Packaged in a slick box adorned with digitized artwork of a giant green-skinned bloated king, the games mascot known as King Croak, Boss Monster is a competitive four-player bash I had the good fortune to experience not long after its first edition got shipped out to primary Kickstarter backers.
What first catches your eye about the game is how its box is a tribute to classic Nintendo styled games from the eighties.
With the simplicity of a black background and a single crude display of gaming goodness along with the ubiquitous golden standard of approval, the box ported me back to my many hours spent jumping over mushrooms, slashing through dungeons and firing off blasts of energy trying to rescue princesses, save the world or simply get to the top of a very very tall ladder.
The 155 cards of the game continue with the motif of an eighties time warp, with pretty much blatant lampooning of traditional characters from games like Zelda, Metroid and Super Mario Brothers. But rather than limiting themselves solely to the world of console gaming, the creators of Boss Monster, Chris and Johnny O’Neal, also spruced up the look with elements from Dungeons and Dragons to create cards with table-top affections as well.
The thing that really separates Boss Monster from other games however is its play mechanic.
Continuing with the console theme the goal is to build the ultimate side-scrolling dungeon. Players do this by placing Dungeon room cards each round in the play area in front of them, constructing lairs from left to right filled with either monsters or traps.
These monster or trap room cards contain damage points that adventurer cards are dealt when they are lured to a player’s lair.
A common pool of these adventurer cards are placed face up each round, and when a players combined rewards listed across all their dungeon cards are totaled at the end of a round, denoted by icons for loot, magical power or holy relics, the player with the most of each type becomes a huge beacon for adventurers seeking specific fortunes and glory. Adventurer cards are then placed outside a players constructed lair at the end of the round.
These pesky little hapless interloping adventurers then proceed to ‘wander’ through a player or Boss’ dungeon cards and are flayed, burned, beaten or booby-trapped to death. Their deaths however add to the total score a player needs to win the game.
It’s quite a different theme, one that reverses the concept of the hero and villain most games are designed around.
It reminded me of mechanical elements of James Ernest’s Totally Renamed Spy Game (1996) where players again take on the role of arch-villains hoping to defeat (kill) as many heroes (spies) as possible to win. From a literary perspective it also reminded me of the opening scene in Joann Sfar’s Dungeon Volume 2, where Herbert the Duck’s father is opining about the loss of adventurers “dressed in their best armor, carrying all sorts of precious weapons and magical tailsmen” who are no longer visiting their dungeon and subsequently meeting their demises; i.e. revenues are dropping.
So in this respect, Boss Monster follows a proud tradition of allowing players to compete as nefarious overlords turning on its head the traditional concept of saving the world, and prompts players to loot the bodies of those they are more than likely accustomed to portraying.
Overall the gameplay is great; it allows players the tactical satisfaction of designing different types of dungeons that maximize outright damage but that also ‘stack’ with spells and ‘dungeon upgrades’ that must be planned for over the course of several rounds.
What makes it really stand out mechanically to me though is that after all the low level heroes are defeated, the game suddenly goes into ‘epic’ mode and the wandering adventurers are suddenly beefed up in terms of attacks and life points. The game thus shifts from wanting to grab as much attention of these would-be adventurers to diverting them towards one of your opponents in the hopes that they destroy one of your competing Boss Monsters before they destroy you: Grow too fat and you start to attract the best heroes around.
So overall the game is a strategic ‘dungeon-building’ blast. The artwork, along with the entire concept holds your attention from start to finish and it offers unique and intriguing gameplay that combines elements in a perfect balance of pace and strategy. The only drawbacks I saw were not getting in on the original Kickstarter roll-out and thereby gaining some of the promo cards
So when you get a chance, feel like having an eighties flash back (who wouldn’t?) why not head out, or on-line and grab a copy of Boss Monster and,