half of the gaming population of the West Midlands, here in the UK. Its worse than the common cold.

    Who the hell is this 'Goat Child' you speak of? I think Mantic are doing some interesting things and their business strategy isn't a bad one. They do however need people to actually start playing Kings of War. I'm considering getting some Orcs for KoW but I'm soooo broke its unbelievable.

  6. Hi FG, thanks for the review. I'd be interested to hear your comments after you've played some more. One of the things about the rules is that the tactical ramifications of them can be quite involved, even though the rules themselves are very simple. This tends to become increasingly apparent with repeated play. That is, in turn, partly why I've designed it so that you can play the same scenarios repeatedly without them getting too stale, swapping sides or trying out new tactics as you go.



  7. Hi Jake, no thank you for writing an entertaining game. Well it must be entertaining as the other half has asked if we can have a few games when she gets back from London tomorrow night.

    I'll do a second look after I've had a chance to play it a fair few times if you like. I have no doubt there's a level of tactical depth to the game I've yet to see, but what I have seen so far I really like. Cheers

  8. Sounds promising if your other half is asking for a game. An accolade indeed :o)

    All the best, Jake

  9. First of all, 4 Maine Coon cats?! Are you not worried they are going to gang up on you, trap you in a corner and you will never be seen or heard from again!? :)

    I've been looking for a straightforward but fun game to get my fiance into, this might well be it. You are absolutely right that the industry needs this kind of game to get new players, and especially youngsters into the hobby.

    Thanks for the review!

  10. @Pacific the cats already run the fecking house as it is, its not my home anymore its their hotel. Somebody said that Tybs in the picture doesn't look that big, but what they don't realise is he's in front of a 42" TV and is all hunched up... and he's not fully grown!!! My other half really enjoyed the game and it is fun. I have a few mates who want to give it a go as well. The industry really does need to look at its entry points for youngsters, especially when you consider the recession we're all currently in.

    @Jake, yeah I was as surprised as you were, she's shown a slight interest in Anima because of her love of JRPGs but nothing concrete yet. Also likes the idea of Malifaux and thinks the Infinity Miniatures are awesome but getting her to cross the line and actually play a full on wargame has been tough. So pleasantly surprised she's taken a shine to DKH, perhaps I can use it as the thin end of the wedge so to speak to get her more interested.

  11. In terms of getting her to play miniature games, Anima has the advantage that it's a very small game (in terms of numbers). At the risk of stereotyping her, you could also try something that's 'cuter'. Twilight springs to mind as something I always liked the look of (though haven't played) and is more twee than the normal fantasy stuff. If she likes trad Japanese stuff there's the new game called Bushido which I just bought into and looks lovely (though I'm too busy to have got it on the table in the few days I've owned a copy). They were at the Expo so you may have seen them there. Naturally I have my own projects on that might fit the bill, but I can't talk about those ;)

  12. Forgot to say, the starter sets for Bushido are 5-7 models (depending on faction) they told me that the "sweet spot" in terms of game size was about 2-3 models more per side. Again, fairly small.

  13. Cheers Jake, I've had a few people PM me asking where they can get hold of a copy of DKH as it appears to be sold out everywhere (congratulations) and on the Mantic site its saying its available for pre-order only and you know what impatient sods us gamers are. Don't suppose you know of anywhere hording a stockpile do you?

  14. I'm afraid not FG. There were near fisticuffs over the last copy at the Mantic warehouse :P

    I saw that Wayland stocked it, but I don't really follow that end of the business. I do know that it's being reprinted at the same time DKH2 is being done, so they should both become available at the same time (July IIRC). So not long to wait really :)

    At least it is being reprinted. Lost Patrol (which I wrote for GW) never had that much luck :(

  15. wow lost patrol, I'd forgotten about that. Still its good DKH is being reprinted as I've had a total of 13 (the unlucky number!!!) ask where they can get it from.

    Also had someone PM and remind me of a discussion of Bushido on the Infinity boards that I'd totally forgotten about, might be worth a look and keeping an eye on:

    Not saying the accusations in it are in any way true but its one I'll follow before taking the plunge. I can't stand plagiarism, and if the accusations are true and are found to be held up by a court, then I'll be glad I steered clear. Either way though I've got more than enough games to be going on with at the moment.

  16. Just read that thread, and read their rules too. Now I've not seen the angry bloke's rules, but he admits that he's not played many games. I don't know either way as I've not seen the evidence, but it sounds to me like Bushido have a clear case for libel if he's wrong, so he'd better be right, for his sake. If I had to guess, based on over 35 years of playing, writing and working with games, I'd guess he was wrong. This sort of accusation is far from uncommon, and it is almost never true when examined in detail. Of course, this may be one of the exceptions. However, in my experience what is generally the case is that inexperienced writers do not realise how few mechanics there are, and how few ways there are of clearly expressing them. Only last weekend at the game Expo I had someone explain a new game to me that uses exactly the same slightly obscure mechanic that I have in an 90% complete, but entirely unpublicised game. Now neither of us had ever heard of the other, but if I bring that out now what will people say? Did I copy him? No, of course not. So what should I do?

    Put this another way. Let's say I have a game in which one model can charge another. Let's say I think that charges should be in a straight line because you're running flat out. How many different ways can I say "a model must charge in a straight line"? If I find that exact wording in two different games does it mean that one copied the other?

    Time will tell whether this is plagiarism, libel or random flaming. I do not doubt the sincerity or anger of the rather rude poster. However, as he doesn't seem to provide any evidence my experience tells me to doubt his case.

  17. Jake I agree, and making the claims he did he'd better have the 'evidence' to back them up. Its the artwork that'd be an interesting one though, because if they're using artwork he owns the right to... well that'd be a bit off. As for mechanics, as you say there are very few totally 'new' mechanics at play. After all we're talking about numerical stats and random expressions of actions using dice... there are only so many ways you can do that. In terms of legal cases I'm sure the guys behind Bushido would be just as likely to have a case against the poster on that thread. It'd just make me think twice about taking the plunge in a game, not that I was considering getting into yet another game system as I've got way more than enough to be getting on with.

  18. "way more than enough..."

    I probably have too, but it didn't stop me buying it :)

    If they're using artwork without permission then that's different. Although there's plenty of room for misunderstandings, you should have a clear written contract for use of art and transference of rights of use (temporarily or otherwise). On the other hand, the chap seemed most narked that they'd used ZOC (of all things). ZOC? He owns that? Seems a tad unlikely.

  19. here is somthing. do you think it is worth to buy the expansions? if it is such a easy game i think expanzions might just get youthe same with more money. schnelln (dont have a acount jet :D)

    1. Hiya, I actually reviewed DKH: Green Menace here:

      I personally think it's worth getting because although the experience is comfortingly familiar, they are suitably different to make both worthwhile purchases.

      I wouldn't call Green Menace an expansion though, it's a standalone game that use similar mechanics thee Dead Rising. the only 'true' expansion is Ancient Grudge and that mixes things up significantly to make it a worthwhile purchase too. I haven't yet reviewed that, but it is on its way.

  20. Ado mate,

    I'm currently working with some hard-to-reach pupils in a local secondary school. I've been developing with the company I work for the idea of using games in development sessions, and I've been hunting around for appropriate games to play.

    So imagine how pleased I was when I ventured across one of your blogs (I can't remember which one) and saw that you'd recommended DKH:DR as a good way in for newer players. It's good to have that kind of recommendation, so I bought the game, put it together (or some of it!) and took it in to the school to play.

    It seemed to work well, bearing in mind the only experience the guy had ever had of this is when he played Space Hulk with me the week before; he's not played games often and seemed to understand the mechanics of the game very quickly after a few fights.

    Of the two games, he appears to prefer Space Hulk, but what I've got now is a game that's great to use as a way in to board games that are a little (but not much!) more complex than Snakes and Ladders. Plus it's really good fun as well!

    So the short version: Thanks for the recommendation. It's worked out really well!

    1. That's genuinely really interesting. I'm actually a trained psychologist and I've often argued that board games of various varieties would be of use in dealing with all range of learning difficulties and disabilities. Is this work in the West Midlands?

    2. Well it is and it isn't. Basically I work for my Dad, he's a business consultant based in the West Midlands but we do a lot of work in schools as well. I came to him with the idea of doing it in schools with card games as a way of exploring ideas and experiences that some kids just don't get these days (like actually talking to each other! Secondary School can be a pretty brutal time...) and my Dad came up with some strategies about how using games might work. What we're doing in the sessions I'm working in now is sort of a pilot plan, to see about establishing a rapport amongst some hard-to-reach kids by playing games with them. When we see how it works, we'll be in a better position to say exactly what this sort of thing is going to do for our clients, giving them a better appreciation of what we're selling. We've got a good working relationship with the school we're working with at the moment so for now we're seeing how everything pans out with those guys and developing it from there.

      As you've probably guessed, the work isn't commonly available. A lot depends on how this project works out to be honest, and we're not in a position to commit to any long-term arrangements, but I think it would be worth having a conversation with you about your ideas of using games to develop people. I don't really want to discuss any more in a public domain, but feel free to email me and we'll talk about how it could work. The address is

    3. Cool I'll gather some quick thoughts and jot them down on an email to you.