You are the Boss Monster at the end of an 8-pixel video game dungeon. You must construct enough defensive structures to defend yourself and your fortress against those pesky heroes. If you’re successful, you gain the souls of the fallen adventurers. If you aren’t, you’re another Bowser trophy for Mario’s wall.
We’ll get back to the daring do and nefarious plots in a while but here is some bothersome rulebook-like technical jargon first.
The Fiddly Bits
Designer: Johnny O’Neal and Chris O’Neal
Publisher: Brotherwise Games
Date Released: 2013
Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 8 and up
Setup Time: Less than 5 minutes
Play Time: 15 minutes or less
Let’s give the Bosses their much needed close-up. Who better to star with than the Bowser-inspired King Croak?
King Croak’s name is at the top. All Boss “Level Up” effects come into play when their dungeon has five rooms: the max number of visible rooms a dungeon can have (you’ll have to upgrade your Rooms over time). The bottom left figure is King Croak’s experience points or XP, XP determines turn order. And the icon in the bottom right is the type of lure King Croak uses to attract unsuspecting heroes to his dungeon. Since King Croak has a sword, he has one treasure type for the Fighter class of Hero.
Fighter Treasure Type Icon
We’ll get to a turn’s anatomy and the other card types in a bit but next, we’ll cover how to set up a game.
Shuffle all five decks: Boss, Heroes, Epic Heroes, Rooms, and Spells. Before you shuffle the Hero decks, you must adjust the Heroes and Epic Heroes to match your game type. Use all Hero cards for a four-player game, remove all Heroes with a four player icon from the game for a three player game, and remove Heroes with three and four player icons from the game for a two player game.
Once the decks are ready, randomly deal each player one Boss card—that’s your Boss Monster for the game.
Draw five Room cards and two Spell cards, then you discard two cards (any combination of Rooms and Spells): this constitutes your opening hand.
After that’s done, choose one ordinary Room (there are advanced rooms, too, but you can’t use those at this time) and place the Room face-down next to your Boss.
Once all players have placed their Room, simultaneously reveal (“build”) Rooms. So after the game’s all set up, your table should look something like this.
Anatomy of a Turn
1) Heroes Come to Town
Reveal Heroes from the top of the Hero deck equal to the number of players in the game. (Note: you don’t play Heroes from the Epic Hero deck until all the Heroes from the normal Hero deck are played.) These heroes are placed in a central location and this makes up the “town.” You reveal Heroes every turn, even if other Heroes are still in town. After Heroes come to town, each player draws a new Room card.
2) Build Phase
In XP order, each player may place one Room face-down in his/her dungeon. Ordinary Rooms can be placed to the left of your left-most Room, or on top of any Room.
Advanced Rooms can only be played on a Room with at least one matching Treasure icon.
You can play Build Phase Spells at any point during the Build Phase before Rooms are revealed.
At the end of the Build phase, simultaneously reveal all face-down Room cards. If one or more Bosses would “Level Up” this turn, apply these effects in XP order.
3) Bait Phase
Each Hero moves to the dungeon with the most relevant Treasure icons.
Treasure Icons and their Heroes
So, the Boss with the most Mage icons will get all the Mage Heroes and so on for the other three types. If there’s a tie for a treasure type, all the Heroes of the type stay in town. Note: the Bait Phase is the only phase that you can’t play a Spell or use an ability, so you can’t interrupt this process.
4) Adventure Phase
In XP order, Bosses must contend with the Heroes in their dungeons. Each Hero enters the dungeon alone and the effects of each Room are applied in the order the Hero walked in the Room. Each Room has a damage value:
This damage depletes the Hero’s Health value:
Once a Hero’s Health reaches zero, place it face-down in your scoring area. If a Hero survives a Room, they enter the next Room. If the Hero survives your entire dungeon, place it face-up in your scorekeeping area.
After the highest-XP Boss processes all Heroes, the next highest-XP Boss becomes the active player. The Adventure Phase doesn’t end until all Bosses have dealt with the Heroes in their dungeon. If you don’t have any Heroes in your dungeon, you won’t have anything to do this phase.
5) End of Turn
Reactivate any Rooms that were deactivated. Check each player’s scorekeeping area. A player with 10 Soul icons wins the game. A player with 5 Wound icons loses the game.
Keep playing until a player has 10 Souls or if there’s only one Boss Monster remaining.
Like Boss cards, Room cards have their names at the top and they have their card type beneath their name.
Centipede Tunnel is an ordinary, Monster Room. There’s no difference between a Monster Room like Centipede Tunnel and a Trap Room like Dark Alter.
But there are certain spells and abilities that target one of the two types.
If a Room is “advanced,” it’ll say so beneath its name like this guy, Dracolich Lair.
Advanced Rooms are more powerful than ordinary Rooms, but they must be placed on top of a Room that shares at least one Treasure type with them.
Spell cards are even less complex than Room cards. They have their name at the top and the only other thing you have to worry about is the icon in the bottom left corner.
Kobold Strike has a hammer icon and can only be played during the build phase.
Teleportation has an axe icon and can only be played during the adventure phase. I have two pictures of this Spell because the game has alternate art for the multiple copies of this card and I like the effect they were going for here.
The Freeze Spell has both a hammer and an axe icon and it can be played during the build or adventure phase. Pretty nifty.
Hero Cards have their name and type at the top with whether or not they’re epic or ordinary and if that wasn’t enough, they have their Hero type icons in the top right, too. The text beneath the picture doesn’t do anything but my kids and I have a soft spot for Tieg and his Magic Bubble.
Isn’t he adorable? Anyway, the bottom left corner shows how much damage Tieg can take before he’s defeated. The icon at the bottom center shows the minimum number of players needed to add him to the Hero deck (the fewest number of players needed for Boss Monster is two, so Tieg will always be in the deck). And the icon at the bottom right denotes the number of wounds Tieg deals you if he makes it through your dungeon. Tieg isn’t so strong but Kerberos Dirtbeard is.
Epic Heroes deal two wounds but if you can defeat them, you earn two souls. It’s all about risk management, baby.
I have to be honest. Boss Monster tugs at my heart strings. The 8-pixel art and inside video game jokes are priceless. A card by the name of Cheat Codes (part of the first expansion Tools of the Heroes) had arrows in the background with the old Konami game cheat—that’s up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start for younger video gamers—and as the Cheat Code card attests, Boss Monster respects classic video game tropes.
Sample of Cards
The gameplay might look daunting but it’s real easy to pick up and play. The downside to Boss Monster is that it can be unforgiving. Some of the cards are overpowered and unbalanced. There’s a basic room card that deals three damage. You can’t upgrade this room, but why would you want to? Many of the spell cards turn the tide of the game in a blink of an eye. Fortunately, you have more room card draw than spell card draw, but you can generate spell card draw through boss abilities, and these abilities make these bosses more desirable than the others.
The Boss Monster Box
Speaking of desirable, during the game’s opening stages, you’ll want to attract fewer heroes as your dungeon won’t be that strong. This makes a two player game almost unplayable. Picking a monster that shares a treasure icon similar with the only heroes on the board will have you scrambling to improve your fledgling dungeon.
Boss Monster is a great—and unbalanced—8-pixel romp. While you can play this game with two players, it works best with three or four.