Overboss board game review - map your own Zelda-like world in enjoyable, if unremarkable, Boss Monster spin-off
Lording it up.
Not every board game needs to be massive in scope. It’s exhausting to chew through countless enormous games, all trying to shove as many ideas and components as possible onto players’ plates. Sometimes what people want is a game that’s quick to set up, easy to teach to newcomers and provides around 30 minutes of wholesome fun. Which is exactly what Overboss offers.
A spin-off title from the Boss Monster franchise of games, in which players create their own dungeons to snare unsuspecting heroes, Overboss continues the series’ tradition of offering an accessible tabletop experience without too many bells and whistles. While Overboss doesn’t do anything revolutionary, it does more than enough to keep players engaged and wanting to come back for another game, an aspect which is aided by its short playtime and variety of gameplay modes.
Players take the role of villainous individuals seeking to spread their influence outside their dungeon and into the world above by creating dangerous locations for hapless heroes to fall prey to. That sounds like a fun concept to roleplay, but the gameplay doesn’t strongly reflect Overboss’ theme, which is largely confined to the rulebook blurb and artwork. In fact, the actual aim of the game is more in line with an interior decorator’s dreams than those of a malicious overlord.
Overboss’ artwork does a lot to inject charm into the experience of playing.
As with Boss Monster, Overboss utilises a retro video game-inspired art style, but one that leans more into the 16-bit era rather than the 8-bit sensibilities of its predecessor. The game’s tiles are reminiscent of video games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, with sprites of mysterious forests, shadowy caves and noxious swamps coming together to form a collage of nostalgic imagery. Overboss’ artwork does a lot to inject charm into the experience of playing, as does the rulebook - which features funny little asides from each of the boss characters - and its components. The tiles are thick and feel pleasantly glossy to the touch. However, it is disappointing how flimsy and cheap the token bag feels by comparison.
Each set of tiles in Overboss is themed around a different type of fantasy environment - forests, deserts, caves, swamps and such - with their own rules that players will need to abide by in order to score points. While the complexity of these rules do vary enough that players will need to pay attention to use them properly, they remain steadfastly straightforward to understand - even for less experienced players. Overboss feels like a board game that’s designed to appeal to a wider audience - thanks to its pop culture theme and appealing artwork - so it makes sense that its gameplay mechanics err on the side of accessibility.
The real meat of the Overboss experience is found in its drafting mechanics. Every turn, the player has a choice of four possible tile and monster token combinations, which they have to take and place together - with the token on top of the paired tile - on their four-by-three board. There are a few unique circumstances where tiles and tokens drafted as a pair do not need to be placed together, such as when a player has a token stored in their lair they can choose to place instead of the newly-acquired token. Monster tokens are randomly assigned to newly-drafted tiles, which means that the players’ choices won’t just be driven by a single factor. Instead, there will be a whole host of motivations to-ing and fro-ing within your mind whenever you’re drafting.
You’ll get one point for placing a monster token on a matching tile - for example, putting a skeleton on a graveyard - but that’s small potatoes compared to the points you can get for lining up monster tokens of the same type. Monster tokens can count for both vertical and horizontal lines, meaning that players will get the most out of their tokens if they place them on the right tiles. Not having control over which tokens are drafted with what tiles can make lining up matching monsters difficult, however, with sacrifices sometimes needing to be made in order to acquire the tokens you need to make a high-scoring line.
While the randomness of the tile and token drafting can make certain rounds feel cursed by bad luck you never really feel frustration.
Sometimes a player might be fortunate enough to draft a portal token, which will enable them to swap one or two of their monster tokens around. However, a portal token must be taken in place of a potential monster one. Considering that it serves no purpose other than to perform a single move action, choosing a portal means missing out the opportunity to get more tokens on your board.
While the randomness of the tile and token drafting can make certain rounds feel cursed by bad luck - I’ve certainly been disappointed by how little some tile and token offerings have benefitted my board at the time - you never really feel frustration thanks to how quick each playthrough of Overboss is. Investing in scoring with a certain type of tile or attempting to build a line of matching monsters only to have your plans fall apart thanks to a poor draft or another player’s thieving hands is momentarily upsetting, but soon forgotten with the introduction of new tiles and opportunities in the next match.
Overboss doesn’t offer anything you haven’t seen before, but it does provide enough reasons to crack it open every once in a while.
There are also plenty of ways to mix things up in future playthroughs of Overboss, thanks to the variety of additional game modes included. The boss character cards grant players a unique ability to use once per game and a chance to grab some bonus points, while the larger maps found on the opposite side of players’ boards extend the game’s length by 10 or 15 minutes. None of these optional modes fundamentally change the game, but they do offer up ways to customise your play experience.
Overboss doesn’t offer anything you haven’t seen before, but it does provide enough reasons to crack it open every once in a while. It looks nice, feels good in the hand and challenges its players to question their decisions, whilst not overwhelming beginners with complicated mechanics. If you fancy a quick bit of fictional renovating, then Overboss is a worthwhile outlet for drafting and decorating on the tabletop.
Buy Overboss on the Brotherwise Games website.