By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on November 8, 2016
Don't you just hate it when those righteous, goody, goody two-shoes heroes ransack your newly renovated dungeon, kill all your monsters and steal the treasures that took you aeons to collect? I sure do. But now, the time has come for some bloody payback! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to be as evil as we can possibly be. It is time to be... the Boss Monster!
For those of you who have never heard of this game, it is a tabletop dungeon-building card game for 2-4 players, developed by South California based indie developer Brotherwise Games, LLC. Boss Monster features exceptionally cool 8-bit artwork and truly awesome gameplay. It pits players against one another as they strive to build the darkest, most dangerous dungeon this, or any, world has ever seen!
So, how do we go about building our dungeon? Quite simple actually; we take a boss, add some rooms, cast some spells and start slaying! Ok, maybe that's putting it a little too simplistic, but that's actually the gist of the game. Of course, there is a lot more to it than this, so let's just start from the beginning and take it from there, shall we? At the start of the game, every player randomly receives one of the eight available bosses, each with their own XP value and a unique special power, that is used once per game. At which time will this power be used? We'll come to that a bit later on. For now, just accept that you will have an awesome special power that you will eventually be able to use! After each player has his or her boss, each player receives five room cards and two spell cards. Of these seven cards, two cards must be discarded, giving the players a starting hand of a total of five cards. Then, and only then, can we begin building our evil domain! To start building, each player selects a room card from their hand and places it face down to the left of their boss card. Once every player has done so, the rooms are simultaneously revealed or 'built', as the game calls it.
A room card typically contains a room title, a description of the room's special ability, a damage level indicator, an amazing 8-bit depiction of the room in question and one or more treasure icons. There are four treasure types in the game: gold (which attracts thieves), a book (which attracts mages), an ankh symbol (which attracts clerics) or a sword (which attracts fighters). Some rooms even depict more than one treasure type, signaling that this room can attract multiple heroes. The more of the same treasure icon a card depicts, the higher its value when the time comes to lure the unsuspecting heroes into your dungeon of death and dismemberment, but more on that later.
The basic game contains 75 room cards, which are divided into two groups: basic rooms and advanced rooms. Basic rooms can be built left of your left-most room or on top of any existing room, while advanced rooms may only be built on top of rooms that feature the same treasure symbol. So you can't just throw every room down wherever you want. Besides, there's a limit to how many rooms your dungeon may contain. Your dungeon can never have more than five visible rooms at any given time. But don't worry; if you plan your rooms correctly, five rooms is more than enough to reduce those pesky heroes to a bloody pulp... most of the time.
To kill a hero, the total damage value of your dungeon must be higher than the hero's life points, which are depicted on the hero cards If you manage to kill a hero before he reaches the end of your dungeon, you may collect his soul. The first player to collect 10 souls wins the game and may bear the title of Boss Monster. There is, however, a catch: remember the '...most of the time' bit at the end of the last paragraph? This is where things get dicey. When, for some reason, fail to kill a hero and he or she survives your dungeon, they wound you. When your wound count reaches five, you die an agonizing death and are out of the game. And, as one would expect from the most evil beings on the planet, each one of them is hell-bent on winning, so the other bosses will try to thwart you at every turn.
A typical round in Boss Monster has five different stages: a startup phase, a build phase, a bait phase, an adventure phase and an end phase. The start up phase involves two new heroes coming into town. The heroes are drawn from the hero pile and are put, face up, next to it. There are two kinds of heroes: regular ones and epic heroes, and each stacked in a separate pile. The epic heroes are stronger, but also yield more souls. You may not reveal any epic heroes before the regular hero pile is depleted, so this gives you more time to maximize your dungeon's damage level before the real heavy-weights show up. After the arrival of the heroes, each player draws a room card from the room card pile and then it's on to the next phase: The build phase. In this phase, each player adds a single room face down to their dungeon (unless a card says you may build an additional room), which are simultaneously revealed after every player has made their choice.
This is where the XP count on the boss cards first comes into play; a room can contain a so-called 'when you build this room' effect, which have to be applied in XP order. After all affects have been resolved, it is time to move on to the bait phase. Remember when I told you that almost every room has a treasure symbol printed on it? Well, seeing as how different heroes are after different treasures, these symbol become important in this phase. Each hero in town moves to the dungeon that features the most relevant treasure symbols and is set at the entrance of that dungeon. If there are more than one dungeon that have the exact same highest amount of a particular treasure type, the hero in question will become indecisive and stay in town.
When all hero's have been baited (or stay in town because of a draw in treasure types), the adventure phase will begin. In XP order, the bosses will get a chance to battle against the heroes that are currently at the entrance of their dungeon. While making their way through your dungeon, each room damages the hero, slowly depleting their life points. As already mentioned, when a hero's life count reaches zero, he or she is killed and you may take their soul. If a hero manages to reach the end of your dungeon alive... yes, you remembered correctly; they wound you. The adventure phase does not end before each boss has had a chance to battle against the heroes in their dungeon. After this point in time has been reached, the final phase of the round kicks in: the aptly-named end phase. In this phase, rooms that have been deactivated by spells are reactivated. Then, each boss checks his or her score keeping area, to see if the victory or defeat limit has been reached. If one of the bosses has managed to scrounge up 10 or more souls, he or she is the winner. If, however, a boss has sustained a total of 5 wounds, he or she is out of the game. The game keeps on going until one of the bosses has claimed enough souls or all bosses are dead.
Now, I did mention spell cards a bit earlier on. During the build or adventure phase, these cards can be used to kill a particularly pesky hero or to make life miserable for one of the other bosses. Spells can range from bringing a dead hero back to life and making that hero attack that boss' dungeon again, hopefully inflicting more wounds, to damaging a hero in your own dungeon so he or she dies and the coveted soul is yours. It can also grant you the ability to transport a hero to the entrance of your dungeon, without taking into account the number of treasure symbols of the other dungeons. There are many, many more cool spells that you can use to either further your own cause or put the otherwise smoothly running operation of one of the other bosses to a screeching halt. Be aware, though, that certain spells can only be used in a certain phase. Spells that have a hammer symbol printed on the card can only be used in the build phase, while spells with an axe symbol can only be used in the adventure phase. Luckily, there are also spells that can be used in both phases, so that gives you the opportunity to choose when the card will have the maximum effect.
No matter how I look at it, I just can't find anything wrong with this game! Everything is perfectly balanced and works like a charm. This is why I can only come to one conclusion: Boss Monster is an exceptionally awesome game, and should be played by everyone on the damn planet! Now, I know it is very, very improbable that this will ever happen, so I will settle for everyone that loves a fun game with amazing graphics, great replay value and a good set of rules! Seriously, if card games are your cup of 8-bit tea; please do yourself a huge favor and get your hands on Boss Monster! The game even spawned a stand-alone expansion called Boss Monster: The Next Level, which contains 12 brand new bosses, 75 additional rooms, 31 spells and 42 heroes for you to slay! Apart from this expansion, there are also two smaller expansion packs. These packs do, however, require you to have the original Boss Monster in order to play them. And, if that weren't enough, there's even a digital version of this awesome game available for iOS and Android tablets. So go ahead, just do it; be mean, be evil, be... the Boss Monster!
Published: July 2013 (1st edition)
Players: 2 - 4 players, ages 13 & up
Playtime: approx. 20 minutes