If you think PAX is all about video games then you’re sorely mistaken. The tabletop area behind the expo floor is just as impressive and one of this year’s highlights is Boss Monster.
The game has reportedly been pretty hard to find recently, though I saw plenty in stock on Friday and Saturday. Word is that Sunday was a completely different story, though, and judging by the amount of people I saw playing the game, I can’t say I’m that surprised. So what is it about Boss Monster that makes it so appealing? Is it its retro-like visual style that bares a striking similarity to so many indie games we’ve come to know and love recently? Perhaps it’s the simple yet complex play-style that’s easy to pick up and difficult to master. Surely it has to be the fact that due to its card-based nature you can play the game anywhere, right?
The answer to all of these questions is: yes.
In Boss Monster, players will spend their time building a dungeon that (usually) caters to their boss card drawn at the start of the game. Each dungeon room has its own special perks and powers. Most importantly, though, is the fact that each room has both a certain amount of power and a certain amount of attraction. This is used to determine the amount of damage done to the NPCs that travel to your dungeon. Here’s an example for you: let’s say your dungeon is filled with three rooms: a room that does two damage and attracts two thieves, a room that does one damage and attracts a mage, and a room that does four damage and attracts a cleric and warrior. Your friend, whom you’re playing against, also has three rooms: one that deals two damage and attracts a cleric and mage, one that deal three damage and attracts a cleric and thief, and one that does two damage and attracts two warriors. When the NPCs spawn, the warriors will come to your friends dungeon because the attraction rate is higher while the thieves come to your dungeon. Ties aren’t resolved; the NPCs just stay in “town.”
Now here’s where things get tricky: each NPC has a certain amount of health and you’ll want to make sure you’re building a balanced dungeon that attracts the most characters while also killing them. Sure, it’s great to attract everybody but it’s not so great if everybody walks through alive and kills your boss. Since the NPC spawns are completely random (you draw them from the deck), it’s almost impossible to pre-plan ahead, but that’s Boss Monster for you. The game of skill and chance.
Thankfully, that chance doesn’t play a vital role in determining the outcome. Does it stink when the NPCs are topdecked in a way that’s not beneficial to you? Sure, but you still have plenty of control when it comes to building your dungeon. In addition to the attractions and power, there are plenty of skills and abilities at your disposal, creating a pseudo-deck building type atmosphere in the game. There’s plenty of room for synergy within your dungeons; that’s something I can certainly always get behind. Plus, it’s playable on a Waffle House table filled with food at 2:00 AM, always a win in my book.
I’ve often wondered if I picked up so quickly on Boss Monster due to an extensive history in playing card-based and deck-building games. The concept of building on the fly isn’t new to me; I’m used to connecting the dots to maximize my turns in Dominion and have often played through various combos in Magic: the Gathering decks. If you’re not from that type of background, however, I can easily see where you could have issues with Boss Monster. But then again, success in the game isn’t fully dependent on the synergy of your dungeon: there are other variables at play. No matter how finely tuned your dungeon is, you still need to 1) attract NPCs and 2) kill them. Your fancy ten-step combo means diddly squat if you’re essentially tickling your enemies. There are also spell cards, which can be used to your benefit or to the disgust of others, helping to level the playing field and stop a friend’s “certain victory” dead in their tracks.
That’s whats so beautiful about Boss Monster. It’s not exactly the hardest game to pick up (you literally just draw cards and play them with zero direct action between players) and yet you’re constantly planning and angling for preferred position. Add in the charming visuals and complete retro embrace and it’s not so hard to understand why it’s been selling out constantly. Plus, it’s relatively inexpensive too, so budget conscious gamers won’t be scared off by a high price tag.