In Big Monster, players compete, or work in teams, to gather the most points by collecting different types of monster tiles, creating crystals, and accomplishing different goals. It falls in the drafting genre with games like 7 Wonders, Sushi Go, and Bunny Kingdom, but with a slight twist. Instead of passing your stack of tiles to the player next to you, Big Monster introduces a different concept called “smart drafting” where you pass your stack of tiles to any player you wish as long as they have not received a stack from another player.
Big Monster plays 2-6 players with different modes of play — fully competitive or teams — and changes slightly when playing with 2 or 3 players. The player with the most points wins.
The variety of monster tiles in the game provide many scoring opportunities. Some will have a basic point value while others will allow you to upgrade an existing tile to one with more points. You can also gain points from crystals. Different tiles will have sections of a crystal showing and points are awarded when a full crystal is completed. Others don’t give any points themselves but help you accomplish goals in the form of medals which give between 5 or 10 points.
You can also gain points by accomplishing different goals. At the start of the game medals are selected with specific objectives. Being the first person to fulfill the requirements will award you the medal and the points that accompany it.
Let’s Get Started
At the beginning of the game each player is given two Explorer Tiles. They will choose one and place it face up. This is their landing area or starting point. The second is placed face down in front of them, within reach of all players. This is where other players will place their stack during the drafting phase. The tile chosen as the landing area can have mutagenic monsters (monsters that allow you to upgrade certain monsters), crystal sections, or even end-of-game scoring potentials. Also medals are chosen and placed on the central board.
In a 4 to 6 player game, once everyone is ready, each player will receive 10 tiles (game play is slightly different with 2 or 3 players but we’ll get to that). Simultaneously each player chooses one tile to play and then passes their stack of tiles to any other player.
The tile chosen is placed in the player’s area making sure that at least one edge of the tile is touching an edge of another tile in the area. Tiles must be oriented correctly with the monster’s feet facing the player. Play continues until each player has 9 tiles in their area. The last tile is discarded and a second round is played exactly as the first. After the second round, scores are tallied and whoever has the most points wins.
When playing in teams, game play is the same. The only difference is the medals. Medals are acquired when the team as a whole has accomplished the requirement (getting 8 of a particular monster collectively, for example). Also, the final team score is the lowest of the team members.
Playing with Fewer than 4
With 2 or 3 players, you are no longer drafting and then passing your tiles to someone else. Setup is also different. You’ll need to create 20 stacks of 4 tiles each (or 6 tiles each in a 3 player game). The starting player then selects and reveals 2 stacks keeping them in separate rows.They select 1 tile from a row to keep and another tile from that same row to discard. The next player then chooses 1 tile from the remaining tiles in that row to keep and another to discard. Play continues until all stacks are gone. Medals are set up the same way as in the non-team based version.
Tension and Variety
The “smart drafting” concept makes for interesting game play. You aren’t just thinking of the players next to you but everyone. Which player will least benefit from these tiles? However, you want to select your tile and then pass your tiles as quickly as you can; otherwise, you may be stuck passing the tiles to someone who benefits greatly from them. When I’ve played other drafting games that slight tension of making sure to choose quickly didn’t happen. Since I’m just passing to the next player I can take my time trying to figure out which ones will benefit me, but at the same time not benefit the next player. Team play has that same tension. However, now you need to decide if the tiles you have will benefit or hinder your teammate and pass them accordingly. That quick thinking and tension really amped up the drafting mechanic.
I enjoyed this game at all player counts. Even though game play is different at 2 or 3 players I still felt the tension that was present with higher player counts. You need to decide not only what tiles to choose and discard, but also which row those tiles are coming from. It is a simple concept but the thought process made for an enjoyable experience.
The variability in this game is pretty high! Different modes of game play, multiple Explorer Tiles and medals, and even extra stretch goal tiles (which time prevented me from getting to) will give the game a fresh vibe each time you play it. Not too drastically but enough that you don’t feel like you are playing the same game over and over. You can try various paths to see how they play out and with each game lasting 20-30 minutes you can easily play a few games in a night and not get bored with it. Since it plays well at all player counts you can pull this out no matter the count and still have a fun experience.
Making a Difference
Big Monster’s components are top notch. There is a lot of cardboard in this box but each piece — from the tiles to the medals and even the game board — are all a nice, thick quality cardboard so it will last through quite a few game plays. And the art: adorable! The monsters are cute and help give the game that playful feel.
I have to give kudos to the publisher of Big Monster in regards to the art and the diversity they want to make sure is represented. The Explorer Tiles have artwork of different astronaut type characters, but in the copy I received all the characters are white. After I received the game, Meeple Mountain was notified by the publisher that they were in the process of making sure more people of color would be featured on the tiles. With all the division in our world it is encouraging to see a publisher be sensitive and willing to include more representation in their game. What may seem like a small change can make a big difference in our gaming community.
A Few Issues
As much as I enjoy the 2 or 3 player version, the setup can be a bit of a bear. Putting together 20 stacks of tiles can just be cumbersome. It doesn’t take that long but when the game itself is not that long to begin with I wish there was a better way of setting it up.
The rulebook had some portions that were oddly specific in regards to how the 2 or 3 player version worked. We eventually figured it out but had to read it a few times to fully understand what they were trying to get across. Overall, it was laid out in a way that it was easy to find a specific rule, but the wording can be a bit confusing.
This is basically an abstract game with cute artwork. The theme is not very strong at all but that is where the artwork helps to keep you engaged! You are supposed to be explorers going to a distant planet collecting monsters and crystals. I didn’t get that feel — I just wanted to pick the monster that would get me the most points and put them next to a tile that may give me more. The lack of theme didn’t affect my enjoyment, but if you were intrigued by it, it’s not very strong.
I know it can be expensive to have a custom insert created for a game, but I feel this game needs one. It would help with setup and organization immensely. The game comes with a lot of tiles and not all of them are used depending on player count. There are also a variety of medals that you have to sort through and only a few are used per game — with a different set being used when playing competitively or in teams. Right now everything is sorted into baggies but a good insert would help the bear of setup go so much smoother and might encourage more game play.
Overall, this game is quick and just a lot of fun to play! No matter the player count you will be faced with interesting decisions and different paths to victory. If you like drafting but want something that offers a slight twist, I highly recommend you check out Big Monster on Kickstarter today.