Myth is a fully cooperative fantasy miniatures game. Each player takes the role of a Hero and everyone works together to complete a series of quests against monster opponents. Because the game is cooperative, the monsters function automatically and the players must combine their powers so they all win (or lose) together. An arena style "Slaughterfield" option allows for semi-competitive play, with the Heroes battling wave after wave of monsters, to "last man standing".
OK, a history lesson. Ever since "Dungeons & Dragons" burst onto the scene in the 1970s, people have wanted to play fantasy adventures as a boardgame - going on quests, fighting monsters, capturing treasures, but without the creative input needed from a Dungeon Master to run the whole story. Terence Peter Donelly's "Sorcerers Cave" was quite explicit about this: "a game that could be taken out of the box and played instantly, yet be different every time," as Donelly declared. Nevertheless, "Sorcerer's Cave" was simplistic and it took Stephen Baker's Hero Quest in 1989 to match up shifting tiles, monster figurines and differentiated character types to a boardgame dungeon. The only problem was that Hero Quest required someone to be the Evil Wizard (Dungeon Master) and control the monsters. The successor to this is Kevin Wilson's Descent: Journeys in the Dark. "Descent" is much more sophisticated and challenging than "Hero Quest", but one player has to be the Overlord (Dungeon Master).
Now, you might feel that if someone has to take on the thankless task of being the Dungeon Master, why don't you just go the whole hog and play D&D? The beauty of "Sorcerer's Cave" was that it was a proper game that everyone took part in together. If "Descent" is the successor to "Hero Quest", then Myth is the successor to "Sorcerer's Cave". There is no Dungeon Master. You all get to be heroes.
The Heroes in Myth are the Soldier, the Archer, the Acolyte (the "cleric" who can fight and has faith-based spells) and the Apprentice (magic-user) as well as the Bandit (a rat-man with stealth powers). The plastic miniatures are beautiful as are the Realms, the thick card tiles representing ruins, swamps, crypts, castles, etc that the Heroes move across. The opponents are Crawlers (insectoid horrors of varying sizes) and Grubbers (goblinoid warriors) who "spawn" from Lairs or arrive as Hunting Bands. The setting is a sort of fairy tale world that reminds me of video games like Fable.
Everything the Heroes try to do comes from cards and each Hero has his or her own unique character deck. The Soldier's cards are mostly combat manoeuvres; the Apprentice mostly has Spells in his deck. Some cards like Sprint are in all the decks. Each Hero Cycle has the players laying out their cards and taking the actions they allow. There's no fixed order to this: it's a fluid game and in a Cycle some players (who draw good hands) might take a lot of actions, others very few. Many cards act as "buffs", helping other players with their actions, so a lot of gameplay focuses on strategizing - getting everyone into position, getting cards down in the right order, then unleashing a complex series of manoeuvres to devastating effect.
The monsters, meanwhile, stand around doing nothing. But not for long. Every significant action the Heroes take adds an Action Point (AP) to a Darkness Chart. The "Darkness" represents and abstract power of Evil and when its Darkness Meter hits 6 the game gets interrupted by a Darkness Cycle. Now the monsters move and attack, each monster having its own priorities in terms of who they go for. Instead, the Heroes now stand helplessly while the bad guys pound on them. Fortunately, there are cards called "Interrupts" that can be played during the Darkness Cycle, enabling Heroes to dodge, parry, flee or strike back.
The main tactic in the game is to watch the Darkness Meter and judge whether you should let it "max out" or not. Sometimes it's better not to play a powerful card if it would trigger a Darkness Cycle at a time when the Heroes are vulnerable, low in health or lacking Interrupts to save themselves.
The other tactical consideration is "Threat". Heroes increase their Threat rating every time they do damage to monsters. Having a high Threat makes intelligent monsters seek you out (which can be a good strategy, since they will ignore your friends) but if your Threat hits 10 you may be in line for a Threat Penalty when the next Darkness Cycle triggers. These can be very bad, such as the monsters gaining more attacks or the appearance of a dangerous Boss. Threat goes down if you play fewer cards than your maximum, again forcing players to choose between using their powers and being restrained.
The core mechanic is rolling a ten-sided die (D10) and trying to roll higher than a Target Number (TN). Equipment, buffs and Darkness Effects may let you roll extra dice in the attempt and may change the TN for the better or worse. You also roll six-sided Fortune Dice (FD) which have symbols corresponding to each of the 5 Heroes and a swirly Darkness symbol. Different combinations of symbols can unlock special effects - generally, it's a good thing to roll your own symbol.
That's the essence of the game. Killing groups of monsters makes them "pop" treasure tokens and clearing a board unlocks rewards. Treasures are drawn from a "Treasure Sack" but over time players get to replace the rather useless white treasures with more and more useful green and powerful blue treasures. Finishing quests adds new quest cards to the deck and gaining rewards adds potent new cards to a player's personal deck. Gaining Titles lets you keep more equipment between quests. All of these creates a pleasant sense of advancement - you start each quest quite weak and under-equipped, but the more successful you've been in the past the quicker you'll power up. The quest cards are arranged in "chains" and completing one adds a follow-on quest to the deck of quest cards. This is also pleasing because it means your achievements have consequences and two groups of players may develop their quest decks in different ways.
All of this is, of course, wonderful. The components are wonderful too. Megacon Games launched Myth as a Kickstarter and the intriguing premise raised them a lot of pledges. When you open the box you can see where the money went. The miniatures are gorgeous, the cards are sturdy, there's a lot under the lid and it all looks fantastic.
"So what am I waiting for?" you say: "Let's buy this game!"
Be warned first of all that Myth is a game that encourages you to be creative. There are lots of choices for players to make. Do you want to play a quick Chapter, an extended Act or an epic Story? Or roam about in Freeplay or slog through monsters in Slaughterfield? Choices, choices. When a Realm tile is laid, you get to decide all sorts of things - is there a Lair? one or two? Hunting Bands? how many and how big? where do they deploy? is there a Trap? It's up to you. Now some people love this, especially if they come from a RPG background. Regular boardgamers may find this frustrating - if you get to decide the challenge, how exactly is it a challenge? This creativity issue extends to many of the rules because all sorts of situations can arise where players have to make their own ruling. This is either liberating or maddening, depending on the type of gamer you are.
Then we have the rules...
Of course, the rule book looks great: sumptuous, full colour, moody, lush. It's also completely unfit-for-purpose. Not only is it incomplete, but the layout is arbitrary and the explanations obtuse. No one could figure out how this game is to be played merely from reading the rules, which are, in effect, a set of designers' notes hastily bound together in no particular order. What you need to do is go to Megacon's site where a lot of downloadable content and tutorial videos can be found. These are very good and clarify things immensely, but there's several hours of viewing here. You'll probably need to watch the tutorials, play the game and get confused, go back to the tutorials and play it again and get irritated, then go to the FAQs on BoardGameGeek and the other tutorials on Youtube and then it'll start to come together. Then you go back to the original rules and you understand what they're trying to say.
Annoying, right? Definitely, especially if you're unpacking the game surrounded by excited kids eager to get some fantasy romp underway. You need to explain that Daddy/Mummy is going to have to go online over the weekend, curse and fret and play it by themselves a couple of times before any family fun can begin. Of course, adult gamers may be used to breaking a new game in this way.
Did I say it was incomplete? It's woefully incomplete. The rules are full of inconsistencies - some are typos acknowledged in the FAQs online, some are translation issues, some are just a good old-fashioned lack of beta-testing. You will look in vain in for Undead monsters (despite them being referenced on the cover art), Darkness Decks for the goblins, several of the quest cards alluded to in the rules, explanations of how poison works, etc etc. Don't get me wrong, the game can be played as it stands, but it is self-evidently incomplete, unlike (say) "Descent", which has a ton of expansions but the starter game is utterly self-contained. This undermines the game's aesthetic value. It's like in video games where you keep coming across locked-off areas or need downloadable content to proceed. Moreover, the holes in the rules exacerbate the creativity issues, forcing players to make their own judgement calls on situations that really ought to be regulated and could, easily and simply, be regulated ... if only the designers had let the game cook in the oven a little longer before rushing it onto the shelves.
For example, the set includes a "mini-Boss" called Yardu, who's a sort of undead ogre - the only undead figure provided. His special power is that he summons undead "captains" called Soulless. No Soulless are provided, nor are there stats for them. Now, you could just use the figures for the troll-like Grubber captains and get the stats for Soulless off the Internet... this sort of fix is OK, but it rubs your nose in the inadequacy of what you've just bought. When you start using Souless you realise their special power is they resurrect undead Shamblers. Now, once again, you can use Grubbers to represent Shamblers and get the stats from the Internet... but if you want to buy the Soulless and Shambler expansion packs you're adding at least £30 to the box price. Now, I'm used to spending £100 on a game once I've bought a couple of expansions, but buying a couple of expansions normally extends the game in radical new ways: it doesn't just enable you to play the original game properly, without inconvenience or irritation.
I hope Megacon bring out "Myth 2" pretty soon - I hope it's a generous box with the Undead miniatures, the missing Darkness Decks and quests and a rewritten rule book. I hope they price it compassionately, given the goodwill they've squandered over the core rules. I fear, I really do fear, they'll dribble out the necessary material in a series of pricey booster kits and that would probably kill the game for me.
Which would be a shame, because Myth is a good game with the potential to be a brilliant game. I can't award it 5 stars because the rules are so shoddily put together. I ought to knock off another star because of the incomplete nature of the kit, but that would make Myth into a 3-star product and I like it much better than that. Here's my solution: a sliding scale!
IF YOU ARE... a casual gamer looking to open the box, read the rules and get an introductory adventure underway, perhaps to please children... ONE STAR, avoid this game, buy "Descent" instead. Heck, buy "Hero Quest".
OR IF YOU ARE... a keen board gamer who is prepared to invest time to learn a game but likes challenge and rigorous rules that can be exploited through tactical and intelligent gameplay... TWO STARS, this game is probably too "fuzzy" for you and the omissions will drive you crazy
IF YOU ARE... a gamer on a budget, worried about the price tag but interested in an innovative new departure in fantasy gaming... THREE STARS, this game is of interest to you but it's not ready yet; if you hang on for six months or so there'll probably be a Second Edition and you might want to wait for that
BUT IF YOU ARE... a roleplayer or miniatures gamer looking for a brand new experience and wildly imaginative mechanics, happy enough to "wing it" in the pursuit of a lively and surprising adventure... FOUR STARS, Myth is the next step in fantasy gaming, finally bringing a RPG experience to the game board