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Reviews - Boss Monster!
 
by Christopher Tower


Boss Monster

Boss Monster! (2013)
Published by Brotherwise Games
Designed by Johnny and Chris O'Neal
Ages 13+
Time: 30-60minutes
Players: 2-4
Contents: 155 Cards
$25.00

You are the Boss Monster! In this standalone card game, 2-4 players each play as a Boss at the end of an 8-bit videogame dungeon and compete to defeat more heroes than the other players. By laying out rooms with traps, monsters, and treasure, players try to create a better dungeon than their opponents.

Boss Monster sample cardsBoss Monster was initially funded through KickStarter, where it blew past its fundraising goal of $12,000 and earned over $200,000. This is the first release from Brotherwise Games, which they intend to follow up with an expansion in the future. I backed the game and have been playing the print-and-play preview for a few months before finally getting a copy of the actual game. Although KickStarter backers did receive some extra promotional cards and goodies, this review ignores those to focus on the base game itself.

How does this first game from Brotherwise hold up then? It plays very well, actually. The game is a blast to play, with interesting tactical options and great art and design.

Components
The game comes with a full set of room, spell, boss and hero cards in a three-section box that has plenty of room for them. The box probably has enough space to hold the planned expansion as well, though the sections are not large enough for sleeved cards. The cards feel thick and sturdy, but are slightly less durable than Magic: The Gathering cards and can show wear on their edges. That being said, while mostly consistent, there were a few cards where the gloss didn't appear to dry all the way, giving them a slightly different texture. The number of cards that this affected was small and the difference isn't noticeable during play.

Gameplay
Each player is a Boss Monster, represented by a card drawn at the beginning of the game with a special power on it. Each turn all players play a room card from their hand, expanding or modifying their dungeon to both protect themselves from marauding heroes and lure the unwitting adventurers to their doom. Several heroes will come into "town" before departing for one of the player's dungeons. This is determined by the total amount of treasure each player has on their dungeon's room cards. Each hero type is attracted to a certain type of treasure. Fighters are drawn to magic weapons, clerics to holy relics, thieves to gold, and mages to spellbooks. The heroes will enter the dungeon containing the most loot of their preferred type. This is where the damage rating of each room comes into play: as each hero moves into a room card, the room causes damage to him/her. If the dungeon kills the hero before he or she reaches the Boss, that's one soul to the Boss. If the hero survives and reaches the Boss Monster, then the Boss gains a wound. A player wins with 10 souls, but loses at only 5 wounds.

While the basics of the game are very simple, the cards have many interesting effects that can enhance a dungeon or foil opponents. Every room card has an effect on it. These vary from having an effect when played, to affecting an opponent by sacrificing the room in the future, doing something when a hero dies in that location, and so forth. Since each room has a damage value, treasure, and an effect, proper room placement is critical and there can be a lot of thought into which room to add to your dungeon. Rooms come in two types: Traps and Monster rooms. While this sets the theme for the room, some cards have special interactions with one type or the other. There are also advanced rooms, which can only be placed as an upgrade on top of another room with the same treasure type. These rooms tend to be very powerful or help focus the dungeon with a specific strategy. For example, a dungeon could focus on the Crushinator, an advanced room that allows the player to sacrifice rooms to pump up the power of the others; or the Monster's Ballroom, which gets better for each Monster room present in the dungeon. While these rooms will make the dungeon very powerful, the boss is going to need it. After defeating all of the regular heroes, more powerful epic heroes bring the game to a close, awarding double soul value for boss monsters that kill them, but capable of dealing double damage.

Boss Monster dungeonEven though room cards are the core of Boss Monster's gameplay, there are also spells and the Boss "level up". Spells are powerful "instant" effect cards that can be played from hand to power up the dungeon or interfere with an opponent's. The spells can also have other more strategic effects such as moving heroes around or causing all the players to redraw their hand. Each Boss also has a level up ability that makes them different from one another. This is a powerful effect that occurs when the dungeon has reached maximum size (five rooms) for the first time. The abilities are not so strong as to determine the winner, but, when timed wisely, can help a player gain the upper hand.

The strategy of Boss Monster! is even more competitive at the beginning. To survive and build up defenses, players dare not attract too much attention too soon – if a dungeon cannot defeat heroes, the goal is to not draw them to it. While you can place less treasure in your dungeon, there's a danger of letting opponents take the lead. When two or more players' dungeons tie for treasure (both amount and type), the heroes that desire that type of treasure stay in the town area. New heroes still come to town each turn though, so there can become a large buildup until someone breaks the tie, either gaining a large number of souls, or taking a lot of damage. This creates an interesting guessing game of playing rooms against opponents in order to control the treasure counts, and wondering what will be played when all the new room cards are simultaneously revealed each round.

Art and Flavor
While the gameplay is a lot of fun and will keep people coming back, the art of Boss Monster will bring a player to the table in the first place. All of the cards are designed in an 8-bit style very reminiscent of Legend of Zelda, Castlevania and similar old school videogames from that era. In further homage, many of the cards are references originating from old school videogames as well as roleplaying games. The Brainsucker Hive looks like creatures from Metroid, and there appears to be an Owlbear in the Beast Menagerie. There is even a room card whose art imitates the cover of a classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons book (anyone spot it in the sample images?). Since the heroes themselves don't have abilities, there is room for flavor text on the card describing each hero. These are often silly, such as the hero with a magic bubble. Many of the heroes are references as well. The art and flavor of the game hold it all together and is very high quality. While the 8-bit style may not be for everyone, it is magnificently done and looks great.

Conclusions
Boss Monster is a great card game that really harnesses the sources it pays homage to while also providing a strong well-rounded gameplay experience that will bring players back to it. Typically taking well under an hour, it fits in well as an in-between game or as something to carry around for spontaneous gameplay. Overall the game is a lot of fun and winning requires a combination of luck and skill that will keep players coming back as a fun quick game in between longer games or during a lunch break at work.  

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