Monster Derby

Designed by Jeff Siadek, published 1994 by Gamesmiths
Review copyright 1995, 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan.
This page last updated July 26, 1997

Monster Derby is one of those rare games that creates laughter every time it's played. Not just most of the time, but every time. This is partly because the game is so different each time, partly because the rules are so easy as to become invisible, but mostly because the setting is just plain silly and fun.

The basic premise is simple: seven or more fantasy monsters are in a race across a long, narrow course with lots of different terrain. (You can use two, three or four boards placed end-to-end, depending on how long of a race you want.) Unlike most racing games, though, no one plays a single monster. Instead, at the beginning of the game, players secretly write down the order in which they think the monsters will finish. This list is not revealed until the end of the game, so much of the strategy comes from trying to keep your opponents guessing how you ranked the monsters, yet still trying to insure the "right" ones come in early. Players take turns moving monsters - no monster can be moved twice until all are moved once, and so on. So you may move your favorite monster on one turn, but your least favorite on another - to keep it from getting too far ahead!

The game comes in a bookcase sized box. To be honest, the cover art isn't very good, which may turn some foolish buyers away. The components are a little better, being of adequate quality. You get 30 different monsters, four color boards, four black-and-white boards, four dice, and lots of chits to keep track of hits, stun, enraged, webs, etc.

The rules are fairly well written - although the rulebook might seem thick to some folk, it uses a large font with a lot of white space for readability, and four pages are a reference section covering monster special abilities, attacks, and defenses. This is a nice touch: it makes it very easy to find a rule in the middle of a game. There are a few questions that aren't covered, but these are minor and can be decided with the roll of a die if it ever matters which way something happens.

Each turn a monster moves the roll of a d6, plus or minus its movement modifier. Monsters can only move forward - but the board uses a staggered square pattern (basically hexagons made with squares), so you can zig-zag a monster instead of moving it directly ahead to slow it down if you want. You must move the full movement, however: the only ways to hold back are zig-zagging and moving through adverse terrain. Of course, there are more entertaining ways to slow down a monster: combat and special abilities.

Each monster is rated for a special ability, basic speed modifier, hit points, attack dice, native terrain, a "wacky" attack and wacky defense. (The game includes a handy Master Monster Chart in case you want to use miniatures to race with instead of the cardboard counters supplied. The counters have all the necessary information on them, as well as a picture of the monster.)

Special abilities include the ability to fly, to charge, to attack behind or in front, to step over other monsters, etc. Some unique ones include the angel's power that heals any monster it attacks, the siren's ability to call a monster to itself, the zombie's immunity to physical attacks, the leprechaun's ability to switch the places of any two adjacent monsters, etc.

Wacky attacks and defenses occur when the "wacky" die comes up a one, two, or three. The spider casts a web, the cyclops does massive damage, the mammoth tramples, the pixie dodges, the hydra counterattacks, the zombie stuns, the medusa multi-stuns, the angel heals double points, etc. The wacky die is rolled each attack, but has no effect except to denote whether a wacky attack is triggered (roll of 1), a wacky defense is triggered (roll of 2), or both (roll of 3). This added element helps create the unpredictable nature of the game which makes it so enjoyable.

The race is over when the first four monsters cross the finish line. At that point, various points are awarded for these places, and each player figures his score based on those points and the places he assigned the monsters to finish. In a seven-monster race, the monster you hope to have finish first is given a 7, the second place monster a 6, and so on. The monster that actually crosses the finish line first is awarded 5 points as a multiplier. So if you predicted that monster would indeed come in first, you get 7 X 5 = 35 points. However, if you said that monster would come in third, you get 5 x 5 = 25 points, and so on.

One complaint on the internet about this game was that everyone tended to choose the strongest monsters, and beat up on the smaller ones, and most games became ties. We haven't had that happen in our games yet, but there's an easy fix for such a problem. Each monster has an attack die rating. Simply total the ratings for all the monsters in the race, and then say that the total attack dice of the monsters you choose to come in first through fourth place cannot exceed half that number. So if the attack dice of all seven monster totals 28, the first four you choose cannot total more than 14 attack dice. This ensures that every player will be rooting for at least one weaker monster.

All in all, this game is highly recommended for those who enjoy getting silly now and then.

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