When you think about video game heroes and heroines from the 8-Bit era, it’s hard to describe them with any other word than DOMINANT. From Samus Aran taking down the Mother Brain, to Mario rescuing Princess Peach from another castle, to Link preventing Ganon from acquiring the Triforce of Wisdom, the baddies never really stood a chance.
Think about it for a second. How many Goombas have you squished? How many miles have you rolled around in Morph Ball mode? And how many clay pots have you shattered to scavenge all the rupees you could carry?
In the Boss Monster board game, published by Brotherwise Games, you turn the tables! This time, YOU’RE the boss of the dungeon. Your goal is to put those puny heroes through the wringer and become the best boss the world has ever seen!
Boss Monster: Serving Up the Heroes
Every player starts out as one of the many bosses. Don the visage of such terrifying villains such as the Queen of Medusia, Gorgona or King Croak, the Sultan of the Sewers. Immediately you’re going to begin seeing nods and homages to well-known pieces of pop culture.
Dungeons are built using Room cards, which players will add to their tableau from right to left. Each Room contains a certain type of treasure, which is the allure for heroes to come exploring in the first place!
In every round, heroes will begin forming a queue, each of them attracted to specific types of treasure. Then, once everyone’s rooms are built, the heroes will delve into the dungeons with the highest treasure rating of their chosen type. Players need to keep an eye on what their opponents are building in order to get their fair share of the heroes.
The heroes then progress through the dungeon, activating traps and taking wounds. So long as the hero takes enough wounds before they reach the end, you’re able to collect that hero’s soul. Be careful – if your dungeon is too easy and the heroes reach you, you could be in some serious trouble!
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. On Boss Monster
Since this is a card game, we’re primarily focusing on that quality. As a whole, they fit the description of a card – nothing exceedingly special about them. On the other hand, the box is sturdy and provides a nice insert to separate the cards.
There isn’t much else to say on this front; there isn’t any fantastical card innovation happening here. The Rulebook is several pages long, but it’s shaped as a narrower pamphlet. The organization of the rules is comprehensive and clear. Can’t ask for much more than that!
Whenever you’re drawing cards from a deck, there’s bound to be some luck involved. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, folks! In Boss Monster, the luck rears its head in two ways.
First, the Room and Spell cards that you draw from the deck are, well, random. Sometimes you’re going to get a sweet combination of Monsters, Traps, Advanced Monsters, and Advanced Traps that blend really well together. Other times you might be left with a hodgepodge of Rooms lacking semblance of synergy.
Fortunately, the majority of the Rooms that you can place are going to be fun and unique. Not to mention that adding in some of the expansions (Boss Monster 2 & 3) is going to compound the number of cards to a point where the game feels fresh every time.
The second way that luck plays a hand is in the Hero Deck. This is arguably the more influential portion of the game, because the Hero Deck determines how many heroes are going to be testing their mettle against your diabolical machinations.
If the heroes drawn don’t fit your Treasure type, or if the Rooms you draw don’t offer as much of a certain treasure type as your opponents, then you’re left with a vacant dungeon populated only by tumbleweeds and sorrow. Again, there’s enough variability and balance with the cards that it tends to happen more at higher player counts where multiple people are fighting for Treasure superiority.
The pixel art style present throughout the game’s components is what drew me to Boss Monster in the first place. It’s absolutely gorgeous and pleasing to the eye. I’m one of those people that probably places more emphasis and importance on the shiny bits of a game, and this one does not disappoint in that regard.
Everything meshes together nicely between the card type icons, treasure types, and font selection to create a beautiful brew of nostalgia. If I had to offer a point of criticism it’s that the font size for the room types is a bit small, and the actual card description text isn’t necessarily crisp enough to be a stark contrast to the dark background. But alas, I absolutely LOVE the art, so I’ll leave it at that.
Video game nostalgia aside, this game is great for people who want to to experience what bosses go through on a day-to-day basis. Those pesky heroes have become too much of a nuisance!
Boss Monster isn’t overly complicated, although there can be some spell resolution intricacies ala the ‘Stack’ in Magic: the Gathering. Besides those ordering issues, the gameplay becomes familiar quickly: Build, Bait, Adventure, repeat.
Some people have said that once the initial wave of nostalgia wears off, this game tends to overstay its welcome. I can see how that might be the case; if Spells were involved in the game a bit more I think that would increase its replayability factor.
As a counterpoint, however, I will say that adding in the expansions really gives Boss Monster some great legs to stand on. Instead of seeing multiples of the same card every game, you’re getting a much wider variety. They take this game from good to great.
Due to the way the game is broken up into the different Phases, players can genuinely get a sense of constructing a dungeon and funneling heroes towards their inevitable doom. You’ll recognize classic tropes that capitalize on the video game feel.
This is a fantastic little game that plays well as a filler between meatier offerings or as a multi-round addition to game night. Since it’s all card-based, it travels exceptionally well in traditional deck boxes too.
Boss Monster: Trap Your Way to Victory
Overall, Boss Monster is a game that I long to play more often. I have a copy of each expansion which, as I mentioned above, keeps the game feeling new every time it’s played. The base game is a perfectly fine test to see if it’s a game that you would enjoy. Plus, it’s relatively inexpensive for a trap-filled jaunt down memory lane.
If you’re looking for some more information about one of Boss Monster’s creators, Chris O’Neal, Nerds on Earth interviewed him back in 2017. You can listen to that interview here.