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Leviathan Wilds Review

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Review of: Leviathan Wilds
Board Game Review by::
Austin Charlie

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On May 28, 2024
Last modified:May 28, 2024

Summary:

Leviathan WildsI don’t want to waste time with one of my typical long-winded intros, so here goes—I think Leviathan Wilds is a truly special game, and one of the most engaging cooperative experiences I’ve played in a long time. Everything about it—from its production values to its flavor text—works in concert to subvert the violent expectations of this kind of game and create an experience that is simultaneously cinematic, uplifting, and a ton of fun.

Leviathan Wilds is a cooperative board game for 1-4 players that plays in 45-90 minutes.

Gameplay Overview:

In Leviathan Wilds, players work together to climb along the body of a massive Leviathan, with the goal of destroying all the crystals growing into its body. Each player has their own climber and deck (representing your grip), and the Leviathan is represented by a gridded map, dotted all over with corrupting crystals and friendly mushrooms (which can be picked up for special one-time powers).

Leviathan Wilds Cards
Each player chooses a different class during setup, which provides unique skill cards for their player deck.

At the start of a turn, you reveal the next threat card, which describes how the Leviathan will attack the players at the end of the turn. Then, you play a single card from your hand, and use the AP (action points) provided by that card to take actions. AP are primarily spent to move, but may also be spent to recover health, shuffle played cards back into your deck, or damage the myriad crystals on the Leviathan.

Each card also has a skill on it, which can be used on any player’s turn for a special effect–leaping across the map, blocking incoming damage, etc… However, played cards are not shuffled back into your deck until you rest, and your deck is quite small to begin with. If your deck is ever empty, you immediately lose your grip on the Leviathan, and fall downwards until you reach a safe point.

Once your turn is over, the revealed threat card finally resolves. Sometimes these directly affect a specific player, but sometimes they target a pattern of points around the player, giving them a chance to dodge out of the way. As the game progresses, these threats become enraged, with more devastating effects and more widespread areas of impact.

When any climber is defeated, all other players get a single turn to complete their mission. If all crystals on the Leviathan are destroyed before that point, the creature is saved and the players win the game.

Leviathan Wilds Gameplay
Each Leviathan is beautifully rendered as an epic two-page spread, in the aptly-named “Book of Leviathans”.

Game Experience:

Leviathan Wilds is not flashy. It doesn’t have a branching campaign, dozens of detailed miniatures, or inexhaustible decks of cards. What it does have, though, is a set of mechanisms that have been honed to perfection.

Movement is the core of the gameplay, and it’s great. You’re rarely able to mosey from one point to another; points aren’t always connected, and many are especially treacherous, costing you health or grip when you enter them. There are ways to avoid them, but it’s sometimes better to plunge headlong into dangerous terrain to reach an out-of-the-way crystal or a tantalizing mushroom. Movement is also strangely asymmetric, thanks to Leviathan Wilds’ implementation of gravity. Moving down the map costs much less AP than climbing up or across, which transforms the map from a static assortment of points to an actual landscape.

Leviathan Wilds Blast
The yellow climber is in serious trouble, unless they can find a way to escape the attack pattern…

Those considerations dovetail nicely with the hand management. Cards that provide more AP have stronger skills on them, meaning you might give yourself a weaker turn in order to play better skills. You don’t want to play all your skills every turn, though, or you’ll run out of grip and fall, wasting valuable time.

None of this matters if the Leviathans aren’t interesting. Luckily, every Leviathan feels (quite literally) like a different beast compared to the others, due to its own unique map, special rules, and threat cards. With 17 different Leviathans, and dozens of possible climber configurations, it’s a staggering amount of content, all of which is worth exploring.

The mechanisms make Leviathan Wilds great, but what elevates it beyond that are its setting and its theme. Leviathan Wilds doesn’t take up much space, but the artwork and gameplay really sell the premise that you’re climbing atop a supernatural behemoth. Moving across the map feels appropriately difficult and dangerous, and the special rules for each Leviathan provide a tremendous sense of place with minimal flavor text.

Leviathan Wilds Cards
Enraged threats (blue, on the left) are much more dangerous than normal threats (purple, on the right). Players need to move fast before the Leviathan gets too angry!

Despite the epic scale and ever-present danger, Leviathan Wilds commits to its themes of conservation and pacifism. Gamers are used to dealing with nature through violence and bloodshed, but that mentality isn’t just avoided in Leviathan Wilds, it is completely absent. The thought of causing deliberate harm is never even considered in the light bits of story text for each Leviathan, which feels hopeful and uplifting without ever leaning into preachiness. When you finally destroy that last bit of corruption, players get the sense of doing something good, which isn’t a feeling I get out of many games.

What’s most impressive is that these themes are never explicitly spelled out. Instead, Leviathan Wilds’ message is expressed quietly, through the intersection of gameplay and theme. Mechanics-driven players can ignore that message and still enjoy the game, but for people who immerse themselves in a setting, the game truly comes alive.

Final Thoughts:

Leviathan Wilds is a rare game that I think everyone should play. It presents an accessible rule set with plenty of room for depth and decision-making, alongside a theme and setting that is exciting, cinematic, and inherently positive. You don’t need to care about Leviathan Wilds’ message to have a great time with it–but for those who resonate with the theme, I think Leviathan Wilds will be a bit transcendent.

Final Score: 5 Stars – A moving ludological argument for the conservation of nature—and also, an incredibly fun and cinematic cooperative game.

5 StarsHits:
• Accessible co-op puzzle
• Seamless confluence of mechanisms, setting, and theme
• Hopeful and positive message
• Tremendous replay value

Misses:
• Occasionally anticlimactic ending
• Board can feel cluttered during the game
• Light on explicit storytelling

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2 COMMENTS

    • I agree! The publisher has an upcoming crowdfunding campaign that will include a 2nd printing, but I would love to see Leviathan Wilds make it to wider distribution at some point.

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