Jon the Fighter and his friend Scarlet the Thief are knocking at my dungeon’s door. They want me dead, but I don’t blame them. I am King Croak after all, the most villanous of evil bosses, and I’m ready for them. I just had my new “rolling boulder” room installed next to the succubus spa, so I’m confident that the heroes will be destroyed handily and their souls will be mine for the taking. It’s all in a day’s work for a big-bad like me.
No, I don’t actually moonlight as a nefarious James Bond villain, I’m just playing another game of Boss Monster: The Dungeon-Building Card Game.
Boss Monster is a retro-inspired card game where you play as an evil video game boss, featuring many throwbacks and shout-outs to the games of yesteryear. You’ll find references to Super Mario Bros., Metroid, Final Fantasy, Eye of the Beholder and many more classic video games, but even if you don’t harbor nostalgia, the pixel art design is still charming and works well with the theme. But beware, those adorable pixel heroes are quite dangerous and can slay even the mightiest of villains without proper planning.
The objective of Boss Monster is to lure said heroes into your dungeon of death traps and minions to kill them, adding their souls to your collection. Each turn, players will build a new room of their dungeon by secretly choosing a card from their hand. These rooms have some sort of danger that harms heroes when they enter, and they also contain a type of treasure that adventurers are drawn to. Once the construction phase is completed, players compare the amount of treasure that their dungeon contains. Heroes from town will flock to the boss with the most treasure they desire; for example, mages crave spellbooks, and fighters are attracted to swords.
In the early stages of a game of Boss Monster, luring heroes to your dungeon is a dangerous prospect because if an adventurer runs though your lair and survives when he/she reaches your boss card, that hero inflicts a wound upon you. If you sustain five wounds, you are killed and removed from the game. So if you attract too many heroes too quickly before your dungeon can adequately harm them, they will damage and possibly eliminate you. Once your dungeon has enough damage output, you’ll want to change gears quickly and lure them in, hoping to earn souls before your opponents steal them. The first boss to acquire ten souls is declared the winner.
Boss Monster is easy to learn and quick to play, but contains some subtle strategies in dungeon construction that can influence play. However, after a handful of games, you’ll quickly discover most of what the game has to offer and discovering new strategies becomes rare. Based on your initial starting hand, you are almost locked in to a predetermined path of how to best build your lair, as various room types can provide very specific benefits or abilities to each other. This is a problem that will likely become nonexistent once additional cards and expansions are released. There’s a ton of potential in the base game that shines through, but it doesn’t feel wholly tapped into just yet.
Despite the lack of strategical variety, Boss Monster is still an entertaining game regardless of your level of video game nostalgia. The game is also extremely accessible for non-gamers, making it a fun gateway experience for your video game playing friends that haven’t made the plunge into the world of the tabletop. And with the support of additional cards through future expansions, Boss Monster has the potential longevity to hang around in my game library for a long time.