This review of a game expansion focuses on solitaire play, and I assume that the reader is already familiar with the base game.
I wrote a very favorable review of Roll Player a while ago. Since I’ve played table-top role-playing games for a significant part of my life the theme resonates with me, and on top of that the game offers an interesting optimization puzzle. In fact, I liked the base game so much that I was worried about changing anything by adding the expansion Monsters & Minions.
The Background and My Bias
Quite a few people, both reviewers and people who are just generally opinionated, seem to think of the expansion as a necessity, and I’ve seen several recommendations along the lines of “get the expansion right away or you’ll not enjoy the game.” This made me apprehensive – in my opinion Roll Player doesn’t need to be fixed, and if people who dislike the base game like it after adding the expansion, chances are that people who like the base game might dislike it after adding the expansion.
In the end I took the leap and got Monsters & Minions off the shelf. After playing Roll Player both with and without the expansion once or twice every night for a week, I am relieved to say that it’s still the same game, the expansion integrates well with it, it’s still all about RPG character building and I’m puzzled by the rather common opinion that this expansion fixes or changes the game to such an extent that some people wouldn’t play Roll Player without it.
What’s in the Box?
Monsters & Minions is a very big expansion. You get more dice, more tokens, more markers, more cards and more character boards. The dice total with the expansion is 116! The market deck grows huge, there are five additional character boards, the amount of class cards is doubled, there are more alignment cards, more backstory cards, and more cardboard gold coins. With the expansion the game supports five players instead of just four. Most interestingly, the expansion adds three new kinds of cards: minion cards, monster cards and scrolls, and two new types of dice. Scrolls can be bought in the market and have an immediate effect. The total amount of cards is more than doubled when you add the expansion. The new dice are combat dice and boost dice. The former are ordinary six-sided dice that are used when fighting monsters and minions,. The latter are six-sided dice that range from three to eight instead of one to six. These are added to the dice-bag and are used just like the dice in the base game, except that they don’t help you towards fulfilling the backstory goals since they don’t count as colored dice.
Everything in the box is of the same high quality as in the base game. The card stock is the same and there’s no difference between the tone of the old and new card backs. At first I was worried about the boost dice since they look so different from the dice in the base game, but it turns out I can’t feel the difference when I reach into the bag and grab a bunch of dice to roll.
Most of the buzz about this expansion has concerned the addition of monsters and minions to fight, so we’ll start there. First of all, I want to point out that the addition of a fighting mechanism is just another way of earning points for your end score. The fight against the monster after the final round is not a big climactic showdown. The solo game is still about beating your previous score, and focusing too much on fighting is usually not efficient. With that out of the way, let’s have a look at how the fighting works.
You can choose to fight a minion once every turn instead of going to the market. The top card of the minion deck is face up, so you know what you’re up against. To fight you roll a number of dice and the higher you roll the better you do. You always roll at least one die, but sometimes more depending on the minion and your character. If you roll too low you get injured, if you roll better you get some experience points and if you roll really well you may get some gold and learn a little something about the monster you’ll face at the end of the game.
The main reason to fight minions is to prepare for the boss-fight after the last turn. The injury tokens you may get while fighting a minion each give you -1 to your roll against the monster. To balance this up, defeating some of the minions will give you an Honor token (+1 to your final roll against the monster). The experience points can be spent to re-roll dice in a fight. You can also spend five of them to take an attribute action. Most importantly, you can find out about the location of the monster, the obstacles surrounding it and how it will attack, since defeating a minion allows you to reveal one of the location, obstacle and attack cards. These cards are selected randomly during set-up and each card represents a condition that needs to be met to gain extra dice to roll during the monster-fight. Knowing these conditions in advance makes it possible for the player to adapt their strategy to maximize their chances against the monster.
When the last turn is over it’s time to fight the monster. The player gets one combat die plus additional dice if any of the conditions mentioned above are fulfilled. The better the roll, the more victory points are added to your final score. If you roll awfully bad you still survive. You just don’t get as many points.
The other new additions are scrolls and boost dice. The scrolls are market cards with an immediate effect rather than a permanent one like the other market cards. For example, they may give you some extra gold, change the value of some dice, or allow you to reveal the location of the monster.
The boost dice make the dice-drafting a little bit trickier. Since they can have a face value of as much as eight they make it easier to fulfill the attribute goals, but since they are colorless they can’t be used to fulfill the backstory goals. The boost dice are a fun addition.
A significant part of the expansion is “more of the same” – additional character boards, market cards, class cards and so on. This part of the expansion increases the variability of an already pretty varied game. Fun, of course, but not urgently needed. The difference between the new and old character boards is as small as between the old ones. It all comes down to artwork and okus or minus 1 or 2 to some attributes. Having different character boards is more about theme than gameplay, but theme is important so I’m not complaining. I enjoy being able to make a construct, a dark elf or a wrathborn (a sort of demon).
Finally, the expansion comes with a few rules-changes that affect solo play positively. Firstly, the marketplace now has four available cards instead of three. This is a definite improvement, since it means that going shopping is more exciting than before, and more often a viable option. Secondly, the final scoring has changed a bit. You now need 40+ points to be a True Hero, rather than 38+, and a higher accolade, Monster Slayer, is added at 44 points or above. This is also a welcome change, since it felt pretty easy to max the score in the base game. But you don’t need an expansion to set the bar higher for yourself.
A Summary of My Thoughts on Monsters & Minions
- I would not recommend anybody who’s unhappy with the base game to get the expansion. The game still feels like the same wonderful, geeky min-maxing puzzle. If you don’t enjoy the base game you should sell it and move on, not sink more money into it.
- If you haven’t played the game, buy the base game first and try it. Chances are you’ll be as happy with it as I am. If I weren’t into this reviewing thing I probably wouldn’t have bought the expansion.
- If you have the base game, try the expansion before you buy it if possible, unless you are a huge fan of the game and play it all the time – in that case the added variety will most likely be welcome.
- With the expansion added, the game experience is largely the same, but there are more choices to be made. The experience feels slightly deeper and the challenge often feels somewhat more strategical than before.
- The slightly anticlimactic game end – scoring rather than a clear win or loss –remains, but just like before the expansion the gameplay in itself is rewarding enough to make for a great gaming experience, and watching your character grow is satisfying.
- Gameplay becomes a tad fiddly with the expansion added. There’s more little bits and pieces to keep track of, a little bit more upkeep and maintenance, and set-up is more work.
- Fighting minions is not the least bit challenging in itself. The stakes are low, and it’s easy to judge whether it’s worth the risk and the effort. The challenging part is deciding whether to fight or to go to the market.
- The monsters and minions do not turn this game into a game of conflict. I like how the fights become part of your characters history and thus help you build a more developed character, but the fights in themselves offer no significant tactical challenge. It’s still a multiplayer solitaire eurogame with a strong and original theme that plays really well solo.
- On the whole, the expansion integrates well with the base game, expands it to twice its size, makes the playing experience more varied and increases the challenge by introducing more choices to make during the course of the game.
I am a big fan of the Roll Player base game, and that’s why I’ve decided, after thinking long and hard about it, to keep Monsters & Minions. The expansion doesn’t radically change the game, which is a positive for me. It adds variability and more choices which is welcome since I play the game often enough to be able to enjoy that. However, this is definitely not a must-have expansion, and in all honesty I might not have bought it if I’d had the chance to try before buying. As it is now, it’s already here, I’ve already spent the money, it’s integrated with the base game and the hassle of sorting it out, packing it up and selling it isn’t worth the effort. Monsters & Minions makes Roll Player a little bit more fun for sure, but it costs almost as much as the base game. I absolutely recommend trying it, but whether you should buy it or not I really don’t know.
Update September 2019: I ended up getting rid of this expansion. In this article I explain why.
Other People’s Opinions
Here’s a review of both the base game and the expansion. The reviewer, Adam Wickham, doesn’t agree with me about the expansion… well, we don’t agree at all, really. I love the base game and find the expansion a nice option, while Adam found the base game lacking and the expansion a must-have.
I hope you found this review useful. Thanks for reading.