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MONSTERS MENACE AMERICA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 90 minutes; $45)

 

I love those old B-movies and I’m especially fond of those that feature strange monsters threatening mankind. Well, now these scary monsters have returned. But this time, the return is not on celluloid but on the gaming table – with the new release of Monsters Menace America.

Monsters Menace America, designed by J.C. Connors and Ben Knight, is a re-make of one of the last releases from the original Avalon Hill – Monsters Ravage America – initially released in 1998. The game comes with a mounted gameboard of the continental United States divided into hexes, lots of plastic pieces (military units and monsters), 3 decks of cards (Monster Mutation, Military Research and Reference), tokens, 3 dice and some play aids. The colorful rulebook runs 16 pages but is filled with lots of pictures and examples so it is not as daunting as one might expect.MonstersMenaceAmerica

The first player chooses one of the six available “giant” monsters and takes its piece and “record tile”. The record tile gives the particulars of that monster – health, attack and defense ratings, special ability etc. with the remaining players, in order, doing the same. Then, the last player to choose a monster now chooses one of the four military branches in the game (army, navy, air force or marines) to control with the rest of the players, in reverse order, choosing a different branch to control. National Guard forces are not controlled by any player. Military forces are placed on the board in accordance with that branch’s record tile which also indicates available forces and their capabilities. Giant monsters begin the game on any one of three possible lair spaces with each player choosing, in turn, which space to place his monster on and then, deploying military units (i.e. placing new units on the board) or drawing a Military Research card .

Each game turn consists of four parts: move, fight, encounter and deploy.

The active player first moves his monsters and then military forces. You can only move units of the branch you control although forces of different military branches can share a hex and there is no stacking limit. Monsters, instead of moving, may ” disappear”. This means that your monster is voluntarily removed from the board for a turn only to reappear, at full strength, at one of his lairs. Both monsters and military units may move up to the number of hexes specified on their record tile with a few restrictions: both cannot cross water (unless it has a special movement ability) and movement stops if entering a space occupied by an opposing unit (monster vs. military or military vs. monster). Entering an occupied space leads to combat.

Generally, monsters may make 3 attacks per round. Most military units only get 1 attack per round. Combat is resolved through dice rolls. A number rolled equal or greater than the defense value of the defending unit results in a hit. Each hit inflicts an amount of damage equal to the specification on that piece’s record tile. If any military units survive two rounds of combat, the monster must retreat to an adjacent space. You also draw a Military Research card as a reward. Should damage exceed the health of a unit, that unit is removed. If a military unit, it returns to its record tile for later deployment; if a monster, it goes to Hollywood!

In what I suppose to be a homage to King Kong (although Kong ended up in New York), Hollywood serves as the site where defeated monsters are placed on display. At the beginning of your next turn (and every one of your turns thereafter), you roll a die and that number is added to your monster’s health. Once its health reaches 5 or more, your monster has broken free! He now moves to either Los Angeles or one of his lairs and is back in action.

Once movement and fighting have been resolved, monsters may “encounter”. In game terms, this means reacting to the icon found on the hex the monster occupies.

There are several types of icons. On Mutation, your monster draws a Mutation card which augments his powers. On a Military Base, your monster receives 1 Infamy token and can remove a military unit permanently from the game. On an Infamy Site, the monster gets 2 Infamy tokens. (Infamy tokens may be cashed in at any time: 1 token for 1 extra attack on a turn.) Cities add health to a monster. Every time a hex is encountered (or “stomped” in game parlance), a Stomp marker is placed on that hex.monstersmencomp

Finally, players may deploy. This enables new military units to be placed as per your Military Branch card. You are now also able to redeploy by removing one of your forces from the game board and placing it on one of your bases. Rather than place units, you may draw a Military Research card. Research cards allow the powerful “Captain Colossal” and “Mecha-Monster” military units to enter the game.

The monster placing the last Stomp marker in the game ignites the endgame: the Monster Challenge. The Monster Challenge is the climax to the game as it pits monster against monster. Only one monster can survive this battle. The winning monster not only eliminates his foe but gains the Health that the defeated monster had at the start of the battle. The winner now chooses another monster to fight. This continues until only one monster remains. The last survivor wins!

Monsters Menace America has undergone only a few changes from its predecessor. In the post 9/11 era, “ravage” has been changed to the less disturbing “menace”. The red game box has been replaced with an appropriately “slimy monster” green with the biggest difference being the improvement in the quality of the monsters. The six monstrous creatures have gone from cardboard to nicely molded and fairly large plastic pieces. Money has been removed and the “advanced rules” of the original (Mutation cards, Military Research cards etc.) have been melded into the regular play. The game play is simple enough so that 12 year olds can get into it with little problem. But there is a problem. From a gaming standpoint, the problem lies in the heavy reliance on dice.

We’ve got a dice fest here. You roll the dice for each battle – and there are tons of battles. As the game progresses, you try to build up your monster so that, when the Monster Challenge arrives, your monster is ready. You roll the dice for the Monster Challenge – and that’s lots more dice rolling. And all these rolls can – and will – undermine the hard work of planning and strategy you’ve been trying to implement.

Avalon Hill had been synonymous with serious gaming. With Monsters Menace America (as well as their previous release, Sword & Skull – featured last issue), the trend seems to be to simplify game play and add lots and lots of dice. This is like cotton candy, light and fluffy and nice to have once in a while but NOT something recommended for a steady diet.

One way to modify the unforeseen consequences of the dice rolls would be by using those Infamy tokens in another way. Instead of cashing them in for yet another battle round, why not use them as die roll modifiers? This doesn’t eliminate the dice rolls or the luck factor but does give you a bit more control. When you invest 90 minutes towards victory, being undermined by Lady Luck makes for a frustrating experience. It also might help if playing time was reduced. The endgame begins when the 23rd Stomp marker is placed. Reducing the number of markers (possibly to 15) might make the experience more palatable.

Monsters Menace America is a game of monster madness capturing that B-movie ambiance with more dice rolling than Risk. If you’re looking for control and careful planning, then this is a game you should really pass by. But if the theme intrigues you and the ambiance of monster mayhem makes your pulse race and you love to “rattle those bones”, then Monsters Menace America is B–movie madness hitting the gaming table and is certainly the game for you. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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