Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game Is Shockingly Brutal
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Featured Image Credit: Steamforged Games
I’d be the first to admit that I don’t typically play many board games, but I was shocked at just how brutal Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game actually is. If I thought landing on Mayfair with three hotels was bad, that’s nothing to having my entire hunting party wiped out in a single blow by a seriously pissed off Barioth.
But that’s entirely by design! Anyone who’s played Capcom’s celebrated beastie hunting series will know that Monster Hunter is all about preparation, careful teamwork, and being prepared to have the rug pulled out from under you, regardless of your best laid plans.
If you know anything at all about Steamforged Games, you’ll know they have a track record of carefully and lovingly bringing classic video games to the tabletop in a way that makes sense. These aren’t just board games with Resident Evil, Monster Hunter, or Elden Ring slapped on the box. These are board games that are infused with the essence of the adventures they’re based on.
“One of the most important things is to make sure we have a degree of expertise in in the video game we’re adapting,” explains Mat Hart, creative director and co-founder at Steamforged. “Once we’ve got that baseline understanding of the game, one of the things we start talking about is… not necessarily the actual mechanics of the game, but what is the emotional response that we're having when we're playing the game? And for me, the magic of translating a video game into a board game is identifying the emotional response and then finding ways using the tools that are in the medium that I have to trigger a similar response. Because the brain likes that! And it's great and it feels familiar. And it feels really in keeping with the original game, and the power of the brain to overlay memory and experience, and, and even invent things that aren't actually there, you just need to create a fertile environment for that to happen.
“If we can set up a board game to allow that to happen. It's not that the board game isn't doing any heavy lifting - it is - but it's just creating a situation where people can go and really engage at that emotional level. We use the term, identifying the core DNA of the product, and then we recreate that DNA. But there's a lot of nuances to how we build through the high level that it's looking for key things that will trigger your memory and create a similar emotional response. And then to replicate that with friends at the table, and it becomes a shared experience? That’s much more powerful. And then suddenly, you have something really resonating quite strongly with you. Even though it was just bits of cardboard, plastic.”
If you’ve played Steamforged’s Monster Hunter World: The Board Game, then the Iceborne expansion will be largely familiar to you. Careful work has gone into making sure that this board game closely represents the 2019 expansion of the same name, introducing unique monsters, weapons, and events.
During our demo we were placed into a hunting party of four and tasked with tracking down the fearsome Barioth. The game’s hunting stage is made up of a series of decisions that could provide you with key advantages or disadvantages. In our session we (somewhat unwisely) chose to follow the distant roar of another monster rather than pursue the Barioth. What followed was a hairy escape from a Rajang. We were told, after our demo, that the Rajang could invade our encounter with the Barioth if we activated a certain event card. We died before this could actually happen, sadly.
Once you’ve tracked down the monster you’re after, things shift over to combat. This is where you really need to communicate with your team, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and begin to whittle away your target’s health. An entertaining wrinkle is that you can usually work out who the monster plans to attack on their turn, giving you ample time to decide if you want to dodge, get the hell away, or take a hit meant for your friend. I, a tank with a sword and shield, went in close to start attacking while my companions kept their distance.
Alas, fate was not on our side. Poor planning on our part meant that we’d all bunched up right next to the Barioth. With low health and not enough resources for any of us to get a good dodge in, a swish of the tail left three of us dead in the snow. Our fourth, presumably, scooped up our corpses and dragged them back home to tell our families.
Losing is rarely a good feeling, but like the very best video games, Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game, manages to make failure fun. Yes, we got our asses handed to us - but we lost as a team, and found ourselves having a blast as we did so. I know we all felt compelled to prepare better, learn from our mistakes, and dive back in. Were it not a demo event, I could totally see us having spent a brilliant evening attempting to take that damn Barioth down. And with the possibility for so many random events - like invasions from other monsters, snowstorms, and more - you’re never playing the same game twice.
“I would love to think that we've created a game that creates enough possibilities for cool moments to happen,” Mat says with a smile. “When you're riffing off previous experiences with your friends, the magic happens. Just seeing if we can kind of create a game that builds into that. That would be Achievement unlocked for us.”
Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game begins funding on Kickstarter May 18.