Crushing the Heroes: Getting a Solid Start

I have been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other table-top roleplaying games for damn near 20 years. Most of the time I play the Dungeon Master/Game Master/Storyteller/whatever, so I am used to having to juggle multiple characters, many of which are bad guys that ultimately the characters get to beat up and maybe rob depending on what we are playing.

I mean, I get it. It is not a competition. It is not like the players "defeated" me, because if I wanted to "win" I would by virtue of having control of most of the stuff that happens.

"Oh? You killed those three kobolds that ambushed you? Okay, now there are dracoliches."
Frankly I expect them to win and actually want to see them succeed, so that they can continue progressing through the story, see what happens, and hopefully reach a satisfactory conclusion before a scheduling conflict or boredom derails the entire campaign.

Board games are another story.

Honestly I prefer cooperative games like Wrath of AshardalonArkham Horror, and Forbidden Desert because everyone tends to succeed or fail together, but sometimes we play competitive ones like Carcasonne, City of Thieves, Mansions of Madness, and Super Dungeon Explore (which will have coop rules in The Forgotten King).

Super Dungeon Explore is basically a board game version of a beat-em-up dungeon crawler video game: you smack monsters, they drop hearts, potions and loot, crack open treasure chests (which might be monsters), and you try to kill the boss, mini or otherwise, or die trying. It is very simple, fast, colorful, cute, and a fucking blast.

I usually get tapped to play the Dark Consul, who is in charge of placing spawn points, treasure chests, which monsters appear, and what they do. It is pretty similar to being a Dungeon Master, with one key difference: this is a competition.

Unless you add in a bunch of houserules the events of the game never go beyond the scope of the session. If the heroes win? Great. Next time you can still fight the exact same shit, like a dungeon boss in a MMO. If they lose? Well, there are no NPCs or towns that suffer for your failure. What I am getting at is there is no incentive for keeping the heroes alive, no reason to pull your punches. There is no story, and aside from arranging the tiles and choosing monsters there is no prep work.

In other words I play to win, and that is what this post is about: telling you how I win.

Do be clear this is not an in-depth analysis of the heroes, monsters, and tiles. I will get into that in future posts, but this is a look at the general strategies I use to crush the heroes before me, and hear the lamentations of their players.

If you are new to the game or just have trouble succeeding as the Dark Consul, try these out and let me know how they work. If you are experienced with the game and/or disagree with these strategies, let me know what you would do differently so I can give it a shot.

One other thing, a lot of this stuff will probably make no sense if you are not familiar with the game. For that you can read the rulebook, or watch some other people play it.

Spawn Point Placement
Since the heroes go first on a tie, unless you have a monster with a really high Will (like a kobold wyrmpriest, or preferably a dust coven necromancer or a curse coven witch) it is pretty unlikely that at the start of the game you will be going first, and barring some extremely bad luck whichever spawn point happens to be on the starting tile is forfeit.

Yeah, there are a few tiles that can make it a bit more difficult for the Heroes to get to it, namely the cavern one with the bridge and the other cavern one with the four rooms, but there is basically no square on the first tile that most heroes cannot reach (unless they for some reason put the start token close to the door). If they have a ranged hero (ie, most) or the Riftling Rogue's teleport potion, then speed never even factors into the equation.

Really you just have to accept the fact that your first spawn point it is a lost cause, but there is a way you can use it to help setup future turns, namely making a kind of spawn point chain. This is something that I believe I started doing during the playtest for The Forgotten King, and it looks something like this:

Actual placement may vary, but the general idea is that you set it up that any heroes going after the first spawn point will easily be close enough for monsters at the second one. You are going to want to activate the monsters on the first tile as soon as possible so that they can get a few licks in, because unless the spawn point is somehow still intact at least some are probably going to die during the second hero's activation.

On a similar note the treasure chest on the first tile is virtually guaranteed to get opened, but I still like to keep it as far away as possible, amid difficult terrain or fire spaces if you can swing it. It probably will not have any impact, but if you can get a monster with some sort of forced movement, who knows; maybe you can hurt the hero and knock her into fire.

Tile Quarantine
Again, do not try to defend the first spawn point and keep it intact, because you frankly cannot. Instead focus your efforts on keeping the heroes on the first tile: block the door with a big mob (blazing beetles and crushers work great for this), or spread your mobs out in order to force them to choose between hunting them down or dealing with the harassment later. Even a single turn gives you time to spawn more stuff and mobilize them.

Also try to keep your monsters alive: the more stuff that is on the board, the more likely it is that the heroes will try to deal with them, and the more opportunities you will have to hurt them. Remember that you can break up your movement between actions, so abuse it whenever you can: move, attack, then run away. This is particularly useful for ranged monsters, who are often pretty fragile. Do not keep your monsters close together unless there is some benefit, like the ironscale's shieldwall aura and/or they have the mob trait.

Here is an example initial setup using lava whirls, an ember hound, a blazing beetle, and a pair of burning gels:

As with spawn points, actual positioning may vary. The blazing beetle can block the door (and has an armor boosting ability), while the burning gels can hang back and bombard the heroes from a distance (and have an awesome area-effect attack). The ember hound is the only 1 skull option for this crew, but has an annoying choke area-effect and moves pretty fast, making it useful for dashing in and out and preventing them from using potions.

Synergized Strategy
I will go into much more detail on this in a future post, but in the interest of using effective tactics just try to be aware of what your monsters can do, and what the conditions mean.

A lot of monsters have special traits that let them add conditions or make them immune to them. For example wyrmlings cause knockdown with their attacks. Knockdown by itself is pretty good: you have to spend an action point to stand up, and you have to stand up before you can do anything else. Even better, their swarm attack allows them to add +1R to attack against anyone affected by knockdown.

So you can have them make a standard attack and followup with swarm, or have one use dive bomb (which also adds pacify) and then a second one use swarm twice. You can also gang up on a hero with a pair of whelps first, since they also add knockdown with their attacks. If you have an excess of wyrmlings and all the heroes have already activated, you can knock one over and really chow down.

Another one is like, all of the goddamned kobolds (including the wyrmpriest and Rex) and the mob ability. Mob lets the attacker add +1B for each other adjacent creature that also has mob, up to +3B. Pretty hefty, but you do not want to have a bunch of monsters lumped in one spot, whether or not the heroes have an area attack in their arsenal; camp two cheap monsters nearby (like gougers or knuckleheads), then have the more valuable ones run in, attack, and run away.

Breaking the Weakest Links
One last thing is to gang up on the weakest hero you can, because no matter what a dead hero is at least three actions that cannot be spent murderizing your monsters. Even severely wounding a hero or slapping them with a nasty condition (or two, or three) can force them to discard a useful loot card in order to keep her alive.

Your go to condition here is fire, which is easy to come by and deals an automatic wound at activation. Fragile is nice for making it easier to hurt them, weak makes it harder for them to hurt you, and poison and knockdown are great for doubling-down on action loss. Unfortunately these are much harder to come by in the core game.


  1. You have a really good point about how the lack of long-term consequences really plays into this being competitive. I'm looking forward to more in this series; it looks like a lot of fun.

    I find myself stumbling with the condition tracking and round-length buffs, but I also haven't played a ton of 4e. Do you find your experience with them in 4e helping you with that?


  2. The other side of it is that there are hard restrictions on everything you can do: each spawn point gives you a limited number of monsters you can spawn, and you can only spawn a set amount each turn. Basically everyone is aware of what everyone can do.

    The conditions are not hard to track long as I remember to use them. I found myself forgetting about them early on, especially when it came to the heroes and their Loot cards.

    The round-by-round buffs can be a bit more difficult. I am thinking of making cards for effects like the paladin's halo and backlash. If you have played the D&D board games (like Wrath of Ashardalon) you could make a big, obvious token similar to the Daze and Posioned ones.

    Maybe even a kind of printable tile that shows the area of effect for auras?


    1. I made a post on G+ showing the Noble Paladin's Iron Halo template:

    2. Printable tiles for the auras is a great idea. Really easy, too, because they're all square.

      I'll have to try that if I get a chance, see if it's worth fiddling with the minis.


    3. The template you posted looks great, by the way. The labeling on each side is a nice touch, especially with the effect included.



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