Kobolds Ate My Baby! Review

Last night we finally had a chance to sit down and play Kobolds Ate My Baby!  Described as the beer and pretzels RPG, this game is about being hungry, fearless, and death-prone kobolds.  The skills you have may be as dangerous as anything else, Tor (god of kobolds) may strike you down for your cowardice, and battle may be fought with rotting ham hocks.  This is the way of kobolds and the way of KAMB.

I personally have the printed version of Kobolds Ate My Baby! in color.  Everything you will ever need to play this game, over and over again, is contained within this book.  It may seem small if you just look at it, but it is crammed with information.  There are random item tables, random death tables, skills, cooking, magic, and more.  Additionally, this edition is color coded with the edges of every page being in a certain color separated by section.  For example if you need to roll on the random death table just open to the grey section.

The book is also full of illustrations of various kobolds.  Flipping through it you know this game is meant to be fun, silly, and hilarious.  Once you open it, the book gets right into telling you what to expect.  It takes the time to tell you which kobolds you are playing (the furry ones), about the god of kobolds, and King Torg (All hail King Torg!).  The writing style is very loose and often quite funny.  Puns can be found throughout and footnotes are often added for such things as telling you not to eat babies in real life(definitely not a good idea).  Additionally every time King Torg’s (All hail King Torg!) name is mentioned it is followed by “All hail King Torg!”  This is something the players need to do as they play, on penalty of increasing their chances of random death.  By including it the book keeps the lighthearted and fun attitude, but also reminds everyone that this is something that needs to be done.

The rules for KAMB, are very simple.  There are only four stats, skills are something you have or do not have, armor falls apart when it loses hits (HP equivalent), and you can only hold two things (one in the right paw and one in the wrong paw).  Character building is very quick, allowing you to build kobolds in minutes.  Our first time it took about 20 minutes, but that included reading many of the skill descriptions and describing how things worked.  Once you know what your doing, I imagine it would take seconds if not for flipping to the right pages and rolling dice for the random starting items, edges, and bogies.

The rules for doing everything is very similar.  There are specific dice numbers to roll and a difficulty chart for when there is not.  Random tables for results of things like cooking and buying items abound.  KAMB can be played quickly, haphazardly, and on the fly; there is no need to be sure if what you’re doing is the proper way and it is difficult to argue what you’ve done is the wrong way.  Attacking things is a simple formula, something you learn very quickly without referencing the book beyond the one or two times a new situation (like throwing something) comes up.

Despite how much I love this game, its simplicity does have a couple of drawbacks.  The first is there is no extra space in the book.  It has been cut down to the minimal.  As a result there is not, for example, a page that lays out the steps you need to take for character creation like there is in many games.  Granted, the book is small and the Mayor (GM) should read it ahead of time, but trying to find how much gear you start with means you have to go back to the gear section and read the beginning.  A single page with quick references is a small complaint, but it would be helpful.

Another thing that is tough to figure out until you play is how difficult things might be.  When you roll, increased difficulty means more dice rolled.  You want to roll low, either meeting or getting under the target number.  Three dice are often rolled to do things, especially when players try to take two or three actions on their turn.  Using the quick stats 10 is the best score, and getting 10 or under on 3d6 is easier said than done.  If you roll even one five or six, you are almost assuredly going to fail.  I would warn people looking to play this to make clear to players that it may be best to take one action per turn, at least until they start to understand how likely they are to succeed, as more actions means more difficulty dice for every action.

This brings me to my final complaint, perhaps the biggest one.  There are two mechanics that are very troublesome in wording: bonus and penalty dice.  Penalty dice is, actually, not bad.  Should things be stacked against you for some reason a penalty die is added.  It is, literally, a die added as a penalty.  Bonus dice are added as benefits to have the right tools for the right job (for example).  The problem with bonus dice are that they are not added, as the game requires more dice for more difficulty, bonus dice are actually taken away.  The act of taking away intuitively goes against the title of “bonus.”  I cannot, personally, think of a better name for them, but the concept is a confusing one, at least at first.

Now that I feel  like I have done more to explain my complaints about KAMB than my likes, I have to say I absolutely love this game.  I love the concept, I love the mechanics, and I love the ridiculousness of it.  My complaints are minor and mostly unavoidable.  Read the book, get an understanding of the rules, and you will have no problems.  Remember that this game is meant to be easy going and care free.  If you are not sure what to do just do whatever you feel.  Like I mentioned earlier, the rules are so simple and repetitive that you will know what to do very quickly.  Those problem I mentioned do not stay problems, by any means.  In fact, I hope you said to yourself, “well that’s not that big of a deal,” because it isn’t.  If those problems stop you from playing this game, it’s not the game for you.  Kobolds Ate My Baby! is a game that provides robustness in its ability to be played again and again, with wide and varied stories resulting, whenever you need some silliness.  To do what Ninth Level did and cram it all down into the small ~120 page book, is a feat and I applaud them.

TL;DR – Kobolds Ate My Baby! is a fun, silly, cartoon of a RPG experience.  The rules are quick to learn, and hurdles are easy to overcome.  You’ll die, you’ll laugh, you’ll have fun.  Go buy it, crack open a beer, grab some pretzels, and all hail King Torg!