Previewing: Killer Croquet

kc mascotsHave you ever wondered what happens when you pair up an ex-spy, a time-traveling steampunk-esque cyborg, a kaiju fighter, and Thor, God of Thunder? Yeah, we didn’t think so. And neither did we. Until now – with Killer Croquet.

Killer Croquet revolves around a shadowy all-powerful organization who has kidnapped all manner of famous croquet players and forced them to battle for their lives. Or freedom. Or something. And they do this by forcing them into a a croquet battle royale.

Killer Croquet is the most Klingon lawn sport we’ve ever seen. Seriously. It starts off all nice and friendly and ‘oh, hey, let’s hit these balls through the wickets, ol’ chap’. That lasts for about one round. Maybe two, if you’re playing with people you don’t know.

Then, the inevitable question: “So, what happens if I hit another player with my mallet, again?”

In Killer Croquet, your job is to either:

  1. Hit the balls through all the wickets to the end post, and then back again, OR
  2. Be the first to thrash enough people to reach seven points, OR
  3. Be the last player standing.

Let’s just say that we’ve played this game a few times now and we’ve never gone through a wicket twice.

The actual gameplay is very simple. First, a croquet course is set up with your standard fare poles and wickets, but you’re almost as likely to see a roaming razor blade or flame thrower as well. Because hard mallets aren’t dangerous enough.

A sample board setup. Prototype Shown

A sample board setup.
Prototype Shown

Each player gets two actions per turn, and you can Move, Hit a ball, or Hit a player. During the first half of the game, you often end up moving and hitting your ball or someone else’s. You know, normal croquet stuff. When hitting the ball, you choose how strong you want to hit the ball by rolling between one and two special dice, and state the direction. The ball must then moves that many spaces, or until it hits something like the boundary, a wicket, another player’s kneecap, etc.

The league logo?

The league logo?

During the second half, everything goes to hell, and you spend your turn running madly about the field swinging at anything that comes within range. This is fun, to a point, but is overall directionless. If that continues past a certain threshold – depending on the number players and the usefulness of your dice results – the game starts to drag.

Simply put, playing to kill is fun and playing to get all your balls through all the wickets is not. This is why ESPN does not air croquet tournaments, but it does air mixed martial arts.

Still, trying to get through the wickets is a valid strategy, so if you’re playing with your grandmother or that particularly boring neighborhood child who likes to tell you that his mom doesn’t let him watch PG movies because experiencing emotions is bad…well, go right ahead and aim for those wickets.

In order to see if an object hits its target or passes through a wicket, you have to draw a card. There are only ten cards in the deck and since most of them seem to hit at least something, you can pretty much bank on a hit. And if you don’t, you don’t tend to be too upset. The game rewards multiple simple-but-fluid strategies and lots of chaos, and it punishes anyone who tries to enact a long-term strategy. Unfortunately, this also makes the game feel like there aren’t really consequences to poorly played moves. In short, it’s a luck game. Pure and simple. Yes, you do have decisions, but they don’t feel meaningful without consequences.

Bwa ha ha!

Bwa ha ha

Getting through the first half of the course is actually worth the effort, in part because of the 2VP it awards you, but mostly because that’s when you become Poison. And as anyone who has ever smashed their sibling’s / relative’s / former friend’s croquet ball down the hill and into the woods can attest, that feeling is only topped once you have a Poison ball. Because then people just start losing.

The same holds true for Killer Croquet. Once Poison, every time your ball collides with another, that ball is temporarily removed and you gain a point. But that relies on the dice and cards cooperating. Hitting someone with the mallet is far easier.

Each player has five health points, and when you are reduced to zero you are incapacitated and lie down on the field. It takes an action to stand back up during your next turn. You’ll notice that this really isn’t too harsh an effect, and that’s good because you’ll spend a lot of your time getting back up. Anyone can knock another player down and score a VP for it, but a Poison mallet does three times the damage. You could spend both your actions just clubbing someone to death for the point. And given the opportunity, you will.

Paint...or dried blood?

Paint…or dried blood?

Killer Croquet has an amusing and eccentric theme, and while there will certainly get some chuckles over just clubbing each other with mallets, you almost wish the game started from that premise instead and had the playing croquet part be secondary. Still, Killer Croquet comes across as a uniquely designed cross between the futility of staying alive in games like Frag with the chaotic dice nature of games like King of Tokyo. Overall, Killer Croquet is a game good for social play or families with kids, but it’s far too easy, random, and long to draw in a person who prefers meatier games. If that sounds like the kind of game you’re into ol’ chap, then hit the ball wicked hard over to their Kickstarter.


Photo Credits: Croquet balls by James Lee; Croquet skull byMcburce; Mallets by Evan Wathington.