Boss Monster + Tools of Hero-Kind Expansion Review
Boss Monster is a rather glorious and fairly clever homage to classic video games that does a good job of placing its players in the boots (or talons, or thrones made out of human skulls) of The Big Badguy. I’m talking about bosses. There are so many things I love about this concept, and almost as many things I love about the implementation. Problem is, there are a few mechanics – or lack thereof – that prevent it from being as beautifully dastardly as it could be.
The core game includes a total of 155 cards split between bosses, spells, rooms, heroes, and epic heroes. The Tools of Hero-Kind expansion adds another 25 cards to the set, but I’ll get to those in a bit. So, the core game’s cards are all full-color, feature some great pixel art that tends to reference classic video games, and usually includes some rather funny flavor-text that expands even further on the “remember this guy from that one game” jokes. I also have to say it’s nice having separate pockets inside the box for organizational purposes. That said, there is a noticeable difference between the stock used in the printing of the core game and the expansion. This creates a bit of a problem when players can usually tell when someone is in possession of (or about to draw) one of the newer cards. It’s not really the type of game that requires total secrecy, and there are enough cards in the expansion to make figuring out exactly what’s coming up fairly difficult, but it’s still kind of a shame. Of course there’s also the distinct possibility that the next printing of the core game will match the expansion’s stock.
Playing Boss Monster is basically a matter of luring heroes into your dungeons and murdering them for “souls” (i.e. points). The first player to ten wins. Conversely, if a hero is drawn to a dungeon and cannot be defeated, they’ll damage your boss instead – and five wounds equals Game Over. It’s ridiculously easy to learn, and the way in which hero cards can act as both point and wound counters is remarkably clever. This is something you could pull out in front of a group who’s never heard of it before and start playing within five to ten minutes.
Each turn players alternate between drawing a room card and (potentially) building a room; up to a maximum of five. Different rooms will do different things that can include instantly allowing you to build a second room on the same turn, forcing opponents to discard spells, or even let you heal wounds under the right circumstances. The twist is that each room does a predetermined amount of damage; so for example something with a very useful ability may not be all that great when it comes to actually damaging heroes. It’s also possible to replace rooms, or build Advanced Rooms on top of an already existing room of the same type. Advanced rooms, of course, tend to do more damage and have better abilities than regular rooms. Spells, on the other hand, are one-offs that will beef up your rooms, weaken heroes, or in many cases screw over your opponents. However acquiring spells can be very tricky as the only way to draw more (aside from the initial two at the start of the game) is to rely on room abilities.
At the beginning of each round, one hero per player is drawn from the deck and placed face-up. This constitutes them being “in town” and ready to take on some monsters. Then it’s time to lure the do-gooding fools to your dungeon lair. You see in addition to having special abilities and dealing damage, your rooms also contain special treasures that are indicated by specific icons (swords, religious relics, money bags, and spell books). Whichever player has the most of a given symbol in their dungeon will attract all of the matching heroes who are camping out in town. Each hero has a set amount of health, and assuming your rooms manage to whittle them down to zero before they reach your boss you get a point/soul. The same exact rules apply to Epic Heroes; the only difference being that they have a lot more health, earn you 2 points if you kill them, and inflict 2 wounds if you don’t. This is one of Boss Monster’s most significant issues; mechanically, heroes are nothing more than a sack of hitpoints. The only thing that distinguishes one from another is how much damage they can absorb and what it takes to lure them to their doom.
I’ve also noticed that the rules as stated can make building extremely difficult under certain circumstances. You see, there’s no real mechanic for discarding or drawing more room cards (aside from the odd room benefit), which can really leave you in the lurch if you keep drawing Advanced Rooms at the beginning of the game. Because remember, Advanced Rooms can only be built on top of existing rooms of the same type. So if you’ve got a hand full of Advanced Rooms you’re basically screwed. Of course it’s possible to house rule something, but the basic rules don’t really take this issue into account.
However, the Tools of Hero-Kind does quite an impressive job of addressing my biggest gripe about Boss Monster; which is to say the flavorless heroes. Amidst the extra room and spell cards (which are okay but nothing super-special, really) are item cards. Items add a whole new spin to the basic gameplay mechanics by randomly doling out some fairly powerful items to heroes before they go a-delving. These can be anything from a magic tome that will shuffle the order of a dungeon’s rooms (not so great when you rely on positioning bonuses) to a ten foot pole that renders the first trap room in your dungeon totally useless for the entire turn. Yes, even against heroes that follow this jerk with the stick after the fact. Of course if you manage to kill a hero with one of these items you’ll get to keep it for yourself and use it’s powers for evil. It’s such a simple thing but the way in which the items add an extra bit of randomness to the heroes (and makes them even more formidable) is a huge improvement.
I really, really want to say that Boss Monster is as amazing and fun as it looks (the artwork on the cards really is something else), but it just isn’t. It’s not bad by any means, and it makes for a quick and painless filler game, but the mechanics just aren’t as much fun as the goofiness or the nostalgia. That said, the Tools of Hero-Kind expansion does negate one of my biggest issues. So, should you buy it? Well if you plan to get it with the expansion then yes, absolutely. However if you plan to go with just the base set I’d suggest giving it a pass.