(Like a) Boss Monster

For our anniversary, my better half gave me a copy of Boss Monster, along with the expansion, Boss Monster: Tools of Hero-Kind. Any time she can beat me to the purchase, I’m reminded as to how well she knows me. Despite my current opinion on the game (more on that below), this was a great pick, and I’m glad she got it for me. Boss Monster looked like a game I would eventually buy for myself, and I had been hearing people say how much they enjoyed it.

What was attractive about Boss Monster? The game box looks for all the world like a NES cartridge box, with the expansion in a Game Boy box. All of the cards have original 8-bit artwork, and pay homage to gaming legends such as Castlevania, Mario Bros., the Konami Code and many others. The game is playable with 2 players, but expands up to 4 with very little change. And the game itself turns the traditional dungeon crawl game on it’s head, as the players represent the eponymous dungeon-building Boss Monster that noble heroes are trying to defeat. Players build traps, cast spells, and lure greedy heroes to their doom.

Sounds awesome, right?

Unfortunately, the great concepts behind the game aren’t enough for me to overcome the weak mechanics in the game. Players have very minimal interaction with each other beyond a quick score count each turn. Planning and decision making is almost minimal, as you’re basically stuck playing what Room cards you draw, and the Spell cards are underwhelming and hard to acquire. Hero cards either enter your dungeon or they don’t, and either they survive or they don’t; you might have a trick up your sleeve to change one of those outcomes once per game. The Boss cards, which form each player’s identity, serve very little purpose outside of getting the game mechanics started and enforcing turn order (they all have a mid-late game “level up” ability that is laughably weak or even useless). The Tools of Hero-Kind expansion feels like it expands the slight aspect of “the rich get richer” present in the game even further, as players doing well enough to handle Hero cards carrying Item cards probably don’t need the boost they receive for capturing the Item cards.

Every three-player game we’ve played so far has either resulted in one of the players feeling as though they’re out of contention from turn one, and there’s nothing they can do to improve their situation, or the Hero lures of all players’ dungeons completely cancel one another out and lead to the game bogging down endlessly. Two player games have been better; they move along faster than with more players, and feel more balanced, but they’re still not great. I’m already feeling burned out on this game. Personally I need something with more heavy lifting involved: more tactical decisions, more planning, and more interactions.

I think it says a lot about Boss Monster that after one small expansion, the developers are now working on a sequel, rather than expanding the current game further, and also that there are more “promotional” cards for the game (32) than there are total cards in that one expansion. To me, this game feels like pure nostalgia and marketing, nobody stopped the presses long enough to put decent mechanics into the game.

Am I being too harsh on Boss Monster? Is this your group’s favorite game? Do you have house rules that make this the best game ever? I would love to hear your opinion in the comment section below.

– The Tabletop General