When most people think of backstabbing card games their mind dives on Munchkin like a hungry wolf. Well I’m here to tell you that there are a lot more games out there that do the same thing, but a lot better. Epic Death! by Waits in Graves was successfully funded on Kickstarter back in June and it looks like just the right mix of comedy and tactics that we’ve been looking for. If you think of a mix between Munchkin and Gloom then you’re not far off.
The theme of the game is one that I think will be one most gamers are familiar with. You take a set of adventurers off on adventures looking for loot and fame. The interesting twist to this game however is that while at the start you’re looking to complete your quests and avoid blunders the later stages of the game see you trying to kill off your heroes in the most epic way possible. Something for the bards to sing about around the tavern fire!
Let’s dive right in. Mechanically the game is pretty simple and that plays to its strength as an emerging game on the market. You begin the game with your set of adventurers, either four or five depending on the amount of players, and then draw five cards from the Fate Deck. This deck consists of modifier cards that show your fortunes as an adventurer changing as you head out on quests.
Some of the cards are pretty simple usually allowing you to add in dice or take away dice from your eventual combat pool. Others add in a variable amount or give you re-rolls. Some of the cards are few and far between like Marked for Death and Resurrection but I will go into these in more detail later.
Your next step is to draw a selection of quests from the quest deck and begin your adventure! To begin with the quests are all marked as green. These are quests that you are looking to complete. Failure on these quests can lead to a negative ‘Fail’ score and ridicule from your friends. Later on these quests are marked as red and at this point you’re taking on deadly foes. At this later stage you are wanting to fail these quests and get yourself an ‘Epic’ score. It might seem counter productive but no one can be a living legend forever!
When you head off on a quest you pick it from the list and put it in front of you. Then your friends have a chance to screw you over. Here is where they can play in Fate Cards to alter your dice pool. You get a chance to alter this as well but more often than not you’re going to be taking a hit, especially in the early questing period.
Once all the cards have been played you then have to roll whatever is left in your pool and try and beat the quest. Each of the quests are marked with a different coloured skull. Green means Trivial and requires a four, five or six to beat, Mighty requires a five or a six and Exalted requires a six. You roll your dice and see how they fall. If you beat the quest then you get loot and fate cards for your efforts. If you fail then you get the Fail score added to one of your heroes.
Now here is where the mechanics turn on their head. While with these green quests you’re looking to beat them and win the loot and fate cards for your party, in the later red stage of the game you are trying to lose! Whereas before your friends are trying to stop you and make you fail they are now trying to make you win! See it as your own adventures shoving someone out of the way of the dragons fiery breath so they can take the credit.
This is where the game really shines and takes on this Gloom quality. At the later stages of the game you’re going to see heroes with masses of Epic and Fail score on them and you have to manage your hand of fate cards in order to make sure they don’t get to kill off their heroes while ensuring your own meet with defeat or maybe even Epic Death. The name of the game comes from an interesting little addition which means that if you hit exactly the right number of victories on the quest you vanquish your foe at the same time as dying. This gives you double the quests score in Epic!
There is another bunch of cards in this game and those are the Loot cards. These are won from successfully completing quests and are attached to your heroes as Helmets, Armour and Weapons. Most of these items just give you Epic score (so there is a reason to win quests at the beginning!) but others come in sets. These sets, when you have all three, give you bonus Epic at the end of the game but only if the hero dies. So you certainly want to be chucking them into the firing line!
Once all the quests have been conquered or if a player has killed off his entire party you end the game and tot up the scores. Any adventurer who is dead contributes to your score be it for or against. One particularly funny tactic is to resurrect one of your friends dead adventures who is giving them loads of Epic score so they can’t contribute it anymore! On the other hand make sure to use those Marked for Death cards well to make sure the heroes with Fail or Epic score bite the dust! Usually the player who fails a Epic Quest choose who gets killed but with Marked for Death you an make their decision for them, it’s very powerful indeed. You can even use it on yourself!
The person with the most Epic then wins the game and you shuffle it all back together and get ready for another round!
There’s no doubt that even at this early stage Epic Death! looks amazing. The artwork by both Beth Hughes and Sam Lamont is outstandingly comic and never fails to raise a smile. Added to that everything is clear and easy to understand and the card layout for some of the more complicated cards is very straight forward. It’s a very good looking game and no mistake. One of the nice additions is that when a character is dead they actually have a skull befitting their character on the other side! Small but fun!
I have to say that I have a prototype of the game and while the cards are of top quality the rulebook and the dice are something I can’t speak on right now as they will change when it comes to the release of the game. It would be nice to see the game with some red and black coloured dice to fit the theme of the final box art and also some tokens (which have indeed been funded) to mark when a quest has been Epic Death’d! These are in the pipeline so that’s a foible I can overlook.
Apart from that though, a minor quibble, there’s nothing wrong quality wise with this game. It all looks very nice indeed and because of the character and charm of the heroes you could easily see the stories playing out in your minds eye. I would venture to say that it would be epic (get it?) to see a little webcomic with these folks involved to build on some narrative for this game.
Epic Death! is a top card game that does pretty much everything right and it’s not hard to see why it did so well on Kickstarter. Whereas Munchkin punches you below the belt when you fail and essentially chucks you out of the game for good Epic Death! does well to keep you invested even with failures on quests. You never feel like you’re out of the fight and the addition of the Fate Cards mean that you always have a chance. Epic Death! also has a definitive end point too and games don’t stretch on for hours at a time!
But yes, back to the game at hand! It’s fun and interesting with great characters and plenty of laughs when you dive into the questing. Also the amount of bargaining between players is great, especially towards the end of the game when your asking your pals to just ‘let me die, I promise I won’t screw you over next time!’.
I would however like to see the heroes actually mean something. Right now they are blank and simply take the equipment you give them. I’m sure there is a mechanical reason why they are basic right now but it would be good to see potentially a racial bonus for the different heroes. Maybe Dwarves are more resilient in some way, or Orcs can call on their frenzy to add extra dice into the pool? As well as that I did also mention loot. Loot could benefit from the same thing, giving you something other than Epic score. I see it as being an interesting decision on whether to use the weapons ability and discard it or keep it for Epic score. Something for an expansion perhaps?
I do recommend this game however and when it hits I suggest picking it up if you’re a fan of fantasy and indeed backstabbing games.
Go forth and achieve Epic Death!