Boss Monster is a card game releases by Brotherwise Games. Playable by 2-4 players and good for about 30 minutes of playtime, setup to teardown. Players ultimately lure heroes to their dungeon to collect souls while avoiding wounds by building up their defense.
Simply put, Boss Monster is, at its core, a linear tower defense game. Your boss is unable to attack and must be defended by rooms with monsters or traps. Rooms can stack, be destroyed, and get upgraded to do more damage. Hero’s come in three flavors (not including the fool) and attack the dungeon with the most loot of their type. Your hope is that the damage caused by your rooms + any spells you have is at least the health of the hero. Kill enough and win, fail enough and lose. Sounds too simple? Well, it just might be, and I’m going to break down the ins and outs of Boss Monster in this weeks board game review. So keep reading to find out the pros and cons of Boss Monster, and just what three flavors those heroes come in! (Spoiler Alert: It’s vanilla)
Strategy vs Luck
This is an important portion to me. Does strategy play a major part in determining who wins? Well, kind of. In Boss Monster, most of the strategy comes from utilizing spells and room combinations. You start the game with a few rooms and a couple of spells and get a new room every turn, but you don’t get spells unless you play a room that provides new spells. Meaning both your methods of strategy are dependent on drawing the correct room cards, and this may not ever happen. Given the same cards, two people will probably end up playing them differently, which is fantastic, but I have also been unable to do any action for multiple turns due solely to drawing poorly three turns in a row.
On another hand, I do feel like this is a game where you can look ahead two or three turns and make good (or bad) decisions that affect your ranking at the table, and that, given this game is short, will play a significant role in determining a winner. So, while bad luck does exist in any card drawing game, Boss Monster is a strategy game most of the time, albeit with limited paths to take.
What to Love
Boss Monster is a game in a niche category: Tabletop games with substance that require less than 30 minutes to play. It is difficult to find games to fill the small gaps in a night. Whether you only have an hour before bed to sit down with your significant other, or you need to break up the marathon of Twilight Imperium, short strategy tabletop games are hard to come by. Although games like Zombie Dice and Fluxx help, Boss Monster has just enough meat of its own to to feel like you are playing a new, full, tabletop game, while ending quick enough to roll right back into your extended game night. Being a defense style game also makes Boss Monster feel a lot different than most other tabletop games, which is a refreshing twist.
The rules and gameplay of the game are quick to learn and easy to follow. This is less important in long games where pulling out the rulebook takes 2 minutes out of the 2 hours, but in a game of 20 minute averages, you want players to feel comfortable that they understand all their available options. The rules of Boss Monster clearly state what is allowed in each phase of a round, whose actions take precedence, and when everything is performed. Too many times I have played a game for the third time, only to find out we had misinterpreted a rule. In Boss Monster, this is not likely to happen.
The game is very playable with two players. Although better with more, as usual, Boss Monster ultimately is played one player at a time. This, being both a strength and weakness to the game, means that other than having fewer spells cast throughout the game, two players can enjoy the game nearly as well as four players can.
In addition, Boss Monster is, biasedly, beautiful. As a child of the NES era, I love the cards that remind me of my adventures in Castlevania, Metroid, Mario, and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. The 8-Bit art and filler text is interesting and well done; Every hero and boss has a little backstory and even room cards of the same name and action have slight differences in art showing a great attention to detail. On setup you really do feel like your reign of terror on those puny heroes is about to begin… but
What Not to Love
Boss Monster fails to deliver in the core phase of the game. In the adventure phase, when three mage heroes leave town and are finally traversing the dangers of your perilous dungeon, where your traps are specifically set to boost your next room and you have upgraded your monster rooms for maximum carnage… you subtract the room damage from their health until it equals zero, look if your room says “when a hero dies in this room”, and repeat it. Once that’s done the next player does the same thing. Due to the simplicity, you will find yourself saying things like “It has 8 health and my dungeon does 10 damage” and just placing it in your pile of souls.
Boss Monster is missing a large strategic mechanic of different heroes having different strengths and weaknesses, and different rooms allowing for multiple combinations based on rooms around it. For the most part, rooms typically can be placed in any order (with a couple exceptions that add onto the next room) and, for the whole part, every hero, even those of different classes, is the same. This makes the main objective of the game, collecting souls, much less involved than you would think.
There are moments where an opponent disables one of your rooms and you can’t defeat the hero, requiring you to figure out a new way to defeat him. Do you teleport the hero back to the beginning to stack on more damage, discard two rooms to cancel his spell since you have a room ability that lets you do that, or destroy a room using your Falling Boulder trap room to kill the hero? These moments are fun and do add a lot to the game since it involves interaction with, potentially, multiple opponents, but due to the lacking number of spells, these moments typically happen very close to the end of the game when epic heroes (Heroes that have about 5 extra health) show up and someone is close to winning.
Boss Monster is a game in a very hard to perfect category. “Filler games” (Thirty minutes or less tabletop games) are about the hardest games to truly appreciate because you can’t expect to have a menagerie of options every round, and if you do, you can’t expect it to finish in the allotted time. Brotherwise Games did a very good job in ensuring Boss Monster is, in fact, a quick to learn and play game.
A very attractive, tower defense card game with an interesting premise, Boss Monster leaves more to be desired with uninspired game play. While much appreciated time was spent on the design of the game, it felt like more could have been spent on mechanics that promoted opponent interaction. This game heavily depends on you, as the player, to force promote the fact that a rogue is sneaking through your dungeon, otherwise it turns into a simple math game of addition and subtraction.
Thumbs up or thumbs down? I’m leaving it sideways on Boss Monster, with a few house rules (Allowing players to draw a room OR spell card at the start of a round, making a hero’s class allow it to ignore partial damage from a certain room type, etc.) the game does have an appeal for a filler game. With the expansions adding more card types, the game may hold more combination and spell strategy opportunities. But as a standalone game, played as written, it’d be hard for me to recommend outright.