I was actually one of the lucky few to first play this game way back in the day when it was still in Kickstarter. My brother had pledged and got one of the first copies of the game. We were reminiscing for a long time before we even made it to our first game. We used to play a lot of Super Nintendo games, and one of our first games was Castlevania for SNES.
Boss Monster is a treasure trove of nostalgia. In Boss Monster, players get to become the dungeon boss, defending their lair from pesky heroes looking to make a name for themselves by raiding all of your hard-earned loot.
A Brief Overview of Boss Monster: The Dungeon-Building Card Game
In Boss Monster you get to be the big bad evil guy hiding at the back of a dungeon filled with traps and monsters. As the boss, you get to plan out your dungeon and set traps, and every round you get to sit back and watch the chumps (heroes) try and sneak through.
Players gain victory points by killing heroes in their dungeons and will get bonuses if they build their dungeon to specifically counteract the invading heroes abilities. If a hero shows up that’s too strong, you can always manipulate heroes into invading your opponent’s dungeon. After all, you didn’t get to be the boss monster by being friendly.
Versions and Expansions
Unboxing Boss Monster
Boss Monster is primarily a card game, so the shelf space it takes up won’t have you running down to Ikea to buy tons of new storage bins to hold everything. The box is designed to look like a retro SNES box. I was having some serious Nintendo Power magazine flashbacks when opening it up the first time.
The cards are standard card stock and well done, so you won’t have too many issues with warping or flimsy cards. If you’re a sleever, it shouldn’t be too difficult to sleeve everything.
The artwork is what originally drew me to this game. Everything is gloriously done in pixel art-style and looks fantastic. Each trap room is inspired by some room from the bygone days of SNES and NES. The hero cards remind me of early Final Fantasy games and have 1 of 4 treasure type and individual stats. The bosses are just plain cool looking, not to mention each one has an individual power that can boost a particular play style.
How to Play Boss Monster
Boss Monster is a fairly simple card game.
Players will build a dungeon and heroes will sneak into the dungeon to loot. It’s the boss’s (player’s) job to kill adventurers in their dungeons so they can steal their souls. Ten (10) souls wins the game. If a hero manages to make it all the way through the dungeon into the final boss room, the boss takes wound damage. Five (5) wound damage kills the boss and the player is eliminated from the game.
The first player to 10 souls or the last player standing wins.
Players pick their Boss Monster to control their dungeon, or a simple shuffle will randomize the bosses to keep everything fair. Each boss has its own special level-up ability and experience point listed on their card. When a player completely fills out their dungeon with rooms, the boss is considered to have leveled-up and then can use its special ability. The experience point cost on the card determines which player gets to go first in a round.
Each player gets a starting hand of 2 spell cards and 5 room cards.
Room cards are used to build up the dungeon to make it deadlier for the thieving heroes coming into the dungeon. Spell cards are one-shot cards that can use special abilities to attack other players or heroes directly.
Room cards have a treasure type in the lower right-hand of the card and are usually color-coded to the treasure type. In the lower left-hand corner is a shield icon showing how much damage a hero will take if he/she walks into that room. Cards will sometimes have special abilities written in text on the card showing abilities you can use to cause more damage or manipulate the dungeon.
Rooms are built to the left of the boss and up to 5 rooms can be built in any dungeon. Advanced rooms can only be built on top of existing rooms of the same treasure type, but usually, cause significantly more damage than regular rooms. Regular rooms can also be built on top of any room to replace an old room. Rooms cannot be moved around after being built.
Spell cards are one-shot items that can be used to attack opponents or heroes who have entered your dungeon. Each one is different but can quickly change the flow of the game and save your boss if they’re about to get hit (or snatch victory away from an opponent).
There are 4 treasure types:
Each room will have a specific treasure type located at the bottom right of the card and each hero card has a treasure type printed on their card.
The total treasure types located in a dungeon affects what kind of hero cards will enter your dungeon. If you have more mage treasures than any other players, then a hero that wants mage treasures will enter your dungeon. If 2 players are tied with the same amount of treasures, the mage hero will wait in town until the tie is broken.
The first time a dungeon reaches 5 rooms, the Boss levels-up and can immediately use their level-up ability. They can choose not to use it, but it does not save or carry over to the next round and they cannot level-up again.
The game rotates through a sequence of actions every turn.
Beginning: Hero cards equal to the number of players are placed aside forming the village/town.
Build: Players take turns building a room in their dungeon and resolving any effects.
Bait: If a dungeon has more treasure types, check to see if a matching hero is in the village and place those heroes at the beginning of the dungeon.
Adventure: Heroes move through the rooms and take damage. If they survive, the boss takes damage. If they die, flip the hero card and gain the number of souls indicated on the back.
Ending/Cleanup: Reset dungeon rooms and return any heroes that didn’t die to the village.
Your First Game of Boss Monster
In Boss Monster you don’t get a starter scenario to work with, but it’s also not really necessary. Your first game of Boss Monster will just be a bit slower than later games while you work out the kinks of the rules and play around with the system.
Since nobody is going to be an expert, I wouldn’t worry too much about which Boss you pick to control your dungeon, and just pick one that you think is cool.
To get the most out of your first game I would suggest going in blind. Get the basic rules down. The rules section I wrote up above is enough to get you started right away. If a rule question comes up later then go ahead and grab the rules to clarify. Don’t look at any of the room cards or spells. Just shuffle ‘em up to get a game ready and start playing.
If you’re playing Boss Monster it’s likely that the nostalgia factor originally drew you to the game. Play it blind and reminisce as all of the retro game-inspired rooms come up. You’re going to have a fun time.
The Pros and Cons of Boss Monster
- Retro art style is really cool
- It’s a quick game that doesn’t require much setup
- Can be highly unbalanced/random depending on the starting hand of cards
- Players can be eliminated early in the game
- Not a lot of player interaction
- Low strategy
The reason my brother bought the game and the biggest reason I still enjoy the game is the nostalgia factor. If you grew up playing NES/SNES or pixel art games from that era you’re going to love this game. It has an interesting mechanic and I personally think it’s fun planning out the dungeon and strategizing on how to kill the heroes. The swap-up playing as a bad guy is a lot of fun.
I legitimately think Boss Monster is cool, but it does have some glaring mechanic flaws.
The starting hand sometimes determines who wins. If you are lucky enough to get rooms that don’t match up well, you can sometimes be overrun with heroes in the first few rounds. It does happen sometimes that a player is eliminated through no fault of their own, simply from bad draws, and that’s not fun for anyone.
I put low strategy as a con because you sometimes feel forced into your actions with the base game. This is especially true if you get a bad opening hand. Often times you’ll find yourself playing whatever card in your hand has the most damage, regardless of all other factors. That becomes less of a strategy and more of a forced exercise at that point. That coupled with the fact that the majority of the game is watching heroes bust through rooms in your dungeon without much interaction makes the game very passive.
Player interaction is also rather limited. Players can use spells to interact with other players but that’s basically it. There’s also a limited interaction with the board itself. The game becomes building a dungeon and watching the board A.I. push the heroes through. It’s not the most innovative thing I’ve ever seen in a game. Some players may be left wanting more out of a game. As a light, quick game though, I think it’s fine, but I have noticed some of those issues that may bother other players.
- Boss Monster is a nostalgia-fueled, side-scrolling, dungeon-building card game.
- For once, you get to play as the bad guy.
- Be the first boss to gain 10 souls from hapless heroes trying to rob your dungeon horde.
- Build the most enticing dungeon and lure more heroes than your opponents.
- A standalone card game (with tons of expansions) for 2-4 players.
It’s an ok game that I still like to play.
For a quick, quirky game it does the job and makes me giggle whenever I play.
It is by no means an innovative gem in the board game community. It has some serious flaws when it comes to balancing and sometimes suffers from early player elimination. I personally like it as a sleeved game that you can take to the pub for some light fun. It’s interesting to look at, and if anyone is eliminated early, they can always grab the next round.
I enjoy watching the A.I. heroes stomp through the dungeons, but I’ve had a lot of players complain about the passive nature of the game. Spell cards, which are your direct interactions, are rather rare, limiting how much players actually interact. It can sometimes feel like everyone is sitting around a table doing their own thing instead of playing an actual interactive game.
I haven’t tried it yet, but I have heard the standalone expansion Boss Monster 2 fixes some of the balancing flaws. It can still happen, but the variety of cards have been changed that it happens much less.
If you’re still unsure about giving Boss Monster a try, there’s also a Steam version of the game if you want to first test it out digitally. I find that the digital versions are great ways to test out games because they have the rules built into them and it’s impossible to screw up the rules, and it allows you to give them a try before you commit to shelf space on a game.
For a final rating, I think it comes down to this.
If you were attracted to the game for the fun, retro nostalgia that it promises, it will definitely deliver. If you are indifferent to the nostalgia factor, you can probably skip this game and not miss much.
What did you think about Boss Monster? Have you tried any of the expansions? Let us know in the comments and bewilder us with your board game wisdom.