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One Overtext To Rule Them All
One Overtext To Rule Them All
Game Review for Boss Monster, originally found at TwoMonkeyReviews
. Building an 80′s nostalgia dungeon with lots of randomness
Boss Monster was one of my first Kickstarter purchases. I thought the game looked cool, and I am absolutely not ashamed to admit that I am excited every time I know the source of the art. I don’t know if the art is considered “tribute” vs “pretty close to directly copying,” but I don’t care to become a lawyer. It’s pretty slick.
Boss Monster is a 2-4* player, 15-30 minute game where each player is represented by a boss, typically a re-skinned or re-themed famous monster (e.g., Dracula, King Kong, King Koopa, and so on). Players simultaneously build a room onto their dungeon (up to a maximum of 5 room), where each room has a special ability or feature, as well as a specific Bait**. This is considered the end of the Setup, and another Build phase occurs before heroes smash their way through the dungeon, hopefully to their demise. If a Hero survives, it damages the player; if a Hero dies, then the player collects that dead hero as a wonderfully shiny trophy. The first player to reach 10 points (hero trophies) wins, and any player who reaches 5 damage from heroes has been destroyed by the heroes and loses.
*It’s possible to play with 5 players. It would be messy, though.
**More about this below
Spells, Rooms, Heroes, and more!
There are five types of cards in this game:
1. Boss Monsters – Each player is dealt one at random. This is you!
2. Rooms – Rooms exist in two types, Monsters and Traps. There isn’t a substantial difference beyond theme, except that some rooms play off of other rooms (e.g., “all other trap rooms get +1 damage”)
3. Spells — Spells can be played at any time, provided that you are in the correct phase (Build, when you add to your dungeon; Adventure, when the Heroes attack; or Both)
4. Heroes — Those mean ‘adventurer’ types, out to smash your barrels and destroy you!
5. Epic Heroes – The older siblings of the Heroes.
Left to Right: Fighter hero with 4 health designed for 2+ player games; Monster room that deals 0 damage (Bait icon covered but it is a Sword — the red card border indicates that); Trap room that deals 1 damage and is worth 1 Treasure Bait; Spell card that can only be played during the Adventure phase (icon in bottom-left corner)
Setup and Gameplay
Players begin with 5 rooms and 2 spells, and must discard two cards. Then Setup continues with each player building one room.
The game then alternates between two Phases, Build and Adventure.
1. Reveal one Hero per player, lining them up in town (order matters!)
2. All players receive one Room card
3. All players select one Room card to play, and place it face-down in the spot that it will occupy*
4. All players reveal their room card and perform any “When this room is built” actions
*You will be building rooms on top of other rooms. Advanced Rooms (which are indicated only by their gold room-icon) must be played on a room with similar Bait (e.g., and Advanced Room with Sword Bait must be played on a room that has Sword Bait).
1. In the order that they were revealed, examine each Hero. Clerics are looking for Ankh Bait, Mages are looking for Spellbook Bait, and so on — it’s entirely by icon. Determine the amount of that Bait type that each player has, and the player with the most Bait has baited that Hero into entering their dungeon. Do this with all Heroes
2. Yes, I know that this is not a Phase listed above. That’s because separating this out in the game rules prevents the casting of spells during this process.
Each Boss Monster has a set amount of experience — this merely determines turn order. Highest EXP goes first.
Each Hero progresses through the dungeon they’re at, one at a time, taking damage as they go. If they live, they remain face-up to indicate damage-dealt. If a Hero dies, it is flipped face-down
Left to right: Monster room, Trap room, Advanced Monster room, Boss monster, dead Hero (1 point!), Epic Hero that lived (2 damage!!)
Note that this dungeon has 2 Ankh and 3 Treasure Bag bait, for Clerics and Thieves, respectively
There are a lot of cards. Tons. We’ve played enough times to have seen every Boss Monster (when dealing them randomly), and that took a while. We still haven’t seen every room due to discarding, and the same is true for spells. The art is all wonderful homage/tribute/parody/copying of 80′s and early 90′s games.
The game is fun to play, especially once you figure out tricky ways to affect your opponents’ dungeons by rearranging some of their rooms or playing spells at just the right time. Dungeons are fun to build, especially when you find a couple of rooms that play very well with each other.
There is also a lot of strategy. This topic will come up again, but this is not a race to build the biggest dungeon. Players can get tripped up with this one. The goal is to bait heroes, and sometimes you will NOT want to bait any heroes, so tying for “most of one Bait” or even playing a room card on top of another room to lower your amount of Bait can save your life. This is resource management disguised as a race to make the biggest dungeon. There are many cards that let you destroy a room to kill a hero. Sure, that’s a great perk, but it’s also nice to be able to remove rooms that you no longer want.
Spells are painful but often funny, and can often change the outcome of an entire round for one player’s dungeon.
I’m an engineer, and I love games that are highly specific with regard to timing. Boss Monster has a simultaneous play rule that doesn’t work with Spells, and anything else involving playing spells is a nightmare to understand.
Example: There is a spell that takes any one Hero and places it at the start of the caster’s dungeon. This claims what is probably “an easy target” to both give the caster an extra point, but also deprive someone else of the point. But when is it played? It has the “Build Phase” icon, so obviously it is played then, but when in the Build phase? Before or after Room cards have been played? Before or after they have been built?
Teleportation Spell: Send a Hero back to the first room of your dungeon. With Portals, apparently. Bad, GLaDOS! Bad!!
With Teleportation, the intent is to play this when a Hero has made it most of the way through your dungeon but will not die, so you force him/her to start over, and witness a glorious death.
Other spells give rooms bonus damage (useful for thwarting Heroes in your dungeon), while others give Heroes extra health (useful for thwarting opponent Boss Monsters).
That’s fine, but when are they played? Whenever you want to play them? The scenario that came up with us was whether a player can walk a Hero through their dungeon without explaining what was happening. Using room abilities to kill Heroes is often obvious, but keeping track of how much life a Hero has as it progresses through someone else’s dungeon is hard if they’re not telling you. This is important because one incredibly useful spell makes a room “inactive” — meaning Heroes skip it entirely, for the entire turn.
Without rambling for hours, the issue became whether the burden of playing a spell is on the caster or on the player whose dungeon is being traversed. Do I need to tell you that this Hero will die in my 5th room and that I will win the game as a result, or do you need to simply remember and keep track for yourself? There are problems with both. If I need to tell you everything, then that slows gameplay as players determine whether or not they wish to cast spells or use room abilities. If you need to keep track of Heroes progressing through my dungeon, then I can simply place them in the score area because I know how much damage they’ll take. If the latter happens, can a player go back and say, “Oh, wait, I didn’t realize that Hero could be killed in your dungeon, and thus win the game! I would have played any one of these three spells that make it so that the Hero lives!”
It just gets annoying. I’m sure many groups really don’t care, but this in particular has clearly bugged me. (We formally allow “I want to go back and play this spell” as a valid option at this point)
As a fond fan of Chaos, I typically like randomness. It’s an easy way to increase replayability, it makes strategy games much more difficult.
Boss Monster suffers from excessive randomness, like Bang!, but without the “death on the first turn” possibility. (To be fair, we did have a player die on the second turn, but that was his fault. I’ll explain soon)
The “Level Up” powers of each Boss Monster — gained and used after building a 5-room dungeon — vary in strength, but are relatively equal. Everyone will be building a 5-room dungeon, so there’s no worrying about IF an ability will be played. That said, the Boss Monsters are randomly dealt.
The starting cards you get can be amazing — monster rooms that play off of monster rooms, trap rooms that play off of trap rooms — or not. You could start with a lot of Advanced rooms and one normal room, and thus have zero choice about which room to build. It’s conceivable that you could reach a point of not being able to build a room, though that is highly unlikely.
Rooms play such a strong part of the game’s strategy that the random 5 you start with can make life as a diabolical death-trap and monster-filled dungeon designer incredibly easy or incredibly hard. The same is true for spells.
The real burden with randomness stems from the fact that you can have TONS of Bait of one or two types, and simply not see those Heroes for a long time. Maybe you were dealt all Swords, but no Fighters show up. Eventually, you will have to build over your rooms, and by then, someone else may have more Sword Bait than you.
In all seriousness, the negatives aren’t that negative. They’re mostly gripes of mine, and unlike Bang! or Panic Station, they are not game-breaking.
The first game we played, one player had a card that let him build two rooms in one turn. In fact, he had two of those. In the Setup and first Build phase, he had built four rooms, versus our two each. He Baited a lot of Heroes, and took 2 damage and gained 2 points. On the second turn, he prevented everyone from building rooms, and Baited three more Heroes, and died. This is a good example of “how to not ask to be killed,” and made us like Boss Monster a lot.
The second game we played, one player had cards to destroy rooms but didn’t use them as they double the Bait number for that round. So, if he had three Swords, destroying a room would have made it count as though he had six Swords. He ended up drawing a lot of high-health Thieves and died. Resource management!
Things like that make Boss Monster great. The spells that let you harm others passively (by making a Hero stronger) are fun, and building on top of your own rooms to force someone else into taking Heroes is interesting.
Other than that, there isn’t really a lot of metagame to be had. The game plays a lot like Dominion and 7 Wonders in that you need to adapt your strategy based on the cards you have, but there isn’t any ability to try to counter someone’s strategy by out-buying them on Villages or racing them with Military power.
This is both good and bad. Games with low metagame typically (in my experience) remain very light, which makes Boss Monster a great game to introduce to friends and family without crossing into the “Party Game” arena. However, with low metagame brings somewhat lower replayability — in my opinion. This desire for metagame is not necessarily going to be common, but it is something that I find incredibly fun, as I play with the same group almost every day at lunch. We know who is most likely to lie, who is most likely to fail at lying, and who is most likely to be unpredictable.
Boss Monster is a lot of fun. There are a few hiccups that I personally don’t like, but good games are worth ignoring minor issues. There is no metagame to speak of, but that might be something your group wants. The art is really cool, but after a few games, the “really cool art” factor fades away and you’re left with the game mechanics. For me, I need a bit more structure, and a bit more ability to make a strategy. Separating rooms into a Trap and a Monster deck could do the trick…
I rate Boss Monster a .
Good review. I think you hit the nail on the head with the critique of timing. It's the biggest flaw of the game. I get that this is just supposed to be a casual romp through nostalgia, and as such the randomness and lack of strategy doesn't bother me at all, but the lack of detail on timing smacks of poor design.
Also, I'm not sure how balanced the trap rooms are that let you destroy other rooms to cause big damage. Since destroying rooms just reveals the one beneath, there's no big penalty and it's pretty easy to abuse the ability.
Woo! Gonna get some
44, that's me!
An easy fix for the variability of starting hands would be a draft instead of a blind draw. All players draw five, pick one, and pass the remainder left. Repeat pick-n-pass until all players have a starting hand, then do the usual discard.
If necessary, this could even be adapted to in-game draws. Like: player with least amount of points draws room cards equal to number of players, picks one, then passes to next-losingest player.
Simultaneous play and spell timing sounds unfixable, but having all players announce what they are doing and play slowly might help somewhat. I would just ditch simultaneous play altogether (and probably anything past 2 players) and just go phase by phase, room by room, etc.
Or perhaps you could require players to declare potential spells by placing them face-down near the player they might wish to cast them on (this would mainly affect the adventure phase). Then allow retroactive casting, but only for placed spells.
Personally, the "I go back and play this spell" option sounds like it would ruin the game (barring learning games, where I always allow this sort of thing). I haven't gotten to play this one yet though, despite being keenly interested. Hopefully none of these hiccups bugs me.