25 September 2019
Big monsters, big ‘but’
The experience of playing a new board game is in many ways like riding a rollercoaster.
It begins with excited anticipation as you hold the new shiny box, waiting out that stretch of time to get it to the gaming table. Then there is a bit of the uphill slow ride: maybe you need to pop out and assemble some pieces and, of course, trudge through the rulebook or a gameplay video to learn the rules. During that climb, anticipation continues to grow – and, as you begin to play, the experience is then hopefully filled with the fun twists and turns, ups and downs, that make you love the gameplay.
Big Monster is definitely a fun ride, but the initial uphill climb before its thrilling drop might make you want to get out of your seat and leave.
At first, there are a lot of pieces to pop, which is par for the course with many board games – except afterwards you will also have a lot of pieces to sort. Depending on the number of players, and whether extra Kickstarter stretch goal pieces are used, or which bonuses you choose to play with, the tiles and tokens will be sorted and re-sorted. Although each subsequent setup becomes easier and faster, the tile-sorting is ever-present – especially in the two-player variant.
The rulebook is equally little help with the setup and rules. Whether due to poor translation or because it wasn’t proofed very well, the manual is almost incomprehensible. As a reviewer, you feel a duty to get through it – even if, as in this case, it is to warn others about it. If I had experienced this game solely from the perspective of a new player, this would have been the exact moment when Big Monster would have been shelved, quite possibly forever.
The most frustrating twist is that it really shouldn’t have been so much effort to get to the gem of the gameplay. Big Monster is a very simple tile-laying and set-collecting game. At some point the rules will finally click, and all that’s left is the amazement that it took such a long and twisted road to get there.
In Big Monster, tiles are drafted and placed around individual explorer boards, each with their own special ability. Monsters are divided into types based on their habitats, each with their own unique way of scoring. Most of the monsters are also interconnected, either through bonuses or, in case of mutation tiles, adjacent placement. Therefore, it is not just about picking up the right tiles but also about placing them thoughtfully and planning for future moves. It is like an evolving puzzle, where every new tile is a piece of a bigger picture only fully visible at the very end. Sometimes it all comes together beautifully – and sometimes your opponent steals the right tile from under your nose.
The abstract nature of Big Monster helps to sustain replayability – every game, despite differing only very slightly in bonuses, feels fresh and encourages players to vary their strategies by choosing to collect different combinations of monsters.
For something so brilliantly and enticingly simple, Big Monster's first impression unfortunately mars the overall experience of the game. The uphill slog, before the sweet drop of the gameplay, can be agonising – especially during the first couple of plays. Yet, if you power through it, you will discover a game that is joyfully addictive, humorous and clever.
PLAY IT? – MAYBE
Big Monster, with its wonderful and effectively simple gameplay, suffers from a case of bad first impressions. Yet, if you push through the initial ponderous setup and a confusing rulebook, you might be pleasantly surprised how much joy this game can bring.
Designer: Dimitri Perrier
Artist: Ivan Nikulin
Time: 20-30 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.