It’s nearly Halloween, and monsters are a seminal part of the season’s festivities.
Maybe you’re hunting them alongside Buffy, the Winchester brothers, or agents Mulder and Scully. Maybe you’re trying to survive them, like any number of nubile teens at parties, secluded cabins, lakeside retreats, or after hours at the school.
Or maybe, you’re making them.
There’s a grand tradition in pop culture of monster-making, from Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Moreau to Rita Repulsa and Mr. Sinister.
And who hasn’t wanted to make their own monster at one time or another?
Well, you get your chance in 13 Monsters, a cutesy-spooky build-’em-and-fight-’em game with a load of skill and a little luck required.
13 Monsters combines the attentiveness of Memory, the dice-rolling skills of Yahtzee or Tenzi, and the tactical timing of Bears Vs. Babies or Fluxx to create an enjoyable gameplay experience that’s more fraught with tension than you might expect from a game featuring such heartwarming big-eyed monsters.
And while we’re on the subject, the art for these thirteen monsters is out of this world. The creatures are visually striking, gorgeously rendered onto the tile pieces, and so vivid that they practically pop out into 3-D.
Each has a distinct flavor, adding horns, fangs, wings, and all sorts of tiny details to hint at the deeper, darker worlds they might inhabit. I cannot say enough good things about the art direction behind this game.
The game starts with a 9×9 grid of tiles, all face down. The pieces of thirteen different monsters are scattered across this grid, and you must find matching pairs of monster pieces to build your gruesomely adorable fighters. If you flip two tiles and they don’t match, your turn is over.
Once you locate a pair — the two tiles making up the top of the head, the two tiles making up the eyes, or the two tiles making up the body — you place it in the play area in front of you, and you may draw again. You can keep drawing until you fail to make a match.
If you have all three sets — no matter if they’re from the same monster or their element symbols match — you combine them to form a full monster.
Once you have a full monster, you can attack your opponents with the goal of taking one of their matched pairs for yourself. (This is one way to assemble a complete, matching monster.)
Different monster combinations have different powers as well, depending on how many of your sets match. This can grant you the power to swap parts between your monsters, freeze tiles on the memory board to prevent other players from taking them, or look at additional tiles on the memory board.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on at once, and the more monsters you assemble, the more options you have available. You need to keep track of what tiles have been revealed, what pairs your opponents have, what pairs you need, how dangerous their monsters are, and how dangerous your monster is. (There’s also the threat of the thirteenth monster out there, which is the most powerful.)
Testing your memory, your ability to assemble the best monster from the pieces you have available, and gauging when to strike for maximum effect, this game will keep board gamers and puzzle fans alike on their toes.
We were impressed by how much gameplay was packed into what seemed like a simple memory/combat mashup game. The wealth of options available, the stunning artwork, and the addictive gameplay quickly made it a hit at the gaming table.
Plus the relative family friendliness of the monsters ensured that younger players could get into the game as well, exposing themselves to several different gameplay styles all at once.
While it may remind you of Dr. Frankenstein’s famous creation, 13 Monsters is no cobbled-together stroke of luck. It’s a well-assembled machine.
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