Alright, so I held off on reviewing this game for a little bit, and actually as I type this, I’ve traded my copy of the game away. That might lead you to believe this will be an entirely negative review, and to some extent you’re right. I didn’t really enjoy this game much, and neither did my game group… but there’s an appeal there, and I think if the game is right for you, you probably already know that. Just in case you’re not sure, read on.
In Boss Monster, players are… well… Boss Monsters, building a 2D side-scroller level in front of them out of pieces borrowed from Castlevania, Metroid, and other classics of video-gaming’s post-Atari adolescence. Each turn you may expand your level by one card, either adding the card to the front end of your dungeon, or replacing an existing card with a new one. Each card you add will damage the unending parade of wannabe protagonists, but will also contain some alluring treasures, tempting more adventurers into your lair. Some rooms have special effects, giving you the edge in certain situations, some even letting you demolish them for a one-time benefit. The adventurers will stumble forward, bumping into every trap and monster along the way, until either they die and you collect their soul, or they reach you, giving you a wound. Take too many wounds and you lose. Collect enough souls and you win. About half-way through the game, stronger heroes come out who have more health but are worth two souls. There are also “take-that” spell cards that you can get, starting the game with a couple and gaining others through the abilities on a few rooms. First person to collect the requisite number of souls is the winner.
In the tagline here I compared this game to Munchkin. I think that’s very applicable, and this is much the same kind of game. I’m surprised it hasn’t been totally SAVAGED on BGG, considering the punchline Munchkin has become… nevertheless, Munchkin itself is a juggernaut, pairing mostly-mindless “take that” cardplay with a constant riffing on the tropes of it’s source material (be that vintage D&D, Conan the Barbarian, Star Wars, or what have you). Boss Monster follows this pattern for the most part, but each interesting thing it adds to the formula is diluted, as if the creators were afraid of their own ideas. So many cool concepts are just kind of… half-cooked, here. A few examples:
Placing rooms raises the count of different types of treasures you own, allowing you to attract different heroes (mages like books, thieves like sacks of gold, etc). This is flavorful and cool! But there’s no reason to care which type of hero I get, since they’re just a health value with feet and flavor text. I can’t recall any valuable effects that care about hero types. So I just go heavy into one “suit” and hope that flips out. If I have second place in a suit, I have to hope I draw it and the first place guy doesn’t… or I’m boned.
Some rooms have interactive effects that let me build neat little combos, which is, again, flavorful and cool! The hero BARELY makes it past my ogres, dying in the portal room which lets me draw more cards when heroes die in it! Great strategy, huh? Well, sort of. You see, I don’t have much choice what rooms I get, I just sort of collect them and play them. The effects that let me search the discard piles and so on give me a little more ability to coordinate things, but in general if I stumble into a neat combination of effects it wasn’t because I was TRYING to.
Even the take-that cardplay is kind of watered-down… We get a couple of spells to start with, pretty typical stuff. Shut down an opponent’s room, send them a bunch of extra heroes hoping they’ll get killed, and so on… but it’s very rare to get more throughout the game, so that back-and-forth vendetta-fueled card slinging that powers Munchkin is tempered here by the meager portions we’re given.
So from a rules/mechanics standpoint, Boss Monster is decidedly “meh.” It works, but nothing really sticks out as a handle, a grasping point to wrap one’s mind around…
…but that probably doesn’t matter, does it?
If you’re playing Boss Monster, you’re probably getting together with friends, laughing at the references on the cards, savoring the moments when one player royally screws another one over, drinking (beer or otherwise, depending on your age) and generally having a good time. Munchkin isn’t popular because people like to play Munchkin WELL, to have a winning Munchkin strategy or try out a new one next time. Munchkin is popular because you can get a group of people together with common interests. Boss Monster falls into the same category, I think.
Now, me being a generally unsociable person, that’s not the type of game for me (probably). I’ve been known to play Munchkin with RPG friends but if I’m getting a gaggle of people together to do something nerdy while laughing and talking, we’ll probably play MarioKart or watch a terrible movie or something of that nature. If your group of friends is drawn together by old school RPG stuff (or any of the countless rethemes), Munchkin will do that for you. If it’s retro video games? Try Boss Monster.
…At least until Super Munchkin Entertainment System comes out in Spring 2016. (You hear me Steve? My idea first. Dibs.)