There’s something wonderful about choices. Mix and match, combine what you need, if it fits it sits… often how I choose my attire. What’s wonderful is when you get that sweet spot combination of oddities – those things that don’t match but somehow just work. It’s rare, and often you’ll look a fool, but when it works, it works! 13 Monsters by Twisted Stranger B.V. is a game of mixing and matching. You’ll collect monster parts, combine them, and create ungodly abominations with an odd charm to them that you’ll fall in love with. It’s for 2-8 players and takes roughly an hour to play!
13 Monsters is a combination of a few clear mechanics: memory, set collection, and dice rolling. It has a multitude of other little elements to tie everything together, but these are the ones that are the most prominent.
To start off, players shuffle every tile and create a 9×9 grid, with the 13 Monsters triple tile in the centre. Once the grid is populated, the game is ready to begin. (For a shorter game, players can start with a ready made monster by removing three matching pairs to form a monster.)
Before beginning, there are some terms and structures worth being aware of. Monsters are comprised of three pairs of matching sets, with any match being of the same layer (top, middle or bottom). As monsters are created, they are categorised into tiers. Grunts have no matching sets, abominations have two matching sets, and a Monster O.G. would be a fully matching monster. Initially all players begin on level one with no matching monster sets. Once a player has any matches, they get to level two, and a full monster gets you to level three.
Playing the Game
Starting with the most monstrous player, everyone takes turns to use the actions available to them. These options increase as time goes on, determined by how many monster parts you have. These actions have a sequence, and forgetting to use any abilities is player fault alone.
At level one, you can only search for monster parts. If you manage to find a pair, you can search again. It’s worth remembering that you must create a monster if you can. At level two, you’re able to also trade monster sets with other players should they agree, or you can use the ability “sacrifice” to swap a set on one monster with another. At level three, you can now utilise more abilities, including sacrifice, and attack to take monster sets from targeted monsters. The abilities available will be the most utilised initially, but only one can be used per turn. Permafrost enables you to prevent a tile from being searched, Prophet lets you flip three tiles instead of two on your search action, and Super Nova (only available to the 13th Monster) let’s you steal an opposing monster.
Going Super Nova can only be done once per game, and takes the 13th Monster out of play. However, it can still count towards an elemental master win condition but cannot be targeted by other players in an attack.
Combat takes place when a player with a complete monster, of any tier, chooses the attack option. They can attack any player with a monster set, whether it’s part of a complete monster or not. It’s worth noting that the winner of the attack steals a monster set from the monster defeated, whether they were attacking or defending.
Combat is done through dice rolls. Dependent on your monster’s elemental level, you’ll roll 3, 4, 5, or 6 times. Whether the monster is a Grunt or Monster O.G., the matching elemental symbols are what count when fighting. Your aim is to collect matching dice, placing them aside and using the remaining dice to get the same outcome. The max score attainable by any roll is 30, as there are 5 dice and 6 is the highest attainable outcome on any one die.
The attacking player rolls first, and then the defending player rolls. Whomever has the highest outcome, steals a set from the defeated monster. Should the defending monster set be part of an incomplete monster, they will use the same number of rolls as the attacker. Otherwise, their roll count is determined by the elemental level.
Winning The Game
13 Monsters has two game end conditions. The game can end when every tile has been claimed. If this is the case, all players take one final turn then calculate their score using their cumulative monsters’ health points. Dependent on their tier, they’ll earn 10, 20, 40 or 80hp to add to the players’ scores. Whoever has the highest total hit points, wins.
Alternatively, a player can claim instant victory by having four monsters with four completely matching elements. The monsters still need to be Monster O.G.s, and will need to have unique elements. The four elements can be any combination of the five available, with the 13th Monster’s unique element counting towards the win even if they went Super Nova!
How It Handles
When we first look at this game, we had our instant assumptions… and who can blame us?13 Monsters presents itself as pairs, followed by a matching puzzle, followed by a monster battling game. It’s a strange sequence of events that, under normal circumstances, would feel entirely separate. They’re not. 13 Monsters supplies the mechanical adhesion to embed these three things into a fluid, well sequenced and highly enjoyable experience.
So, before we get started, we have to get something off our chests. We hate pairs. It’s slow, boring, and often has a landslide moment of someone cleaning up. We hate pairs… but we thoroughly enjoyed it in 13 Monsters! It worked, and worked exceptionally well. Not on its own, of course… but coupling in everything else to break it up, along with some well thought out abilities, it works!
Being able to embed the pairs element into a turn, instead of having it as the central element, makes it part of a fluid turn. Your focus isn’t on the choice of tiles, but how you can utilise the monsters and their abilities to best pick tiles. Actions like Permafrost to freeze tiles from opposers, and Prophet to choose three tiles, are there specifically to enable you to find matching sets more easily.
There is the qualm of having an 81 tile grid to choose from initially, with no abilities… and it’s daunting initially. But that’s the whole experience. Should you want the shorter experience you can always s start with a monster. It’ll cut game time and open abilities up, but also combat!
Abomination, I Choose You!
Fighting isn’t an integral element to this monster battling game. Ironic right? Wrong. You’re wrong. Primarily because this isn’t a monster battling game, it’s a monster collecting game. Fighting is just one of the ways you can collect quicker!
Choosing to fight someone in this game isn’t something done lightly. Losing means losing a monster set, and therefore weakening your repertoire of monstrous nasties. It’s always worth while, but the randomness of a dice roll, coupled in with risky losses makes it a big decision. We’ve played without combat, and the game works, but there are clear moments where you feel you need to be using it. The pros outweigh the cons for me. Particularly if you’re in a spot where you’ve got monsters to burn!
It’s Alive… It’s ALIVE!!!
The monster tiles are all perfectly shaped to fit with one another physically. I guess if you stripped them down to outline alone you’d be looking a baker’s dozen of eggs, really. Only theme, element and stylings can differ one from another. But with that, the fact they all stack beautifully means those more obsessive won’t be tapping tiles to make them line up perfectly. They fit, and that’s what matters.
What’s interesting though is the stylings and actual production quality. First off, the gruesome aesthetics. Every monster looks unique and fits within their element. The fiery boys have lashings of heat and steam beat them, the water dwellers have fins, large dark eyes, gills… it sounds like common sense stuff, but you’d be surprised how many game theme faux pas there are out there. 13 Monsters clearly took pride in every aesthetic detail, and managed it excellently. So do I think the illustrations are attractive? No. Absolutely not. These creatures look like they writhe, wriggle and squelch – much like they should. Even those with a more cute aura to them still have things that shouldn’t be. It’s the purse definition of gorgeously monstrous. Hideous, but in all the right ways!
As for the actual quality of the components… It’s phenomenal. Above and beyond doesn’t begin to cover the quality of the components, here. Thick card with a laminate finish. Perfect for any piece that’s going to be picked up frequently and moved – which they are! There’s only one thing we all mentioned the game needed. More player aids. The box comes with several, each with a different language on it. Perfect for when you’re playing the game just before the Eurovision Song Contest, not so much around the kitchen table. What’s more is the lack of explanation of ability function. Sure there are places you can find out, but our first game was stop and start only so we could reference an ability. Once we had nailed it, it was fluid! But only after we knew what was what.
13 Monsters is a very enjoyable game that, at first game may seem like a hodgepodge of mechanics. It’s not. It manages to streamline what can feel like clunky elements together well. Initially, there’s a slowness to finding pairs, and we acknowledge that can be frustrating. Some of our group couldn’t handle the wait and sneak oriented around watching for matches. If you can’t hack it, start with a set or a whole monster! It’ll speed up your experience but also remove some of the experience. It’s no issue, really. Just a timing preference for us.
13 Monsters was a very enjoyable game with excellent production value. One that blew us away, in all honesty! If you’re looking for a memory game with a twist, a top notch set collector, or something entirely unique, 13 Monsters will definitely fit the bill! Keep an eye out for its Armed To The Teeth expansion, on Kickstarter soon!