Playing board games and being a mother are two things that I enjoy very much, however the two are not always complementary to each other. Luckily, there are such things as “micro-games,” which can be played in a small amount of time with limited components. This means that we can potentially get a play in in the amount of time it takes our 7 year old to tell me a riveting story about how one of his classmates called his shoelace dumb today, and all the reasons why it isn’t dumb. Ten minutes… I swear to you, he talked about the merits of his shoelace for ten minutes today…
This week I played one such micro-game, Terrible Monster. It’s a 2 player battle card game designed by Shun, with artwork by Aya, & Isabel Bollmann. It’s published by Sweet Lemon Publishing. The campaign page from the Kickstarter that was run successfully in 2016 sets the stage for the game as: "Deep in the swamps dwells an ancient and formidable creature. Two mighty leaders have gathered in a bid to harness its power and forever settle their struggle for supremacy. Who will be the first to summon the Terrible Monster? And... will that be enough to win the day?"
The box is small, and contains 16 cards (13 spell cards and 3 monster cards), 14 tokens (8 life tokens and 6 counter tokens), 2 reference sheets, and 1 rules sheet. The components are of good quality, not the best I’ve ever seen but nothing to complain about. The art is not my personal favorite aesthetic, but I can appreciate the quality and think it would really appeal to people who like that style.
To play this game, each player will be dealt a hand of 5 cards and given 4 life tokens and 2 counter tokens. The first player plays one card on their turn, and every subsequent turn for each player consists of drawing a card and then playing up to two cards. There are some cards in the deck that will alter the amount of cards allowed to play during a turn. When the deck is depleted, the discard pile is shuffled and placed face down to create a new draw deck. The object is to reduce your opponent to zero life tokens, thereby killing them and winning the game.
Counter tokens can be played in two ways. When a player plays a spell or monster, the opponent may play a counter token to prevent the card from resolving. Respectively, the active player can use two counter tokens to “counter the counter” and negate it, meaning the card will resolve as intended.
Two out of the three monsters in the game can be put into play directly in front of a player on their turn as one of the two cards they are allowed to play. The namesake, Terrible Monster, cannot be placed directly into play, and must be summoned using one of the spells that allow it to come into play. One example of this is the card Metamorphosis, which allows Terrible Monster to switch places with Cute Beast, wherever it is in the game.
Monsters deal damage to opponents at the beginning of their controlling players turn, and if the damage inflicted cannot be redirected or negated, and would bring the life token total to zero, the game ends immediately.
The expansion includes 2 new monster cards and two new spell cards, which are added directly to the base game. It also includes 7 new Hero cards. At the beginning of the game each player is given one hero card, which has a special ability that can be used once each turn, in lieu of playing a card.
Now, I’ve already explained why micro-games are convenient for me, but I should say that generally I am not a fan of them at all, with only a few exceptions out of the many that I have tried (Love Letter and BUS come to mind when I think of a micro game I would choose to play). We played the game several times over the past week, with and without the expansion. The first few plays of the game I did not enjoy at all, it seemed that every turn was merely a matter of “you played that card, so I’ll play this card,” without any real difficult decision making. Everything seemed to be an obvious choice every round.
The more games we played, and the more familiar I became with the cards in the deck, did make game play a little deeper and made my choices feel more meaningful, as I felt that I could plan ahead better and strategically use my counter tokens in a way that would help me overall throughout the game. That being said, I still did not find much variation in the way the games played out. There are a few specific card combinations that, if in hand, seem to be the most effective way to win every time. This means that it’s really a matter of who can draw those combinations first.
The actions allowed by spells are not very exciting, and even when I had a “big turn” that allowed me to play a lot more cards than usual, most of the time I didn’t feel like it did much other than draw out my turn to get me to the same place I could have without all the extra steps.
Having only 4 life tokens and 2 counter tokens to start the game with seems like a good way to make the game feel tight and cause some difficult decisions on how and when to use them, but honestly I did not feel that while playing. It still seemed very scripted to me. There is one card that allows a player to gain an extra counter token, but perhaps if there were a way to regain life counters, or perhaps some sort of hidden information, the game would feel as though it had more depth.
The expansion does not add much to the game in my opinion, and did not change how much (little) I enjoyed it. The heroes abilities are somewhat interesting, but the new cards added to the game did not make them necessary and therefore it still felt like I was playing the same game as before.
To summarize, Terrible Monster is an OK game that I think some may enjoy, but probably only if you have not played many microgames or are new to gaming in general. It is easy to learn and has a small footprint, so may be useful in a situation such as travel or while waiting at a restaurant. However, I don’t see this one making it back to my table very much, unless I end up getting my 7 year old to play it with me to distract him from finishing the detailed presentation he’s prepared to convince me to legally change his name to Tomahawk.
Have any of you played Terrible Monster? If so, leave me a comment and let me know what you think! If not, what micro-games have you played and enjoyed?
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