Terrible Monster is a two player only card game designed by Shun and originally published in Japan. Sweet Lemon Publishing has brought the game to the English market with fantastic new artwork by Isabel Bollmann. Played in 10 minutes with only 16 cards and 14 tokens, Terrible Monster is easy to learn and very portable for gaming on the go. Players are the leaders of rival swamp tribes vying for control of the Terrible Monster to defeat their opponent and reign supreme over the swamp.
How to Play Terrible Monster
Each player is dealt five cards, and the remaining 6 cards (or more with the Desperation expansion) form the shared deck. For the first player's first turn, they only play 1 card. All subsequent turns, players draw 1 card and play up to 2 cards. Cards are played into the discard pile, with the exception of monster cards which stay in front of the player who controls them. Spell cards have various actions such as drawing additional cards, retrieving cards from the discard, or dealing damage to opposing players. Players can nullify the effect of a spell card by spending one counter token. A counter can then itself be broken by spending two counter tokens to use the original card. Since players start with only two counter tokens, it is not wise to use them frivolously. The goal is to reduce your rival's life tokens to zero. First player to do this wins the game.
The challenge in this game comes when there are only three cards that do damage. Two of these are monsters, which only deal damage at the start of your future turns. Thus giving opponents opportunity to defend. One of these monsters, the Terrible Monster, can destroy an opponent in one hit, however, it cannot be played. It must be brought into play by other cards such as Summon or Reanimation. Then you have to maintain control of the monster until your next turn. It is completely possible for a player to get Summon and Terrible Monster in their starting hand. It may seem like they've won the game already, but there is plenty of creative ways to get the cards needed to discard or steal control of the Terrible Monster. This happened in my first game and I thought wow this game is too easy. When my opponent took Terrible Monster away from me, I was surprised. I realized there was more to this game and I probably revealed my hand too soon. As with any card game, there is some luck to drawing cards. However, with such a small deck it is usually fairly easy to determine what cards your opponent is holding and what is in the deck (something I love doing, deduction is always fun). As well there is a card that lets you look at the deck and take a card, so out of a dozen plays a loss only feels due to being unlucky once or twice.
Small Box, Big Fun
Small box games are wonderful and Terrible Monster is another good one I'm adding to my collection. They are inexpensive, which means I can buy more games! They are easy to transport, especially when your bags are packed for other activities. Whether you are going to work, a convention, camping, or travelling, it is easy to find a little bit of space to bring Terrible Monster along for some gaming. I highly recommend Terrible Monster to fans of Love Letter. Perhaps the most well known small box game, Love Letter has many similarities to Terrible Monster such as deducing opponent's hands and the draw cards, play cards structure. Love Letter is weakest with two players, which makes Terrible Monster a great option to fill that void. Terrible Monster has a larger hand size, which opens up more options on each turn and prevents the game from playing itself (which sometimes Love Letter does).
If you really enjoy the theme and mechanics of the game, the Desperation expansion is great for adding a little more depth to the game. It includes additional monster and spell cards, as well as adding the new hero gameplay feature. These hero cards give each player a unique ability, which they can use once per turn instead of playing a card. These help shake up the game and make things a little bit different each time you play. Currently the base game and expansion are bundled on NiceGameShop for 12 euros (approx. $14 USD) plus shipping. This makes Terrible Monster a great stocking stuffer or secret Santa gift.
As someone who likes to bring games everywhere so I can always be gaming, I really enjoyed Terrible Monster. Often I'm not looking for a full gaming session and only have two players, previously I would look to Love Letter or Lost Legacy for a quick 15 minute game fix. Now I can save those for days with more players and play a great micro game designed for two players. Terrible Monster's light, but clever strategy and fast gameplay make it a perfect fit for my needs, if they resonate with you it is a good game to pick up.