Diversity in board games has never been stronger. Whether you want to command vast space fleets and get up to the elbows in seven hours of pan-galactic diplomacy, or would rather help a superhero rhino heave his bulk up a surprisingly wobbly building, there’s probably something out there for you. Despite the vast range of creativity on offer, though, there’s still a tendency for certain ideas and mechanics to repeat themselves. Lazily-constructed deckbuilders with pasted-on themes. Middle-of-the-road worker placement games. Zombie miniatures. Oh GOD the zombie miniatures. So amid the temptation to jump on the wagon behind something popular and ride it to the bank, hats off to someone sticking their neck out and trying something different. Welcome to Monstrous, ladies and gentlemen.
Monstrous is due to go live on Kickstarter any day now, but The Boarding Kennel managed to get its paws on a pre-release copy to help you lot work out whether to take a punt on it or not.
Few games demand you grab a fistful of cards you’ve just shelled out on and start launching them around the living room, but Monstrous has no qualms on that front. Cast as ancient Greek gods suffering waning belief from mortals, two to five players get tasked by Zeus to take turns letting loose classic monsters on the poor citizens to remind them who’s boss. Chucking a monster card onto one of the five cities arranged on the table nets you faith points, with the god who restores the most faith to the pantheon at the end of the game being crowned the winner. By Zeus. Although since Zeus’ ideas of godly boons frequently involve unwanted amorous advances while disguised as a duck, finishing second might not be the worst outcome.
Chucking stuff around sounds good though, right? Anyone who’s been through the school system knows that throwing is HARD, and usually leads to abuse and humiliation from your peers. Which is an excellent premise for a board game. Here it is in action – sorry about the sound, I left the nice camera with the good microphone at home. You get the idea though, right? Stop moaning.
As you can probably tell, we’d all been imbued with the sweet bounty of Dionysus in those videos, which definitely had an affect on our throwing. But it was fun! We laughed!
…for a while. You see, once the novelty of chucking around the cards had worn off, so did our enthusiasm for the game. The 12 different monsters – Pegasus, Cyclops, all the usual suspects – are each double-sided and grant different powers, such as knocking other monsters out of the game or allowing you to throw another card, and with 11 different cities to choose from there’s some scope for strategy and tactics. But it’s the throwing that ultimately controls proceedings, and the same mechanic which makes the game stand out from the crowd was ultimately the element that chimed with us the least. Play it enough and I suspect you get pretty good at hitting your mark, but we found what should have been a fun and tense way of playing ran out of steam after a couple of plays, and was ultimately a bit of a pain in the arse.
Trouble also loomed in the artwork department. It’s clearly gorgeous, of course, but once cards start piling up on the table it can be tricky to tell at a glance which monster belongs to who. Banishing a monster means removing it from the table, but that’s sometimes easier said than done without dislodging the pile of other monsters clustered around a particular city. Neither of these things is a dealbreaker, but for a game that’s supposed to be as pacey as one of Zeus’ lightning bolts it was a bit confused and fiddly in places.
Sounds perfect for a family though, right? Something to crack out with the wee kids, where they can piss themselves laughing at dad dropping Pegasus short of the table or mum zinging a Gryphon onto a nearby pizza. We were gobsmacked, then, when our early release review box suggested players be 13 and over. Never fear, though, as developer Secret Base Games seems to have dropped this to ten and over for the Kickstarter. They’ve even included a “young gods” review section on the web page, having dug up a string of nine and ten-year-olds to sing the games praises, and really I think this is the game’s sweet spot.
I really want to emphasise how impressed I am with what Secret Base have done with Monstrous. The artwork is beautiful, and they cite being able to afford to knock out such lovely cards as the main need for crowdfunding the game in the first place. Kickstarter campaigns often load up their offerings with frankly exorbitant shipping costs to anywhere but the US and Canada, claiming there’s no way around it. None of that moaning from the Monstrous team – admittedly, it’s a smallish box compared to a lot of games, but seeing a reasonable, flat rate cost no matter where you live in the world is incredibly refreshing. And all this from a first-time developer.
Its because of this that I really want to see the Kickstarter succeed – a lot of supposedly more experienced board game publishers could learn a hell of a lot from how Secret Base have set about crowdfunding their game. But for us, this is filler, and novelty value aside there are just stronger short games out there we’d rather play.
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