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April 14, 2014 / Jett

Boss Monster Review

photo 2(15)Playing to one’s nostalgia can go a long way. Case in point: Boss Monster. Driven by a Kickstarter campaign, the cross-section between video game and board game players donated a remarkable $215,056 when the game only had a $12,000 goal. While I didn’t even know about the game until I saw someone’s copy of it at Snakes and Lattes, it immediately piqued my interest with its evocative box art. Clearly there’s excitement around this game that I – or many others for that matter – couldn’t resist. Does this physical game based on digital themes make for a product worthy of a high score?

Set in an 8-bit world, you and each of your fellow players take on the role of one video game boss. There are a handful of boss cards that can be drawn at random that are all inspired by classic boss characters. If you’re a fan of the source material, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize their takes on Mother Brain from Metroid or Abobo of Double Dragon fame. Each character has an XP rating to determine turn order, a treasure that appeals to a certain type of hero, as well as a unique level up 1(17)

Of course, a boss must have a level to call their own. Throughout the game, you’re tasked with building a deadly dungeon that heroes can’t survive, yet can’t resist. To do this, you play room cards to add traps and monsters to your lair, which also contain treasures to make the dungeon as a whole more tantalizing. After the first round of building, heroes of different classes will enter the town and determine which dungeons they want to raid based on which player has the most treasure that appeals to them. You win the game if your dungeon successfully kills 10 heroes, but if 5 manage to get out alive, you’ll lose.

Brotherwise Games did a great job of bringing out the feel of the game through its box art and the dungeon building mechanic, though there are a number of different places where the game resorts to tired fantasy tropes. All of the heroes in the game fit very snugly into the fighter, mage, cleric and thief archetypes. I get that there has to be some limitations in place in order to facilitate the baiting mechanic, but aside from a dab of flavour text, there are only heroes of the traditional variety here in terms of looks and properties. Aside from their health and the treasure type they’re attracted to, they’re all the same. Something could have been done here to not only bring the theme back to video games, but to make heroes more interesting how they play out here.

The dungeon cards themselves could also use a video game flavour shot. A handful of them contain video game or pop culture references to make them funny, but too many of them rely on overly familiar tropes as well from an artistic and gameplay standpoint. If you took the video game element out and the fantasy elements in, this would basically still be the same experience.

photo(39)My biggest gripe with it comes from how much control you have over the way things play out (or lack thereof). You can build the best mage dungeon with the cards you have, but if the luck of the draw brings out everyone but mages, you could be screwed. If you’re out-baited by your opponents on all fronts and the room deck isn’t being helpful, there isn’t much you can do but to watch all the heroes travel elsewhere. Worse yet, heroes could immediately gravitate towards your dungeon long before it’s ready to kill anyone if you make it too appealing early on.

In our first four-player game, the first draw came up as all fighters. The person with the best fighter loot then got punished for having the most attractive dungeon with four wounds. Since it only takes five to lose, they were put into a serious disadvantage after only one turn. This phenomenon is less likely to happen in a two-or-three player game, but it still can, which is an ironic punishment for making an attractive dungeon too soon. Spell cards can help you fill in some of these gaps or mess others up, but you never get many of them during the course of a game, and most of them are highly situational in nature.

In terms of premise alone, Boss Monster is a winner. I also think that the core concept of building a dungeon and having the hero traverse through it is neat and something that can be fleshed out. However, there are a number of holes in its execution that stop it from reaching its peak. The game relies too heavily on standard fantasy and card game tropes that take away from the video game theme, too much of the game is dependent on chance and the cards themselves grow tired quickly in terms of their humour and abilities. It’s alright for a few plays, but I have a hard time seeing this one stay in anyone’s rotation. Maybe Brotherwise Games can address the core game’s faults with expansions, though I don’t think it’s ready for prime time in its current state.

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