Getting slapped about in Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game was the best thing I did all week

Two monsters from Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game sat on logs
(Image credit: Future)

Things were going well in our Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game preview - too well, in fact. We'd managed to slap a saber-tooth dragon with a toad that put it to sleep (man, this series is wild) and unleashed hell in close combat while it snoozed. And then the avalanche buried me… followed by the arrival of a second, even bigger monster who was very, very eager to pummel us into a fine paste.

It's a good example of how fast your fortunes can change in this follow-up. Developed by Steamforged Games (the folks behind the Horizon Zero Dawn board game and numerous Resident Evil adaptations), Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game is just as engrossing as its predecessor. However, it makes smart changes to enhance an already-strong formula. 


Two massive monster miniatures face off with one another on the Monster Hunter World: Iceborne board

(Image credit: Future)

Back when I previewed the Monster Hunter World board game in 2021, I said it was one of the best adaptations I'd ever played. Good communication meant the difference between walking away with a win (and materials you could turn into armor/weapons/a snazzy pair of trousers) or being pummeled to death. That's because its enemies were a genuine threat with unpredictable moves, and showdowns were all about herding them into place for a killing blow. When combined with a novel card system for attacks and fluid turns (you decided which character went next based on who could do the most good), it packed a punch.

Iceborne has a lot to live up to as a result, and 'turf war' (a feature pulled straight from the video game and teased in the board game's reveal) is its killer app. This is where monsters invade one another's territory and beat the snot out of each other, and it makes a tremendous difference to how the game feels. When two titans are locked in a grudge-match, it's easy to understand what it's like for the humans caught between Godzilla and some other kaiju in those classic movies - all you can do is sit back and watch in awe. It's a reminder of how very small, and squishy, you are. 

The desperate tactics you'll use to escape make up some of the game's best moments

We got our first taste of this after battling the saber-tooth Barioth. It'd been a tense half-hour of guerilla warfare; our team had been darting back and forth with attacks from every angle to 'break' the weakest parts of its body (thus removing some of its moves), and my character had just dealt a devastating blow. Then, we drew one of the event cards that you pull at the end of every turn… and it told us that an avalanche was thundering across the board. Although you can dodge these events now (unlike the original Monster Hunter World board game), my character didn't have enough stamina left so got knocked out in their moment of triumph. And as the team scrambled to regroup next turn, things went from bad to worse - we drew another event card, and a yeti-like Rajang stomped onto the field.

A closeup view of a saber-tooth monster model in Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game

(Image credit: Future)

Compared to your character miniatures, these things are enormous. Accordingly, it didn't take long for us to realize that we were in trouble. Our saving grace? To begin with, the Rajang wasn't interested in us - it wanted the Barioth for itself. 

Well, we thought it was a saving grace. By sheer fluke, it leapt over our heads to set up a ranged lightning attack that would catch one of our team members in the crossfire. Whoops.

It's the kind of curve-ball that makes you feel off-balance with no idea what will happen next, and the desperate tactics you'll use to escape make up some of the game's best moments.

Maximum damage

An overview of the Monster Hunter World Iceborne: The Board Game board, tokens, miniatures, and cards on a wooden table

(Image credit: Future)

The way all this got set up was equally cool, by the way. Before each session, you'll read through the scenario's story and choose what your characters do before the hunt (sneak into the monster's lair or go around to see if there's another way inside, for instance). And seeing as it's multiple choice, there are plenty of permutations. The Rajang was only added to our preview because we took a detour and stumbled upon him by chance, for example. According to the team, this is part of Steamforged's effort to make your actions in the plot have more weight during combat.

Iceborne feels like a tighter yet deeper experience than its predecessor

It's not the only change devs have made to the old formula, either. Before, being knocked out reset your stamina and attacks so that you could return to combat refreshed. Naturally, players used it as a resource. Need to have a breather? Don't worry, just take a blow to the head from a dragon, wait a turn, and then you'll be right as rain. Seeing as this wasn't really the intention, things are much less forgiving in Iceborne. Healing or clearing your stamina board (which gets gradually filled up with attack cards, leaving you with little room to act unless you discard something) now requires the use of a special potion, and they're only activated at the start of your next turn. That means they can be interrupted, much like animations from the video game itself. Similarly, sharpening your weapons (e.g. getting back your damage cards) has been given the same treatment through limited whetstones.

A monster stalks player characters in the Monster Hunter World Iceborne board game

(Image credit: Future)

While this may sound harsh, it's actually a great move in practice. These tweaks add nuance to what is already a tactical experience, giving you more to juggle in the long run. Should you use as many attack cards as possible to inflict maximum damage? It sounds like a great idea in theory, but then you'll completely fill up your stamina board and be unable to dodge incoming blows. (This is what caught me out when the avalanche hit.) Similarly, when should you use your small handful of potions? Because you can be interrupted, you've really got to think ahead about what your foe will do next.

For this reason, Iceborne feels like a tighter yet deeper experience than its predecessor. It's still accessible enough that you can get into the swing of things in a few turns, but it's got claws. This isn't a cake-walk - you'll be kept on the edge of your seat throughout. And even though plenty has been added for the Monster Hunter World: Iceborne board game, that's the returning feature I'm happiest to see.

For more tabletop coverage, be sure to drop in on our guides to the best board games, these essential board games for 2 players, and the top cooperative board games.

Benjamin Abbott
Tabletop & Merch Editor

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to the latest Lego news. I've been writing about games in one form or another since 2012, and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.