Saturday, 24 March 2018

Wargame Review - Kobolds & Cobblestones

Kobolds & CobblestonesBy Robert Burman

Published by Osprey Games

‘Kobolds & Cobblestones is a skirmish wargame for rumbles between gangs in the city of Ordinsport's seedy underbelly. Players hire gangs of criminals, thugs and enforcers from a number of classic Fantasy races, and attempt to take control of the underworld and establish themselves as the city's kingpins. Playing card-based mechanics and a cunning bribery element keep players on their toes, as a one-sided battle can turn around in a flash.’

There’s all kinds of fantasy wargames out there at the moment, from gigantic armies clashing in waves across huge battlefields to small warbands vying for power and glory in the ruins of dead cities. It’d be easy to say that there’s a certain expectation from games such as these and that’s to emulate the warfare between races, factions and kingdoms.

Kobolds & Cobblestones takes that world of fantasy but instead of the glory of battle and heroic sacrifice it has players running around seedy streets taking part in what is basically gang warfare.

The small 64-page softback book is full-colour with a very energetic cover by Ralph Horsley, who also supplies the interior illustrator, and it reflects the game and setting really well. The layout is fine, although the typeset is a little small, and the book is suted to being opened and left on pages with a bit of pushing, but don’t worry about the spine cracking or pages coming out; it’s quite robust.

The game takes place in a city called Ordinsport, a city where all kinds of different fantasy races live in harmony. Apparently. Underneath this veneer of happiness and justice for all is the underworld, a place of seedy goings-on and where crime bosses and their goons and thugs fight for control. It’s the aim of the players to try and take over the underworld and become a kingpin, using violence, cunning and bribery. Sounds like fun. There is also a small metaplot for the game but it’s not 100% required to follow it to play; a previous kingpin called Ja’kal has died and his treasures, hidden behind magical wards, are appearing across the city. Much fighting between rival gangs ensues, which is what gives your gang it’s impetus to fight.

First of all, a player has to create a gang –  the Gang Members section gives a few Gang Leaders and the gang members who can be added to your team. Leaders are represented by a stat line that includes any character traits and special abilities, and then you can recruit your gang members; Runts, Thugs, Big Guys and Specialists. Each gang member costs gold.

You’ll need a pack of playing cards for this; nothing special, just a standard everyday pack of 52 cards. These not only judge the outcomes of clashes but also are a handy guide for movement; you can move the length or width of a card so that does without the need for pesky tape measures. The cards are used for model activation and combat, and when you attack you pretty much play poker. The winning hand does damage and can even result in critical hits. Special Abilities can be used to help in conflicts and Wizards can also be a great help with some helpful, tide-turning effects.

Image result for Kobolds & Cobblestones interior
Image from the rulebook

With rules for campaigns and eight simple scenarios, Kobolds & Cobblestones is a great little book and at a RRP of £11.99 (£9.99 digital), and perhaps a pound or two if you haven’t got playing cards in the house, it’s a good game.

So, how did we get on with it?

Truthfully, it took us a while to get into the game. The game system is, basically, a fantasy skirmish game that’s decided by playing cards. It’s a neat rules system and it helps reflect the nature of the game, with the seedier backroom side of poker adding to the atmosphere. However, the skirmish wargames we are used to involve the quick roll of a die and the results determining the outcome. With Kobolds & Cobblestones we had to learn a card game – I’m not all that familiar with poker – and then use the tables in the book to determine the outcome of clashes. This took a little time as it felt like I was learning two games, but once I got into the flow of things the game sped up quite nicely and we were having rather fun encounters. They felt a little slower than the dice-rolling games I’m used to, but they were fun nonetheless.

The game itself is very well presented and the rules clear and concise. I especially liked the use of the length and width of playing cards to determine movement distance and the activation and moving of models was quick and easy. It had a great atmosphere and we especially enjoyed giving our Gang Leaders silly names; Gob the Guilder was a favourite of mine, Gods rest his soul.

At first a single encounter took us about an hour and a half once we started the game as we were fresh to the system and the card rules, but after several games we were happily belting out encounters with small bands of dwarves, lizards, ratmen and goblins – you can pretty much play any fantasy race you want - in half an hour to forty minutes. These were with models numbering 5 or so, and when we tried battles with larger numbers, around 15 each, that’s when the games would stretch out into two to three hour combats.

All in all it’s a good game with a great premise. I have a long history of dicerolling wargames so this was a nice change of pace, and although using playing cards wouldn’t be my go-to system it’s definitley a good addition to my gaming shelf for those quick and fun encounters with a difference, the chance to play a game where you don’t take it too seriously.


About the Author: Robert Burman has been hooked on wargaming and board gaming since opening a copy of Heroquest at the age of 11. Over the years he's dabbled in all manner of games, tried to improve his painting skills, written his own stories and created numerous scenarios. In 2015 he launched Tabletop Gaming Magazine to celebrate the many titles currently available.

About the Artist: Ralph Horsley is an award-winning artist who has worked in the print games industry for more than two decades. In that time, he has worked for leading games and game publishers, including Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, World of Warcraft, and Warhammer.

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