Video gaming has always been a big part of my life. Since I was just a young lad playing Nintendo and Sega, I’ve always been in love with retro gaming and 8-bit pixel art. The first thing you notice about Boss Monster, by Brotherwise Games, is that it feels like so much more than a table top card game. The look and feel of retro videogames makes you feel right at home if you are anything like me, but also makes the art cool enough to be enjoyed even if you spent the 80’s and 90’s doing something else like what? Pogs? At its heart, Boss Monster is a 2-4 player strategic dungeon-building card game filled with memorable monsters and heroes, familiar video game tropes such as traps, tricks and everything you need to screw over your friends! Each player builds a dungeon so treacherous that no man could make it through to the end, then, attract heroes to their dungeon to kill them and claim their souls. Pretty simple… if you didn’t have to worry about heroes who do make it through your dungeon wounding you, or even your opponents sending heroes your way that you cannot handle, damaging your dungeon, or beating you to a hefty soul collection to win the game!
Boss Monster has seen two full releases, a special edition, a collector’s deck box with additional cards, two expansions, and some Kickstarter promotional cards that were given to early supporters of the game. Boss Monster 1 and 2 are both full games that can be played together or on their own. Boss Monster 2 received a Special Edition set which included the original game plus a set of 14 holofoil cards, featuring all of the boss cards from the game as well as a brand new boss card. A special edition deck box was released which included space for each game and the expansions, as well as 11 brand new cards. Brotherwise Games is keeping the fun coming with its upcoming expansion: Crash Landing, which adds new elements to the game as well as officially expanding the game to 5-6 players.
You play as one of several well designed Bosses, which range from giant monsters to Sorceresses of Sexiness, each with their own lore and special abilities. The object of the game is to build a dungeon using Room Cards, with your boss at the end, that is so powerful no heroes can complete their journey. A dungeon consists of 1-5 rooms, signified by Trap and Monster Room cards, that each have special circumstances as well as a specified amount of damage to chip away at venturing heroes. Once your dungeon hits its limit of five rooms, your Boss card Levels Up. A Leveled Up player can now use the special ability detailed on their Boss card. One fun thing about the Boss Monster 2: Special Edition is that when you reach the limit, you can replace your card with the holofoil variant to signify that you have Leveled Up. There are tactical uses for each of the Bosses’ special abilities; however Boss cards are dealt randomly to each player, so the possibilities for the type of dungeon that you can build vary every time you play the game. Boss cards also assign an XP number which is used to determine who goes first, highest XP goes first! I love collecting, so that keeps me diligently buying all of the sets, most of which add one or more additional boss cards to the game.
The Hero cards are some of my favorite in the game. These are the cards that you want to attract to your dungeon to slaughter. Every hero has its own lore section that describes that hero, has no gameplay value at all, and is typically just fun little quotes and anecdotes. Hero cards will tell you which type of character the hero is, which corresponds to the Treasure type that hero is attracted to. These Treasure icons will match up with the Treasure Icons on your Room cards, so the player with most matching icons gets to have that hero venture their devious lair. If you kill the hero in your dungeon you claim the card’s Soul, however, if the hero makes it to your Boss card with some HP he inflicts a Wound. The game is won when a player ends their turn with 10 souls. A player loses, or “dies”, when they have 5 wounds. I’m a big fan of flavor text, maybe stemming from my love of Pokémon, so I always look for fun additions just for the sake of immersion or humor. This is why Hero cards are some of the best whether it’s Charles the Young, who has his mother’s approval to go adventuring but needs to get home before sundown, or Kalish Ninefingers, an unfortunate thief that lost his finger and was thrown in jail where he learned magic from his sorcerous cellmate. Yea…some are more convoluted than others!
Room cards are sometimes super distracting because you want to check out the fun, sometimes familiar, art and reminisce about the various video game tropes and direct references. There are two different types of Room cards: Monster Rooms and Trap Rooms. Each room has a Damage counter that is inflicted on any hero that enters the room. Each card has a Treasure icon that designates which types of heroes will be attracted to your dungeon. Rooms are built once per turn to the left of your Boss card. Standard Room cards can be built on any other room card or to the left until you hit the maximum of 5 rooms. Advanced Room cards can only be built on cards that share at least one Treasure Icon. This makes for some fun strategy and allows you to create heavier hitting rooms to kill the stronger heroes that you face later in the game. Some Rooms even offer special abilities if the hero dies in that room, such as allowing the player to draw more spell cards. Boss card are usually based on typical gaming enemies or depict rooms filled with hoards of monsters. Trap rooms are a bit more familiar and are stylized after obstacles in video games, such as a warp tube that leads to a spike pit. When will heroes learn that you just can’t go down every tube?! The heaviest use of random pop culture references appear in the room cards, so they tend to get a lot of laughs.
Each turn is played in phases, with each player taking turns (in Descending Boss XP order) as the active player of the phase. At the beginning of each turn two Heroes are revealed (Three for three-player games and four for four-player) and placed in town where they wait to see which dungeon comes-a-calling. Each player draws a room card, and then the phases begin. The Build Phase allows each player to build a new room to the left of their left-most card. This is where you can start to strategize focusing on certain treasures to attract more heroes or even trying to build to deter more powerful heroes in town that you don’t want to face yet. In the Bait Phase each hero moves to the dungeon that has the most corresponding treasure type. Adventure Phase pits your Boss against any heroes foolish enough to enter the technological terror you’ve constructed…Well, that might be a different type of dungeon...The turn ends when all players have a chance to act. Most of these phases go pretty systematically until your friends start learning the value of a good spell.
Spells are the wrench in everyone’s plans. They make the game a bit more unpredictable and offer both offensive bonuses to screw over your best pal, as well as power-ups, defensive bonuses and counters in case they have the same idea. Spells stipulate which phases they are allowed to be used in, so they can be earned and saved throughout the game until you are ready to make your move. Spells are also both comical and nostalgic as they poke fun at classic franchises with cards like “Super Effective” which adds +2 attack damage to any room in your dungeon. Lots of fun ensues when the game is nearing its end and everybody is really strategizing and firing off spells to try to stay in the game or get the person in the lead killed.
Like most games of this nature, Boss Monster is a lot more exciting with 3 or more players. The 2-Player game is certainly still enjoyable, the only complaint being that fewer cards get to be played and seen. The possibility for rivalries, alliances, and subsequent screwing over of those allies, is exponentially more exciting with additional players. I love that the game prides itself on its geekiness, throwing references mostly from video games but also extending to pop-culture, movies, Dr. Who, and other widely known sci-fi adventures. I am a pretty serious geek, gamer and collector so this game just screams for my attention with it being highly collectable (Still trying to track down a set of the original Bosses in holofoil that was only given to contributors to their Kickstarter program), and just generally showing love for all walks of gaming! This is by far my favorite table top game right now and is up there with my favorite card games of all time. Boss Monster 2 is playable on its own or can be mixed with the original Boss Monster for more possibilities. If that’s not enough both games can be combined with game-changing expansion packs such as Tools of Hero-Kind, which adds 26 additional cards and a new gameplay element called Items. Items can be taken from heroes and used against your enemies (also known as friends). Paper & Pixels is a small, 14 card expansion released as a promotional blind pack containing new room cards, heroes and even new bosses. Something about that Explodo boss card that you can’t help but smile at. I can’t wait for the next expansion: Crash Landing, which will change the rules to make the game playable for 5-6 people. But in the meantime, there are some fan made rules where both versions of the game can be used to play with up to 8 players!
I can gush all day about the awesome artwork that hits you in the nostalgic feels, the colorful and funny references, or the high collectability, but the great thing about this game is that it is super easy to learn if you are not a big card or table top gamer, but can also be mastered and played in so many different ways. It is a no brainer for me, but I think it is also generally accessible to anyone looking to play a fun game with friends. Once you get the hang of it the games go pretty quickly and can be played multiple times in one night. I can’t recommend this game to enough people, but don’t take my word for it, you can see all that Brotherwise Games has to offer on their website. You can also check out their new digital version of the game available for download now. To learn more check out www.digitalbossmonster.com.
RATING: +10 Awesomeness
PRO TIPS: Build your dungeon to utilize card combos! You can use certain rooms to send heroes back through previous rooms in your dungeon to do double damage and even planning where heroes die in your dungeon will let you take advantage of heals or additional card draws!
GOTTA’ BE SOMETHIN’ WRONG: Luck is a large factor in the game. Last minute draws can make or break your game, so sometimes even the most strategic dungeon can be screwed by luck of the draw. If Mario Kart’s luck factor ever killed one of your friendships, this is the table top equivalent!