In 2016, Thunderworks Games brought us Roll Player, a board game based on the time-honored tradition of D&D character creation. Keith Matejka’s production was met with positive reviews, highlighting its ease of learning and subtle strategy.
For those unfamiliar with Roll Player, this is a dice drawing (and rolling) game where you attempt to make the perfect fantasy RPG character. The game is not an RPG where you use that character – the game is the act of creation itself.
Why a game about making a character, instead of playing it?
If you’ve ever enjoyed tabletop RPGs regularly, you probably have binders full of characters, used or not. Many believe that making characters is half the fun, as you see where your imagination, dice, or knowledge of the rules can take you.
I won’t go too into depth about the original game, as you can read excellent reviews elsewhere. Instead, I want to talk about Thunderworks and Matejka’s expansion to Roll Player: Monsters & Minions.
The main change in Monsters & Minions is that the game no longer ends once everyone’s characters are complete. Whereas before the original was solely about making the character, now you use your creations to defeat a villainous creature.
Each game begins with a randomly chosen Monster which you will eventually face. During the end game, you use your characters to fight it; the more damage you contribute to its defeat, the more Reputation you earn.
There’s more to the expansion than merely fighting a monster, although this is the primary difference. The path toward the end has additional requirements, however, that affect this final confrontation and alter some focus of the game.
The four phases of the game remain the same: Roll, Dice, Market, and Cleanup. The Market Phase, however, offers an additional option: instead of buying a card or earning gold, you can go on a Hunt.
The Hunt option allows you to battle a Minion, which (if successful) provides Experience (XP) cubes, Gold, or Honor tokens (and maybe Injury tokens as well). Rolling exceptionally well may give information on the Monster’s Location, Obstacle, or Attack, knowledge that will come in handy during the final fight.
Battles use Combat Dice, a separate pool based on what you’re facing and any mercenaries you’ve hired. Roll your Combat Dice, add the numbers (plus any bonuses from equipment), and then compare your total to the Minion card to see what you receive.
You start with one die, but specific Minions grant more dice based on your sheet (e.g., specific stat rows filled, specific die colors, etc.); fighting a Kobold, for example, grants you additional dice for each die in your DEX row. Also, you can spend XP or Gold for more dice representing hired arms, which provide you with one die per mercenary gained.
The final confrontation with the central Monster uses a similar approach with the Combat Dice. Players create a pool (as above), but this time other factors can affect the amount.
Players that have killed Minions and learned information about the Monster become eligible for a bonus. Maybe the character with the least Weapons gains a die as they easily squeeze through an abandoned mine, or a dart trap provides everybody one die for every red STR die they have.
The roll itself may also be affected by monster abilities, and players can spend XP to reroll dice. Once the dice are totaled, Honor tokens add to the result while Injury tokens subtract from it.
Each player compares their total to the Monster card, to beat its health; if you fail, you get nothing for your efforts. Success, however, will provide Reputation depending on how well you did (with higher contributions providing a more significant bonus).
After the Monster is defeated (or not), the End Phase continues as usual, with players totaling up their Reputation scores to see who made the best character.
Monsters & Minions does provide a few additions to the main game beyond the Hunt and the final battle. The game increases its maximum players to five and adds five Character Sheets (species), 12 Class options (two for each color), 12 Alignments, 12 Backstories, and 35 Market cards.
These new options are often more complicated than the base game, requiring a bit more thought; notably, the Alignments are far more difficult to win with and utilize. Some cards also focus on rules in the expansion (like XP or Combat Dice), meaning they’re useless if you don’t play with the full rules; the Classes and Market cards are notoriously skewed toward using the expansion.
Another change is the inclusion of Boost Dice, a new type of dice added into the die pool bag. These “colorless” dice don’t provide any bonus the other dice do, but their numbers range from three to eight making them valuable for acquiring high (or specific) stat numbers.
XP cubes are another addition that has multiple uses for character creation and battle. In addition to using them to hire mercenaries, you can spend XP to discard Injury tokens and even take Attribute Actions.
Does Monsters & Minions add worth and replayability to Roll Player? I’d have to say it does, but there are some downsides to the expansion.
If you didn’t like the randomness of Roll Player to start, then this expansion probably won’t change your mind. The same die rolls, card draws, etc. exist and players must often rely on a mix of luck and strategy to win.
Another problem is that Monsters & Minions adds a lot more tokens and complexity to the game. Whereas before you only worried about dice, money, and the occasional Charisma token, now you have Honor, Injury, XP, and Adventure tokens.
I know the first few times I tried the expansion I encountered far more of the “Oh, crap! I forgot I could do…” than the original game. These additions also add a touch more play time to the game, although it still runs smoothly once you have the rules down.
Also, your Monster options are limited to start (only six cards) and are further restricted by what classes people are playing. With only three Location, Obstacle, and Attack cards per monster, this means you may end up with duplicate encounters after a while.
Despite these concerns, I believe Monsters & Minions overall enhances Roll Player, providing new strategies for winning.
Do you focus on completing your character through the Market or do you spend time on the Hunt to prepare for the final battle? If you decide to Hunt, do you risk early attempts (when your sheet is less prepared) or do you wait until the end (and risk eligibility for Adventure bonuses)?
The final fight with the Monster provides an opportunity at some nice Reputation bonus and can change the game. Someone who focuses too much on creating the perfect sheet might miss out during the Monster fight, and vice versa.
I also appreciated the complexity of the new Character Sheets (species), Alignments, and Backstories. Many of these cards required unique strategies given their bonuses or arrangements; no more focusing on one approach, you may have to continually shift your actions throughout the game to find the right balance.
Another aspect that’s nice is the updated Player Aid card and the new Cost Summary cards. These additional aids help counter some of the complexities by showing you precisely what can be down and when.
I’d be neglectful if I didn’t mention how Monsters & Minions affects the solo play.
Although the game remains primarily the same, as you try to beat a scoring chart, there is one crucial difference. If you’re playing single player mode and you don’t defeat the Monster, you die – your score doesn’t matter as your character is dead and you’ve lost the game.
I’d like to give bonus points (XP cubes? Honor tokens?) for the Hero Tome, a pad of fillable character sheets. Although included to record your character’s details, I can see how players might use these sheets as a jump-off into a D&D-based fantasy RPG.
Although I maintain that Roll Player is best suited for a specific audience, given its Fantasy RPG-based theme and reliance on randomness, I believe Monsters & Minions is an excellent addition to the game. The added approach to Reputation and exciting new character options add further replayability and strategy.
The main downside is the added complexity can be confusing to start and the limitation on possible Monster encounters. Still, if Thunderworks considers new expansions (even if more Monsters, Minions, and Adventure cards), I think Roll Player has a bright future.
Roll Player: Monsters & Minions is currently available for order online. 1-5 players, 60-120 minutes, Ages 10+.
I give Monsters & Minions an honorable 4 experience cubes out of 5.