2-5 players, Competitive, Area Control Soul Gobbling
Designer: Patrick Marino
Artwork: Steve Argyle, Alex Horley
Publisher: Project Raygun
Overview of Gameplay
Ah Court of the Dead: Mourners Call we meet at last. This is one I’ve been waiting on for over a year now, eager to get my hands on. Now that it’s here let’s take a look at how it all pans out.
Playing the game is very interesting with a number of different mechanics that mesh pretty well together. During setup players are each dealt a random faction card from each of the three factions: Bone, Spirit and Flesh. Players will each pick one of the factions to play as and then collect the corresponding faction coin to place in their player board. Then in reverse turn order players will get to choose a starting mourner card to play to their play area to get things rolling. This card will also get players a specific starting unit in their crypt on the player board.
During a standard round the starting player (oldest player, also starts with the Death figure which can break a single tie during a round) will first roll dice equal to the number of players and THAT amount is the amount of Etherea that has to be divided up into piles equal to the number of players plus one. This will determine how much etherea each player can collect and how much will go into the Dirth Forge location on the board (I’ll explain this in a bit).
After this, players will each draw a “Wallows card” which could be a quest for the round, an artifact or even a monster to fight during the round called a “Raker”. Basically, this adds quite a bit of theme and flavor to the regular game play. Now we move into the “Court Card Drafting” phase. In this phase players will each be dealt a number of “Court” cards (these are the main action cards you will be playing later), choose one and then pass the rest. Players will do this a certain number of times based on player count and then the main Action phase begins!
During the Action phase players will take turns performing a single action around and around the table until everyone “passes” and then the rest of the round’s phases transpire. In the Action phase players can play one of those Court cards I mentioned earlier, recruit faction figures or collect mourner cards by paying ethereal, move figures around the board or from their player board by paying faction influence, activate abilities on their played mourner cards or complete quest cards which include fighting those pesky Rakers.
After everyone passes, the round moves into the next phase which is the “Dreadsgrip Threat Check”. In this phase players will check to see how high the threat level has reached during the action phase. Threat moves up whenever players play certain Court cards and whenever they recruit more units. It can be managed and brought down again by certain other court cards as well. In any case as it moves up it will hit new levels which DECREASE the amount of unit’s players can have in any location. It starts at three units per location but can quickly hit 2 or even 1. During this phase if players are caught with more than the required amount of units in a location, each player in that location has to roll a die for each unit they have there. On a roll of a 1 or 2 the unit is returned to their crypt, any other roll and it’s left alone. However, once the threat gets to 8 or higher, a low roll will flat out destroy the unit back to the supply.
The next phase is to “Pay Celestial Tithe”. This is where that ethereal that might have been sent to the Dirth Forge at the beginning will come in handy. Going around the table players take some (or none!) of their own ethereal from their player boards and hold in it their closed hands. This represents how much they will give up for paying the tithe. The amount needed to pay is determined by the Celestial Suspicion Meter, this will rise and fall mostly dependent on what Court cards actions are taken during the Action phase. The base line amount needed to pay is 3 + number of players and only goes up from there. So first the amount of ethereal is taken from the Dirth Forge as payment towards the tithe and then players contribute their own. Once everyone has placed some or none in their hands, they reveal! Now IF the amount of tribute is sufficient to pay what is required the person that contributed the most gains 3 unity coins and all other that contributed gain 1 unity coin. However, if a person did not contribute then they lose a single influence point in a faction of their choosing. BUT if the amount was not met then that raises the stakes for both the Celestial Tithe AND the Threat meter and players who contributed the lowest lose unity tokens.
Next phase is to resolve all the location and faction areas on the board. Basically, whoever has the most units on each location gains the benefit of said location. Then you go through each factions (Guilds) areas on the bottom of the board. These are the areas you will increase whenever you gain a specific unit model. Each faction has two different Guild areas, each with a different sculpt of miniature to denote the difference. So, whoever has the most units of a particular miniature will gain that guilds benefit. Also a thing to remember about this game is that anytime there is a tie, NO ONE will gain the benefit, UNLESS you have the Death figure in which case you are allowed to break a single tie during a round.
The last thing to do is the Clean-up phase. This phase removes any unused Wallows cards, gains benefits from certain Mourners cards, you flip back over any used mourners’ cards to be used next round. And finally check to see if there are unity coins left on the board, if so, start the round over and continue playing.
So, the game ends whenever the last Unity coin is removed from the stash on the board. Once this happens each player will get one more turn and then the final scores are calculated. These scores are taken from the amount of Unity coins you collected, the amount of influence in each of the three factions and finally from whatever secret extra points benefit is listed on the faction card you chose at the very beginning of the game. Whoever has the highest score wins!
Now these are some truly premium components! The player boards are super thick and double layered with indents in the tracker’s spaces and storage areas. As far as the tokens go everything here is of a high quality. The Unity coins are metal with some nice designs although they are rather thin. The other metal components are the faction tokens which, although are nice, are SUPER thin and light weight. Also they are all silver which makes it difficult to tell which faction each player belongs to, I wish these would have been different colors at least. The most premium of the metal components have to be the skull trackers. These little guys are VERY weighty and are meant to be placed on each of the three influence trackers on each player board and moved back and forth depending on a player’s influence level throughout the game. BUT they don’t quite fit! The tracks are just a tiny bit too small to fit them so the pegs on the back of the skulls don’t fit all the way in the tracks and furthermore the skulls actually bump into each other when lining up on all the tracks. Personally, I solved this by just turning them sideways on the tracks but still, a slight annoyance.
The ethereal tokens are all a translucent blue plastic which look really nice and the dice ESPECIALLY look awesome with a really cool translucent blue and white etching. All the cards are amazing with a nice linen finish on them all and being different sizes depending on the card.
The main board itself is HUGE! This game for sure is a table hog especially if you have a 5 player game going. I own a 4×6 table and it plays comfortably on that but anything much smaller and you will have to scrunch up a bit. That said, the board is gorgeous. It has the spot-uv modification to the ethereal rivers on the board so it is smooth and gleams in the light. Looks incredible. The board also has spots for the ethereal and unity coins as well as some f the decks of cards. BUT it’s missing a critical thing that I feel it really needs. A VP point tracker. Not a fan of having to break out a calculator at the end of each game to add up my points when this board is big enough to at least have a vp point tracker along one of the edges. Other than that, it’s a really nice board with beautiful colors and nice wrapped edges.
The miniatures all look great with some having much more detail than others. The Spirit factions’ miniatures are real standouts here having some impressive detail although I have noticed a few seems in some of them where they were glued together. This doesn’t bother me at all but for those miniature aficionados out there, this might bother you.
The box is huge as well, with it rivaling box sizes the likes of Heroes of Land, Air and Sea and Mage Knight Ultimate Edition. You won’t be able to fit this into a standard Kallax shelf that’s for sure. The box is super sturdy however and has a pretty nice insert within. The insert is a two-parter with the top portion having a plastic space to hold the board nice and sturdy. Under this is the insert to hold the majority of the faction miniatures and luckily since there are only 6 different sculpts here, it’s pretty easy to figure out where everything goes.
Below that is the final insert which has specific spaces to hold the different sized cards, the dice, the rest of the leader minis, the faction’s tokens and the player boards. You will need to probably bag up the unity tokens, ethereal pieces and the rest of the plastic bases and player tokens and toss them into the large open square spaces below the player boards. Everything fits pretty well and has a place. Overall I am impressed with the storage solution included and also like how you can just remove the top tray with all the faction miniatures and sit it on the table (if you have the space) to pick from while you play.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Yet another excellent area with the visuals and theme of this game just off the charts great. The colors used on the game board are gorgeous especially with the spot-uv treatment of the etherea rivers. The artwork on the cards is incredible with a more realistic view of art on the court cards and a more “sketch-like” art on the mourner cards. Both sets look equally impressive and I really love the interesting “fog of color” behind the specific factions mourners’ cards. The little artistic touches on the game board are also awesome with the entire city emblazoned on the board with no part of the board feeling empty of art.
The theme of the game ties into Sideshow collectibles Court of the Dead lore. There is a whole back story and ongoing story-line that this borrows from and although the game doesn’t have a campaign mode or anything, you can see how each of the characters on the mourner’s cards have tie-ins to their abilities. Also, the wallows cards have artifacts and little bits of flavor text to add to that lore.
Now, all that said, even though you can see the theme and lore throughout you really don’t feel it with the location actions. When you resolve the locations you pretty much just gain stuff here or move influence markers there. It ends up turning into more of a “moving things around” kind of game rather than really bringing out the theme through gameplay.
Now I REALLY like the rulebook. I mean other than having a very premium feel with thick, over-sized pages, it also has a nice linen feel to the cover. The layout is excellent with lots of colored examples and large pictures to help explain actions and abilities. There is a table of contents at the beginning with a fully pictures components list followed by a nice setup diagram for both the board and players. There is an area in the back that explains the different locations on the board and what the iconography means and this is even easier to understand thanks to the included reference cards that can easily be laid out to show what the icons mean on one side and the turn structure to the rounds and actions on the other side.
And to be honest I didn’t come across many rules that weren’t explained in the book. There were a couple things that could have been explained a bit better such as the ethereal distribution and why you create as many piles as you do and why you could create piles with zero etherea. And also that during the action phase you could attack a Raker as an action OR when doing the action of a mourner card you want to flip the card over to show it’s been done. Just a few little things like this would have been helpful to mention.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
This one is incredibly dependent on player count which I will detail more in the next section. Suffice it to say, that the more players that are partaking in the game, the more interaction you will have. Also I found the more players that were playing, the more fun we all had as well. At lower player counts it just seemed that players would kind of keep to themselves and do their own thing which made the game seem more like a numbers game on how many of something each player could get which drastically lowered the fun factor. However, at higher player counts players were almost forced to interact as they would progressively meet each other at locations. This would create an interesting player dynamic that whoever has the most units at a location would gain the end of round benefits. This also created another interesting, almost “bluffing” aspect to the game. Since ties award nothing, if two players had let’s say, two units each at the same location they both would either have to sty and get nothing OR one player would need to move to a new location. Sacrificing that spot to the other but also possibly gaining something at a new spot. I found that many times once all court cards have been played, players will spend a few turns just moving units around the board to try and maximize location benefits which also has the added bonus of minimizing the number of units at a location to try and get below that threat gauge level.
Optimal Player Count/Replay Value
So personally, I had the most fun at higher player counts. Five players is a blast since you will meet each other on the board numerous times and more than a single person will also have the same faction which creates a fun tug of war feel to the game. Also depending on the player count, the number of cards drafted will differ. In a five-player game each player will only have 3 cards with only two cards not being used during each draft. In a three-player game there are many more cards not used each draft so you really don’t know what cards will be in each round. I feel the game plays best at three to five players since you get more interaction with the play. Two player games felt so alone and individualized.
The replay value is pretty good since you won’t get to see all the wallows cards so they shake up each play a bit. Drafted court cards also change up the way you play a bit as well as what faction you choose from the beginning. Although starting faction doesn’t necessarily mean that you HAVE to focus on that specific faction either. It’s more of a “recommendation” of the way you should go to gain the most points, which of course you probably should heed if you want to win.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction
Positive Final Thoughts
Overall I really enjoy playing this game. The game play is fun and interacting with other players with locations is an interesting play on give and take. The component quality is excellent and the artwork is superb. I especially like how the wallows cards add a little twist to the game that differs for each player.
Negative Final Thoughts
There is no vp tracker on the board which would be a great help. And although I really love the wallows cards and the difference and twists they bring to the game, sometimes you will draw one that absolutely doesn’t help you and indeed, if done, would actually hinder you more than help. The metal skull trackers don’t fit properly on the player boards and the space for the unity tokens is a bit too small with the gained tokens spilling off the edge of the board. Finally the metal faction tokens need to be colored to be more easily visible to players.