Gaming as a cultural expression is growing. It is important to remember that videogames did not bloom out of nothingness, just as film and movies did not develop without the context of theater and narrative driven literature. Early videogames were sometimes attempts to replicate the systems and dynamics of tabletop games. Today, many game mechanics from tabletop RPGs and Euro-style boardgames have integrated into the design sensibilities of videogames. We can see it in the behind-the-scenes A.I. accuracy/damage number crunching in Mass Effect. We can see it in how we manage resources in Civilization. We can see it in the grid-based combat of Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. And we can see it in our Pavlovian reactions to loot drops and leveling up. One informed the other and changed the way we consume and access entertainment. Reboot Connection is a blog series, an attempt to discuss and recommend a tabletop game that speaks to a videogamer's sensibilities, because we should all play more games.
I introduce, Boss Monster!
Type of Game: Dungeon Building Card Game
Developer: Brotherwise Games, LLC
Number of Players: 2 -4
Time to Play: 15 - 30 minutes
Expansion: Tools of Hero Kind, $9.99
The Connection Boss Monster is a card game that devotes itself to a loving homage of 8-bit games. The packaging looks like an NES Black Box case, and even the expansion looks like a Gameboy case! All of the art is drawn and designed to remind you of the good games of yore: Mega Man, Mario, Castlevania, Double Dragon, Kid Icarus, Metroid, and Zelda. But if you look closely, you'll even catch references to The Song of Ice and Fire, Brandon Sanderson novels, the Nolen Batman movies, and other wonderful geek culture. The game is about heroes going on dungeon runs, but here is the twist, you are the Boss Monster. Machinima did a great job with this video which tells you what to expect, if you decide to join the monstrous ranks of Legion!
This game's theme is at its best when it walks that precarious tight-rope of trademark infringement. Examples of the bosses you can play as are: The Sultan of the Sewers King Croak (King Koopa), Gorgona (Medusa), Father Brain Cerebellus (Mother Brain), The Angry Golem Robobo (Abobo) or The Progenitor Lich Xyzax (Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax).
The Heroes that will come tromping into your dungeon, attempting to wound you and steal your loot, are easily recognizable. Baden the Pantless just might be related to Arthur (Ghouls n' Ghosts). Johnny of the Evening Watch, whose band o' brothers is sworn to forsake family, take the gray, and clear dungeons (You still know nothing, Johnny Snow). The Elf Pyromancer, proof that some elves just want to watch the world burn (Why so serious?). The Angel of Light, who's not a rip off of Pit from Kid Icarus. Hya, the Legendary Shinobi, who collects dark swords of chaos and travels on ghost ships of doom. Wallbanger Basketweaver, the hobbit, burglar extraordinaire. And Antonius the Rune Knight, not to be confused with Adolin Kholin, who dons rune charged armor and duels his way through dungeons (The Stormlight Archives).
The Rooms and Traps you will build to guard against the Heroes are inspired by cult classic movie jokes, retro games and references to modern media obsessions. Brain Sucker Hive (Metroid). Liger Den (Napoleon Dynamite). The Crushinator (Super Mario World, NSMB Wii/Wii U). Dragon Hatchery (Daenerys Targarians three baby dragons). Mimic Vault (Final Fantasy Mimics). Torture Chamber (The Princess Bride). Golem Factory (Double Dragon 2). Neanderthal Cave (Kunio-kun).
But in order to prevent competing Boss Monsters from attracting and killing all the Heroes, you will cast devious Spells on each other. The Assassin spell give a Hero in another dungeon three more hit points, the equivalent of mainlining the Animus. Counterspell (Expelliarmus!) will cancel another Boss Monsters Spell. And Giant Sized, which will... holy crap that Toad looks pissed!
The Mechanics Brotherwise Games has provided a good overview of the game setup, rules and goals. Feel free to check it out if you are interested in the nitty-gritty of gameplay. The Basics: kills Heroes to get Souls, fail to do so and get Wounds. 10 Souls and you win, 5 Wounds and you lose.
Gamers who are familiar with ideas like resource management, agro and mobbing will immediately recognize what this game expects you to do. The resources that you manage are the quality and quantity of your treasure (the person with the most rooms that provide Fighter treasures, attracts the Fighters... the person with the most rooms that provide Wizard treasures, attract the Wizards... and so on). You'd better be attracting Heroes, because you need their souls to win. But you need to be competitive in what treasure types you have, so you can stall the Heroes in town, and prevent your rival from getting the chance to slay a do-good-er. And what kind of despicable, vile, disgusting villain would you be if you didn't backstab your rivals when they get too close to winning! Expect to be hexed, cursed, and ensorcelled by your compatriots in evil. The expansion, Tools of Hero-Kind, adds Magic Items that the Heroes can equip rush your dungeon more easily. If you kill the equipped Hero, you win the Magic Item as well as his Soul. It's truly a blast when a trademark sensitive version of Link comes into Father Brains dungeon with the Holy Hand Grenade, only to be stopped by a trap room that shares a striking resemblance to the giant plunging castle spikes from Super Mario World.
The Verdict The game is fun, fast, and simple once you learn how to read the icons. The balancing act that I have to do between making my dungeon strong enough to protect me, while attracting heroes to or blocking heroes from different dungeons, is a lot of fun. It plays almost as quickly with 2 players as it does with 4 players, since all players complete most of the round phases simultaneously. Set-up time, break down time, and teachability are all simple and streamlined. Boss Monster is not quite pocket sized, but it's still very portable compared to other tabletop games. Even the worthwhile expansion will fit in the base box. The mechanics of the game combine basic card play with modern design concepts (like agro), and presents it in a nostalgic, playfully reverent way. This game is very good, but not great. Sometimes you will want to play another game because almost all the cards you drew in a 20 minute game, were crap (not that I'm still bitter about that).
If you happen to be a person who remembers 8-bit and 16-bit games fondly, but aren't all that into card and boardgames, there is a very good chance you will like this game. If you are looking for complexity, similar to Dominion or Magic The Gathering, it isn't here. But the theme is strong and well executed. It keeps luring me back with its hilarious, nostalgic pixel graphics. After a dozen plays, I still laugh at small details in the art that I missed, or didn't get at the time. It's a simple game that invites in all who want to play.
About Thumb Scar One of us since 11:57 AM on 02.25.2014
Been gaming since the NES days. I remember computers, before the internet. My motivation to learn how to read was to play Final Fantasy. Games have, wonderfully, helped shape my life. I love games, history, writing and discussion. Pursuing that is the goal.
I've played games on Nintendo consoles for most of my life, but branched out into PC gaming and Playstation by the mid-90's. Current platforms: Wii U, 3DS, Steam. Typically playing: 5e D&D, tabletop games, and a backlog of retro games.
We live in interesting times. I can't wait to see where the industry goes next.