Posted by : David Guyll July 16, 2014

After my disappointing romp through corn fields and across blue plains, I almost did not pick up Boss Monster, but I am sooo glad I did (and, in hindsight, I also regret missing the Kickstarter).

First things first, the production value is awesome. I am not sure how you fuck up trying to emulate Adventure Time's art style, but Card Wars managed to pull it off. Boss Monster goes with a kind of retro, 16-bit style that still looks like some effort was actually put into it.

There are a lot of references in the game. I mean, check out the cover: that guy is totally doing the Mega Man jump, and the frog guy looks a lot like Wart from Super Mario Bros. 2. Others include the spell Giant Size, which looks kind of like the super mushroom, and the Assassin spell, which features Altair from Assassin's Creed.

These are not just limited to video games: part of the cover from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide is on one card, as is the green face with the bullshit sphere of annihilation in its mouth from Tomb of Horrors.

Again, it looks like it was made by people who actually gave a shit.

Second, the point of the game actually makes sense (or, at least more sense): you and 1-3 other players are, well, boss monsters that are competing with each other to see who can grind their way to ten souls the fastest. You do this by luring various heroes into your dungeon, which you build one room at a time, stocking it with monsters and insidious traps in the hopes that they die a gruesome death before they get to you.

Finally, the game is non-collectible (though there is one expansion), very easy to learn (we did not overlook various rules that ended up really changing how we play), and only takes about 20 or so minutes to wrap up once you know what you are doing.

Some might dislike that, since so much of the game is random (not just in the card draws, but even spells and boss abilities), it can be a bit swingy. As in, you can have a rockingly synergistic dungeon load out, rack up almost all of your souls, and then all of a sudden lose when a few epic heroes show up and kick your ass (something that has happened to me twice).

I think this is keeping inline with some of the randomness that I grew to expect from "classic" video games, but it can also swing both ways: you might have some initially craptacular rooms, bait in a bunch of weenie heroes (which might trigger some nice "when a hero dies in here" effects), then upgrade your dungeon enough to gobble up some epics and still win.

I kind of like it, as it keeps you on your toes. No getting a nice lead, then just going through the motions knowing full well who is going to win. In every game plans have been ruined by Melissa snagging a card, making me ditch one, trashing a room, or raising a hero from the dead so that it runs through and punches me in the face (and, to be fair, I have done the exact same thing to her).

The Cards
There are four types of cards: bosses, rooms, spells, and heroes.

Bosses
These represent you, the player. By default everyone gets a random boss, though a variant rule lets you draw two and pick which one you want. Each has an XP value (which is used to determine who acts first on a turn), a treasure type (used to "bait" heroes), and a "level up" ability that triggers the first time your dungeon is five rooms long.

Rooms
These are the most important cards. They are typed (either as a monster or trap), have a damage value, often have some kind of special benefit (like allowing you to draw from the spell deck, or restoring a wound when a hero dies in it), and like bosses have treasure types. Dungeons can only be five rooms long, though you can build rooms on top of rooms.

Spells
Often hard to come by, these can be used to fuck over others players (like Assassin), save your ass (Fear or Teleport), or help you snag a wayward soul (Princess in Peril). Spells have one of three icons that determine when it can be played. If a spell has a hammer, it can only be played during the build phase (which ends once everyone has flipped up their cards). If it has an axe, it can only be played during the adventure phase. If it has both, it can be played during either phase.

Heroes
Each hero has a number of player icons that let you know the minimum number of players required for them to be in the deck (ie, a 3-Player hero requires three or more players), an amount of health, and the type of treasure they are looking for (represented by a sword, book, ankh, or bag of gold).

In addition to the four types of heroes, they come in ordinary and epic flavors. Epic heroes only come out once the ordinary hero deck is exhausted, which means that you have a finite amount of time to properly build your dungeon before they come a-knocking. The only differences are that epic heroes tend to have more health and count as two souls if you kill them, but deal two wounds to you if they survive.

Playing the Game
The game starts with a setup phase in which each player draws five room cards and two spells cards, discards any two, then builds a room. After that you go through a series of phases until someone either murderizes enough heroes, or there is only one boss left standing (or flying, or slithering).

Beginning of Turn
One hero per player appears in town, which gives you a bit of time to prepare a specific room, or let the feeling of impending doom sink in as you realize that you have the most swords and there is no way you can stop them. Then each player draws a room card.

Build
Everyone gets to lay a room down. You put the cards face down so that other players do not know what you are planning for. Once everyone has a card down you flip them face up, then resolve any "when you build this room" effects, starting with the boss with the highest XP value.
"Centipedes, neanderthals, succibi bathing, a minotaur, and a dracolich? Gygax would be proud."
Dungeons can be up to five rooms long, but you can build over your normal rooms and upgrade some to advanced rooms (which have to be built on rooms that have the same room and treasure types).

Advanced rooms are generally just flat out better, but sometimes you will want to build over a normal room to bait heroes stuck in town, to trigger a "when you destroy a room" effect without demolishing a room that you actually want, or because one room gives you a kicker benefit. For example, each monster room next to a Goblin Armory deals +1 damage.

Baiting the Heroes
Once everyone finishes building, you check each hero and move it to the dungeon with the most treasure icons for the kind of loot it is looking for. If there is a tie, then the hero just mills about in town. There is no limit, so you gotta be careful, lest you rack up a series of powerful heroes that end up plowing through your dungeon and slaughtering (especially after another player breaks a tie by demolishing a room that was maintaining the tenuous balance).

Adventure (Time?)
Once the heroes are all lined up they proceed, one at a time, through each room. They enter a room, take damage, and then everyone can play a spell with the axe symbol. If they are still alive, they move on to the next, take damage, and so on. If they die you resolve any "when a hero dies in this room" effects, then put it in your soul pile. Otherwise you take damage, and if you end up with five wounds you are toast. Presumably they gain XP, gp, and maybe find some loot, not that it matters.

Conclusion
This game is just awesome. At $25 it is pretty cheap (especially since there are no booster packs), and the expansion is like ten bucks. It looks nice, is easy to learn, plays fast, and is just a crazy, random, fun nostalgic trip that lets all you non-Dungeon Master types play the bad guy without having to bother with long-term planning, drawing maps, or working on silly monster voices.

{ 6 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. This is one of my favorite non-collectible card games, right after Munchkin. I do not yet own the expansion, but the game rocks as is. There are certainly stratagies to building your dungeon, either specializing in monsters or traps only, and making sure to get lots of spells really makes you kickass (do not underestimate spells!) I've shown a lot of my friends this game, though knowing the tricks gives you a huge advantage; in a 4 player game, I often can finish before we even reach epic heroes.

    If you are ever looking for more tabletop games, I can help you find some really great ones. As for card games, based on how you liked this game, I would also immediately recommend Dominion (and its many expansions) or Citadels. Dominion is a deck building game to earn land and victory points; Citadels is faster paced game than Dominion where you want to be the first to build your city through use of special characters.

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    1. The expansion is super easy to add into the game: you draw 1 item card (or 2 with four players) and attach it to the first hero that matches its treasure icon. If you kill the hero, you get to keep the card and use its boss ability.

      I am ALWAYS looking for more tabletop games! Bring 'em on!

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  2. I've seen this a couple of times at my FLGS. Sounds like I should pick it up :)

    As far as other board games, we played Kingdom Builder recently, which was pretty good. It's fairly simple (at least, far simpler than the name would imply), but has a ridiculous amount of replayability built in to the rules.

    The map is semi-random, like you see in a lot of games. But which maps you get also define what special abilities are available. And, beyond that, the actual goal cards (the primary way you score points) are randomized each game.

    Doesn't scratch the DMing itch, though :)

    Cheers!
    Kinak

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  3. I do enough "normal" gaming to scratch my DM itch. Maybe too much. >_>

    Kingdom Builder, eh? I'll have to look that up. Trying to get in a quality game of Krosmaster...not sure how I feel about it, yet.

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    1. Picked up Boss Monster yesterday, partially because of this review and partially because it's been the impulse item at our FLGS for like six months.

      We played it tonight and, despite getting utterly devastated, had a lot of fun. One player ran away with the early game and we barely got to epics.

      Thanks for the suggestion!

      Cheers!
      Kinak

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    2. You're welcome, and glad you liked it!

      Melissa and I have played it quite a few times and a couple times with Ben and Dan, and I would say my win ratio is about 50:50: Melissa is not as tactically minded as I am, so she likes the fact that there are enough random elements to skew the odds more equally.

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