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The Monster Hunter: World board game feels just as complex, strategic as the video game

Hands on with an early demo of the game

A 3D printed Jagrath leers out of the frame to the right.
Like all the components in this article, the Great Jagras shown here is in development and still subject to licensor approval.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

I’ve been fairly critical of Steamforged Games’ products in the past. Several years ago the developer’s interpretation of the Dark Souls universe let me down due to its grueling, repetitive style of play. Later, Resident Evil 2: The Board Game had plenty of interesting concepts, but just as many issues with build quality. With Monster Hunter: World - The Board Game, however, the U.K.-based developer seems to be firing on all cylinders.

I spent the weekend with an early, incomplete prototype of the game. After a few hours bringing down a Great Jagras and an Anjanath, I found this to be a surprisingly nuanced tactical miniatures game. Monster Hunter manages to avoid some of the pitfalls and missteps of games in the same genre. It adds complexity, but without making things feel overwhelming.

It also doesn’t hurt that the miniatures — at least these 3D-printed mock-ups — are spectacular.

A group shot of the Jagrath, Anjanath, and four hunters. Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

In Monster Hunter: World - The Board Game, players take on the role of skilled warriors working together the take down massive creatures. Each creature is controlled by a deck of cards, which are shuffled before every hunt. Only by learning their subtle moves and tendencies can players hope to defeat monsters in a timely fashion and finish the campaign.

As a board game, Monster Hunter most closely resembles Kingdom Death: Monster, another tactical miniatures game with AI-controlled monsters. Kingdom Death is known for its high-stakes permadeath mechanic that can stop a weeks-long campaign in its tracks. Steamforged’s approach, on the other hand, is much more forgiving: Run out of life, and characters simply faint. Faint three times during a hunt and the monster runs off, sending you and your comrades home empty-handed, but otherwise ready to fight another day.

A set of five cards showing weird icons common in the video game, remixed here.
Prototype cards for Monster Hunter: World - The Board Game. On the left are AI cards used to control the Great Jagras. On the right are player weapon cards. Both have seen a lot of action during playtesting.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Where the nuance comes in is with the creature AI. In the image above you can see those AI cards on the left, with titles such as Head Slam or Forward Roll. Using iconography common to the Monster Hunter: World video game, each card tells players where to move the creatures and how to attack with them. With Head Slam, for instance, the Jagras moves forward two spaces before attacking the area directly in front of it. Meanwhile, with Forward Roll, it attacks first for seven damage, then moves forward. Each lunge puts it out of position, allowing players two chances to attack it.

But the cards also have a type symbol on the back, meaning that players can read the monster’s moves in advance and predict — at least in part — what they’ll do next. It’s a simple innovation, but one that can give savvy players an edge in future fights.

I wonder, though, how easy it is to read these cards in practice. Kingdom Death: Monster simply writes the creature moves out with words on much larger cards. The result is a kind of checklist that groups can follow, top to bottom, to make sure they’re getting things right. Steamforged’s reliance on clever iconography might make it more appealing to fans of the video game franchise, but it could also mean certain features of each card get skipped or overlooked from time to time.

That could change, however. Like the miniatures, everything you’re seeing in this article is a work in progress.

A t rex-like face roars, its tongue long and spiny.
A close up of the Anjanath’s face. The miniature stands on a 100 mm base.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Another innovation is Monster Hunter’s player attack system, which is tracked using a sideboard. Players make attacks by placing cards from their hand onto the sideboard one at a time. Those cards have lots of information on them, including whether or not they stun the monster or cause portions of its body to break off with repeated blows. There’s a stamina system baked in as well, which means players will have to shepherd their resources wisely.

It’s a much richer system than I’ve seen in previous games in the genre, and gives players lots of reasons to upgrade their weapons later in the campaign. However, it’s the campaign portion itself that’s still mostly a mystery to me.

According to the instructions, players can take on different and more difficult monsters over time. The more challenging the creature, the more lucrative the rewards, which can then be turned into new weapons and armor. The base game, which will be available for $70 via Kickstarter, boasts a 30-hour campaign, according to Steamforged. That set includes four monsters (Rathalos, Great Jagras, Anjanath, and Tobi-Kadachi), four hunters, and some 600 cards (including weapon and armor upgrades). With multiple variations of each monster, that seems like plenty of gameplay for the money.

The next most expensive version of the game costs $140. That version of Monster Hunter comes with five more monsters and four more hunters to mess around with. Add in another 600 cards, and Steamforged says that bundle adds up to a 60-hour campaign.

Finally, the highest pledge level costs $279 and includes even more cards for a total of 1,800. It will also add a Kushala Daora monster to fight. That miniature will stand more than 12 inches.

Pre-orders for Monster Hunter: World - The Board Game come to Kickstarter on April 20. The final game will accommodate from one to four players. You can learn more at the official website.

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