…there was a time when all we needed do was open a book and there it was. A ready-made adventurer, kitted out in all manner of soft furnishings and household appliances. Gone are those days. Now there are charts and tables and statistics governing statistics that tell us how to gain statistics and on and on ad infinitum.
What ever happened to just getting out there in the thick of it? To slay or not to slay, whack is the question!
Press play for a distinctly Fantasy adventuring ambience
Ah well, something rather interesting materialised in the “getting out there and adventuring” line of gaming which has put a whole different perspective on things. How so?, You inquire with that eager, enquiring mind of yours. I shall endeavour to explain within this extremely succinct, minimalist, non-meandering tale of fantastic fantasy races…who am I trying to kid? I will no doubt waffle on at great length haplessly missing the points with alarming inaccuracy. But fear not, what ever your flavour of adventurer, it may just be here at the BSoMT fantasy Adventurer supermarket.
So What’s All The Fuss About?
Ever with my finger on the pulse of the ‘cult of the new’, Roll Player came and went, passing me by without so much as a nod in my direction …then an interesting sequel …an expansion, if you so choose, came to fruition and it is here that my story really starts.
Roll Player was a very popular and successful game where players drafted dice to build up a potential questing hero’s statistics. The traditional traits were employed; strength, intelligence, shoe size and hat fitting service while you wait. Within this game each character had a set of cards for which each enabled/triggered certain abilities or ways to go shopping at the market.
The game itself was novel and definitely presented a nice take on both drafting dice and fantasy characters. Players competed against each other for the creation of the ultimate questing character…but that was where the story ended. For me this lacked a certain something to give meaning to the creation of this supreme character and so I merely watched the game’s progress from the sidelines…
…but now a large expansion has seen the light of day and offers players a little something extra. Monsters and Minions
Will the addition of monsters and minions improve the purposeful enjoyment of the game and is it much of an experience for the soloist amongst us? Let us find out!
Immersion or Subversion?
I can’t see this game, with its expansion, being anything other than immersive, to be fair. Immediately on opening the box we are thrust into a lavish fantasy world filled with eleven typical fantasy races to choose from. The lion’s share of the game sees us equipping, (effectively) levelling up our characters whilst earning experience and gold. All these aspects are all too familiar activities in most roleplaying activities. So we are creating a character during the game but for what.
Well, ultimately to face a dastardly gruesome monster, not before defeating a host of minions on our way. There is everything we could expect to find in a more traditional D&D like game situation and all this before we even consider the lavish illustrations to support our adventure.
I am sure there are videos galore and reviews aplenty out there that discuss how to play Roll Player (I will link one ore two below) and I have no intention of doing a runthrough of how to play. What I do want to say here is a little ditty or two about a couple of mechanics within the Monsters and Minions expansion that change up the level of game decision making for a solo player…and this is where my story really starts!
As with the multiplayer game, Monsters and Minions has the line of initiative cards where our drawn dice go. Nothing spectacular in that..no. However, once we draw our thee dice in our solo games, they have to be placed in ascending order. Lowest pip count to card 1, highest pip count to card 3. At this point we can choose whatever dice we like, which at first inspection looks like a rather pithy solution to the dice drafting system….aaah! fear not intrepid gamers for all is not lost. If we choose the die from card 1 (with the lowest pip count) we have a diddy die with no foul consequences. We do, however, have a die with a low pip count which will make achieving certain Attribute goals difficult to achieve.
Now here is where life starts to develop some minor headaches…lin an intriguing fashion. If we choose initiative card 2, and a higher pipped die, we incur the wrath of the wild and a monster die must be rolled. (A table of consequences is to be found in the rule book. If I were to write a note upon my foot as a small footnote, I would like to have seen a small card which might have been nice/helpful to save referring back to the rules repeatedly).
If we take the highest die from initiative card 3, two monster dice are forcebly required to be rolled and potentially two consequences from the aforementioned table may occur. The table can automatically force one of the four market cards to be discarded before we begin our purchasing…the table can also cause the top minion to be cycled to the bottom of the minion deck and a new one is revealed to take its place. This is a nice, simple addition to the game but gives us a lot to think about. If we want to go big, we risk an easy minion being replaced by a big brute…we could risk that fantastic shiny leather chinstrap being discarded from the offer. Decisions decision…for me the most interesting element of the game, actually. We can also go off into the wilds of this world, hunting minions and with such a brash action (replacing shopping trips) we can try to defeat the top most minion card of the munion deck. We will never be injured hunting. We roll dice and compare the results to tables on each minion card. Experience and trophies can be gained.
Actually very low rolls on some minions reward us with a wound…so I lied before… actual deadings do not occur at this point. The wound tokens act as a negative modifier when taking on Mr Big! But we always accrue experience what ever the outcome. Gold or experience may be called upon to hire thug-like followers to help us in our hunt, which gives us extra dice on top of our standard die. If we achieve or beat the highest score on the minion card we effectively defeat it and claim it as a trophy. This is helpful not only for valuable experience cubes (needed for final battle) but gaining successive trophies allows us to see the Location card, Obstacle card and Battle card. There are conditions on these cards that influence the final battle for and against us. Revealing these cards early on can significantly influence the planning of our character development.
The monsters are a particularly nice touch that adds firstly a reason for us to develop our hero into a colossal fighting machine but secondly, adds an element of story telling as we discover the monsters whereabouts, what obstructs our way and how it attacks.
Again simple but effective ways of creating an adventure feel but without the complexity and mither of full-blown roleplay games. These are elements that really struck me during my games.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
I think that this is a standard game for Thunderworks regarding quality…that sounds dreadful but as the quality of anything I have come across (even in prototype form) from Thunderworks has been nothing but very high indeed, from the clarity of card layouts to illustrative style to the thickness of card components.
Dice wise this game offers almost half a ton of dice (and this is where my story really, really starts) crammed into a gigantic sturdy sack to carry them in. It is particularly nice to find punch-outs in the player boards which allows secure placement of all the dice we draft. This feature really helps clumsy players, buffoons as it were, such as myself, who forever knock the table or catch boards with a sleeve or generally create mayhem during a game…upsetting everyone else…and as it is just me sat there at both sides of my table, you can imagine how frustrated I could get with myself.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design:Keith Matejka
- Artist: John Ariosa Lucas Ribeiro
- Graphic Design: Luis Franc isco
- Game Publisher:Thunderworks Games
- Playtime: (recess for those of the US persuasion): 60-120 mins
- Gangs of One: 1-5
- Age of Consent:10+
I assume that this game was initially conceived as a competitive multiplayer game both for the base set and the expansion and this is truly where my story starts…there is a dedicated ruleset for solo play that uses all of the regular game mechanics but introduces a slight change in the game set up and integrates a system to manipulate the market element as a result of the dice selection/drafting portion of the game. As such we, the soloist, are actually gaining a play experience very close to the competitive game but have something a little extra to entertain us…making up for a live opponent to some degree, yes, but as the solo game is no longer a race to the finish (to see who has the most points, we are in effect taking a solo adventure preparing for a big showdown. Drafting choices are entirely up to us but we do face some dire consequences…a terrible dilemma, if you will. For all of us in solo mode, we have to work our way through the dice drafting as normal (obviously attempting to develop our skills as best we can) but now we have a compulsion to go Hunting. This is a necessary evil as defeating Minions gives us not only Experience points (invaluable when facing the dire foe) but also reveals the elements of the adventure that leads us to a final show down. We soldier on until our character is complete as in the base game but now we must face down a rather unpleasant and less than sociable Monster. Defeat of which…whom…erm…gives us even more Reputation Stars. A final game tally tells us just how we did and so long as we achieved 24+ points, we can hold our heads high… fall below that and we are dubbed “NPC”…probably the most insulting title imaginable. At the end of the day it is a ‘beat your own score’ scoring system but the way the solo variant has been constructed lend itself to an extremely varied play experience. Not only are we challenged by the drafting dice element, we are also having to ward of pesky minions and to cap it all can take on a variety of different monsters (each coming with a selection of Location, Obstacle and Attack cards) So it is extremely difficult to get repetition. many ‘beat your own score’ games are flat and repetitive but Roll Player with Monsters & Minions really does offer a new experience every game and as such should suit a solo player down to the ground…Like what I did there? Suit?…building and equipping a roleplaying character?….oh please yourself!
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: I have never lost yet…but to win big is a tricky task indeed. It is possible to lose against the final monster, especially if one is very badly prepared but this is rare, I imagine. Score less than 23 and we are only as good as an NPC..which is not a good compliment at all. here is a list of levels that could be achieved right up yo Monster killer at 44+ points. So, yes it is fairly easy to win…very difficult to win well but none of this rally matters as it is the adventure we go through, the story we tell as we make our way to the finish line.
- Rules is Rules is Rules:The base game rule book is a mere fifteen pages in length (including the base game solo variant…which I have to admit, due to time constraints, I have not tried) The expansion comes with a similar style book with only ten pages including the solo rules. The game is very simple and as such the rules also avoid complexity. They clearly state what is required to play, provide examples of play and are scattered with component illustrations. This is a quick game to digest which means we can plunge right into the dice bag with both size tens to start selecting dice with out much of a do. (That means without fuss)
- Lucky Buggers: Rolling dice is always going to be luck driven…but in the solo game they are placed in numerical rank order from position 1-3. We are than at liberty to select whichever die will suit our purpose (taking care of the potential consequences. The minion deck and the market deck can be adversely affected by such choices but rather than view this as too chancy, we should see this as cause and effect’ If we make a decision, there will be an effect so this really builds tension into each and every aspect of our selection process. We have options to negate some of the luck, but not all. If we were to actually visit the wilds and go hunting on an adventure, I am sure life would not go so smoothly and according to plan. Just bear that in mind!
- Highs and Lows: Very much a high, I suspect. There are many fantastical fancy fantasy creatures and some rather unpleasant monsters to boot, but graphically all have been handled well, in a minimal horror visual. As for gameplay is concerned, it is about character development as much, if not more so, than hacking and slashing so the thoughts and worries of gratuitous violence should not trouble you. We are unlikely to be drastically beaten into the ground. There is a pretty high success rate so we should feel elated…I say should…actually achieving the status of True hero or Monster Slayer is quite a tall order. Every game I have played has made me feel that I want to jump straight back in.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: I usually play on a 100cm x 90cm playing area and once set up, Roll player fits with huge amounts of room to spare.Not having my tape measure to hand just now I will guesstimate but I should say you could squeeze this into a 50cm x 50cm-ish space. Needless to say it is a great compact game for solo play offering a huge game experience for its size on the table
- Build It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: This is not a giant game…however there is time needed to separate the monsters and their associated Location, Obstacle and Attack cards. Certain minion cards are removed from the deck and the market deck requires shuffling. Other than that it is a simple case of selecting a character, Class card, Backstory and Alignment card. hat done we are all set to go I would be surprised if it takes more than ten minutes or so to get ready as it is quite a low complexity set up. Similarly packing away is a snip…but be sure to bag cards in separate bags to ease future set up. The age-old ‘arm sweep across the table scooping everything into the box’ technique will lead to a very long set up. I have been there so be warned!
Me, Myself and I:
I approached this game somewhat arse-about-face because I had played and loved Thunderworks Lock Up (a worker placement game set in the same world as Roll Player) before attempting this game. As mentioned earlier I liked the idea of the game but it felt like more was needed to give any meaning for me to build this ‘character’. And so, with the addition of Monsters & Minions, they really have upped the anti. There are so many good decisions that we have to make right from drawing a die from the bag. Each choice has rippling implications that spread throughout the game. There is a nice variability as well. Huge numbers of different races to choose from (each with slightly different modifiers to their attribute list and both male and female sides to choose from) and so many variations of Class card, Backstory and Alignment that …well, I dare not delve into statistics and number crunching as it will imply cause my brain to oooze from my ears…but the combinations are almost limitless. I will admit to only having played six or seven games of this compared to the fifteen or more for Lock Up so I am unsure if this was quite as good…they are so very different and so, maybe I shouldn’t get into the trap of comparison making?! This is a very clever game , though, offering a particularly entertaining game for a soloist. It is quite easy for us to achieve the low-level success ranking scores listed in the rule book (severe beatings and humiliations are few and far between) but NPC > 23 score, right up to Monster slayer at 44+ Which offers a particularly wide challenge range to try to attain.
If I owned this game (and I sorely wish I did), I would be setting myself the challenge of achieving X-level of success with each and every race/character in the game…just for the hell of it, really.
Yay or Nay?
With out a doubt Roll Player rolls the minion BSoMT 1d8 die for a monstrous (7.5)…after all, it is fantasy make-believe so why shouldn’t my die have half sides?
Roll Player on its own is a creditable game but not much of an enticement to me. However, throw Monsters and Minions expansion into the mix and the game comes alive with so many more choices and a tangible reason for playing. I would definitely recommend this for solo players whether dice fans or fantasy fans…or fans of creating a story in your mind as you develop a character, take it on a journey that culminates in a jolly old fisticuffs match with a big, bad beastie. Yes, on further reflection I have thoroughly enjoyed this game for its entertainment level vs complexity ratio. Super enjoyable without an unfathomable tomb of rules. I would say a job really well done from the prespective of the soloist!
I feel I have accomplished much as an adventurer preparing to do battle with this great and fearsome beast. Me in my swanky leather thong (leather wrist straps, by the way). Shiny tin-coated cardboard Trilby, junior smokers kit with liquorice dog-ends and toffee ashtray and a trouser front pocket bulging with a gazillion coloured dice ready for rolling…
…bring it on you dastardly guinniepig…your cage needs a good cleaning out!
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Boardgamerants solo playthrough