Reviewing Monsters from
KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER
Between the pricing and the title, you can probably guess that this game isn't entirely...subtle. In fact, by board game standards, subtlety was not only thrown out the window here, but lit on fire first. If you're not the kind of person who can at least ironically appreciate big, bulging crotches and bosoms juxtaposed alongside heaps of severed heads and multi-eyed demon goats, then you're gonna want to skip this one. Fortunately, while I find that kind of thing hard to take seriously, it's easy to see how much fun the creator of this game has designing its every last character, creature and setting.
Plenty of in-depth gameplay reviews are available for this one, including from Ex Profundis, who provides this photograph of what is approximately a thousandth of the core game's contents, but in a brief nutshell, Kingdom Death combines tabletop gaming and roleplaying elements into an adventure that can take anywhere from sixty to a hundred hours or more across days or weeks worth of play sessions as players customize, equip and grind their characters in a world of unrelenting horror not entirely unlike its closest video gaming equivalent, Dark Souls, or its most obvious inspiration, Berserk.
If you need more backstory than that, here's a video from the million-something dollar kickstarter:
There, I'm sure that clears up any further questions you might have had! With the storyline thoroughly out of the way, it's time to talk about the "MONSTER" part of this Death Kingdom, and as usual, we're not going to review everything, but we're going to review a lot.
The PhoenixYou already saw the phoenix in the group shot up there, but few photos taken of its model can really do it justice. Only in this official full-color artwork can you truly appreciate the horrible man face melded into the roof of its beak, rendering it unable to close its mouth without biting down on a giant mustache. This is only the beginning of the kind of aesthetic excess you can expect from here on out, and it's a detail that turns an otherwise humdrum scary bird into something psychedelically grotesque.
As you may have guessed, the Phoenix is kind of a big deal to the setting. It's the largest monster in the core game and one of the largest, most impressive monsters in-canon, to the point that several other monsters are ecologically tied in with the existence of these titanic man-birds.
They've even got their own unique in-universe parasites that happen to look exactly like severed, human hands, creatively named hand parasites, and you're welcome for this close-up of a titanic man-bird's hand-infested butthole:
It really is just that kind of game. I'm glad. I'm glad this exists and I'm glad I could show it to you. I don't care how un-glad you are.
Image from vibrantlantern
The Dung Beetle KnightFor another example, this giant, humanoid insect apparently evolved to look exactly like a humanoid in some kind of beetle-themed knight armor because it started feeding on phoenix droppings and had to compete for territory with actual knights and other fearsome beings attracted to the birds. The giant ball with the face on it, meanwhile, is carefully sculpted from its hardened spit and designed to scoop up "rare feces" as it rolls. This is easily the least horrifying monster in the game, as far as I'm aware, because it's really only interested in collecting poop and not the still-living corpses of the damned or something.
The SunStalkerI guess I should mention that most of the monsters we'll be covering only come in their own expansion packs, so don't rush out and spend a lifetime's worth of instant ramen money hoping to get dung beetle knights and this huggable lug. The shark-like face is what strikes e first about this monster, but then we see that it has positively adorable stalked eyes under its head, eerily human-like teeth and of course a million long, gangly human arms sprouting out of it like "hair" and "wings."
Between the shark-like face and the cephalopod tentacles, you might expect this thing to be a sea monster, but it's so much weirder than that. It's actually something that "swims" through light, usually high in the sky, which is definitely entirely absurd and definitely entirely terrifying for a flabby sharktopus with a million hands to be doing.
Naturally, some humans in this setting believe that sunstalkers also are the sun, sacrificing virgins to them and raising their squiddly babies to keep the daylight shining. The sunstalkers, being really nothing more than particularly weird but notably fat, sleepy, hungry animals, just kind of happily and innocently go along with all of this and I love them and you should love them.
Image from vibrantlantern
The GormThis was actually one of the first monsters I ever saw, and a big horrible baby monster with thousands of teeth and an illicium on its head seems like it should have a lot of interesting lore attached, but it says a lot about this game that the Gorm is equivalent to a "level one" monster. It's actually an optional alternative to the lion your players can go up against for their very earliest battle; just another dumb wild beast in their world.
What we do know about the Gorm is that they spend most of their long life migrating, eating everything in their path, and generating destructive storms wherever they go. After centuries, a Gorm apparently makes one last migration to "the fabled Gormyards" before it dies, which kind of makes these sound like lovable old elephants. Elephants that happen to eat everyone and everything in front of them and look like babies.
The FrogdogDepending on how you look at, this is either the funniest or most nightmarish design in the game, and for most, probably a little of both. It reminds me almost immediately of the Real Ghostbusters toy line, almost a dead ringer for some close cousin of Pull Speed Ahead or Squisher. The lore for this one is actually pretty extensive, beginning with a detailed description of its primary defensive mechanism. Apparently, a frogdog possesses two sphincters. The first sphincter generates a "rubbery mucus bubble" around its "devastatingly acidic" waste gas, while the second sphincter somehow charges the bubble with a powerful static electricity field that attracts it to living things. The science is a TAD shaky, but who needs scientific plausibility anyway? It's a giant, awful toad with homing fart bubbles. Homing fart bubbles which inflict, quote, "fecal misery and face-melting pain" on anyone who can't outrun them.
As an added bonus, the frogdog's tongue is poisonous and it smells so bad that the native word for its specific odor is also a swear.
The next best thing about the frogdog after its homing fart bubbles? DOGPOLES! The official frogdog model just so happens to be a mommy frogdog, sitting atop a mountain of larval "dogpoles" indistinguishable from actual dogs. I hope you've already noticed the humanoid faces down this mama's sides, barfing puppies out of their fallopian mouth, but if not, you have now.
Frogdogs are actually very dutiful mamas, even farting, barfing and smashing prey into a fine mush all their wiggly little puppybabies can lap up more easily. Humans, of course, have a tendency to think dogpoles are really cute or just mistake them for real dogs and do their best to tame them, but by the time they sprout a big, angry human face, they already see their human master as another meal.
The SpidiculesA child-eating bogeyman to local human settlements, the Spidicules really looks more than anything like the hybridization of a human with a harvestman. The central body gives me a wonderfully creepy "Man in the Moon" kind of vibe and I love both the spindly, bony hands and the many additional finger-branches sprouting off from the thing, but the best detail is the hilarious "lure" that looks like most of a naked lady. The spidicules is said to turn itself invisible just by vibrating its body, again not all that physically plausible but too fun for it to matter, and that's actually something harvestmen sort of do in real life. Startle one, and you might see it bob wildly as it runs away - that's an optical illusion that can make the animal look larger than it really is or even just too blurry for its predators to get a bead on.
Like the frogdog, our spidicules is also a proud parent, but baby spidicules are a lot more dangerous than dogpoles, warranting their own separate models and monster stats. They're also easily the cutest things in the setting; just look at those teeny, tiny little hands and that cheesy smile!
The GryphonThe Gryphon is clearly related to the Phoenix, complete with a second albeit more appropriate face within its beak, though it does feature a more human-like one as the face of its extremely phallic "tail," complete with a dangling beard. The really interesting thing about this gryphon, though, is that it preys on legendary, giant bats presumably so gigantic that they don't even get a model in the game. They are simply too big to notice or interact with humans in any way. Not so for these gryphons, however, who are basically to the bats as a tarantula hawk wasp is to a tarantula, with the added twist of noxious mind-control fumes that force other creatures to help build its nest.
The Screaming AntelopeThe presence of semi-gratuitous anime nudity feels like a strong indication that we should be kink-shaming this illustrator, but I couldn't not show you the picture of the SCREAMING ANTELOPE with the spurting entrails in it. It's basically just a giant, horrible antelope, except for the fact that its entire underbelly is a toothy mouth with arms for lips. What a miniscule difference from an actual antelope, and yet, somehow almost rather unwholesome.
According to local legend in-canon, the SCREAMING ANTELOPE was intended to be the mount of The Goblin, but went mad at the very sight of it, because what is "The Goblin," you ask?
The Goblin has thus far only been mentioned in the lore of a few different monsters, but it's apparently the most horrific, unspeakable, maddening monstrosity in this entire setting. I am loving the fact that the term "goblin," so long associated with low-level cannon fodder, is a monster apparently too heinous to even be shown to us just yet, if it ever even will be.
The Forge GodIf you watched the intro video, you know that a simple white lion is the first "monster" encountered in the basic story. These lions are actually bred by the inhabitants of a place known only as "The Holy Lands," and in this setting, that entails exactly the sort of twisted fanaticism you probably assumed.
I can't say I ever thought of lions or lion-themed creatures as a source of horror, but they really pull it off with these wacky cultists and their various monstrosities, including this big buff man with multiple weenoids for heads. Weenoids that also end in sad, dopey kitty cat faces that look kind of confused about their lot in life. As its name and its hammer imply, the Forge God forges things, like armor and weapons and architecture, but it actually secretes raw, molten metal from its "every pore" to keep itself well supplied. This is all so lovably, lovably silly.
Of course we can't talk about the forge god without drawing attention to the giant, gigeresque colon dangling where its *actual* weenoid oughta be. I don't know what the deal is with that exactly, but I do know codpiece, which does the exact opposite of everything a codpiece exists to do, could not possibly have a better face on it.
The Lion GodThis other lion thing was once completely human and the ruler of their own kingdom, until in their old age they were attacked by a parasite known as the "knowledge worm." This is presumably the giant, wrinkly flesh-crescent protruding from the general area of where we expect the lion's face to be, greeted instead by the man-face sprouting right out of the worm's sides. Everything about this is so hauntingly weird, and like the forge god, its body secretes liquid metal - in this case, silver that drips from its claws and "warps its bones," wracking it with constant pain. Like I said, it really never crossed my mind to imagine a lion as the basis for something "disturbing," but that expectation is probably what makes these things so jarring to begin with.
The Wet NurseWhen I first saw this monster, I thought I was looking at a giant rat with an oversized nose and bulging googly eyes, which would have been adorable, but those are not eyes and that is not a nose. This is actually another part of the "Holy Lands" cult, and exists only to help nurse all the babies produced by their constant attempts to create what are basically angels.
Anyway, this is the game's most controversial model, not just for all the borblios but for the naked women it comes with and the fact that one of them can fit directly onto the end of a "tail" that I'm not showing you. This at least appears to be consensual. In fact, this is one "grimdark" setting remarkably light on the kind of overt sexual violence you get in the similar Berserk, and exceptionally high in the abundance of fetishized, submissive male character designs (NSFW) as well, but it's still perfectly within reason to be put off by this kind of stuff, and it doesn't stop there.
You can even order an optional "Pin-up Wet Nurse," model, which is supposed to be a "human version" of this monster, but just looks like a regular mostly-naked lady and comes with, I shit you not, an equipment card for a supernatural, biological breast pump.
I told you about the subtlety.
The Nightmare RamNot to be confused with the screaming Antelope, this one is a giant ram with human arms and even an entire human face for an upper jaw, but what makes this one weird is that it's also a plant-based monster. Specifically, these "rams" grow and drop like fruits from some sort of weird tree we're not really shown, and its very short life span is spent looking for bodies to grind into fertilizer.
The Trap Door ManKingdom Death's answer to "giants," these monsters live, as their name may imply, exactly like a trap door spider, and you may notice that there's a giant face on this thing's back. That's because Kingdom Death takes place largely in an environment where stone human faces form the actual terrain, so all the Trap Door Man has to do is carve one of those out and plug himself right in its place. Sneaky!!!
To mention Berserk yet again, the "terrain of stone faces" is remarkably similar to Berserk's version of hell.
The Sparrow KingOkay, can you even BELIEVE the level of detail on this model?! Originally teased as "death chicken," this was added to the game when the kickstarter reached ten million dollars.
What? I didn't mention that this game earned more than ten freaking million dollars on its development campaign? Yes. Really.
This monster's lore is pretty fun, too. It's actually the weakest of all the setting's gods, which is still a pretty big deal to non-gods, but out of sheer inferiority complex, the Sparrow King actually dresses itself up as a more grisly creature and pretends to BE The Goblin, sewing all sorts of tall tales about the being to help protect itself. In fact, the Sparrow King apparently doesn't even know whether or not the Goblin is real at all, but lives in perpetual terror of ever finding out the hard way.
The Honeycomb WeaverOne of my favorite designs in the game hasn't even made its debut as a model yet, and both its design and its lore are subject to change, but I hope it doesn't stray too far from this lovably gangly-limbed, long-necked, toad-mouth-bellied weirdo. Described as a "very fussy" monster, the Honeycomb Weaver "kisses" its victims to inject them with what the creator referred to as "bile gas," then seals all their orifices with wax to create a bloated, stinking balloon from their corpse. This apparently produces large amounts of "sulphur honey" until the corpse explodes, at which point the Weaver harvests the victim's skull, lays a "nightmare bee egg" inside it, and seals the skull and honey up inside one of its giant honeycomb chambers. Hilariously, this monster also attacks by head-butting, and by head-butting, we mean it cracks its long neck like a whip and shatters your skull with its little human face.
The Oblivion MosquitoSpeaking of arthropods, this is the most insectoid monster in the setting - even with a fairly human face between its huge insect eyes - and another wildly impressive model, though somebody forgot the fact that mosquitoes are Diptera, with only a single pair of wings! The giant devil-baby-peen-face abdomen, on the other hand, is completely scientifically sound.
The oblivion mosquito apparently begins its life cycle with the bite of a regular-sized mosquito, which injects microscopic, parasitic eggs and a highly contagious virus into the host. As the parasites feed on the host's brain, their face slowly smooths over into a featureless egg, the virus they spread causes everyone they meet to forget their existence, their soul is plunged into despair and they find themselves mindlessly following the pheromone trail of the mother mosquito.
Eventually, the parasitic larvae consume one another until only one remains, which uses the host's egg-face like a hermit crab's shell and shares the rest of the host's flesh with its mama before it finally pupates.
I haven't been doing these monsters in any chronological order, but I will say that the newer they are, the more excessively elaborate and whimsically grim their backstories, which is fine by me. Why settle for just any monster when you can have a monster that eats babies, defecates them as gaboon vipers, and weaves human bones into giant middle fingers?
Unfortunately, I do have one critique of the mosquito's design, which is that the human face looked slightly less human and generally a whole lot cooler in the initial conceptual art, actually resembling the rough semblance of a human face in the mosquito's chitin. This single difference makes me like this early design about eight times more. The more crowd-pleasing human face winds up being less pretty as well as less cool, less imaginative, and less intimidating.
SlendermanAnyway, we're gonna stop here, not because we're actually all out of monsters, but I feel like I've highlighted a lot of the most interesting stuff revealed thus far, including this fully authorized cameo appearance by Slendo, and I've honestly gotta admit, this outfit alone breathes whole new life into the character. The business suit was okay, I guess, but Slenderman with a giant neck ruff is something I had no idea I wanted so badly until now.