Number of Players: 1-4
Time: 45 mins to 2 hours
Game Type: Bag Builder
Gamer Type: Any
Complexity: Instructions 7, gameplay 6.
It is rare that I get to play a game I wholeheartedly want to play several times on the day I review it. Most of the time, I am so caught up in the review that I forget to sit back and take the time to actually enjoy the game. The mechanics, strategy and artwork oftentimes become the focus of my attention, and I am more “working” than actually playing the game. AEG’s Meeples & Monsters is the first game since Silver River where I can say I was so caught up in the game I almost forgot I was working and was enthralled in controlling my little wooden army.
In Meeples & Monsters, you are a lord trying to help the people in the city against a monster invasion. No back story on why the monsters are invading, but you know you have to save the peasants in the city. The city is broken down into five regions: the capital districts (building and leveling up), the castle, the cathedral, the university, and the village. Each area has its own basic assignment ability and that adds a little to the story. Also, there are evil overlords (only 3 – would have been nice to see more), who are controlling the armies, which gives some semblance of why the monsters are attacking. (6 of 10 for story).
The artwork of this game comes from the realistic cartoon genre. The cards, board, and box are all well-illustrated and it really adds to the game. The materials (such as cards) are kept simple enough that you can understand the game from the symbols (which is good for international players), with only a few cards that are more complex (and need significant explanation-Colosseum). One element I would have liked to see was a turn card. While you can pick up what you need to do on a turn, some of the rules can slip by and it would be nice to have a reminder; not a big thing but big enough. The size of the box is standard medium box, which means that it not only looks nice on your shelf but also fits quite well. (7.5 out of 10).
When researching this game, I heard someone call it a “programming” game, which I think is fitting. Most of the building and recruiting takes place early, then you start to attack the monsters. One of the fascinating things about this game comes down to when you do each type of action. The randomization of the draws and the buildings allow for non-euro gamers to really get into the game; the fact that you see your pieces a turn in advance and know what the supply is for buildings lets you formulate for those who don’t like randomization – so it is something for everyone. With 10 options for tasks, the option to build, or the option to fight, it is a great challenge choosing the right mechanics for your turn. (8 of 10).
This game presents a unique strategy concept. As it is a bag builder (the meeples in your bag), you are working with an engine-building game. The quest element does change up a little as your goals may change during the game, thus the engine building is amazing in this game. When it comes to rush, you have to choose between build rush, attack rush, or recruit rush; two more options than most games have. This makes rush a viable set of options for this game. Offense is also heavily represented as you can level up your characters to ensure you have a powerful team. This is also a viable strategy for mid-end game. Defense is difficult in this game, since you are not being attacked by anyone, there is really no need to play defense. Some argument could be made that quest management is defensive; however, this is not a strong suit for the game. The game is still one of the best simple strategy games we have seen in a long time (9 of 10).
I have played bag builders before and if you read this column, you know that Dominion (a deck builder) is one of my top games of all time. This game is well up there with Dominion. The game takes a new spin on the bag builder game type, one that really sets bag building into a genre of its own. That being said, the “support elements” need some building out in expansions. More boss monsters would make the game more varied, even though the boss effects were quite determinative in the end game each time we played. There is also room for expanding to 6 players with outlying districts (farms, traders, mercenaries, the world is your oyster here), which could expand the card pool and the game challenge. Overall, however, if you are setting the baseline for the genre, you are novel (10 of 10 for novelty).
So where does this future legend stack up against other games in the pantheon of the greats. 40.5 out of 50 is an amazing score for a non-euro game, and this game only has room to grow with future expansions (which AEG is known for). This game has my highest recommendation for anyone who wants a great game on their shelf. I would like to see the rulebook refined a little as some of the passages were a little difficult to grasp and needed clarification, even for experienced gamers. It was not so much that the rules are complex, just that the rulebook (in some places) is written in the most complex way possible. However, once you get into the game, you have one of the best games of the year and one that everyone who is serious about gaming should have on their shelf.
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