Totally Subjective Reviews: Boss Monster 2 – The Next Level

Today is Tabletop Tuesday, and now it’s time for our first-ever review of a tabletop game. Specifically, Boss Monster 2, the sequel/expansion to one of my favorite card games.

Since this is only the second Totally Subjective Review, I’ll give you a quick rundown. I’ll be reviewing the game based on five separate categories. I’ll give these categories a completely random, absolutely arbitrary score, and at the end of the review I’ll give the entire game an arbitrary score. If you want to know what I think of the game, you’ll actually have to read the review.

For today’s review, the five categories will be Card Art, Card Variety, Game Mechanics, Time Sink, and the special category for Boss Monster 2 will be Sequel Comparison.

CARD ART
Just like graphics for a video game, card art for a card game is not what defines quality, but it certainly helps. After all, a poor quality presentation creates a poor first impression that can tint your impression of the entire game. So where does Boss Monster 2 stack up in terms of artwork?
Fantasticland, that’s where!
Part of the charm of Boss Monster is that each card utilizes pixel art, a style that brings back memories of retro gaming during the age of the SNES. The art is very well done – you can see every detail despite the pixelated approach, and there’s no questioning what each picture depicts. Even more important, the text is easy to read and is separated clearly in its own box where nothing will interfere with your ability to read.
My personal favorite cards are the heroes, most of which have fun flavor text describing the hero’s history. While many cards in Boss Monster are references to other aspects of geek culture, this is most present in the hero cards. References to Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Legend of Zelda, all are present here and they are a lot of fun to behold.
Overall, the card art looks good, expresses the cards well, and does its job, which is all I can ask of any game’s visual presentation.
Score: 42

CARD VARIETY
In a game with a limited number of cards to work with, card variety is important. You want to feel like the cards have different effects, like they have useful effects, and that you don’t have the same hand as another person. Card variety is another category where Boss Monster shines, though maybe not quite so brightly.
I’ll be talking about card types in more detail coming up, but for now know that this game has room cards, spell cards, boss cards, hero cards, and epic hero cards. The variety is pretty solid in the two hero types and in the room cards. I was very impressed with the new room card types and I found them fun to use. Some rooms buff other rooms, some rooms have special effects when they are destroyed, some have special effects when they are revealed; there’s a lot to enjoy with the room cards.
Spell cards are where I found the variety to be lacking somewhat. There certainly are new spells to utilize, and I enjoy their effects quite a bit. However, many of the spells in this game are focused on messing with other player’s dungeons. Powering up the heroes, removing the heroes, destroying or replacing rooms, etc. There are few spell cards for dealing with the challenges in your own dungeon, and this is particularly frustrating as this edition of Boss Monster has many heroes that art drastically more powerful than in the previous game. I’ve found that I rarely have the offensive power to deal with high-HP heroes, and with few offensive spells available as well, that makes it very difficult to defeat a powerful hero once it’s lured to your dungeon.
I also found the boss cards for this game to be a tad disappointing. I was very excited about the expanded list of bosses and for the idea of level-up abilities that are ongoing (again, I promise to explain this later). However, I’ve found that every time I’m looking at a pair of bosses to choose from, there are few whose effects I really care for. I find myself preferring the bosses who do not have ongoing level-up effects because the one-time effects are infinitely more useful.
Overall, the card variety for this game is solid. In particular, I found the room cards satisfying and there are plenty of combinations I love to use. However, I was unimpressed by the bosses and dissatisfied with the spells. While this didn’t greatly impair my enjoyment of the game, it is a difficult adjustment after playing Boss Monster (more on that soon).
Score: 42

GAME MECHANICS
Okay, so let’s talk about how you actually play Boss Monster. The game is for two to four players. You shuffle the five types of cards and then place all the heroes into one pile (normal on top, epic on the bottom), the room and spell cards beside each other, and you deal out one boss card at random to each player. I prefer to play with one of the suggested house rules, where you deal out two bosses to each player and let them choose which one they want.
Your boss is your character, and each one has a level-up ability, EXP value, and treasure type. EXP effectively measures speed – the boss with the highest EXP moves first every round, but in the event of a tie, the boss with the lower EXP wins. Treasure type affects what kind of heroes will want to come and try to violently murder you – swords draw fighters, tomes draw mages, money draws thieves, and ankhs draw clerics. Level-up moves activate one time, the very first time your dungeon reaches the maximum of five rooms. Some have a powerful single effect while others have a weaker ongoing effect for the rest of the game.
You’ll then draw five room cards and two spell cards for your hand. Room cards come in two main types – monster rooms and trap rooms – and you use them to build your dungeon. Spell cards are instant effects that are highly useful and have many different applications. You build a room to get your dungeon started and then the game really begins.
Each round takes place in three phases: Build, Bait, and Adventure. In the Build phase, you find out what heroes are nearby and then build a new room for your dungeon. Building rooms is a constant balance between damage value, special effects, and treasure draw; if you don’t have more treasure than other players, no heroes will come to your dungeon. But if you don’t have strong rooms, the heroes that come to you will give you wounds. You can only sustain five wounds before losing the game, and you have to claim the souls of ten heroes before you can be the winner. Of course, the epic heroes make this interesting, as they count as both two wounds and two souls.
The bait phase is when you check everyone’s treasure value and see which heroes are heading to which dungeons. Heroes are drawn to the dungeon with the most treasure pertinent to them, which makes it tempting to specialize in only one treasure type – of course, then you may have to wait for a long time before heroes of the appropriate class come calling. Trying to have a balance of all four types – or only using rooms that cause the most damage with no mind to which ones have good treasure – often leads to waiting forever for a hero to arrive. The best method is to look at the treasure types in your hand and to try and attract two hero types that you have good treasure for.
Once the heroes have all been lured, the adventure phase begins. In EXP order, bosses watch as the heroes enter their dungeon one at a time and face the rooms within. At this point, spells may be flung to interfere with one another or to better defeat the heroes as they creep closer to the bosses of each dungeon.
After the last phase has ended, the score is tallied, and if no one has won, the game continues. I enjoy the use of another house rule here called machinations; any player who did not get a soul can draw a room or a spell card. It keeps the ball moving and helps you not to feel so stagnant when you don’t have a great opening hand.
The mechanics may seem complicated to explain at first, but the process is so repetitive and ordered – build, bait, adventure, repeat – that once you’ve actually explained it and gone through a round or two, the rules all make sense. Any cards that change up the flow or have special effects have those effects listed on the cards, so you don’t have to keep flipping through the rulebook to check the finer points of the game. If you need just a quick reminder, a quick rules sheet is provided on a single page where you can very easily look at the order of the game to remind yourself of what’s going on.
The mechanics of Boss Monster are very solid and this is where the game truly shines. It’s a good combination of luck and strategy that is just as satisfying in Boss Monster 2 as it was in 1. And the cool thing is, this game stands alone, so if you’ve never played the first, you can easily pick this up and enjoy it with no problems.
Score: 42

TIME SINK
For most board and card games, I believe time sink is a pretty valid consideration. Some people only enjoy short form card games that take five to ten minutes for a full game, while others would rather play a longer form card game. Boss Monster advertises itself as a thirty minute game – I’ve only ever had it go that fast with two players. Adding a third or fourth player definitely extends the game into the forty-five minute or even full hour territory. Of course, this could just be my group of players. Most of my friends are distracted with ease, like to play on their phones during card games, and then throwing my son into the mix artificially lengthens any process by at least ten minutes.
This being said, I don’t have a problem with Boss Monster’s length. I rarely find myself saying “ugh, this is taking way too long,” and often we’ll play two games back-to-back before wanting to move on to something else. The game falls somewhere between a face-paced card game (think Uno) and a full-length board game (like Life), and definitely does not approach the length territory of something like Risk or Monopoly. Of course, if fast-paced games are the only kind for you, Boss Monster may not be your cup of tea. But I’ve never found the length at all unpleasant. The time sink is well worth the fun and strategy involved.
Score: 42

SEQUEL COMPARISON
As the name implies, Boss Monster 2: The Next Level is a sequel. The first Boss Monster set the stage, and now the new expansion has come along to change up some mechanics, add new rooms and spells, and to either stand on its own or be combined with the first. So how does the sequel stack up?
I find Boss Monster 2 to be somewhat more balanced than Boss Monster. What I mean by that is this – there are a lot more ways for someone who isn’t winning to come back, or for someone who is winning to lose.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t particularly enjoy the spell card selection in this game. The main reason for that is because I can’t help but compare it to the first Boss Monster. After playing the original game for such a long time, I have become accustomed to certain strategies. Now Boss Monster 2 has no duplicate cards from the original game (save one Hero card), which means that while this game has all-new cards (definitely a good thing), it doesn’t have the same strategies as the original. This doesn’t necessarily make Boss Monster 2 a worse game – I certainly enjoy it just as much. But it is something of an adjustment, so if you’re very used to the first game, be ready to adjust your approach.
This game features a number of new mechanics. One of my favorites is the “uncover” mechanic. In the original game, there were a number of cards that only activated their effects when you first played them. So once the card was played, it was kind of boring afterwards. Now cards with this effect also activate their bonus when they are uncovered – when a room on top of it is destroyed and reveals it again. This makes rooms with “when you play this card” effects a lot more viable. Many spell cards now have two effects, one normal effect and one that activates in special circumstances. Sometimes you have to discard a card to get the benefits, but it is often worth it.
There are two new hero types in the game, dark heroes and hybrid heroes. Dark heroes are regular heroes that other players can make more powerful by discarding cards. This gives others the opportunity to mess with you with little sacrifice on their part. Hybrid heroes are epic heroes drawn to two treasure types, meaning they go to the dungeon with the highest combined total. Their special abilities make them very dangerous – many get stronger before they ever enter your dungeon. There’s also an epic hero with ridiculously high health that is drawn to the player currently in the lead. Getting this hero is always a gut-wrenching experience.
Overall, Boss Monster 2 is more balanced and challenging than its predecessor. But if you’ve played the first game, it may take a little time to adjust.
Score: 42

OVERALL
Boss Monster 2: The Next Level is a fun and strategic game. It has great card art, solid card variety, fun mechanics, and is an excellent sequel to the original Boss Monster. I highly recommend it to any card game enthusiast who has a few folks to play with.
Score: 42

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