Thursday, February 25, 2016

Merciless Boss

Dungeon Lords continues to be one of my favorite board games, merging a fun theme -- being an evil monster in charge of a dungeon --with a number of cleverly engineered strategic systems. For those who love that theme, but who want something with a far simpler rules set, Boss Monster is aimed at you.

As you can tell from the box, Boss Monster also takes inspiration from classic Nintendo games -- a style that permeates all the game's art. Still, the idea is similar to Dungeon Lords. You build a "side scrolling" dungeon, trying to kill off the adventures foolishly drawn to your lair by dreams of treasure. Rooms are a shuffled deck of cards all players draw from each turn, with Spells also in the mix for variety (and for interfering more directly with your opponents.) You harvest the "souls" of adventurers who die in your dungeon; 10 points total in souls and you win the game.

In my opinion, Boss Monster is meant more for the Munchkin fan than for the Euro game enthusiast. Luck of the draw from the shared deck puts quite a limit on your strategic options. But it's a few aspects to the rules that really hurt the game's potential for me, even in the context of "short game not to be taken too seriously."

First, it's possible to get taken out of the game. Each adventurer who survives your dungeon inflicts wounds upon you; five wounds and you lost, game over. And while I suppose there's something to be said for putting you out of your misery (rather than leave you dreaming of a comeback that doesn't actually seem likely), it's odd to me that a game only meant to last around 20 minutes can't actually guarantee that all the players will stay engaged in it for that brief a time. When I played, I watched a fellow player soar too high, too fast (and not intentionally), only to be knocked out of the game before she even completely understood it.

Second, it's possible to get shut out of doing anything on your turn. Unless we missed something key in the rules, the rock meets the hard place here: you can have only five rooms in your dungeon, and the only rule to voluntarily rid yourself of one is to upgrade a basic room to an advanced room. If you draw no advanced rooms (or draw only advanced rooms that can't upgrade from the particular basic rooms you have), then you eventually reach a point of being stuck. You do absolutely nothing each turn of the game, watching your luckier opponents sail past you. This was my lot in the game, getting stalled completely only a turn or two after I'd seen my friend get knocked out.

Even understanding that Dungeon Lords is too complex for everybody, Boss Monster seemed to me a quite unsatisfying substitute. Forced to play something this uncontrollable, this random, I'd likely opt for Fluxx before choosing this. If Fluxx is your thing, I suppose Boss Monster might offer you some pleasant variety. Otherwise, I'd say there's no need to pick it up. It scores points for fun 8-bit throwback humor, but not much else. I give Boss Monster a D.

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