AAR/Review- A Trial Run through Kobolds and Cobblestones
Chris and I recently got together for a game of Kobolds and Cobblestones. It is number 21 in Osprey's line of games that I often call "little blue miniatures games." This one is set in the criminal underground of a sort of neutral city where various standard fantasy races live in an uneasy peace. The players portray a potential new crime boss trying to make a name for himself. This allows for a wide variety of miniatures to be used, which is always fun. Chris brought some of his Frostgrave collection, mixing human henchmen with what would normally be wandering monsters in Frostgrave. I made a point of having each of my miniatures be from a different manufacturer.
Mechanically, Kobolds and Cobblestones has some interesting points. It uses cards to replace the dice and rulers that other games would use. Distances are measured in the short and long sides of standard playing cards and most mechanics are based on poker style sets that each player plays. In a larger game, we would have used a larger hand size, but even in the smaller game we played there were some interesting hand management choices to be made as we decided which cards to use on any given attack and what to save in an attempt to make a powerful hand for later.
The scenario we played involved each side racing for a ball in the middle of the board and trying to get it back to their own starting position. In the pictures, you will see that ball played by a brown football shaped D6 from Battleball. Once you had it, you could walk but not run with the ball. However, you can throw the ball to move it faster. Throwing the ball had a 50/50 chance of going the direction you want it to, or the other side got to choose where it went.
We met in a scrum in the middle of the table, fighting over enough space to pick up the ball and move it a safe enough distance to risk a throw. The ball shifted back and forth across the middle a couple of times. Ultimately, it was the randomness of throwing that allowed me to win the scenario by luckily getting it to my leader with other models blocking the enemy's path to him.
Here is what Chris has to say about the game:
Kobolds & Cobblestones is an interesting beast. At first glance, it seems to compete with Osprey's Frostgrave (itself, a revivalist competitor to Mordheim) as a small scale fantasy skirmish ruleset with a classic vibe. Whereas, Frostgrave is about exploring a wasteland however, K&C is more focused on inner city quarrels between rival gangs. Thematically, it gives me the feels of a Terry Pratchett world, or Warhammer fantasy from the early 90s, where things are quirky, and anything goes. A ratman can fight with an elf and a skeleton, and not feel out of place.
I have a fondness for that old school fantasy, in both setting and in terms of models. I like the cheeseball goblins of yesterday, and goofy musclebound barbarians.
K&C caters to my desires in terms of setting up a system with a good variety of those classic archetypes.
It also has a really interesting set of card mechanisms instead of dice. I like the tactics of basically choosing to throw away an activation just to save a really good hand for a powerful attack on an opponents brute. Without dice, your moves carry a bit more weight towards how they're ordered and executed.
Running alongside the quirkiness in theme, is also the quirkiness in that ruleset...attacks are literally comparing poker hands. Spells are blackjack, with damaging consequences for going bust! Moving is based on card length and width. I find that all a bit endearing. Osprey worked some really interesting things in to this game.
That said, it's an odd genre for a ruleset like this to compete in. It's not likely to take over interest from the behemoth that is Frostgrave.
It's pretty invisible on the gaming radar in general. I don't see it advertised much. No leagues in my circle...heck, not many have even heard of it.
It's unfortunate, because it's easy to learn, easy to make up a gang, and it's a fun, casual game for you to use some old fantasy models you have in those way-back boxes in your closet.
There are campaign rules in the book, but I'm not overly compelled to try them. This, to me, feels like a one-off game for when you want to kill some time before the big event, or if you want to show some friends that wargaming doesn't have to be all about bundles of dice. It's almost like a mad experiment in game design, that was solid enough to get published, but feels rushed in that it doesn't build up it's own identity. Something like Malifaux, is successful at using cards for gameplay, but also has a unique gothic/steampunk/horror universe with lots of nifty character design and fluff.
Also, I should warn that there is a bit of bookkeeping. There are lots of status effects you must keep track of; most of which go away after a turn, but they can pile up. And being knowledgeable of the poker hand heirarchy and blackjack rules is basically a must. Sure, there are charts, but some of us would just like the action to keep moving along.
I'd recommend checking it out as a cheap investment in to a novel ruleset, there's always room for those in my collection because I'm a rulebook geek, but I wouldn't expect it to make waves in an already sizeable lake.