The MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, is currently one of the hottest trends in competitive online gaming. Games like League of Legends are a cornerstone of the E-Sports world but very little attempt has been made to bring its more recognizable aspects to board game form. Known for a cast of colorful characters and simple yet deep mechanics it would seem like the elements of the genre would be ripe for cardboard plunder. In swings Rum & Bones: Second Tide by CMON Games, recently released sequel and re-implementation of the original swashbuckling MOBA based board game of pirate ship duels on the high seas that aims to bring the same kind of experience as the genre of online game around the table.
In Rum & Bones, 2 to 6 players split into two teams of pirates representing different factions. In the core set for Second Tide, we get the human “Marea de la Muerte” crew whose two medium sized ships flank the larger one of the fish demon inspired “Deep Lords”. The objective is to be the first faction to reach 10 victory points which are gained by knocking out opposing factions heroes, destroying parts of their ship, and defeating various powerful sea monsters.
Both sets of ships has an expendable but inexhaustible crew comprised of basic Deckhands and heartier Bosuns that give them a boost in combat. But the true stars of the factions are their unique heroes. They come in 5 different classes: Captains, jack of all trades heroes whose abilities normally exemplify the play style of your chosen factions, Swashbucklers that pack an up close punch in exchange for lower health, Brutes who have large amount of hit points for soaking up damage, Gunners, specializing in long range combat, and finally Quartermasters whose abilities generally revolve around beefing up your crew. Each side picks a number of these heroes depending on the number of players, 3 per side for game with 2 to 4 players and all 5 for games with 5 or more. So with 2 players on each side you would have one player controlling 2 heroes while the other controls 1 hero and the crew.
Players take turns activating either one of their heroes or their crew. The crew single-mindedly move over three predetermined paths based on the setup, attacking whenever there is something within range. They also have the option of firing the deck gun, a weak long range attack that can hit anything on the board, particularly good at thinning the opposing crew.
When a hero activates, they can take 3 actions, either moving freely, attacking or using one of the action skills printed on their character card. Heroes also have the option of moving via rigging, swinging across from one ship to the other with the risk of falling into the water. Heroes gain coins from defeating crew, heroes, and deck features. These coins can be used to purchase new skills and upgrades to existing ones giving them a progression over the course of the game.
Each faction also has a deck of Tide Cards which contain some basic cards and unique cards that match the faction’s theme. When played Tide cards can do things as minor as healing a few points of damage off a hero or taking some extra movement to game changing abilities like washing away all the units on a gangplank or summoning a powerful sea monster to help battle your opponents. The trade off is that some of the more powerful cards increase a faction’s Kraken points. At the end of each round a die roll is cast and if the result is less than or equal to the total number of Kraken points, the beast itself is summoned to wreak havoc.
Rum & Bones: Second Tide absolutely nails the MOBA formula in board game form. The recognizable three paths for mindless mobs to follow and the mechanics of farming to upgrade your characters is spot on. Even non-fans of the genre should find something to love here, particularly highly competitive players. The upgradable heroes, a change made from the original Rum & Bones, bring all the mechanics closer in line with it’s PC counterparts with only shops and tower mechanics really missing but these elements might grind the game down significantly. Once the game gets going it moves at a brisk pace and win or lose the games are very entertaining, with momentum swinging back and forth between the teams.
Beyond the core set a wealth of additional content is available to make the game more varied. Two large box expansions providing new factions: the Spanish steampunk inspired Iron Inquisition and the orc faction Blutarch’s Legion that has three smaller junks instead of larger ships that use catapults to fling heroes around. Extra heroes for all four factions are also available as well as mercenaries, heroes that can be employed in any faction based on characters from history, literature or pop-culture. You can even upgrade the existing content from the original Rum & Bones with an upgrade kit that brings all the new features and balancing changes to the old factions and mercenaries. That being said, the wealth of content is practically impossible to balance properly and you are likely to stumble on some combination of heroes, mercs and factions that are either nigh invincible or entirely ineffective. Unlike a video game a board game is unlikely to be patched to correct this. Completionists be warned also; CMON’s Kickstarter exclusivity on some content will make it difficult if not impossible to acquire all the miniatures without significant cost.
The miniatures themselves have a high amount of creativity and variety. The heroes are all unique and expressive while maintaining the overall flavor of the faction, ensuring that everyone is sure to find some aesthetic favorites in the lot. I am particularly fond of the Deep Lords and their cartoonish mutant sea life quality. Even among the basic crew there are 3 distinct miniatures making the board look quite a bit like a chaotic pirate brawl. Painters will find themselves overloaded with fresh units to paint. I know I’m pretty much set for the next decade with everything I have.
The artwork on the boards and cards is also quite fantastic, fitting the theme of the faction perfectly. If you have some of the expansion content take a look at the detail inside the the boxes for the heroes and mercenaries. It’s really astounding! The ship boards are large and well rendered but they just refuse to lay flat without significant time spent under pressure. This can make the gangplank placement difficult. The status tokens like stunned and crippled, while amusing, are sometimes hard to tell apart at a glance and could have used a simpler scheme. The packaging is initially nice, with all the miniatures stored in trays and boxes, but makes organizing components difficult after everything is punched out. You’ll likely discard these in favor of other storage methods like bags or custom trays.
Rum & Bones: Second Tide manages to be colorful and well paced, strategic while being chaotic, and dripping with it’s pirate theme all while accomplishing it’s goal of replicating the feel of a MOBA. It is a great amount fun and very engaging just with the core set and has tonnes of optional content to keep players busy for a long while. Whether you like the video game genre or not, there’s something in Rum & Bones: Second Tide for everyone to enjoy.
- Fun and competitive gameplay
- Nails the MOBA format in board game form
- Tonnes of variety with different team setups and expansion content
- Excellent theme and artwork
- Compatible with all original Rum & Bones content with upgrade kit
- Balancing all the content is just not possible
- Questionable insert value
- Boards will just not lay flat
- CMON’s Kickstarter exclusivity will drive completionists mad