Not long ago, I linked to Monster Tiles, a nifty little product from Ocho Games. They’re 1″ (and 2″) ceramic tiles with pictures of monsters on them — essentially, scaled-up counters or scaled-down miniatures, depending on your perspective.
I liked the idea, but not the price ($1.10 per tile), and some TT readers had some concerns about their durability. This came up in the comments to my original post, and David DeHart from Ocho Games dropped by to address some of those concerns.
I offered to review Monster Tiles, and David was kind enough to send me a sample. They’re an interesting hybrid of miniature and counter, and they combine some of the best and worst features of both.
My sample set included seven tiles: two 2″ tiles (an ogre and a spider) and five 1″ tiles (wolf, gargoyle, vampire, goblin and rust monster). Each tile is a square of ivory/off-white ceramic with a color illustration on the front and the Monster Tiles logo on the back, and is 1/4″ thick. Their front and back faces are slightly beveled.
They have a nice heft to them, substantial without being too heavy. They’re satisfying to hold, which is hard to quantify but also unmistakeable — I kept wanting to pick them up.
Unfortunately, they don’t feel nearly as good. There’s a chalky quality to them, much like the bottom of a coffee mug (as opposed to the sides), and I found myself checking my hands for dust after handling them. (There wasn’t any dust, of course.)
The artwork on my sample tiles was generally quite good, and was evocative without being so unique that it would be jarring in a “standard” game. The images are detailed, the colors stand out well and they have a unified look to them.
They’re not quite as crisp as the counters I’m used to (from Fiery Dragon), but that’s partly due to the artist’s style, which tends towards fine lines.
With two exceptions, I could tell exactly what monster was depicted on each tile (a good thing). The exceptions were the vampire, which looked like an evil chain-wielding guy, and the goblin, which looked like a tiny elf.
Because Monster Tiles show the entire creature, rather than, say, a closeup of its head and upper body, smaller creatures are harder to make out on a 1″ square.
The logo on the back of each tile makes sense from a branding standpoint, but I would have preferred to see the creature’s name there as well (or nothing at all, which would presumably cut down on costs).
In terms of durability, there are a few areas to consider — and it’s a bit of an odd topic.
If this were a review of a set of cardstock counters, it probably wouldn’t come up; everyone knows what cardstock is like. With plastic or metal miniatures, it might or might not come up — they’re also a known quantity, barring poor castings or too-small parts.
But these tiles are ceramic, and ceramic makes me think of breakable things. This concern also came up when I first linked to Monster Tiles, and I suspect it’s of interest to many potential buyers.
I’m not running a game at the moment, so I couldn’t just test them at my next session. Instead, I performed a few simple tests to simulate the kinds of treatment these tiles would get during play. I also took into account one of the main ways that they’re meant to be transported: inside a velour storage bag.
In looking at durability, I wanted to answer three questions: Will they break? Will they chip? And will the artwork rub off?
In terms of breakage, the answer is no — they’re made of a pretty tough ceramic. I banged two tiles together, and dropped a small and a large tile onto a hard floor from about three feet up, and they didn’t break.
When I smacked one tile against another, the smaller one chipped slightly. Casual contact and being jangled around together had no effect, though. In terms of chipping, they seem like they’ll hold up well.
Rubbing two tiles together lightly left tiny visible marks on the bottom tile’s artwork. Rubbing them together hard had an immediate effect, stripping away several bits of the image.
They’re not likely to get rubbed together vigorously during normal use, but if you carry them in a bag they’ll probably rub together lightly at least occasionally. That’s a concern, but not a major one — they hold up well to hands and fingernails.
Update: In the comments below, David DeHart from Ocho Games mentioned that the sample tiles he sent me are not the ones that are currently for sale on their website.
They’re actually the next incarnation of Monster Tiles (premiering at Origins), which does not feature a glossy sealant/coating, and are therefore less expensive. I didn’t know this when writing the review.
Compared to Counters and Plastic Minis
Monster Tiles are a new idea, so they’re automatically going to be compared to the two closest existing ideas, miniatures and counters. It’s tough to stack them up against unpainted metal miniatures, which have a different appeal, but they’re quite close to both counters and prepainted plastic minis.
Monster Tiles cost $1.10 per 1″ tile and $2.75 per 2″ tile. The smaller ones are sold in sets of five for $5.50, while the big guys come in pairs for the same price.
Compared to cardstock counters, Monster Tiles are heavier and more satisfying to fiddle with, but also substantially more expensive. Compared to D&D minis, they’re a nice price — you can buy three tiles for about the price of two minis, which is pretty good — but don’t have quite as much visual appeal.
From a GM’s Perspective
As a GM, cardstock counters seem like a better option than Monster Tiles. Although Ocho Games offers a good range of standard d20 fantasy critters (with more on the way, including NPCs), counters provide much more variety for a fraction of the cost. For me, having lots of monsters on hand beats out the fact that Monster Tiles are more fun to handle than counters.
Stacked up against prepainted plastic minis, though, they do much better. Unlike randomized boosters, I can buy only the tiles that I need. With minis, I could go buy singles (loose figures, sold individually), but if I wanted rare monsters I’d have to spend quite a bit more to get them.
On the durability front, I don’t think Monster Tiles will hold up quite as well over time as plastic minis. Minis benefit from their light weight and the way in which their paint is applied. The weight of Monster Tiles works against them, making it more likely that they’ll ding each other up a bit during travel.
Should I Buy Them?
If you like cardstock counters, probably not — the price:variety ratio just doesn’t compare. On the other hand, they’re easier to pick up and move around on the table than counters, which can be finicky because they’re so thin. If you don’t need a ton of creatures, though, Monster Tiles are a good alternative to counters.
If you like prepainted miniatures, it depends. Like minis, Monster Tiles have a good heft to them, and they’re a bit cheaper. Assuming you don’t have a shop nearby that sells loose D&D miniatures (there are none in my area), then being able to pick and choose Monster Tiles is a big advantage over randomized boosters of minis.
One final thing to consider: David (of Ocho Games) emailed me with this info about future pricing:
After crunching numbers we came up with a new MSRP (due at Origins) of $4.00 per 5-pack of medium-sized creatures and $4.00 per 2-pack of large creatures. This breaks [the] cost down to $.80 per tile (medium) and $2.00 per tile (large).
Was this review useful to you? Do you have any questions about Monster Tiles that I didn’t answer here, but could address based on my sample tiles?