Warhammer meets Play-Doh, Necromolds understands the tactile joy of playing board games in person
In a split second, my precious miniature is gone. Reduced to an unidentifiable mound of colourful clay on the battlefield. It is devastating. And hilarious.
This is Necromolds: Monster Battles, a board game best described as the unexpected meeting point between all-out miniature wargames such as Warhammer and the beloved Play-Doh toy set of so many childhoods.
Its appeal is an obvious one: instead of using hard plastic miniatures painstakingly glued together and painted over hours, you form your models out of malleable clay in a matter of seconds. They take to the board to do battle. If they’re defeated, they get squished back into the Promethean matter from whence they came. Last one standing takes the win. It’s very simple, silly fun.
Making your army is all part of the fun, of course. You pick a crayon-colour pot of clay (our starter set had a vivid Hulk green and Joker purple) and press a blob in the folding mould of your chosen miniature. There’s a real satisfaction to watching clay ooze out of the book-shaped mould - along with the knowledge you can use any leftover for a different model - before opening it to reveal your fully-formed figure. Easy as that.
There are no hit points or healing: if you win the roll, it’s time to squish.
The models themselves are impressively designed, making best use of the restrictions of clay as a substance and the need to identify different miniatures across the table. Detail is present, but sculpted in exaggerated ways that aren’t lost with a lighter press or excessive handling during sessions. While the clay included is fairly soft, the pieces are relatively stable on their included bases (it helps that it sticks to the board a bit) and aren’t prone to tearing apart as they’re moved around. The three troops in our set - the slow-but-deadly Insectomite, the coffin-mech Graveghoul and the nimble two-for-one Mud Mumps - were easy to tell apart at a distance, distinct in their size and overall appearance.
The rules are much lighter than Warhammer and its wargaming ilk. Players roll dice to determine which actions they can take - movement, ranged attacks, spells - before assigning those actions to the different types of creature they have in their army. Each creature has its own advantages and weaknesses and costs a different amount of your precious clay to create, limiting what you can add to your army. The basic rules are expanded slightly by advanced options for passive effects from certain monsters and other small additions, but it’s never anything beyond easy to pick up.
The figures move and shoot using a ruler template, with melee and ranged combat resolved using a quick hits-versus-blocks roll-off based on the models’ respective stats. Spending gems - collected at the start of the game, by discarding unwanted magic dice and for combat die results - buys you extra dice to boost your attack and defence. There are no hit points or healing: if you win the roll, it’s time to squish. This is wargaming for people with only an hour to spare, who want to play with their kids without consulting a thick tome of rules or are simply looking to chuck some dice with friends, no extra effort attached.
Squishing an opponent’s model takes on a strange ritualistic quality thanks to the inclusion of branded rings in the box, each with a unique symbol. There’s no open-palmed slapping of pieces into oblivion here, thankyouverymuch. As you bring the plastic stamp down onto a fighter, it forms a lasting calling card of your victory on the field, embossed with your sigil. The lump of clay is left where the fighter fell, becoming both terrain for other models to avoid and a slightly gruesome memorial. With combat being so fast, the ability to slowly smush your opponent’s piece literally into the ground is a brutal chaser.
Squishing an opponent’s model takes on a strange ritualistic quality.
Necromolds knows just how fun this is. It’s the reason to play - to delight in the tactile, tangible feel of squishing something that exists to be squishy, paired with the competitive delight of getting one over on your rival. It’s something that only a board game like this can offer; clicking or tapping on a screen and watching a digital image distort just wouldn’t be the same. Some games only give the impression of smashing toys together in a battle - Necromolds lets you actually do it.
The clay isn’t the only flexible thing in Necromolds’ box. While the base rules are enough to serve as a vehicle for the main event of crafting and crushing, a section offers up a variety of fan-made variants, from using leftover clay as additional terrain on the board to rules that introduce the morale checks and flanking bonuses of more conventional wargames. It’s an example of a great basic idea throwing itself open to the invention and imagination of players, inviting plenty of longevity and almost assured cult popularity. Heck, even the board itself is a joy, with a Where’s Wally-style minigame to hunt through between turns.
Necromolds shows how far a gimmick can go, shaping its simple pleasures into something that finds the line between substance and style. It’s not particularly big, it’s not particularly clever, but it is enormously fun. Get it in your hands and you’ll understand.