Court of the Dead Review


20 April 2020
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Court tomb drama

 

Death has had enough of the daily grind of soul collecting for both heaven and hell. They want out. Or rather, they want to put an end to the war between heaven and hell. But it’ll have to be a kind of low key, because if heaven or hell notice the guilds in support of the court of the dead, they’ll get punished.

 

Court of the Dead is a worker placement and area control game with a few drafting and push-your-luck mechanisms integrated. Almost every part of the game has some kind of over-the-table interaction. The initial distribution of etherea (i.e. fantasy cash) comes in the form of making even or uneven piles and having those piles picked by players in order. Cards are drafted in a pick-and-pass method. The celestial tithe is paid in blind bidding. Placing a guild member on a location exposes both players on that location to a potential wipe out. Each of these interactions gives players the chance to kick out against others around the table specifically, or spoil things for everyone.

 

 The major threats to your pieces in the game come in the form of player acting in their own interest. The game ends when the board runs out of unity tokens, a victory point currency and an interesting timer. These tokens are collected quicker the better everyone around the table works together.

 

In short, players can slow down the action by being selfish. A great example of this is the celestial tithe, this is a cost to be paid between players worked out by a track on the board. This track can be pushed up easily through playing out minions and activating locations. Paying the tithe comes in the form of secretly collecting up the amount of ethereal you want to contribute and holding it in your fist over the table at the same time as others. The game encourages players to give any impression of what’s in their hand they want. You can tell everyone not to worry, you’ll pick up the tab, and put nothing in.

 

Then there’s the dreadsgrip track, which dictates the number of guild figures allowed in a single location. If this is exceeded, then each figure over the threshold has to roll to remain on the board.This is important as you only collect the effects of locations at the end of the round. There’s always a chance someone could pop a figure into a location you control in the hope of wiping you out. It could backfire, but those looking for a bit of chaos in their game will be well served.

 

It’s an interesting game that asks you to take stock of all of its systems at once. Play is fast, but considered. Players are all working towards creating the end board state that falls out in their favour. There’s a certain elegance to hiding the effects that players are going to have on different tracks that keeps the game interesting from turn to turn – you have to be able to read other players and this is where the devious fun comes in.

 

If a highly interactive, but accessible, big centrepiece is needed for your games evening, then Court of the Dead is bang to rights.

 

Reviewed by Christopher John Eggett

 

PLAY IT? YES

An intricate game that reveals itself as straightforward, with enough dramatic flourishes to offer a little bit of over-the-table theatrics. Oh, and gorgeous to look at.

Designer: Patrick Marino

Artist: Tom Gilliland & Various

Time: 60 minutes

Players: 2-5

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Age: 14+

Price: £90

 

WHAT’S IN THE BOX

1 Game board

48 Guild figures

1 Death figure

1 Malavestros figure

40 Guild mover bases

14 Court cards

27 Mourner cards

36 Wallows cards

12 Objective cards

4 Reference cards

4 Player boards

50 Etherea pieces

45 Unity tokens

12 Faction tokens

1 Dreadsbane token

24 Wooden trackers

14 Tracker pieces

4 Dice

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