Japanime Games hit GenCon 2013 in full force, showing off the excellent Kanzume Goddess and the latest standalone expansion of Tanto Cuore, offering demonstrations of each. For many attendees though, this was their first opportunity to set eyes on the publisher’s latest title, Krosmaster: Arena, a flashy miniatures skirmish game that collectors will be obsessing over for the foreseeable future.
Now let me start by saying that I don’t have even the slightest familiarity with Dofus or Wakfu, the licenses that Krosmaster: Arena is loosely based on. These properties have graced MMORPGs, online strategy games, manga, trading card games, action figures, and a televised animated series, but I can’t say I’ve ever experienced the Wakfu Universe outside of Japanime Games’ tabletop iteration. I can tell you, though, that you need absolutely no prior knowledge of the license to enjoy Krosmaster: Arena. Much in the way that Tanto Cuore and Kanzume Goddess streamlined and simplified popular deckbuilding mechanics to create games that were easy-to-learn but built on a foundation of deeper strategic elements, Krosmaster offers a PvP minis battle game that’s visually stunning and very accessible to even the most casual gamers. Furthermore, it should also be noted that, while the aforementioned titles are known for their sometimes risqué artwork, Krosmaster: Arena’s adorable, colorful, chibi-style characters are suitable for family-play.
Essentially, two to four players are able to construct their own teams of Krosmaster figures and then square off against their opponents in a battle royale which takes place on a 3D play area. By that, I mean that the punch boards that come packaged with the game include cardboard terrain/scenery that can be assembled to form the trees, bushes, and crates that will occupy the battlefield. Bushes and trees are impassable and the latter will even block your character’s line of sight while making attacks, while crates can be climbed up onto to increase your character’s effective range. The board is also littered with “Kama”, small coin tokens which, as an action, can be collected and later spent on “demonic rewards” or to steal an opponent’s “Gallons of Glory.” Gallons of Glory (GG), represented in the game by square-shaped, gold-colored trophies, are important to focus on as a player who runs out of them is defeated. In addition to being able to obtain GG by paying ten collected Kama tokens, you may also take your opponent’s GG upon knocking out one of his characters. That character’s level, which is clearly printed on their specific card, will dictate how many GGs are lost when they fall in battle.
Each character card is laid out in an easy-to-read and intuitive manner, featuring all the info you need including their level, initiative rating, movement points, hit points, action points, power proficiencies, and special abilities/attacks/spells along with the AP cost to perform each one and symbols indicating its min/max range. In addition, the face side of each card contains a digital rendering of the corresponding miniature while the back of each contains a unique illustration of the character. The initiative rating is used for two things – first, the team with the higher overall initiative gets the first turn; second, each player’s team’s cards are organized in front of them in descending order of initiative, creating a timeline showing the order in which each character activates. Movement points outline the number of spaces each figure may move and the hit points represent how resilient each character is – if the HP drops to zero, that figure is knocked out. Action points fuel most spells & attacks and, in addition, each attack will advise if it deals any base damage. If so, this damage is always inflicted when the attack is initiated, with the chance that a lucky dice roll can net the attacker critical damage as well.
Dice actually play a large role in Krosmaster: Arena, imbuing the title with a fun, random element. At the beginning of each player’s starting phase, two dice are rolled. This is called “rolling for tension” and, if doubles of any result are rolled, each player removes one of their GG tokens from the game, adding a neat mechanic that encourages players to finish off their opponents as quickly as possible. You may then take those dice results and choose to “inspire” one or more of your characters by temporarily adding powers to their active repertoire or “refund” the dice by not placing one or both of them to collect one or three Kama coins respectively. Each custom die has a possibility of yielding four difference results (as well as a “wild” side that can be used as any of them. The “critical” side, showing an explosion symbol, would result in additional damage if rolled while attacking. The shield symbol denotes the “armor” face and can negate a point of damage if rolled while defending. The “lock” face is symbolized by a magnet and, if rolled while an opponent’s character is trying to move out of a space that is adjacent to one of your figures, can force them to stay in place. Conversely, that escaping character may be able to roll a “dodge” result (shown on the die as a boot) to cancel any locks. Normally, whether attacking, defending, locking, or dodging, each player would roll on die unless they have a power proficiency in that particular area. For example, if a character is being attacked by a spell and they have the “armor” power active (either printed on their card or because they were “inspired” by a die roll placed on their card at the beginning of their last turn) they may use power to roll two dice in defense, increasing their chances to roll shields and avoid damage.
So that’s the gameplay in a nutshell – two or more teams taking turns to position themselves around the board and deal as much damage as they can to their opponents while collecting currency and items in the process. Like most miniature-based skirmish titles though, the strategy comes from forming a squad that works well together and suits your play-style. For this reason, I prefer not to draw teams randomly, either relying on a draft system or, if you’re facing others who have the game and are already quite familiar with it, pre-made teams. It all comes down to forming your squad into a well-balanced killing machine – but some lucky dice rolls don’t hurt either.
As far as the components go, Japanime Games didn’t pull any punches. Everything contained in the starter box is high quality. From the minis, to the wonderfully illustrated double-sided board, to the cardboard components, the dice, and even the insert itself, everything here is a joy to look at and, while nice components certainly don’t necessarily make a good game, they can definitely go a long way in enhancing the experience. The artwork is fantastic throughout and the colors on both the plastic and cardboard pieces are vibrant. The rule book for Krosmaster does a great job of introducing the mechanics to new players, going so far as to offer miniature game boards on every other page so that you and a friend can physically try out new rules and abilities right in the booklet as they are introduced to you.
Miniatures collectors will be glad to know that the build quality and paint application on the figures is top notch with great sculpts, capturing a lot of expressive personality on each one. While eight unique figures are included in the base set, the first three boosters have just become available (with three more on the way shortly) which add four more characters each. Some of these include character sculpts that are largely identical to those found in the base set or other booster packs, but are altered subtly and given a completely new paint job to differentiate them. Each of these sets also comes with their own character cards, some paper tokens, and a tiny foldable map for quick skirmish matches. Judging by the final numbers on their kickstarter campaign, there should be a healthy fan-base installed to keep interest in expansions high. Completionists beware, when you sink your teeth into this one, you will (justifiably) not want to stop until you have everything.
Overall, Krosmaster: Arena is a title that’s easy to recommend. It has massive crossover appeal – not only because of its ties to an established license, but because the game just works on multiple levels. It succeeds at offering an exceptional miniatures skirmish experience that’s easy to learn but can lend itself to a lot of tactical planning. It harkens back to a somewhat old-school method of movement and attack patterns that will bring back fond memories to anyone who grew up playing Bomberman, and it does it all using the cutest chibi figures I’ve seen packaged in a tabletop game.