Court of the Dead Mourners Call is a board game brought about from the combined creative might of Project Raygun and Sideshow Collectibles. The game is based on the setting by Tom Gilliland and sees a blending of area control gameplay and beautiful components.
Off The Shelf / On The Tabletop articles come in two halves. In Off The Shelf we will look at what's in the product along with covering how the game plays. This is followed by On The Tabletop where we talk about our first playthrough games and finish with feedback from the On The Tabletop team. The On The Tabletop playthrough articles catalog our initial experiences with a game; as a result, mistakes will be made. On The Tabletop should also not be taken as a full review. These articles are simply our first impressions of a game.
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Off The Shelf
Court of the Dead has several key mechanics involved in its gameplay. Games are won by collecting Unity and gaining influence with the 3 factions of Death, which are Bone, Flesh, and Spirit. Each player also draws an Ulterior Motive card at the start of the game, which is kept secret and gives each player a unique way to gain bonus points towards their final score.
During the game, players buy Guild Figures, for which each of the 3 factions have 2 types. Each player is limited to 10 Guild Figures at any one time. Guild Figures are used to control locations on the board, but also owning each type of Guild Figure is tracked on a Guild, and the player with the most of each type gets a reward at the end of each round. Players who win locations by having the most Guild Figures in each area, get an area-specific reward.
Guild Figures are moved around the board by spending influence of a type dictated by the area moving to, Bone, Flesh or Spirit. This influence is part of the game's final score, so balancing spending with earning is an essential part of the gameplay.
During each round, players also draft Court Cards, which represent powerful characters. To draft, players draw a set amount of cards, chose one and pass the remainder to the next player, who in turn passes their remaining cards around. Each Court card has access to 2 powerful effects and to play them, players must choose between the effects during each round. Examples of effects are gaining influence or placing a powerful unique Guild Figure on the board. There is also a figure for Death himself, and the player playing the Death card is given the figure and can decide the result of a single tie at the end of the round.
During the game, 2 meters are tracked. The Celestial Suspicion meter can raise or lower as a result of Court Cards and location results. The meter dictates how much Etherea the players must collectively pay at the end of each round. Etherea is used to buy Guild Figures, so players need to balance increasing their forces with paying the tithe. The success or failure of paying the tithe has rewards and consequences. The other meter is the Dreadsgrip Threat, and this can also be raised and lowered through Court Cards and location results, but also buying Guild Figures raises it. This meter dictates the maximum Guild Figures that can be on a location and exceeding this limit can result in figures being removed at the end of the round.
Each round players also draw Wallows cards, which give challenges, in return for rewards. Not completing a Wallows card challenge can result in a consequence.
On The Tabletop
We played a 3 player game of Court of the Dead for our test game. Kit, who drew an Ulterior Motive card that doubled the score for his Unity tokens, focused on farming Unity for the entire game, leaving Kyla and I to fight over the locations. Kyla needed to control areas with Spirit guild figures, so her focus was on gaining those, and I would get bonus points for each set of 1 bone, 1 flesh, and 1 spirit guild figures.
It was a very close run game in the end. I swarmed the board early game, but Kyla very successfully managed to control the Deadsbane Token, giving her forces immunity to the Dreadsgrip threat, which decimated my forces late game. Kit and I drew with 36 points, and Kyla came in close with 34 points.
Adam: The components for Court of the Dead are beautiful. The sculpts, the art, the quality of the paper for the rulebook, the incredibly well-designed box (everyone knows how much I love a well-designed box and Court of the Dead's is up near the top). But the game itself didn't grab me. I can't fault it, everything works smoothly and there are some fantastic elements with the card drafting, multiple ways to work towards victory. It just didn't feel like there was anything new.
If area control, worker placement games, or the setting are appealing to you, then you'll have a blast with Court of the Dead. It's beautiful and well designed. I'd be interested to play it again, just to try another tactic to work towards victory, but I don't think it would be a regular play for me.
Adam is the righteous leader of the On The Tabletop Team and is an experienced tabletop gamer. He has played physical and online CCGs to a very high competitive level. He also has a background in roleplaying, board and wargaming and has playtested and produced content for several companies. A veteran tabletop writer who's favorite games includes Dark Souls the Card Game, The Legend of the Five Rings LCG, WarCry and Bushido. You can read his work here on TechRaptor and follow his exploits on Twitter - @StealthBuda.
Kit: Court of the Dead has been a game I’d been looking forward to trying at some point. As much as I like aspects of the game there were some that really felt clunky and broken. Although the setting is dark, dealing with the death and the afterlife, it doesn’t have the same crushing sadness of say Wraith by White Wolf.
The miniatures themselves were very lush, but all in all, they aren’t a necessity and could have been another token. Now to my main and really only gripe about the game. Hidden objectives. I feel these should be small additions to the main end game scoring, a couple of little extra points. However, with Court of the Dead your hidden objective can radically swing the scoring, so much so that you have to skip whole swathes of the game because achieving your objective will be far more beneficial. My objective was that I would get double points for unity tokens. All I was doing for the whole game was farming unity. I didn’t buy units, claim locations or any of the other aspects. To be fair, I can't even comment on those aspects.
I did like the drafting of cards at the start of each round, however again I was only looking for cards that would grant me unity at the expense of all else. The artwork is utterly gorgeous on the cards, the mainboard, the character boards. Some of the card art I’d even want as art prints on a wall.
I feel that the co-operative element is just bolted on and doesn’t really play out the way it was initially planned for I think. It's more like a random tax you have to pay each round.
In summary, it’s a good game, but other similar games such as Blood Rage do it better and are far less fiddly, even the hidden objectives are far more balanced.
Kit is the owner of ABZ Games, Aberdeen’s gaming community hub. He has been playing board/card/war/role-playing games for near on 25 years. Currently, his favorite game is Wild West Exodus by Warcradle.
Kyla: Court of the Dead is visually right up my alley. The art of the board and all the cards are aesthetically appealing to me as a lover of all things spooky, and all the physical game pieces such as the card counters and boards felt of good quality. The miniatures left a lot to be desired though. I thought some were too visually 'busy' so you couldn't work out what you were looking at, and others were lacking detail and too smooth.
In terms of the gameplay, I'm still not too sure what I think about it. The game has many aspects to it, all of which you need to be aware of and keep track of if you want to win. If you don't, it's easy for an opponent to snatch a victory from you without you even realizing it until you count up things like unity and influence at the end of the game. I prefer my games a little more streamlined. How well you do might also depend on things outside your control, such as what cards your opponents choose to draw during the Court Card draft, and which The Wallows cards you draw. The quests given on those can be hard to complete, and you may be punished harshly for not doing them.
I'm also not a fan of competitive games that still involve cooperation. I'd rather just focus on my own goals than having to worry about working with my rivals diplomatically to do things like pay tithes or not invoke the Dreadsgrip. But each to their own.
I'd probably need another play through to make up my mind, so I can say I enjoyed it enough to at least consider doing that.
Kyla is a 3D Artist and VFX Compositor. She is also known around the UK convention scene for her costume and prop making work. She's been a regular DM and player of Dungeons & Dragons for the last 3 years, and when she's not busy writing her own homebrew campaigns she can be found playing Zombicide with friends. You can find her on Instagram at @HallowStudios, and on her website.
The copy of Court of the Dead used in this article was provided by Asmodee UK.
Have you played the Court of the Dead? What did you think? What do you think of the miniatures? Let us know in the comments below.