Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Designed by Rens Willemsen and published by Twisted Stranger, Thirteen Monsters is a memory set collection game where you're flipping tiles to find a matching pair which you then use to build monsters (which each comprise three matching pairs: made up of a head, torso and feet - tho', as they are monsters, these terms are loosely defined).
At the start, all you can do on your turn is flip a couple of tiles and hope to find a matching pair. Once you have at least one pair, you begin to have other options available to you (notably, you can swap pairs with another player). When you complete a monster you are considered to be a Beast Master and this opens up several other powers - including the ability to turn over three tiles rather than two, and the power to 'reserve' a tile so that no other player can take it. Most significantly tho', completed monsters have the power to attack an opponent's monsters or unassembled body parts. Attacker and defender roll five dice and score with any number of identical dice they roll (so a roll of 2, 3, 4, 5, 5 would be worth 10; 2, 3, 4, 4, 4 would be worth 12). The more 'perfect' your monster is (head, torso and feet with matching icons), the more re-rolls you can make.
All of this makes for a light family game with scope for some strategy but with a high luck quotient. It's a step up from the Pelmanism games that children will already be familiar with: the size of the grid and the artwork on the tiles makes the pairs quite difficult to remember and spot. The game is fun when it gets going but it suffers from what can sometimes be a frustratingly slow start as a player might just stumble on a matching pair while another has to work through numerous turns of flipping before they even see a potential match in a starting grid of 78 tiles. You can also find that the extra abilities players get when they complete a monster gives them a runaway lead. Tho' Thirteen Monsters is notionally a 2–8 player game, the potential for a runaway lead makes it tough to play with just two. With higher player counts, the 'swap' ability means that players who lag behind can at least work together and hope to gang up on the leader. In our Board's Eye View plays, we've found that, for us, the game is at its best with 5 or 6 players.
With the new Armed to the Teeth expansion, Twisted Stranger have given a few twists to make Thirteen Monsters more of a strategy game. The components add cards that can be claimed and used as weapons, shields and armour, along with custom six-sided dice to forge the armaments (roll anvil icons) and to resolve attacks using the new cards (roll swords and shields). The use of these cards adds an extra layer of strategy that will certainly make Thirteen Monsters more appealing to experienced gamers. The expansion also introduces new powers, including more opportunities to turn over three tiles rather than two - which definitely speeds up the game. Armed to the Teeth brings in additional victory conditions and it makes more use of the elemental symbols on the monster tiles. There are five different symbols and the Armed to the Teeth rules shows that these function on a rock/paper/scissors-style pecking order. We'd have liked to have seen this further developed and maybe reflected in combat but currently in the rules it at least features in players' ability to steal sets from opponents.
Another very welcome tweak in the expansion is the suggestion of an optional alternative rule that starts each of the players off as a Beast Master with a completed monster. We'd recommend this variant even playing with just the core game as it gets Thirteen Monsters off to a swifter start and does much to mitigate the runaway lead issue.
If you already have Thirteen Monsters, then you'll certainly want to add Armed to the Teeth to your arsenal. If the game is entirely new to you, then the release on Kickstarter of the expansion could be an opportunity to acquire both it and the core game. If you have kids who play picking-up-doubles games then the Thirteen Monsters pairing could be a welcome step up in their transition to more tactical games. Click here to check out the Kickstarter campaign.