Quick Look: Boss Monster: The Dungeon Building Card Game
Designers: Johnny O’Neal, Chris O’Neal, Christopher O’Neal
Artist: Beau Buckley, Francisco Coda, Katrina Guillermo, Kyle Merritt
Publisher: Brotherwise Games
Year Published: 2013
“Who’s the Boss?”
If you answered this question with anything other than “I am!”, you just might not be suited for a career in video game villainy. Time to face the reality!
But that is the fundamental purpose and premise of Boss Monster— You must prove to all other Video Game Bosses throughout the lands that you are the Big Baddie that is the Baddest of them all!
Boss Monster is a card-based game of strategic card placement that allows you to take on the role of one of eight fearsome video game overlords in the hopes of luring as many heroes as possible into your dungeon. Whoever can devise the deadliest dungeon and lure the most heroes to their doom will ultimately be the winner!
First off, Boss Monster comes in an box that fully encapsulates the spirit of classic 8-bit gaming that is an almost exact replica of classic Nintendo box packaging!
For those of you who grew up in the 80’s, you will have no trouble recognizing the red-labeled black box emblazoned with the golden “Seal of Quality” that called out to many of us from display cases and counters in the golden age of Mario and Metroid. The pixel art on the box makes it clear right off the bat that this is going to be an attempted effort to sway over those of us who value our childhood memories of the 80’s and 90’s.
This is going to be a tough shoe to fill, because in addition to fueling my desire for the past, the developers of Boss Monster must live up to my scrutiny in determining whether or not this is a game worthy of my time, or just something to look at fondly from time to time.
Opening the box leads one to discover an instruction manual that is also modeled after those cute little booklets that used to come bundled with those big old clunky NES cartridges. The text font is pixelated, which also gives an immediate sense of appeal to those who are fully expecting such things based on the cover box art.
And that is just for starts.
The cards sport an 8-bit art style that is a loud shout out to yesterday. But even better is that many of them make a cute little mockery of many of the more popular game franchises out there. I will not spoil everything, but I will say that I noticed references to everything from Double Dragon to Metroid and Castlevania, and I like to think that King Croak (depicted on the box cover) is a nod to Evil King Drool from the lesser-known Bonk’s Adventure game for the Turbo Grafx 16.
And while I have not even scratched the surface of gameplay yet, I think that in mentioning these visual asides and references, I think it is fair to say that because of these constant allusions, 80’s and 90’s gamers will most definitely get a lot more out of this game than others, as the humor as presented here is most definitely a part of this games’ charm.
Gameplay —“ So enough talk…have at you!”
The best way to describe the gameplay of Boss Monster is that it is a sort of competitive tower defense game. For those of you who have played video games like Bloons or Kingdom Rush, you essentially construct defenses to prevent opposing forces from reaching you and dealing enough damage to you to end your game. The only difference here is that most of those games are cooperative, while Boss Monster is purely competitive—you must be the only one to survive, and if another Boss happens to make it to the end with you, then you must at least have been able to capture more enemy souls than your opponent.
The game is set up with each player being randomly assigned a Boss (each of which has a special ability that is triggered at a specific point in the game, more on this later) which is then placed in front of each player to represent the “end” of their dungeon. Then, each player draws a total of 7 cards (5 room cards, and 2 spell cards) and then discard two of them to make their initial starting hand. After that, each player may place one room to the left of their Boss to create the first room in their dungeon, and the setup for the game is complete.
Player order of turns is determined by each players respective Boss Monster — each Boss essentially has their own “speed” (Their Experience value determines which turns happen first, with higher numbers earning the right to initiate before other players) which affects the turn order to help offset the fact that some Bosses may have some more powerful abilities.
For example, a Boss with an experience value of 900 would go before a Boss worth 650 experience, and that Boss with 900 experience will most likely be able to use their special abilities first if so desired, but the Boss that is “slower” may have an ability that is more consequential to other players if they get a chance to use it…
The game is subsequently played in a series of five other phases that repeat in a cycle until one or more players triggers the end of the game by either collecting 10 souls, or all Bosses are dead.
When a round begins, each phase is played individually (in the established turn order) until all players have performed their required actions, and then the next phase step begins.
These phases are :
Beginning of Turn
End of Turn
Beginning of Turn—Each Player will draw one Room card in turn order
Build Phase — Each Player will get to build one room in their dungeon, which can consist of Monster Rooms or Trap Rooms. It will take multiple turns to eventually build up to the maximum number of five rooms per boss that are allowed, though you may build over existing rooms with another room that better suits your current agenda and strategy if so desired.
Bait Phase — A predetermined number of Heroes are flipped over from a respective Hero Deck and laid on the table in a line, and the order they are laid out is important, as it affects the progression of the Adventure Phase.
With that being done, these Heroes who are seeking fame and fortune are lured into a respective dungeon. Each Room has a set of treasure icons that designate what type of hero will be lured into the dungeon. The icons are Tomes, Swords, Money Bags and Clerical Artifacts. If your dungeon is prolific with a certain type of treasure, then chances are you will be able to lure specific type of hero into your dungeon, as the dungeon that has the most of a given type will magnetically attract heroes of a certain type. For example, if your dungeon has the most Sword icons in it, then you will draw Warriors. Money Bags attract thieves/rogues, Tomes attract wizards, and Clerical Artifacts will tempt Clerics types of heroes.
So as an example, let us compare these two dungeons. Player 1 has more Money Bags than Player 2 , so this roguish hero would be assigned to go into Player 1’s dungeon. However, Player 2 has more Swords, so the Warrior Hero would be assigned to go to player 2’s dungeon in the Adventure phase.
In the event of a tie for an icon type, those Heroes that correspond with the item type remain outside of the dungeon for this Round.
Now that Heroes have been baited into a dungeon, it is time to see if they survive their dungeon delve, or perish in the process. Beginning in turn order, each player will walk each respective hero through the appropriate dungeon. You do this by moving heroes one at a time onto each respective dungeon room card and applying the effects on it, most of which are usually damage, but some unique dungeon rooms can even instantly kill an adventurer or give you more health or spells if the room manages to slay an unfortunate wanderer!
For the most part, though, rooms will deal damage, which is indicated by a drained heart icon with a number that tells how many Hit Points of damage each room does.
Conversely, each Hero card has a red heart value that indicates their life/Hit Points. As each hero moves from left to right across your dungeon rooms, you will keep track of how much damage they take, applying damage as they progress through each room. If you manage to inflict more damage than the hero has Hit Points, then it is placed face down in a pile next to your boss, with a Crystal/Soul value that is depicted on the back of its card showing how many points. Regular Heroes are worth just 1 Soul Point, whereas more powerful Epic Heroes that will eventually make their way into the dungeon are worth 2 Soul Points that count towards your victory if you somehow manage to obtain 10 of these Souls! But be wary, these Epic Heroes are no slouches!
And if any Hero manages to reach your Boss without dying, it will do damage to you! Regular Heroes will do one point of damage, while Epic Heroes will do 2, and these wounds will make short work of you if you are not careful, because if your Boss Monster takes 5 points of damage, it is Game Over for you!
End of Turn Phase
Check your status. If you have accumulated 5 or more wounds on your Boss, it is Game Over for you, whereas if you have accumulated more than 10 Hero Souls, you can be considered the winner, unless another player has more Souls than you, or there is a tie, which can be broken using alternate scoring to determine the victor.
Other gameplay notes:
It should be also be mentioned that for the Building Phase, both Monster and Trap rooms have “regular” versions and “advanced” versions. Regular versions may be placed anywhere. Advanced rooms are generally more powerful but have the stipulations that they must be built upon the same “type” of room, and must contain the same item that the regular item has, ie, if you have a trap room containing Swords treasures in it and want to build an advanced room on top of it to replace it, it must A) Be an Advanced Trap Room (not Monster) and the Advanced room must also contain Swords.
In addition, players also have access to special Spell cards that can only be played during the Build and Adventure phases. These cards generally act as powerful interrupts that can instantly throw a monkey wrench into your opponent’s plan. For example, if it looks like your competitor is about to kill a Hero, you can use a spell to give that hero temporary increased health so it can survive the dungeon and deal its damage to the enemy Boss.
Adding an extra layer of complexity, each Boss Monster has a unique once-per-game ability that triggers once a player has built 5 dungeon rooms. This ability can involve everything from taking cards from other players to outright destroying a Dungeon room from all opponents!
Final Thoughts :
I am usually a big sucker for any sort of product that sports retro-video game visuals and themes. I guess this should be obvious given that I spend a good chunk of my time creating modern-day renditions of classic video game songs (as indicated in my profile), but given this predisposition and the fact that Boss Monster has been out since 2013, one would have thought that I would have tried the game by now, with the year being 2021.
Sadly, until recently I had not. And I wish this were not the case, as I find myself in the difficult position of having to kick myself for not having tried the game sooner.
But, being human and all, I must humbly concede that I found myself not to be above the influence and powers of mass social stigmatization—namely having my opinions and desires swayed by the collective and seemingly unerring consensus of BGG reviews and ratings, taking them to be the “Gospel Truth” for my standard of quality.
The truth for me is that this is a fantastic game that is both easy and fun. It feeds into the nostalgia of all of my favorite 8 and 16-bit video games of yesteryear, and brings my memories into a quick, easy-to-play card fest of blissful reminiscence. And yes, I do feel that old school video gamers will get more out of Boss Monster than non-gamers, but that should not stop any one from having fun.
The fact that the game is so compact and portable means it will be coming with us on vacations, too, rather than making the mistake of bringing larger games that we did not have space for last year.
I do think that the game as is leaves some room for some improvements, especially since many dungeon rooms have identical copies in the room deck, which can make everything feel “samey” after a while, but I sense that is why the developers gave room for the game to expand with new content that has been steadily released since the games initial release. I look forward to being able to throw myself into this new content as soon as able, because I think with the right additions, this game can only get better.
Overall, this game gets a solid 8 from us so far. If more recent expansions can add some variety to card types that are drawn in any given game (as I suspect they do), I would imagine that the game has only gotten better with the newer content that has been released for it, but that will remain to be seen another day.
Art/Presentation : 8
Fun : 8
Replay ability : 7
Component Quality: 8
Value : 8
Overall : 8
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer