Johnny O’Neal from Brotherwise Games took some time to give me a ton of information about Boss Monster: Master of the Dungeon. It’s a cool looking concept with some rocking pixel art, and O’Neal covers a lot about the game, what he thinks makes it cool, and the development process. If you haven’t checked it out already, you can get more information about Boss Monster on Kickstarter. Oh, yeah, and keep reading to check out an exclusive card reveal!
Take a second to introduce yourself to us.
I’m Johnny O’Neal, lead designer of Boss Monster: Master of the Dungeon. After a lifetime of gaming together, my brother Chris and I decided to co-found a game company that we call Brotherwise Games. On October 18, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Boss Monster, with a goal of $12,000 over 30 days. We were amazed to hit our goal in one day, and since then more than a thousand people have backed the project!
What is Boss Monster all about?
Boss Monster is a “dungeon-building” card game in which 2-4 players play the role of video game villains. As a Boss, your goal is to build a dungeon with enough treasure to lure adventurers, and enough traps and monsters to kill them. The challenge is that every turn, you’re bidding against the other players to see whose dungeon is the most enticing, and it can be tricky to make a dungeon that’s attractive and deadly. If you get too greedy and you lure more adventurers than you can handle, you’ll be out of the game.
I assume you grew up playing video games. What were your favorites?
Boss Monster is definitely inspired by classic NES and SNES games like Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania and Final Fantasy. I’m a huge Nintendo fan, and spent years writing reviews for a website called Nintendorks, so my love of video games goes pretty deep. Boss Monster also takes inspiration from fantasy movies, books, and tabletop games. Chris and I both grew up playing classic pen-and-paper RPGs, and old-school D&D fans will spot more than a few references and in-jokes in Boss Monster.
I think a lot of tabletop gamers wish they could be game designers, and think about how they’d tweak or improve any game they play. Chris and I spend most of our hanging-out-as-brothers time playing board and card games, and eventually we decided we had to make a game of our own. We started by reviving an old idea I had for a card game, which had a totally different theme (a popularity contest between high school girls). Chris suggested we transform it into something closer to our own hearts, and we moved toward a dungeon-crawling theme. But I think Boss Monster really took shape when we were looking at resource-management games like Settlers of Catan and thought, “to a boss monster, adventurers are the resource.” What if dungeons were just elaborate deathtraps, and all that treasure was just bait so the dungeon bosses could lure heroes and consume their souls?
How was the development process? Did you have any ideas that just didn’t work?
We explored a lot of ideas that didn’t quite work, including a system that involved a lot of dice rolls every turn. Probably the most momentous change in development, though, was the visual direction. I originally pictured the cards as looking crudely hand-drawn, like something out of Napoleon Dynamite’s notebook. I thought it was this universal thing — that in grade school, everyone draws crazy dungeons full of death traps and dying stick figures. Chris said, “No, you were just a weird kid. If we’re creating a whole game about side-scrolling dungeons, why not make the art look like a video game?” It seems incredibly obvious in retrospect, but it was the insight that drove every subsequent decision about graphic design and game mechanics.
We approached Kickstarter with more trepidation than an adventurer setting foot in King Croak’s dungeon. Both of us pored over other projects, and decided that without a pre-existing fanbase or a lot of luck, a tabletop game project with decent production values could expect to garner 300-400 backers. We did the math and set our goal at $12,000 — but even if we had hit that goal, we would have had to invest thousands of our own dollars in printing and fulfillment. So hitting it in a day? It blew us away!
You mentioned that breaking the $40,000 threshold would allow you to focus on expanding the game. What are your plans for expansions?
First, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t need any expansions to play Boss Monster. It’s a standalone card game where everyone draws from the same deck, so the $20 core set is all you need to play. But a lot of great standalone games, from Ascension to Munchkin, have offered ways to spice up gameplay with more cards. We’re taking a similar approach. In mid-2013 we will release a 25-card mini-expansion called “Tools of Hero-Kind.” It introduces a new “Item” card type that makes Heroes more deadly. And when we passed the $40,000 funding mark, we committed to a new 150-card standalone expansion called “Crash Landing.” It will require its own Kickstarter campaign, but it’s gone from being a vague possibility to a real project that we’ll spend next year developing.
I know that Boss Monster’s pixel art look is what’s inspiring a lot of interest in the game, but I’m really proudest of the gameplay. A lot of people have played this game, in playtesting and at demo day events, and the feedback has been really positive. From new and casual gamers, we hear that it’s intuitive and easy to play. Advanced gamers tell us there’s enough complexity to keep them hooked, and the “bidding for Heroes” aspect of dungeon-building is something they haven’t seen before. Of course, the most awesome thing about Boss Monster is the community of Kickstarter backers who are making the game possible, and the fact that over 300 of them will have playtester access to upcoming expansions! That enthusiasm and feedback will give a huge boost to any game we release in the future.
Anything else you want to add?
For anyone reading this who hasn’t already, check out the project! We have a gameplay video, lots of project updates that provide more details, and even the full rulebook available for download. If you like what you see, you can pre-order the full game for only $20. You’ll be able to buy Boss Monster in retail stores next year, but Kickstarter backers get so many extras that we recommend everyone jump on board now. Thanks for your support!