“Some roads you shouldn’t go down. Maps used to say, ‘There be dragons here.’ Now they don’t. But that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there.” – Lorne Malvo, Fargo
Monsters have been used throughout history in literature, and while they are usually meant to evoke terror in the reader, they can instead serve as strong allegories or symbols. The monster can represent the unknown, it can be a symbol or representation of a force within and/or without the protagonist, and it can also be the personification of a force (be it chaos, evil, doom, vulnerability, and/or violence).
This is also true in games. The best games tell a story. It has been said that the four most powerful words in the English language are, “Once Upon A Time.” Each time we open the box and set up the game, we hope that the story will engage and entertain us.
And every great story needs a powerful antagonist. Often the other players serve as that antagonist. In a cooperative game, the game itself is that enemy. But within the story of the game, monsters often become entertaining foils, spurring the plot and deepening in the story.
Three of Calliope Games’ titles feature monsters. In each case, the monsters serve a different function. Take, for example, the Daikaiju in Tsuro of the Seas. These powerful monsters are chaotic forces of nature that move through the Mystic Seas, seeking to destroy each other AND the unwary Captain and his vessel. Because these sea monsters move at random (based on the roll of two 6-sided dice), the clever player must seek to mitigate his luck by positioning his ship away from these destructive leviathans. For those who crave more control over their world, an expansion set, Veterans of the Seas, was released. While this set adds additional perils (whirlpools, mystic portals, and tsunamis), it also adds cannons. These mighty weapons will allow the Captain to defend his ship from the awesome destructive power of the daikaiju. In Tsuro of the Seas the monsters are to be feared.
In Dicey Peaks, by Scott Almes, Yeti Mountain is infested by – you guessed it – Yetis. This is a push-your-luck game om which players scale the mountain and balance their movement with maintaining their oxygen supply (Yeti Mountain is tall and the oxygen gets thinner as you climb the mountain). On your turn you either climb or rest; the results of the dice rolls will determine the outcome. If the Yetis show up while you are trying to rest, they will wake you up, steal your goodies, and knock over your tents. Yetis, as everyone knows, are real jerks. When you choose to climb, Yetis won’t stop you, but they will menace the climbers behind you and chase them, allowing them to catch up to you. Again, Yetis (as was stated before) are real jerks. These monsters are not dangerous; they are like obnoxious neighbors or bad house guests and they just don’t seem to get that they are not wanted. In Dicey Peaks, the monsters are there to pester you.
In ShutterBug, by Mike Elliott, the monsters are scattered across the United States. It is 1932 and you are a freelance photographer are trying to get photos of the creatures so that you can sell them to the tabloids. These monsters are NOT a danger, they are the prize, the means to your goal. The photojournalist who finishes the game with the best portfolio, will be a world-renowned shutterbug. Over eight days, players crisscross the country, gathering tips and seeking out monsters. Fabulous creatures, like the majestic Skystallion, the fierce Werebeast, the mighty Thunderfang, and the adorable Nibblefoot have been spotted in various locales and you, armed only with your trusty camera, must track them down, take their pictures, and get the photos to your editor. The fate of your career hangs in the balance. These creatures are the heart of the quest. In ShutterBug, the monsters are there to make you famous.
Many games feature monsters and they will be used in different and varied ways. The monsters can be cute and cuddly… or dark and deadly. They can serve to advance the story or be roadblocks to the players, as antagonists, narrators, assistants and even the heroes. Each game designer imagines creatures to further the narrative of the game, to challenge the players, and to create an engaging and enjoyable experience that will entertain and enthrall.
Where be monsters? Wherever they need to be to make the game fun!