Back before I began my board game collection, I visited the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in Seattle. The year was 2014, and my experience with board games was still limited to the typical games like Monopoly, Risk, and Sorry. While we were in Seattle, we visited a small game shop because a few of my friends wanted to get some new Magic: The Gathering packs. I had never played Magic, so I had no interest in buying any cards. My budget was also on the lower end of the spectrum, so I couldn’t afford too much since I had more than a week of food left to purchase. I began to browse the shop for something affordable that also looked like fun. One of the workers at the shop showed me a game called Boss Monster, a small card game that didn’t take much to learn but offered the nostalgic feeling of old 8-bit video games while providing a deeply strategic game. We opened the game in our hotel room that night and found that it’s a very simple game with a complex mastery learning curve. Eight years later, and it’s still a small gem I like to play when the mood strikes.
Boss Monster is for 2-4 players, takes approximately 30 minutes to play, and is for ages 13 and older.
The setup for Boss Monster is as follows. Prepare your Hero decks based on the number of players. The bottom of the Hero cards (as seen in the picture above) have little figures on them. There will be a different number of Heroes for games with two, three, or four players. Shuffle the deck once you have it prepared. Shuffle the deck of Bosses and deal one random Boss card to each player. All players reveal their Bosses and then set them to the right of the play area. Shuffle the Room deck and place it in the middle of the play area with room for a discard pile. Shuffle the Spell deck and do the same as the Room deck. Each player draws 5 Room cards and 2 Spell cards then discards two cards of either type from his or her hand. Players should do this simultaneously, keeping the discarded cards facedown until everybody has discarded. Players then build their first room before the first turn (I will discuss how to build a Room this later in this post). Setup is complete and it’s time to play Boss Monster!
Boss Monster is a game about creating a side-scrolling dungeon of dangerous rooms, luring Heroes to your dungeon, and then killing them off in spectacular fashion. In order to win, you either need to be the first Boss to receive 10 souls for killing heroes OR be the last Boss left alive.
If you have ever spent hours navigating the pixelated perils of 8-bit dungeons, Boss Monster is designed for you. Played casually, Boss Monster is a simple game that’s about building Rooms, luring in Heroes, and counting how much damage it takes to destroy them.Boss Monster Rulebook
First, let’s talk about some of the cards and how they work. The four types of cards are:
Bosses provide you with three separate perks. First, they contain an experience (XP) amount. This dictates the turn order throughout the game. The player with the highest XP will go first and then so forth in descending order. Second, Bosses contain a symbol in the lower right hand corner of the card. This symbol is used to bait heroes to your dungeon (will be discussed later in the post). Finally, Bosses contain a Level Up feature that will be activated once you have five rooms built in your dungeon (will also be discussed later in this post).
Rooms are the core of your dungeon. They will contain a myriad of effects that help defeat the heroes that will pass through your dungeon. Each room contains an icon to show whether it is Monster Room or a Trap Room. It also contains an ability, a damage number, and a treasure icon. Your treasure icons will match the icons you see on the Hero cards but we’ll discuss more of that later.
Spells are active effects that show your Boss’ power to change and affect the dungeon. The cards contain the name of the Spell, the effect of the Spell, and an icon dictating when the card can be played. Spells may be played during the build phase, the adventuring phase, or during either based on what symbol(s) is on the card.
Heroes are the main aspect of your winning condition. Hero cards contain the name of the Hero, a treasure icon, a health number, a wound count, a brief description of the hero, the number of players needed for the Hero to be in play, and a soul icon on the back of the card. We’ll discuss Heroes in more detail later in the sequence of play.
Sequence of Play
Rounds consist of revealing heroes, building a room, baiting the heroes to your dungeon, sending them through your dungeon, and then ending your turn.
Any of the players can begin this first phase. Flip over one Hero card for every player in the game. Leave them in a general community area in the middle of the play area noting the order in which they were flipped. When you prepare the Hero deck at the beginning of the game, there will be cards with a yellow background on the back of the card. These are Epic Heroes and should be placed at the bottom of the deck below the Ordinary Heroes. You’ll only flip over the Epic Heroes once all of the Ordinary Heroes have been flipped over. No Spells, Rooms, or abilities may be activated during the Hero Reveal. Before you begin the Build Phase, each player draws one Room card.
The Build Phase is where you will build a room in your dungeon. You should already have one Room built before the game began. Because this is a side-scrolling dungeon, all of your rooms will be built to the left of your Boss in a straight row. When you build Rooms, you want to pay close attention to the treasure symbol(s) on the Heroes that have been flipped over. Each Hero will have a treasure symbol on them. The symbols are Sword, Moneybag, Gem, or Holy Symbol. The symbols are indicative of the type of Hero. Swords are Warriors, Moneybags are Thieves, Gems are Mages, and Holy Symbols are Clerics.
In order to later bait the Heroes to come to your dungeon, you must have the most treasure types matching the Heroes that have been flipped over compared to other players.
You do this during the Build Phase by placing the Room card that you want to build facedown in the appropriate spot (to the left of your leftmost played card) in your play area. All players place their Room facedown in sequential order by XP amount. Once everybody has built their Room, all players flip over the built Rooms at the same time. In sequential XP order, resolve any effects that happen because the Room was built.
This ends the basic Build Phase order.
Once everybody has built a Room, it’s time to look at the treasures in each player’s dungeon and add them up. Then look at the treasure icons on the Heroes. The player with the most treasure icons matching the symbols on the Heroes will bait that Hero to the dungeon. In the case of a tie, the Hero stays in the middle of the play area and can be baited on following turns if a player surpasses another in treasure icon count.
In sequential XP order, each player that baited a Hero to his or her dungeon will now send the Hero through the dungeon in the order in which they were baited. This means that if you baited the first Hero that was flipped over, that Hero must go through your dungeon first. The order does matter. Start by sending the Hero through your dungeon one Room at a time from left to right. As the Hero enters the first Room, note the damage he has taken and any effects the Room might instill on the Hero. By the time the Hero has made it through all of your Rooms, look to see if he is dead or alive. If the Hero is dead, turn it over and put it next to your Boss. This counts as 1 soul. If the Hero survived, keep him faceup next to your hero and look at the wound count on the Hero’s card. This now counts as a wound. Do this for each Hero going through your dungeon.
Once all Heroes have trekked through the dungeons, it’s time to start a new turn. Turn over new Heroes and begin a new round of play.
Before finishing up, I wanted to go over a few rule specifications regarding the Build Phase.
When you build Rooms, you must do them from right to left to a maximum of five Rooms. However, there may come a time when you want to cover up a room to get rid of a treasure symbol or because you don’t want the effect to happen and want something else on top. There may also come a time when you have an Advanced Monster Room or Advanced Trap Room. Building over cards is perfectly legitimate and can be done under certain circumstances.
Building an Advanced Trap/Monster Room has these conditions. First, the treasure symbol on the Advanced Room must match at least ONE symbol on the standard Room you already have built. Second, the type of Room must match the type of the Advanced Room, meaning that Advanced Trap Rooms can only be built over ordinary Trap Rooms. Third, you must build the Advanced Rooms over the top of the ordinary Room, thus making it so that the ordinary Room is still a part of your dungeon but is not active and will not affect any Heroes that enter that location.
It is often a good strategy to build over an ordinary Room with another ordinary Room to either get a different kind of treasure symbol, cancel out the old treasure symbol, or because you like the new Room better. Any ordinary Room can be built over any other kind of Room, regardless of treasure symbol or Room type.
You may also declare that you do not wish to build a Room, however, once you have verbally declared that you will not build, you cannot build at all or change your mind.
Finally, when you build your 5th Room in the dungeon (this means five Rooms in a horizontal row, not Rooms on top of other Rooms), you get to activate your Boss’ Level Up feature. Simply follow the instructions when it is your turn in XP order and gain the effects of the Level Up. You may only Level Up one time per game, so make sure you time it for when it will really help.
The first player to have 10 souls at the end of a round wins. If you have 5 wounds at the end of a round, you are out of the game. If you are the last player left in the game because every other player died with 5 wounds, then you are the winner! One rule of note is that if a player ends a turn with 10 souls and 5 or more wounds, they are out regardless of having 10 souls.
I also want to note that the game comes with a myriad of expansions that can all be used with the core game. I currently own two of them (Tools of Hero Kind and Rise of the Minibosses). You can see the expansions in the picture above.
Boss Monster is a deceptively simple card game. In our first few games, we found that it’s actually a simple learning process, and we almost never had a “wounds knocked all the players out” ending. However, after we got better at the game and learned the intricacies of combos and blocking other players so as to steal Heroes away from them, it became a heavily competitive and strategic game. You always have to think a few turns ahead and try to plan out how to build your dungeon. In the first few games, you’re heavily invested in your own dungeon and building it up for your own gains. After a few playthroughs, you’ll find yourself watching each player’s dungeon closely and trying to outwit them. It doesn’t take long to play, can ruin friendships pretty easily if you hardcore focus on messing with one particular player, and is simple enough that you can teach a non-board gamer how to play it with ease. I highly recommend the game for anybody interested in reliving some 8-bit nostalgia while enjoying a well devised card game.
Good luck, diabolical Boss!
This game is SUCH fun! And you can have a whole table play together – the more players, the harder it gets!
I agree! There is a certain…something about playing with four players. Two players are fine, but when you have a full table, the fight over baiting in the heroes can be a ridiculous puzzle that gets continually thwarted. I love it so much!
Agreed! Playing with two people is much easier to figure out the other person’s angle. But with 4+ it’s like, “who’s hoarding all the monster cards!?” and it’s so much more difficult! Thank you for spreading the word about this awesome game. There’s a second one, too – same premise, hilarious Boss Monsters.
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Wonderful! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and enjoy the game so much. It was basically the very first game that kickstarted my board game collection and I still immensely enjoy playing the game. There’s something so simple yet satisfying about the game, and it’s replayability is insane given how different each game plays.
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