By now, tons of TTRPG tables swear by Steamforged Games' Epic Encounters boxes. Not only are they great for new players that want to start a miniatures collection for their RPG table, they are packed with interesting creatures and scenarios that can easily be placed into almost any Dungeons & Dragons campaign. They can even be fantastic vehicles for underrated or under represented creature types in the world's most popular RPG. That is especially the case here with Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon and Cove of the Dragon Turtle.
First, it must be noted that this review will go into detail about the contents of these boxes. This will include discussion about the miniatures, statblocks, maps, and strategies that they entail. Read at your own discretion - spoilers ahead!
What Is In Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon?
As the name implies, Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon is a scenario where adventurers investigate a mysterious island and are attacked by crab monsters called the Karkinos. This is a brilliant take on aquatic enemies. While D&D does have its share of monsters that dwell the sea – merrow, sahuagin, tritons, etc. there hasn't been a lot of official material that showcases them. The creatures contained within the box is as follows:
- 3 Scuttler Crabs
- 5 Karkinos Netters
- 5 Karkinos Infantry
- 3 Karkinos Stalwart
- 3 Karkinos Kingsguard
- 1 Karkinos Oracle
- 1 Karkinos Archon
Right off the bat, I love the designs of the Karkinos. There's a great mix of monstrous elements with crab carapaces, claws, and multiple limbs, combined with lethal martial intent. The Karkinos infantry stand out in this regard with their starfish shields or the Karkinos Netters with their long reaching tridents. What little lore there is in the encounter book states that these creatures are feared among other aquatic races because of their ruthless military might. That is represented perfectly in their miniature designs alone.
How Does Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Play?
As for how it feels to face the Karkinos, Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon reinforces their relentlessness. First, the statblock of every single Karkinos enemy mentions that they are aquatic (obviously) and can telepathically communicate with one another. Furthermore, each Karkinos can telepathically command sea creatures to do their bidding. The encounter book even includes statblocks and challenges for hungry sharks and a giant octopus to shake things up. If you know what Aquaman is capable of, then this power is dangerous by itself. On top of that, every single Karkinos enemy has high AC thanks to their natural chitinous armor. In fact, the Karkinos Stalwart can forgo moving on their turn to increase their AC even more.
Finally, the Karkinos' tactics are expressed well with each unit's dedicated functions. The Netters try to restrain characters by tying them up in nets and the Scuttlers attempt to pin adventurers with their claws. The Karkinos Kingsguard is extremely aggressive. They automatically go first in the turn order, have three attacks per round, and even have the benefits of Evasion. The single spellcaster in the box, the Karkinos Oracle, also packs some dangerous spells that can support and tactically tear through parties like Magic Missile, Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, and Greater Invisibility. Finally, the Karkinos Archon provides advantage on saving throws when near other units, and even has a 4e “bloodied” effect where he gets additional damage dice and advantage on attacks when he hits a certain amount of health.
Just from those details alone, you can believe the Karkinos are lords of their domain, and it makes encounters with them electric. In fact, if bundled with a certain deep sea supplement released recently, they could even serve as the ultimate big bads.
If there is a minor critique I do have with Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon, it's mostly in the encounter book and the map provided. The scenario puts the players in a fishing village with multiple boardwalks and huts to explore. The booklet encourages players to spread out and use tactical elements of the map to fight since the Karkinos are going to do the same. But when I was in the encounter as a player, the Karkinos almost immediately boxed the party in, turning the first half of the scenario into a battle of attrition. This was due in part to the book being vague about enemy placement in the first encounter, mostly leaving it up to GM discretion. As a showcase for the Karkinos enemies, it gets the job done, but it feels underdeveloped as a one-shot adventure in its own right.
What Is In Epic Encounters: Cove of the Dragon Turtle?
As for the companion boss box, Epic Encounters: Cove of the Dragon Turtle, it continues the island adventure. In this case, it seems the Karkinos are not the only thing threatening the island. The box contains a single huge Crab Turtle miniature as well as eight cardboard stand ins for Karkinos Infantry and Dragon Turtle Hatchlings.
Epic Encounters: Cove of the Dragon Turtle feels like the best kind of response to the Island of the Crab Archon box. The Dragon Turtle is a very direct fighter. It hits hard. It hits fast. And when it needs to get away, it dives into the water to regroup. This is because the map itself is a nightmare of limited spatial options, difficult terrain, and stretches of dangerous water.
But it all works thanks to two great wrinkles. First, there are multiple statblocks for the Dragon Turtle itself, giving GM s a bit more choice when it comes to lethality. Second, the map itself is packed with dynamic details such as invoking falling rocks to pepper the beast, and hidden treasure with helpful items. Since the Dragon Turtle is just a single boss with no Legendary Actions or Lair Actions, the challenge becomes more of navigation and communication, making for a more interesting boss encounter.
Should I Buy Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon and Cove of the Dragon Turtle?
Minor gripes aside, Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon and Cove of the Dragon Turtle help bring some nautical nightmares to the D&D table. If you think the selection of aquatic monsters in the Monster Manual are lacking, then pick these boxes up. You won't regret it.