09th Sep2019

‘MourneQuest’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

mournequest-box

MourneQuest, originally a book from author Garry McElherron, is a fantasy themed board game that combines Irish mythology with thematic, cooperative gameplay to create a board game that feels pretty unique. The game is set in the land of Mourne, which is a fantasy world inhabited by clurichauns (definitely not leprechauns) and bogbeans, as well as the four nightmares that serve the awful shimnavore. In each game of MourneQuest, hero Jack Turner and his rag-tag band of friends and family must do battle with all variety of lesser creatures, collecting relics and items along the way, before one final climactic battle against the shimnavore.

Now, if a lot of those references mean nothing to you, that’s fine, because they didn’t mean much to me when I first dived into MourneQuest. The good news is that Backspindle Games take on McElherron’s IP is very strong and deeply immersive, and whilst the narrative creates a sense of this rich and lore filled world, the game is actually quite focussed in terms of the features it takes from that world to put into the game. For example, whilst it’s clear that several members of Jack’s group are mythical creatures and that there are a myriad of other creatures in the land of Mourne, we stay focussed on just three kinds of minor enemy, the four named nightmares and the shimnavore itself.

At a gameplay level, there are no fiddly rules to manage about spells or effects being specific to one type of creature or subject to exhaustive conditions, which means that MourneQuest actually gives players the freedom to explore the narrative and focus on ridding the land of the nightmares. This, in itself, is hard – very hard. The players will begin by choosing one of the characters from the generous selection in the box, each of which has its own detailed miniature and a player board, explaining that characters unique special power, as well as their specific attributes.

MourneQuest is wholly cooperative, so it makes sense to pick a balanced team that will be able to deal with things in different ways by using their attributes in courage, strength and magic. Whenever a battle is fought, the player tests their skill in the chosen attribute against that of their enemy, but there are few occasions when a test of a particular kind is forced upon the player, and there are no tests (in the classic skill test sense) required in order to complete the non-combat phases of the game, such as when banishing a nightmare. Whilst not a major point, I felt that this was a bit of a missed opportunity, although I accept that it would have made the game harder, more random and more complex had this kind of test been introduced.

On a typical turn, the active player will have four action points with which to move around the board, participate in combat and potentially, pick up or drop off charms. The board in MourneQuest is tighter than it looks, with relatively few spaces and a lot of bottlenecks that force combat fairly frequently. The players will learn in their first few games that the base character stats are nowhere near strong enough to defeat even the second tier of basic enemies, let alone the shimnavore, so it’s always useful to focus on collecting items that buff these statistics early on.

Once a player has taken their four actions, they will move the moon token around a central ring. Once the moon has completed its second rotation, the shimnavore will be unleashed, giving the players a known countdown. Whilst it’s a little fiddly to explain, I will also mention that as the moon rotates, it waxes and wains, with different days (red moon, blue moon etc) affecting the strength of the players and their enemies. In short, there are days when it is either better or worse to be starting fights with enemies and it’s a very thematic, yet simple mechanism to remember.

In terms of what the players need to do to win a game of MourneQuest, the objective is simple. Collect charms of four different kinds from specific locations on the map, then deposit them onto the nightmare disks. As part of the end of each turn, players will roll dice that rotate the nightmare disks (depending on the face shown) and can ultimately release nightmares onto the board, where they hunt players and attack them until either they, or a player, is defeated. It is definitely best, therefore, to defeat them by banishing them with charms, and each nightmare needs six charms to defeat it.

Once the moon completes its second rotation, the final phase begins and the shimnavore begins to attack The Mourne Wall and if it breaks through, it invades reality and the players lose. The problem here is that the shimnavore also unleashes all unbanished nightmares and cannot be attacked until they are defeated in combat. Simply put, you might have a chance if you’re lucky and two nightmares are unleashed, and you’ll potentially be OK with one nightmare, but if three or four make it onto the board during the final showdown, you will certainly lose.

Similarly, even if you do reach the final battle with the shimnavore and either no enemies or very few still to defeat, you are on a ticking clock and with a few unlucky rolls, you’re just going to lose. Equally, if the players have not collected items that buff their base stats (at least one per player) then the characters without buffs will be next to useless at this stage of the game. This combination of randomness, potential for strategic oversight and the generally punishing nature of the game can make MourneQuest feel unforgiving. It’s very disheartening to enter the final stages of the game with next to no chance of winning – especially if you feel you got there due to poor rolling, rather than bad gameplay.

With that negative feedback out of the way – and I do appreciate that it might be a killer for some – let me just say how much I love MourneQuest. It’s super, super thematic and whilst it has some kind of fiddly language and a few unusual concepts, it’s very simple to flow from one turn to the next. As a slight mitigating factor to the punishment of losing, the fact that MourneQuest is fully cooperative means that all players win or lose together, which can lead to some very tense moments. Alpha play could be an issue, but this isn’t a game like Pandemic, where the outcome of every action is predetermined, so you can’t just treat it like a puzzle to be solved.

Looking at MourneQuest holistically, it’s an attractive game that demonstrates Backspindle Games ambition to expand into larger, more impressive games. The miniatures are plentiful and detailed, with a lot of detail that brings to life the matching artwork which is pervasive across the remaining components. The board itself is a bit poor and due to the small, oddly shaped pieces, it warps quickly. Everything else is very well made, bringing alive the superb theme that ties beautifully to a set of fun and often unusual mechanics. Aside from the caveats that I mentioned previously about luck and difficulty, MourneQuest is an excellent, challenging and enjoyable cooperative game.

**** 4/5

MourneQuest is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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