One Sentence Synopsis: Whoever said throwing things is bad is mistaken…in point of fact, it’s God-like.
You’re a Greek God with the power and ambition to rise to the top, but you’re missing one important ingredient: a large following. You’ve tried being nice and to maintain your composure, but those morning pep-talks in the mirror on Mount Olympus just don’t seem to calm your nerves like they used to. No, it’s time to wring some belief out of the unfaithful with some good ‘ole fashioned force using your armies of legendary beasts. But wait, what’s this!? Other Gods just got the same idea. Time to throw down, literally. This is Monstrous!
Monstrous is a card-chucking, tactical dexterity and hand management game for 2-5 players that plays in 20-30 minutes. Yes, that’s right, you get to throw things in this game. No, not at each other…though I could see that becoming an unsanctioned variant, and who’s to say that card that just hit Jim in the face wasn’t simply a bad throw? Instead, players fling their monstrous allies at locations and other monster cards already on the table in an attempt to trigger special abilities, and to gain Faith. Once a player has thrown their last card and there are no more for them to draw, each other player gets one more throw before totaling their acquired Faith and determining a winner.
Each God plays the game with an identical deck of monster cards in their own color. Before starting, the youngest God randomly places a number of monsters from their deck equal to the number of players into their Underworld stack, and all other Gods follow suit. This ensures Monstrous plays in about the same time regardless of the number of players. Locations are then selected and placed depending on the length and difficulty of the game desired, and players finally draw three cards from their monster deck to start.
Turns are taken in order, and consist of the active player choosing one of their monster cards to throw, and then throwing the card without passing the edge of the table. If their hand breaks the table line the God is subjected to much ridicule. Abilities are then resolved on some of the cards the one thrown under/overlaps, starting with any red trap cards which negatively affect the card that just landed. The abilities of the thrown monster are then resolved, followed by the “hit” location if applicable. Once those are sorted out the player gains the amount of Faith displayed on the location touching their monster card, and the turn ends by drawing a new monster card.
Play progresses quickly thanks to Monstrous’s simple ruleset, and there’s very little downtime as players move around the table to position themselves for the best potential throws. Games are boisterous and generally involve a great deal of good-natured ribbing as people completely biff their throws, which may or may not have been caused by distractions around the table. Accuracy is only half the battle though, and there’s actually a very solid, light strategy game here that should appeal even to players who are not familiar with the dexterity genre. Monsters each have two sides, one which generally provides extra Faith for hitting other monsters or a location, and an alternate side which has a special ability. For example, the Giant lets you take a location’s Faith twice, and the Dragon discards all other monster cards it hit. It’s up to players to manage their hands of monsters carefully, waiting for the most opportune time to use certain cards or hit specific locations.
The locations themselves add a nice layer of strategy as well since some areas are worth more Faith than others, but might not have quite as useful abilities, and because their physical placement is determined by the group at the start of each game. Although players can ultimately decide to randomize locations for each playthrough, Monstrous comes with a large list of suggested card combinations for varying lengths of games. The longer setups, which still only take about 30 minutes to complete from start to finish, include a good deal of monster regeneration(sometimes a bad thing, since you lose a point per monster left in your deck or hand at the end of the game) which makes smart use of monster powers even more important.
Next to the hilarious player interactions Monstrous generates amongst my group members, the most enjoyable aspect for me is the story each game tells as the cards are flung. Sieges of cities develop as players vie for Faith or powers, and massive battles are waged as more and more monsters pile up in certain areas. It’s easy to use your imagination in elaborating those stories thanks to the extremely well-done theme which fits the game perfectly. The graphic design is excellent, remaining functional and in-theme but out-of-the-way of the stunning card art. I think Monstrous is easily one of the best looking games I’ve seen so far this year.
COG Takeaway: I’d highly recommend giving Monstrous a look even if dexterity games aren’t in your normal purview. It’s an extremely versatile game with strong strategic positioning and hand management elements that should appeal to many groups looking for a light tactical experience, including younger audiences thanks to its easy-to-grasp rules. Monstrous scales well all the way up to its maximum count of five players while maintaining a half-hour playtime, and is excellent as either a filler or a game to play back-to-back. It’s a great change of pace from many of the other light games I’d normally consider tabling, so if your collection is missing a dexterity game and you’re looking for one with strong theme and amazing art, Monstrous would be my recommendation.