Game Review: Monsters Vs Monsters

vinny Monsters Versus Monsters is a simple game of combat between legendary monsters, using cards and dice. The monsters include such creatures as the vampire pictured to the left; you can see the full set of 10 monsters at the product Web site. Each game includes one rules card, 20 monster cards (two identical sets of 10), and two six-sided dice, all packed in a 2″x3.5″ ziplock bag. The Web site says the game is appropriate for people age 5-18. Product price is $10.

The Good
The tone of the game components is appropriately appealing. Most of the monster character drawings have a professional cartoon sense, and the cards are attractively colorful. Even the dice are more toy-like than most in other games, these having red and blue pips instead of the standard black. The Web site adds to this appeal, with a short bio for each of the monsters and a one-page history of the arena combat they engage in.

The Bad
After this presentation, the game itself is a disappointment.

  • The rules are terribly unclear. As stated, they indicate that the entire deck is to be shuffled; yet the victory conditions would seem to require separating the cards into two decks, with each player getting one copy of each monster.
  • It isn’t stated how many dice each player should roll. One? (Outside the U.S., a single die is a “dice.”) Both? My set came with four, which we decided must mean two per player, based on the “auto kill” number on each card. (Roll this number exactly, and the enemy card is defeated automatically. Otherwise, high roller wins.) With a range of “auto kills” from 2-11, nothing but a two-dice roll makes sense.
  • The intriguing special power phrase on each card—which, with the drawings of Vinny and Wolfy, originally drew my interest to the game—has no effect in play. These phrases are just “color,” like the monster names themselves.

The Verdict
Monsters Versus Monsters suffers from a couple of fatal flaws.

First, the rules as written are unfriendly to the apparent mass-market audience. Too much is assumed; too little explained. There’s even an editorial error about the placement of the “auto kill” number. On a rules sheet no bigger than a business card, these sorts of problems are simply unforgivable.

Second, the game is, in effect, as strategy-less as “War,” though with an added layer of complication of rolling dice, and a further complication of keeping a point score instead of simply amassing cards. After the initial excitement of monster cards instead of a poker deck wanes, the tedium level is at least twice that of War. Even the instant-kill rule can’t make up for that for long.

In short, I can’t think of an appropriate audience for Monsters Versus Monsters. The components are too small and thin for young children, but the game concept itself is too small and thin for older ones.

Addendum: Given the point totals on the cards, each game will require an absolute minimum of two plays for one player to score 100. A typical game should average at least five plays instead.

Considering the bell curve generated by a roll of two six-sided dice, Wolfy is the most valuable card in the deck, especially given his point value at the end of a hand. Bones is the weakest in the deck. Here’s a table of all the cards, with their point value, auto-kill score (AK), and odds of achieving that roll on two six-sided dice.

Monster Value AK AK Odds
Bones 9 2 1/36
Ned 8 3 1/18 (2/36)
Betty 5 4 1/12 (3/36)
Prince Kututu 4 5 1/9 (4/36)
Frank 2 6 5/36
Wolfy 4 7 1/6 (6/36)
Vinny 3 9 1/9 (4/36)
Nessie 3 9 1/9 (4/36)
Chupa Libre 6 10 1/12 (3/36)
BJ 7 11 1/18 (2/36)

Notice that Wolfy has six times the odds of an auto-kill that Bones does, which may explain why the designer chose to make Bones worth more points (reasoning that a rarer win is worth more). However, it doesn’t explain why Wolfy has a higher point total than Nessie, for example.

More importantly, even Wolfy’s 1 in 6 chance of an auto-kill is paltry compared to the 5 in 6 chance of something else being rolled. In other words, even the best monster in the game has only a 1 in 6 chance of achieving anything but utter randomness. The others fare even worse.

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