Published on April 30th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen2
Like A Boss Monster
$20 Quick Pick: Boss Monster
Boss Monster is a compact card game that puts players into the role of an End Game Boss from an NES-era video game. Cashing in on the current nerdstalgia phenomenon, Boss Monster is part retro video game throw back and partily an ode to D&D dungeon crawlers. Players build dungeons to lure and kill fantasy heroes, but a poorly designed dungeon could result in disaster. A successful Kickstarter game from a couple of years ago, Boss Monster is only $20 and is now widely available via Amazon.
One of the things that gave me a good first impression of Boss Monster was the box/packaging design. In the version of the game that is currently in print, the box looks like an old NES cartridge complete with layout and typeface choices. When you open the game, you notice that the game rules are printed in what looks like an old NES instruction booklet. The implementation of these designs is all very well done and it stands out even at a time when modern pixel art and 8-bit fan art is common place.
All of the art in the game is essentially modern pixel art as well. Typically this style of art doesn’t do much for me, but Boss Monster makes it endearing. Usually I see 8- and 16-bit pixel art as blatant pandering to a specific consumer base, and the lowest of the low-hanging fruit for art direction in anything that includes the words “indy” and “video game”. I think that Boss Monster largely gets a pass in this case because they didn’t just stop the art direction at “pixel art” and leave it at that.
Not only are there numerous video game references in the art, there are also tons of old D&D jokes and nerd-culture approved movie references as well. Jace Beleren is a Hero that could invade your dungeon ran by Xyzax the Progenitor Lich, you can cast the Assassin spell to summon Altair or use an Annihilation sphere from Tomb of Horrors or build the Torture Chamber from Princess Bride.
It isn’t just that this game makes those jokes, it’s that most of the jokes and references are mostly understated. By not being totally obvious, they make you feel smart for catching them which increases the enjoyment from seeing new cards.
In Boss Monster each player has a Boss card. Each boss has one of four suits called Treasure Icons, as well as an XP value and a special leveling ability that happens once per game. Each of the heroes in the game is assigned one of the four suits and will attack the boss that has the most treasure icons of that suit. Each room you build in your dungeon also adds at least one treasure icon to your dungeon.
Each turn consists of choosing a room to play from your hand, then the players simultaneously reveal that card from their hand. If you are trying to lure a specific hero from the line up then you may end up in a bidding war versus another player. That’s where spells tend to come in to play. These are “play when you want” sorts of cards that you can sometimes draw instead of room cards. They tend to do things like let you avoid attacks from heroes, or mess with room effects in other players’ dungeons.
Rooms come in two flavors: Trap and Monster. Mostly this is an arbitrary distinction, only coming into play when you want to upgrade a room to an Advanced version (which it must share a type and a treasure icon with). Often times rooms will give bonuses to the left or right, at times restricting those bonuses to Monster Rooms or Trap Rooms.
The player who gets to ten points first (from killing heroes) wins. You can bow out early if you take five wounds (from heroes killing you). Games tend to be pretty fast paced, light-hearted and not overly complicated.
I really like Boss Monster as a beer and pretzels game to play late after trivia night or as the opening game of the evening to get the brain juices primed. It has the depth of other cards games of its size, and the games go quick enough that you never feel bogged down in them.
There isn’t a ton of depth to the game, and after playing Boss Monster about ten times you’ll want to get the expansion pack. The good thing is that you’ll want to get the expansion pack as the game is really well done. This is a great game for anyone who knows what Metroidvania or Gygaxian Death Trap are, because Boss Monster is a silly love letter made especially for that person.