The lovable mercenaries known as the Rat Queens are back in a new board game titled Rat Queens: To The Slaughter, which is live on Kickstarter now, and while you'll have to bring your own drinks to the party, pretty much everything else you need for a rollicking Rat Queens experience is right here. Deep Water Games has created a two to four-player cooperative game that captures Hannah, Dee, Betty (THE BEST), and Violet's unique strengths and utilizes them in a combat system that rewards teamwork and knowing each other's skillsets. You'll be throwing dice and having a ball in no time, and it all makes for a delightful experience that no Rat Queens fan will want to miss out on.
Let's get this out of the way: Rat Queens: To The Slaughter might just have my favorite instruction booklet of any board game. It feels as if they stepped right out of the comics and were put in charge of the game's marketing, and it's a treasure. Once you start digging into the components, the setup is refreshingly simple, so there's no sitting there for an hour while you construct nine decks and a bunch of do-dads to start playing.
Here's how the game works: You are defending the Palisades from being invaded by monsters, and there are four entrances they can come through. You'll need to bounce between those gates while utilizing your character's card deck to attack the invading creatures, and as you take them out you will earn gold, which you can then use to purchase upgraded cards from the marketplace, which just sits to the side. You can't do everything on your own though, so you'll need to rely on your teammates to not only take out their own monsters but also help you in your greatest time of need. This is the basis of the game's best system: The friendship token.
Each character has their own friendship token, and certain cards in your character's deck allow you to place a token on the gate you're standing in, though others allow you to place them at any gate. This is where some strategy comes in as you'll need to figure out which gate could use it the most, and if your options are open, planning ahead is key. That's because when another teammate picks up your token, your character will move to their gate instantly, regardless of what gate they are currently at. This is a great way to move characters across multiple gates at a time, and they get to use their special friendship ability which can be either attacks or healing (or both in Violet's case).
Those tokens have a third use as well as you can then take those tokens to level up your own character's strength or armor. It's a system that truly sets the game apart from other cooperative games as does the final sequence of the game. Once a number of enemies have invaded Palisade, The Final Chapter begins. The monsters go away, and in their place, a massive boss steps in and shakes things up. The Big Bad's deck is made up of the monsters you've defeated which gives you even more reason to get through as many monsters – especially in the early going – as you can. You'll need to chip away and deplete the Big Bad's HP before that deck runs out to claim ultimate victory, and that mechanic creates a sense of urgency in the encounter.
The Big Bad also hits harder and more often than the lesser monster counterparts, and they occupy two gates as opposed to one. This might seem one-sided, but the fact that you can also hit from multiple points as well helps balance that out. Deep Water Games crafted some delightful miniatures to occupy the board, especially with the Big Bads, and you'll definitely want to get some paints out to give them the full treatment.
Now, not everything is perfect, mind you. The gameplay embraces the teamwork you see in the books, but aside from a very in-character friendship ability, most of the character cards and abilities feel too familiar. Sure, there are certain cards that bring allies into the mix or that hone in on a character's combat style, but most of the cards – even the ones purchased from the upgrade marketplace – are improved versions of other cards which offer more dice in the roll or an added bonus to an ability. I personally would have loved decks more catered to that character's personality and playstyle, though the counter to this is that you can pick up any character and immediately have a feel for them. The good news is that thanks to stretch goals, there are new abilities in each character's deck, so this could be different in the final version.
The other nitpick is not really on what's here, but what is not, and that's some sort of story element to the game. The comics are so rich with fun characters and stories, and even the rulebook mirrors this, so I found myself wondering what the game would've been like if there had been some sort of narrative choice mechanics worked into the experience. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but something I did ponder.
Nitpicks aside, Rat Queens: To The Slaughter delivers fast-paced combat and rewarding co-op mechanics with a Rat Queens flair. Whether you're a longtime fan or new to the franchise, Rat Queens: To The Slaughter is an easy recommendation.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Rat Queens: To The Slaughter is available on Kickstarter, and you can check out the full campaign right here.