Full disclosure: A preview copy of Big Monster was provided by Opa! Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
I’d say this is the end of Big Kickstarter Month, but it’s really more the midpoint. Kickstarter Month is really a two-parter between September and October; a lot of folks waiting until after Gen Con to push up their games and then they can bring prototypes to the various fall cons to build hype. Or, at least, that’s what would happen in a normal year, which this is not. Love that for us. Anyways, we adapt, and here I am with another Kickstarter title, Big Monster! It was released overseas a few years ago but I think this is the first time it’s being pulled stateside, so, it’ll be interesting to see how it lands here. Let’s dig in and find out what this one’s got going on!
In Big Monster, your plan was to explore space, where no one has gone before! And, I mean, you’re right for some definition of “one”, given all the aliens you’ve found on this planet. Your fellow explorers think it’s best if you turn your missions into a competition and see who can come away the richest explorer, planting your flag atop a planet you’ve really traversed. Technically, the “monsters” that already live there traversed it before you, but, you know, details. Will you be able to tame this wild planet? Maybe the Big Monster is you? Eerie! But worth considering.
I’m mostly covering the standard game. First, set out the board:
It’s also got a team-mode side:
You’ll want to put the individual medals on the normal side:
And the team medals on the other side, if you’re doing that:
Each player will get two explorer tiles. One will be their explorer:
The other will be placed face-down as their ship. Shuffle the monster tiles together:
Give each player a stack of 10 to place on their ship, and then make a stack of 10 for each player in the game and place them to the side. These monsters should not be included in anything, and just set aside until they’re needed:
You should be ready to start!
The gameplay’s actually surprisingly straightforward. You’re essentially drafting in real-time, but the real-time is broken into rounds. Each round, you’ll all go, and then choose a tile and pass your remaining tiles to another player. Here’s why that’s interesting. You may pass to any open player and place directly on their ship. If there’s nowhere else to place, you may place on your ship and take the furious dragon token. You don’t want to keep that.
Then, place your tiles. The tile you chose may be placed adjacent to any tile, including the Explorer Tile. Once placed, it can’t be moved, but you cannot rotate the tiles in any way. If you place an ice monster next to a mutagenic monster (purple shooting a ray), they instantly mutate. Place the next stage mutant monster on top of them (or flip the existing one over).
At certain points in the round, a player may qualify for a medal. If that happens, they immediately take it! If multiple players qualify in the same round, they may both take a medal (there are extras in the supply).
After nine tiles have been placed, the first half of the game is over! The player with the furious dragon token flips it to a -5 point medal, and the last tile from each player’s hand is returned to the box. Take the second stacks of 10 tiles, and go again!
At the end of the game, each player should have placed 18 tiles. Give the player with the fewest total Desert and Ruin monsters a -10 medal, and tally points. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There are a bunch! For the most part, the lower player counts are played via variants that get rid of the speed-drafting aspect of the game. Higher player counts all play the same, just with additional tiles at 5 and 6 players. This means that 2 / 4 players use a certain set of tiles, and 3 / 5 / 6 players use an expanded tile set. That’s confusing. To add to that confusion, there’s also a team variant that can be played at 4+ players. In it, players play mostly normally, but with different thresholds for bonuses, since both teammates must qualify for the medal at the same time to earn it. The game ends with each team’s lower score counting as their final score, and the team with the most points wins! Very Between Two Cities. Two and three players plays much more similarly to Hokkaido: you can see all available tiles and you draft them by choosing one and discarding another to limit subsequent player options. I do like that as a two-player draft variant, a lot, but the speed-drafting seems to be much more of the crux of the game. As you might imagine, getting a large group together has been challenging, so, haven’t had many opportunities with the team variant. Nonetheless, I’d probably still recommend this game at higher player counts.
- If you don’t think you’ll be able to upgrade your mutants twice, go for the blue ones. The blue ones have the benefit of being the most valuable single-upgrade mutant, so, there’s that. Just don’t go after them if you plan on upgrading twice; they don’t get you any additional points, and boy, won’t you look foolish if you do that. I believe the crab monsters are the way to go if you’re going to get a double upgrade. Also, keep an eye on which side of the tile you can use; the from-the-bottom upgrade tiles are only on the right side. Don’t forget about that; you’ll mess up your tableau.
- Make sure you’re keeping track of your desert and rune tiles. You really don’t need to take the penalty for having the least; it’s annoying to take those tiles since they’re worthless, but, sometimes you’ve got to make sure that another player takes the pain. Just make sure the other player isn’t your teammate!
- For the lakes, it’s often worth trying to keep the second lake tile away from players with the first lake tile (or vice versa), but it’s not necessarily worth stealing them for yourself unless you can guarantee the other piece. It’s like any other game; it’s not always to your benefit to screw someone over, but it’s almost never to your benefit to explicitly help another player. So if you can benefit yourself while remaining neutral to other people, that’s probably your best bet overall.
- The Grassland monster tiles are great if you can find ones with goals that mesh well with your Explorer tile. There are a few that pair up nicely, but you have to have the right Explorer to make it all work. I’ve managed to do it before (got a 2 / Rune Monster Grassland tile and an explorer), so it can happen, just make sure other players don’t notice you’re trying to align those.
- Keep track of the medals! Don’t pass your hand to a player if it’ll push them over a medal threshold, if you can avoid it. It’s not really screwing them over; it’s more … you’re passing tiles to someone else, who might be able to use it better. This is always risky, since it relies on other players also noticing this and playing well, which doesn’t always happen.
- Passing to yourself is fine, just make sure you’re not holding the angry dragon tile at the end of the game. Sometimes it’s worth waiting to get the exact tile you need; you just need to make sure you’re not stuck taking a penalty at the end of the game for it.
- Lava Monsters can really stack up, if you get enough of them. Same with the Swamp Monsters. Anything that rewards you for having more of them, either via gem connections (Lava Monsters) or explicitly, with the Swamp Monsters. The nice thing about Swamp Monsters is that if you get one early enough other players have to decide if it’s worth hurting themselves to mildly mess you up.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I actually really like the idea of speed-drafting; it’s an interesting mechanic, and I’d love to see how it works out in more games. I particularly like that there’s now a tension where you need to get something down and hope that other players give you an okay hand for the next round. That said, if you’re quick enough, you can play something and then absolutely put the screws in another player by giving them a terrible hand. Or, you can shut a player out towards the end of the round and force them to pass their hand back to themselves and take a fairly large penalty.
- There’s a lot of different scoring mechanics all happening at once in the game; it’s very interesting. Lots of different things that you can do, from tile adjacency points to getting multiple tiles of the same type to upgrading tiles to points per symbol on the tile to pairing tiles up. It’s a pretty wide breadth of options, which is good!
- Surprisingly quick game. Given that the drafting is real-time, it’s pretty easy to breeze through a game since everyone’s trying to pass a bad hand to the player that it’s worst for.
- I also like the interrupt bonuses as a way to keep interaction between players a little fresh and intense. It gives you some cause to watch other players’ tableaus and be more careful about what you pass to whom. I like that as a way to break up and slow down a speedy game! It presents a nice tension between going fast and consuming all the available information.
- Initial setup can be kind of time-intensive if you haven’t read the rulebook first. There are a lot of different thing that need to be grouped / added / separated, and if you don’t have a good sense of how the game is played or what to look for, you may end up with configurations that aren’t valid (especially if you accidentally shuffle the 5+ tiles in with the standard tiles but you’re only playing with 4 players, whoops).
- The tile shape is intentional, but it does make the tiles somewhat difficult to shuffle. They’re a bit smaller and longer, tile-wise, than I’m used to shuffling. I can handle Kingdomino tiles just fine, but they’re significantly larger. You may have to resort to more creative strategies to get these shuffled.
- This one’s got a bit of that Kickstarter bloat happening. It’s got … a two-player variant, a three-player variant, an individual game and a team game, and they’ve all got fairly different rule sets. Add in stretch goal tiles that need to be removed and you’ve got a lot of game, which is nice, but the rulebook is fairly sizable, which can slow down your first play. Honestly, I would have preferred this just be a 4- to 6-player game and then include the Team Play variant as a mini-expansion or something.
- Having the two- and three-player variants require different tile sets hurts player counts on the lower end of the spectrum. It makes it hard to be flexible since you either have to shuffle in or remove a non-trivial number of tiles. Given that large player-count games are tough right now, it’d be nice to have a bit more support for smaller games. On the subject of these variants, it frustrates me a lot when games put on their box that they support a certain player count but have the “support” as variants that are missing core parts of the game (like the speed-drafting, which is not present in the two- or three-player versions of the game). Oh well.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think Big Monster is fun, but a bit complicated by its setup. There’s just a lot going on. That’s good, in terms of Kickstarter ambition, but it makes the game feel a bit bloated and slowed down when you have to decide between team mode and individual mode even if you’re at a player count where you don’t need to use one of the lower player count variants. This, in turn, adds extra energy to the set up and makes the game take longer either there or in teardown (depending on whether or not you need to add / remove tiles). I think that can hurt a lot of games, and I think that’s one of the hardest thing about Kickstarter titles. There’s a lot of ambition and a lot going on, but I think tempering that a bit can make for a more streamlined product. That said, it’s not all doom and gloom; this is a game I think is pretty fun. I really like the idea of slapping a garbage hand of tiles onto your opponent’s ship just because it has nothing they need or want and you wanted to hurt them; it’s sort of a new form of hate-drafting. And we need fresh forms of hate-drafting, probably. It’s also a very cute game, with bright, colorful art and very weird space monsters. People love that kind of stuff. The set collection and tile placement mechanics are fairly varied, as well, and I like the options that provides the player, even if I do like to specialize. If you’ve got a lot of players and still want to play something fairly rambunctious but still strategic, you could do well with Big Monster! I’ve had fun with it.