Game Review: Tricky Tile Placement with “Overboss”

overboss board game - the boxGamers love their dungeons to explore, their fantasy worlds that include monsters and dangerous terrain both. Sprinkle in some occult and a dash of Lord of the Rings and you’ve got an ecosystem that can be the basis of a wide variety of games. While many are focused on what I call reveal, explore and battle games (like the granddaddy of ’em all, Dungeons & Dragons) the terrain itself offers additional possibilities, including tile placement. And that’s exactly what Overboss from Brotherwise Games is all about: Trying to optimize a fantasy world map to gain the most points possible. Designed for 2-5 players, it’s easy to play and family-friendly once you get the basics figured out. There’s also a solo variant, which is what I played for this review…

There are nine different types of terrain in Overboss, each with a matching monster, plus dungeons, minibosses, magic portals, and game bosses. The basic gameplay is identical whether multi-player or solo: You pick a randomly chosen terrain tile & monster token from a marketplace, then place it on your player board such that it combines with the other terrain tiles (or monsters!) already on the board to maximize points. In multiplayer people take turns pulling from the market, while in solo you pick, then everything slides over and the rightmost tile and token pair vanish. That’ll make more sense in a minute, no worries!

There’s also a deck of terrain cards you can use to randomly pick five for a game – plus the dungeon tiles that are always present – and that’s just what I did, ending up with Summoning Circles, Forests, Desert, Camps, Volcanos, and, on the lower right, Dungeons:

overboss game review - terrain tiles

Each tile has a unique symbol in the lower left that identifies its terrain type, and a handy reminder of how it produces points on the lower right. Starting with the easiest to understand, Forests (center of the top row) accumulate: 1 forest is worth 1 point, 2 anywhere on your player board are worth 3, 3 are worth 6, and so on. Desert (top right) is similar, but they have to be orthogonally adjacent (e.g., above, below, left, right). Create a big desert spread of four tiles and that’s worth a whopping 12 points. Camps (lower left) are counted like forests, except notice that the above tile has a yellow flag on the top right: Camps only count if they’re unique flag colors, so you’ll want to avoid duplicates. Dungeons (lower right) are worth 1 point plus 1 additional point for each unique and different type of terrain immediately adjacent (if I was scoring the above, that dungeon would be worth 3 points because it’s worth 1 plus 1 point each for the volcano and desert adjacent).

More complex terrain tiles are the Summoning Circle, which has a measly 1 point value but lets you pull in monster tokens on adjacent tiles, and the Volcano, which is worth 4 points but destroys any monster or miniboss on immediately adjacent tiles.

HOW TO PLAY OVERBOSS SOLO

Let’s just jump into the game and you’ll quickly see how it all works together. Here are all my selected terrain tiles, matching monster tokens and everything else I need for a game of Overboss:

overboss game review - components picked for new solo game

In the center you can see the terrain cards I randomly chose to create this solo game, then the pile of 12 tiles for each terrain (well, there are only 8 Dungeon tiles), the 10 matching monster tokens for each terrain, and the unique crystal matching each terrain too. Then there are three additional tokens that complete the setup:

overboss game review - portal miniboss crystal tokens

On the left are those crystals – this one matches camps and at the end of the game are worth 1 point per camp added – minibosses – each worth 2 points – and magic portals. Portals, when played, let you move a single token or swap two tokens on the board. Very powerful!

All the small tokens are tossed into the token bag and enthusiastically mixed up, then all the terrain tiles are placed face down and mixed up as much as possible. I divide them into piles, riffle them together, then dump them all into the box lid and mix further: you really want them mixed up well! Pull out a player board and it’s time to play!

overboss game review - ready to start playing player board

A careful examination of the player board reveals that some squares have water adjacent and others have rocks (mountains) adjacent along the edge. On the lower right of the board is your lair, where portals and crystals are placed, along with monster tokens that cannot be otherwise played on your board. Sharp games will have noticed the addition of Kazanna, a Boss. A bit less interesting in solo play, there are 10 different bosses in the game from which you randomly choose one to be your secret scoring bonus card. Each also has a power that can help you during play. In this instance, Kazanna’s play power is “Discard and then restock all terrain tiles in the market” and final score bonus is “Score +3 for each separate group of exactly 3 tiles of the same terrain type.” The latter will prove important for scoring at the end of my solo game.

The market is on the left: Four randomly chosen terrain tiles and four corresponding randomly chosen tokens. Top to bottom it’s a Summoning Circle with a miniboss, a Desert tile with a forest monster (note the tiny icon on the token), another Summoning Circle with a Desert monster token, and a Volcano with another Desert monster token. In this game, I’m intrigued by the point accumulation value of Desert tiles, so I’m going to work on having as many of those on my map as possible.

Important to realize is that when you pick a terrain tile, you get the corresponding monster token, which must be placed on that tile. Match the two up and it’s worth an extra point at the end scoring. Portals and crystals are special and are placed in your lair instead, and the token paired with a Dungeon tile always goes elsewhere: no monsters can hang out at the entrance to the Dungeon.

You can see that more clearly with this first tile chosen and placed:

overboss game review - first tile placed

You can see that I have a Forest monster token on top of my Desert. So it goes. On the left, since I’m playing solo, the lowest terrain tile and monster token pair are removed, everything slides down and two new terrain/token pairs are added to the market. I’m in luck too: One of them is another Desert tile, but I don’t necessarily have to grab it immediately because it will stay in the market for at least one more turn.

Two more rounds into the game, here’s how things are looking:

overboss game review - three tiles placed

What happened to the monster token on the right-hand Desert? It was blown away by the Volcano! At this point, I have six points too: 2 points for the two tile Desert and 4 points for the Volcano. Neither monster token matches its terrain, unfortunately, but that can change as I proceed.

Much further into the game, I’m poised to pick up my very last terrain tile and monster token:

overboss game review - all but one tile

There are a couple of things to keep in mind before I pick up the final tile: Kazanna offers a bonus for me having exactly 3 of a specific terrain in my final board and I’ve already attained that with both Volcanos and Dungeons, and the empty space is adjacent to my sprawling 4-tile Desert and there’s another Desert tile in the market. A Volcano would be worth 4 points, but it would break my 3-tile set of Volcanos so it would cost me 3 points bonus, so that’s not good at all. My choice? Yes, that final Desert, with its associated miniboss.

HOW TO SCORE AN OVERBOSS PLAYER BOARD

Once placed, I’m done, except notice I have an unused Portal in my lair. I can use it to move one monster token (onto its matching terrain or to create a “band” of matching adjacent tokens) or to swap two. I’ll take advantage of that and so here’s my final player board map:

overboss game review - final board ready to score

There are weirdly few monster tokens on the board because those Volcanos keep blowing them off the board. Probably I should have used the Summoning Circles to pull new ones on, but I didn’t. Still, if you look closely at the scorepad, you can see that I got 1 point for my solo camp, no points for summoning circles, 12 points for volcanos, a whopping 20 points for my huge desert, and 0 points for forests, of which I have none. I also have three dungeons adding up to another 10 points. In total, my map’s worth 43 points. Not bad at all.

There are two minibosses on the board for 4 points, three terrain tiles with matching monster tokens for 3 points, and two volcano monster tokens adjacent for 2 more points. No crystals came into play, though. 9 points for tokens, 6 bonus points for my Kazanna power gives me a total of 58 points. Entirely respectable!

FINAL THOUGHTS ON OVERBOSS

I actually enjoy these puzzly, cerebral games, particularly in solo mode where I can move quickly or take all the time I want thinking through possible combinations and tactics for producing the most points. Solo mode also has a “campaign” mode with lots of challenges which I haven’t tried yet: Figuring out the good and bad of each terrain type can be challenging enough; it wasn’t until after I finished that I understood how Summoning Circles and Volcanos pair well together.

Props to Brotherwise Games for a super well-designed box too. I really appreciate when the company thinks about storage too:

overboss game review - box design storage brotherwise games

Overboss is definitely a keeper. This is one of the more fun games I’ve cracked open in a while, and I’m determined to break 70 points in solo mode, even if it takes a few dozen attempts to really understand the interplay of different types of terrain. In multiplayer mode once you and your gamer group or family master the basics, there are also a variety of interesting Command cards that add additional variations to the game.

Overboss, from Brotherwise Games. $44.95 at Amazon.com with free shipping.

Disclosure: Brotherwise Games sent me a copy of Overboss for the purposes of this review. Thanks, guys!

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