Terrible monster is the first game published by “Sweet Lemon Publishing “, designed by Japanese designer, Shun. A very smart micro game with only 16 cards, elegant and fast as expected. I also got my hands on the mini expansion for the game, so this review will cover both and give a separate rating.
Goal of the game and gameplay overview
The rules of the game are very well written and compact, so it will be a matter of minutes to read them and start your duel. The goal of the game is to reduce your opponent’s life points to zero! I call this the child of Love Letter and Magic the Gathering.
To setup the game shuffle the cards and deal 5 to each player, these will form your starting hands. The remaining cards are set aside to form the main deck. Then, give each player four life and two counter tokens. On your turn, you have to follow these simple steps:
- Draw a card from the deck.
- Play up to two cards.
(Only on the first turn of the game, the starting player doesn’t draw a card and can only play up to one).
- Discard down to 5 cards (rarely happens) and end your turn
Then, it’s the next player’s turn. You go on until one player eliminates the other.
Let’s get down to the card types and in what these mysterious counter tokens do.
There are two types of cards in the game, “Monster” & “Spells”. When you play a Monster, it stays in front of you and has a specific effect from which you benefit. On the other hand, Spells are one time use cards, which get discarded as long as they are played and their effect is over.
Whenever you play a card, your opponent can use one of their Counter tokens, by discarding it, to nullify your cards effect and discard it. BUT, if you want (and have) you can use two of your own tokens to counter your opponent’s counter reaction. So, as you can tell, these tokens are really powerful and can change the tide of play.
The 16 cards of the base game are the following:
- Terrible Monster: This is the King of monsters! It deals 4 damage points, killing your opponent with one hit at the start of your turn, but you can`t play it by common means. It can be only played with the use and combinations of other cards.
- Cute Beast: This cutie deals 1 damage at the start of your turn, to your opponent. Killing them slowly but common, just look at it!
- Ghostly Guardians: These ghosts will protect you with their muscles by up to 2 damage that would be dealt to you, repelling them to your opponent!
- Mighty Magic: The first way to deal with these monsters. Use Mighty Magic to kill-discard- one Monster card in play.
- Summon: You choose a Monster card from your hand and put it into play. This is the main way of summoning -playing- the Terrible Monster or make your opponent think that you will play it and make them counter it!
- Reanimation: Rise from the dead! Bring a Monster card from the discard pile into your play area. Yes, you can bring a zombie Terrible Monster.
- Metamorphosis: It exchanges Terrible Monster with Cute Beast, regardless of their current position. Pretty powerful, either making your opponent’s Terrible M. a cutie beast or letting your going into rampage and transforming into the Terrible Monster.
- Needle Strike: Apart from monsters, this is the only other way to deal damage. Deals 2 damage points to your opponent.
- Leech: Lets you look at your opponent’s hand and discard one of their card. Take that!
- Deduction: You name a card. If it’s in your opponent’s hand, they must give it to you. Love it.
- Search: You draw 2 cards, then discard 2. You may play an additional card. So, this one essentially lets you manage your hand.
- Investigation: Draw 3 cards, then discard 2.
- Acceleration: Lets you play 2 additional cards this turn.
- Charge: You gain a Counter token, yay!
- Excavation: You take a card from the discard pile.
- Report: You take a card from the deck. Shuffle the deck.
The expansion of the game brings 4 new cards to add to your deck, along with 7 Hero Cards. These are a new type of card, letting you have a unique ability each game, according to your character. How do they work? Just deal a Hero card to each player, face up, at the setup of the game. Each one has a once per turn ability which you can use instead of playing one card. The cool part is that these abilities can`t be countered by the use of counter tokens!
Let’s take a look on each card.
- Carnivorous Plant: It eats a Monster at the start of your turn. Choose one and discard it. It may even it itself, such gluttony!
- Temple Guardian: If your opponent has less than 2 counter tokens, Temple Guardian deals one unreflect-able Meaning that the other Guardians can`t protect you from him, sorry.
- Concentration: Straightforward, draw 2 cards.
- Desperation: In the madness of battle you may end up with some regrettable actions… this one lets you sacrifice your Cute Beast, if you have it in play, to deal 3 damage points to your opponent. The choice is yours.
- Illusionist: Swap discard pile and deck. Then shuffle the deck. Pretty tricky and smart ability.
- Beast master: A monster of your choice in your play area deals one additional damage in your next turn. Can even make harmless monsters to attack you!
- Summoner: If you discard a Counter token, you can play Terrible Monster this turn. Just find the Terrible Monster.
- Adventurer: Pay 1 life point to put any one card from the deck into your hand. A cost that may be much worth it.
- Mage: Draw a card, then discard a card. Useful.
- Seer: That may irritate your opponent a little. Draw a random card from your opponent’s hand and put it into your hand. Then give them a card from your hand.
- Warrior: Pay 1 Counter token to deal 1 damage to your opponent. That hurts.
That’s everything you have to know about the game and how it plays!
The first thing I have to say is to give this game more than one play. I say that because it has an interesting learning curve and you may jump to conclusions faster than it should. I was excited to see how it could work, cause, gameplay wise, seemed so weird; a Summoner Vs Summoner type of game with only 16 cards. So, after each game I started to understand more and more about the game, one of the reasons that I was undefeated for about 10 games.
It’s an extremely tight bluffing and deduction game that makes you feel the tension of the 1vs1 battle and that every wrong move can be fatal. For me, the strongest and most interesting mechanic of the game is the Counter tokens. Seems like a small touch to the game but it is the whole game! Burn them too fast and your doom is coming sooner than you thought. That was a mistake that many did on their first plays and I make sure to punish them as they couldn`t react to any of my cards as they run out of them. Also, countering a counter is very important too, so everything is about the right timing or the right way to bluff.
Learning the cards is an essential aspect too, as you can narrow down every possible move or combo that your opponent may have up their sleeves. The cards are well designed, taking advantage of each element in the game in a way that every card feels powerful and useful. You can`t play just one game, that’s for sure, as it is quick and fast paced, so I would recommend a best of 3 match. It sure can feel repetitive but each opponent will give you a new challenge, making it almost a mind game.
Now, about the Expansion. After I played the basic game so many times, I was ready to bring in new stuff, always excited to do so. I`ll be honest, this expansion is a must if you like the game. As long as I put in these 4 cards, I would never put them out, as they don`t add to the complexity at all – to an already very easy game – and they put interesting new abilities and create new combos with the old ones. The Hero cards are cool too, as they are not mandatory to play but if you feel like having a unique ability to take advantage over your opponent at the right time they give a nice flavor and strategy. Even if you don`t get to use their ability, it’s there to give you an extra option and path for combos or even to victory.
As I played the game my initial rating went up in each play, even I am not a huge fun of 2 player games. So, another game that showed me that Japanese designs tend to be elegant and smart, with depth in such a small box.
The right mood to play the game
This is a light game but you mustn`t take it lightly, as you must use your brainpower to read and outsmart your opponent! Are you in the mood for a fast battle or a series of battles that are fast paced and will make you stretch your deduction muscles? Do you want a game that you can learn it to your friend in a minute and it’s easy to play? This is right up that alley.
- Fast paced, easy to learn & play
- If you like: Deduction, bluffing, tension
- Unique and beautiful aesthetics
- If you don`t like: Deduction, bluffing, tension
- Can feel repetitive
- May need some plays to figure out its playstyle
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