Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review

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Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Featured (2)

Steamforged Games’ latest Epic Encounters Warband box take your D&D party on a beach holiday they’re certain never to forget. Filled with skittering crustacean-folk out for blood and no small number of other sea-based nightmares, Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon will provide you with a game night you’ll never forget.

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Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Summary

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon proves beyond all doubt that Steamforged Games are beginning to make some serious waves in the miniatures market. With some of their most detailed figures yet, Island of the Crab Archon is a gorgeous set that will delight GMs/DMs and their D&D parties the world over.

Our only real criticism of Island of the Crab Archon is its setting. Whilst this box is great for inserting into, say, a Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign, or another coastal adventure, its watery setting may make it a little more difficult for you to slot into the running of your campaign when compared to some of Epic Encounters’ other sets.

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Introduction

For most of us, the worst bit about going to the beach is usually something like sand getting into everything, sunburn, or a seagull the size of a private plane swooping down and stealing your lunch. Whilst these are inconvenient in the real world, they don’t necessarily translate very well into the medium of tabletop games and thus wouldn’t necessarily make for excellent Dungeons and Dragons encounters (unless the lunch-stealing seagull is magical or something).

However, should you, a humble Game Master or Dungeon Master (GM/DM), find your party making their way towards the coast in your D&D campaign and catch yourself bereft of ideas, the good folks at Steamforged Games have you covered with their latest Warband box: Island of the Crab Archon. What manner of monsters await along the shores? Let’s find out!

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon All (2)

Steamforged Games very kindly sent us Epic Encounter: Island of the Crab Archon as well as its accompanying Boss box, Cove of the Dragon Turtle, for free in order for us to review them. Thanks SFG!

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Unboxing

Let’s not hang about, then. Here’s what we’ve got today.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Unboxing 1

The box presents onlookers with its first tantalising glimpse of the titular Crab Archon, as well as a look at a handful of its devilish minions.

Beneath the lid, the first thing you’ll find is your paper and other printed goods.

This includes the Gaming Mat, the Campaign Booklet, and some promotional material.

Beneath all this, all extremely carefully packaged in a well-designed plastic insert, are the miniatures that come with this set – and let me tell you now, these ones are absolutely fabulous.

But more on those in a minute. We’ve got some other bits to get through first.

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Contents

Here’s everything you get in the box:

  • 1 x Island of the Crab Archon Campaign Booklet
  • 1 x Double-sided Gaming Mat
  • 21 x Miniatures, as:
    • 3 x Scuttler Crab
    • 5 x Karkinos Netter
    • 5 x Karkinos Infantry
    • 3 x Karkinos Stalwart
    • 3 x Karkinos Kingsguard
    • 1 x Karkinos Oracle
    • 1 x Karkinos Archon

That’s an impressive number – and nice range – of miniatures to find in any box. We’ll have a look at all of this in turn now, starting with the all-important Campaign Booklet.

Books

Epic Encounters’ Crab Archon Campaign Book is a core part of the set, and whilst you may find it easy to dismiss this diminutive pamphlet of glossy paper, I urge you not to.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Campaign Book 1

Within the humble 40 pages of this little book are loads of ideas as to how to run this particular encounter. The encounter is designed to be inserted seamlessly into an existing campaign, so there are no predicated conditions your players need to meet – you just need to get them there.

This is, actually, the only problem that we’ve found with this set: the getting them there part. With the other Epic Encounters we’ve looked at, as a DM/GM, I’ve found it extremely easy to insert Epic Encounters’ Arena of the Undead Horde, Tower of the Lich Empress, Hive of the Ghoul-kin and Barrow of the Corpse Crawler into our narratives. However, I did find it a little bit more difficult to shoehorn Island of the Crab Archon in. This is due to one factor: setting.

It’s the smallest detail, and it’s going to sound ridiculous, but it is a bit of a trip hazard. Island of the Crab Archon relies on your party being in a geographical location that has water – ideally a coastline of some kind. With the other sets we’ve looked at, the action takes place in either an undead arena, a tower, a tomb, and a barrow. These locations can be dropped anywhere in your campaign world, but Crab Archon relies on you and your adventurers being in the proximity of a coastline.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Campaign Book 2
Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Campaign Book 3 (2)

Whilst it is not explicitly said at any point that you must use this set in this way, in order to get the most out of this box, you will need to get your party to some kind of coastal area. There is, for example, a section called “The Village” that features as one of the locations on the Gaming Mat, that is described in the Campaign Book as being on the ocean. Unfortunately, large geographical features like coastlines aren’t as easy to just drop into your setting – especially if your players are, say, several hundred miles inland.

Whilst this does reduce just how useful a DM/GM may find this set, it definitely still has its place in your campaign-running arsenal, simply because of how much is on offer with the set.

The first thing to be aware of is that every part of the book is optional. These are all ideas – not hard-and-fast things you must include in your campaign. They’re there to help the GM/DM is they’re struggling, or just want to implement something different into their session.

There are ideas for hooks – ways to get your players to where the campaign takes place – as well as plenty of background titbits to explain what the Crab Archon and his minions, called the “Karkinos”, are doing harassing this particular part of the world.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Campaign Book 4

You may think to yourself: “I’ve already got my session planned; I don’t need any help!” but again, I’d urge you not to dismiss this book, because the team at Steamforged Games have thought of absolutely everything.

Remember that Village we mentioned a minute ago? Well, this has to be one of the most well-thought-out and diverse encounter spaces that Epic Encounters have ever put out. There is so much for your players to see, do, and interact with here. Villagers can help the players out, there are platforms that players can cross (if they do so without care they will find themselves plunging into the sea below – or perhaps being attacked by something far more sinister), and a host of other features hidden in the buildings on the map.

The Island – the second location in the encounter – is given just as much thought. A straight-up showdown between your players and the surviving Karkinos, this part of the encounter takes a more standard approach, like those we’ve seen in other Epic Encounters sets. There’s still plenty of stuff to do, lots of environment to interact with – or be wary of – but this is much more strongly geared towards a straight-up fight.

We then arrive at stats.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Campaign Book 5

The encounters are designed to be tough – not ruthless, brutal, game-ending encounters, but challenging to players and presenting a real threat.

Players will be facing off against a wide array of varied monsters with diverse attack patters and a plethora of abilities – some of which are really nasty. The Karkinos Kingsguard, for example, always goes first. The Oracle’s eel companion gives it advantage on all attacks, and all attacks made against it are at a disadvantage – the Oracle may not have masses of HP, but hitting it is going to be tough. What’s worse is that when it dies, the Archon gets really mad and becomes a downright terrifying foe.

Once you’re able to find a way around the slightly awkward setting, there’s a huge amount of stuff for you to get your teeth into in this book. Creative DMs/GMs will be able to use the information in here masterfully to creature a truly memorable encounter. Those who just want to use the box as is will also find it very easy to create an engaging and exciting encounter.

Wargear

Here, we’ll have a quick look at the maps that come with the box.

As we mentioned above, there are two parts to the Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Warband box. The first part of the encounter takes place in a village suspended over the ocean. The first side of the map represents this place.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Map 2

It sets the stage for a restrictive, claustrophobic fight. With the perilous ocean swirling below the narrow wooden walkways, driving the Karkinos back out of the village is going to be tough – especially if they find a way to separate the party and surround each player on the individual sections of walkway.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Map 1

The second side of the map represents the Island of the Crab Archon – the location from which the set takes its name. This smaller, circular battlespace is still covered in obstacles and plenty of things for your players to interact with, but it takes the form of a much more standard “arena” style encounter.

The map itself is made from high-grade, glossy paper – the kind that will last if you look after it. The print is of high quality; however, the maps are quite dark which may make it a little tough to see what’s what on the terrain. This may lead to features being missed out or wrongly ignored.

Miniatures

At last, we arrive at the really good stuff – and this time, it really is really good.

Island of the Crab Archon comes with 21 miniatures. Whilst each miniature of a type is monopose, we’ve found this to be a boon on the tabletop: it makes it very easy to identify what model is what at a glance – the comparison we’ve made in the past is to chess pieces.

To give you a sense of size, here’s a quick comparison between all the miniatures in this set and a trusty Space Marines Assault Intercessor.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Size Comparison

None of these miniatures require any assembly and can be taken straight out of their box and used in game.

Scuttler Crab

The smallest miniature in the box by a minute margin is the Scuttler Crab. Don’t let its size fool you, though: this guy is covered in loads of details – and packs a bit of a wallop. You also get three of them, which will help keep your adventurers off-balance as they try and deal with the bigger, more obvious foes.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Scuttler Crab

Equal parts adorable and deadly, this little guy has a surprisingly high AC and an automatic grapple on any successful strike that it lands thanks to its big claw.

Karkinos Netter

The Karkinos Netter is a brilliantly unique model covered in loads of fine details, from its trident to the net held in is pincer-hand. You get five of these miniatures, so be prepared to see nets flying across the battlefield!

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Karkinos Netter

The flat, shell-like head of this creature gives it an oddly forbidding and disturbing look – as if its face and features are covered by a hood or hat. It’s an oddly unsettling figure that is as detailed as it is creepy.

Karkinos Infantry

The soldiers of the Karkinos Archon are just as unsettling as the Netter before them – and you also get five of these. A twisted mass of shell and corded muscle, and with staring, bulbous eyes, these horrors are ready to really ruin the day of your adventuring party.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Karkinos Infantry

The addition of a semi-sculpted base here is also quite nice. It helps elevate the miniature slightly without taking the focus away from the rest of the model.

The starfish-like shield this sea-dwelling foe carries is a favourite of ours here – a little, characterful detail that really helps bring this miniature to life.

Karkinos Stalwart

No brood of enemies is complete without that Big Guy – and Island of the Crab Archon has three of them.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Karkinos Stalwart

The Karkinos Stalwart is a high HP, high AC monster that can boost its toughness even further by standing still and hunkering down within its shell.

Look at this brute. Steer clear of those claws!

Karkinos Kingsguard

The trio of arachnid-like Karkinos Kingsguard are truly repugnant foes – not only to look at, but to face on the tabletop. With a rule that allows it to take no damage instead of half on a successful save, or half damage instead of full on a failed save, this relatively high-HP foe – who can also always go first – will run rings around your adventurers.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Karkinos Kingsguard

Again, that semi-sculpted base to add just a little height works wonders with the miniature’s pose. It looked primed, ready to pounce, and extremely deadly.

Karkinos Oracle

The Karkinos Oracle – an eldritch-looking horror with an eel coiled around it – is one of two unique figures in the box. A devastating spellcaster who, if handled incorrectly (or correctly?), will be able to wipe out a party in a turn or two, the Oracle is an interesting figure that doesn’t quite fit the aesthetic of the rest of the models in the box.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Karkinos Oracle

It’s that slightly more eldritch feel – the coiling eel, the narrow, tentacled head, the robes. Whilst it’s still a great figure, it doesn’t mesh with the rest of the Karkinos quite as well. There’s also a lack of sculpting on some parts of the eel, which might make it a little bit more of a challenge for painters.

You do, however, get a real sense that this miniature is underwater thanks to the motion in its seaweed-like robes and the way its eel holds itself.

Karkinos Archon

Finally, we arrive at the Crab Archon himself – and oh boy, he’s a mean-looking heap of coral and carapace.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Karkinos Archon

The massive claw, the serrated tusk-like appendage that mimics a sword, the rigging loincloth and abandoned anchor on its base – this is a villain of the deepest, darkest parts of the sea. He towers over his scions, cold in demeanour (and blood) and devastating in a fight. Whilst his rules are straightforward, if something should rile him up, his ability to make all his attack rolls at an advantage makes him a frightening foe.

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Playtesting

Unfortunately, due to a change in working commitments and unavailability, we haven’t been able to do quite the rigorous playtest of Island of the Crab Archon as we would have liked to. We’re sorry about this and hope to get back on track with our thorough playtests/playthroughs as soon as possible.

Consider this something of a DM/GM’s playtest. What we’ve done is sit down and rigorously go through the encounter rules and features with our best D&D hats on and rolled a few dice in a fairly controlled climate to see how things stack up.

Anyway, Island of the Crab Archon’s keyword is “claustrophobia”.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 2

That’s a sunny way to start a playtest, no? Let me explain.

The meat of the encounter – two showdowns with the “Karkinos” – takes places in two tight and restrictive arenas. The first is the Village. You’ll have seen this in our pictures above: the huts and walkways stretched out across the sea.

In the Village, the party is forced to move about using the platforms and the buildings above the water, which aren’t really wide enough to admit people more than one at a time.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 1

Stifling, restrictive, and dangerous (poor skill checks will send you plunging into the water below, and who knows what may be waiting in the depths), controlling these walkways is vital to success in the encounter. Put one foot wrong, and your players will find themselves cut off, surrounded, isolated, and easy prey for the Karkinos. There’s even a handy D10 table for DMs/GMs to roll on to see what happens when players brave the walkways.

But that’s not all this encounter offers. Once again, Steamforged Games have delivered with a vast and varied array of villains for your players to contend with.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 3

From the magic-slinging Oracle to the humble Scuttler Crab, and the infuriating Netter to the deadly Kingsguard, these foes will really test your players’ skills and resilience. Whilst they aren’t particularly deadly individually, in groups the Karkinos are lethal. Their vast array of abilities will pick off any isolated or unwary party members, so approach them with the greatest care!

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 4

But the players don’t technically have to face off against these foes alone. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say there are a few inhabitants of the Village who might be willing to part with some of their possessions in order to protect their homes and their lives. Some of the buildings may even house other benefits that players will want to take advantage of, so players keen on engaging with their surroundings will be rewarded (most of the time!).

We’re returning to that “claustrophobia” keyword again as we flip the gaming mat over and prepare for our showdown with the Crab Archon. Now, depending on how well (or how poorly) you did in the Village, and whether or not you players did a certain thing drastically affects the difficulty of the showdown with the Crab Archon. He’ll either be quite cross to see you on his bit of turf, or an absolutely furious killing machine.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 6

First off, the Island of the Crab Archon is cloaked in mist. Players cannot make any ranged attacks beyond 25ft without incurring a disadvantage. What’s more, the eerie atmosphere presses in on characters, fraying the nerves of even the hardiest adventurers, and necessitating Wisdom saves if the DM/GM so wishes.

And that’s not all. The fight itself is a gruelling war of attrition, with large numbers of enemies on the table at all times constantly moving to surround the player party. The Campaign Booklet does, however, recommend not reinforcing the Karkinos for fear of making the encounter too overwhelming.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 7

The Archon himself is a nightmare. Accompanied at all times by his three Kingsguard and always on the move, he himself is an imposing enemy made all the tougher by his hypemen (or hypestaceans?). With a high AC and the ability to pump out a serious amount of damage every turn, DMs/GMs will have to be careful with how they play this guy – they could very easily wipe out their whole party very quicky.

As you’d expect, there are also plenty of environmental features for players to grapple with. There is, of course, a ton of water – some of which is just plain salty, some of which is magical. The magic of the island has also seeped into its very bones and tries to fight back against players who step too close to certain features – but that same deep, primordial energy may prove to be a boon to those players who harness magic themselves…

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 8

…And, of course, that circular pool in the middle of the map can’t have been added for nothing, right?

Between the Archon and his hulking servants, a ton of seawater, and some spooky bits on the island itself, this half of the encounter also focuses on keeping players penned in and off balance. This is an encounter that seriously rewards clever character positioning and teamwork, and that will absolutely devastate cocky, arrogant, or selfish players who go for solo glory.

Epic Encounters Island of the Crab Archon Playtesting 9

There’s no doubt about it, this one is a tough one. DMs/GMs will need to run the encounters very carefully so as not to completely wipe out entire parties, as there is the potential for a huge amount of damage to be dealt here. Between the tricky environment and the many foes your players will face, prepare carefully so as not to end your session too early with a TPK…

…unless, of course, that’s what you want to do. If so, Island of the Crab Archon makes the for the perfect place to send your players into a watery grave.

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Price and Availability

Island of the Crab Archon will set you back £54.99GBP/$54.95USD/€54.95EUR straight from Steamforged Games’ webstore. For several hours of entertainment and no fewer than 21 miniatures that will be a joy to paint, this is a reasonable price for what you get.

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Where to Next?

If you’ve enjoyed Island of the Crab Archon, then the rest of the Epic Encounters rage really is your oyster.

Your first stop should be Cove of the Dragon Turtle – the accompanying Boss box to this Warband box. More than that, though, there’s a huge amount to choose from over on Steamforged Games’ webstore, so consider where your party are in their adventure, what perils they may face, and then take the plunge with a box of your choice.

Whilst we’re huge fans of all the Epic Encounters sets currently available, we’d always strongly recommend Arena of the Undead Horde and Barrow of the Corpse Crawler. You can see how our playtesters got on against an endless horde of skeletons and a really enormous, flesh-hungry worm right here on the site – and read about why we love these two boxes so much.

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon Review – Final Thoughts

ProsCons
Quite possible the best miniatures we’ve seen in an Epic Encounters set to date.
A detailed, varied and exciting encounter that goes above and beyond what we’ve seen in previous boxes.
Varied, exciting and original enemies that will delight and terrify any D&D party.
The encounter is slightly restricted by its setting: you won’t be able to get the maximum out of this set unless your campaign has led your party to some oceanic shoreline or other coast.
The print of the Gaming Mat, whilst of good quality, is very dark. This may be difficult for some people to see.

Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon does a lot of things really, really well.

For one, its miniatures are excellent. If we’re being honest, they’re probably amongst some of the best that SFG have ever put out. They’re unique, vivid, exciting, and full of details. Next, the resources available in the Campaign Booklet for running the encounter are superb. A huge amount of thought has gone into giving DMs/GMs loads of features to play with in order to make the setting as fun, memorable, unpredictable and challenging as possible.

But there are one or two slip-ups. First, as we mentioned above, there’s the setting: that the encounter is so closely tied to your adventure taking a turn towards a sea or an ocean may make this set a little more difficult for DMs/GMs to work into their campaign. The second is the darkness of the maps: the features are a little more difficult to make out, which means some players and DMs/GMs may struggle to figure out what’s what.

But these are minor slip-ups, and not things that should steer you clear of grabbing a copy of this excellent boxed game. If you want to drag your players into the murky depths of the foulest ocean, let Epic Encounters: Island of the Crab Archon do it for you in supreme style.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Author

  • VoltorRWH

    Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

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About VoltorRWH 125 Articles
Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

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