I’m a huge fan of Dungeon Petz, largely because I love the theme of taking care of oddball critters and raising them to be happy, healthy pets. (And cleaning up poop is a scream.) But that game is a long, heavy slog that I just don’t have the chance to play very often anymore. So when I saw that Monster Baby Rescue carried a similar-ish theme with much lighter rules and shorter playtime, (but without the poop) I was intrigued. Could this game give me the same feeling of raising an oddball critter to health and happiness? Let’s find out.
How It Plays
Let me get this out of the way: The comparison to Dungeon Petz made in the introduction above applies to nothing more than the theme, and even then it’s a limited comparison. The games are very different beasts. Petz is worker placement that involves you in all aspects of breeding and selling temperamental critters. Monster Baby Rescue (hereafter MBR) is a set collection/tile drafting game that has you focused only on improving the general health of one monster.
In MBR, a magic portal opens in your neighborhood and suddenly baby monsters are running loose! But these monsters need help because they can’t take care of themselves. While the authorities figure out how to get them home, you adopt a monster and do your best to nurse it to fabulous health. (After having done this, won’t it be hard to let the little critter go home? The game doesn’t address the heartbreak that’s sure to ensue. You only get the hollow satisfaction of knowing it’s healthy, wherever it is.)
So how exactly do you nurse a monster? First, in order to do any nursing (that is, taking a tile to improve your monster), it must be your turn to take a tile. Turn order is determined by the time track board. It’s broken down into six locations and your movement along the track is determined by the cost of the tile you take on your turn. So if the tile you take costs three, you move ahead three locations on the track. (If someone is already in the location you move to, you simply occupy the space just ahead of them, within that location.) It is only your turn to take a tile when you are farthest behind on the time track. (Hint: Careful movement and tile selection can enable you to take multiple turns back to back.)
If it’s your turn, take a tile from those on display and pay the movement cost. If the tile has any effects, take them now. Some tiles improve your monster’s physical condition/comfort level, or outlook on life. Others are worth points at the end of the game. Others may help you achieve various goals.
After you apply the effect, see if you have met any of the goals on the displayed goal tiles. If you have, take the tile. That tile is now unavailable to any other players. All of the goal and scoring tiles are used in each game, but which side is placed face up is determined randomly at the beginning of the game. This means that the goals and end-game scoring bonuses are a little different game to game.
That ends your turn. The remaining tiles in the display are moved down to fill in the empty space. A new tile is drawn and is placed in the top spot on the board. This means that some of the tiles which were expensive on this turn may get a little cheaper for the next player.
Players keep taking turns according to their position on the time track, taking tiles, and applying their effects. Your monster will start to look better! The end game is triggered when the last tile in the deck is placed in the tile row. All players get one more turn, including the player who triggered the end game. Final turns are taken in the order shown on the timing track. There is no need to move or pay movement costs in this end phase.
After everyone has taken their last turn, scoring begins. (The time track and tile market boards flip over to become the scoring board and a scoring aid. Handy.) Points are awarded for: Hearts on collected tiles, completed goal tiles, completed want tiles (if playing with them — they are not used in the simplified game), lines of tiles built on your player board for providing playtime and comfy beds, and witch doctor (AKA, veterinarian) visits. Each of the four scoring tiles is also scored according to its rewards/penalties. The winner is the player with the most points. Now your little monster can go home happy and healthy and you can cry over the loss of your little friend. Well, at least until the next game.
Bringing Up Baby (Monster Edition)
Here’s the TLDR: Monster Baby Rescue presents itself as (largely) a children’s game. The theme is very kid-oriented, and the gameplay consists of basic, easy to learn Euro mechanisms that can act as a springboard to longer, heavier gameplay. But… I’m an adult cruising toward AARP status and I loved it. So either I’m very immature for my advanced age (distinctly possible), or there’s something more here than meets the eye. (Pssst… It’s the latter.)
The first attraction for me, as noted above, is the theme. I’m a sucker for cute and silly, and the idea of baby monsters popping into the world and needing care is a bit of both. The critters are so darn cute, it’s hard to resist the chance to transform these sad, dirty beings into smiling, glowing monsters. Also, as an animal lover, there’s something that reminds me of adopting my dogs from the SPCA and nursing them into happy, healthy pets. I suspect that anyone who shares these same tendencies will find the theme appealing, and it’s likely a slam dunk with kids.
But a great theme alone isn’t enough to make a great game. So what else is appealing? I love the fact that MBR is a quick, easy to learn game. That’s right in my wheelhouse these days. As I mentioned above, as much as I love Dungeon Petz, it’s just too long and complex for the time I have available now. MBR plays in about 30-ish minutes, perfect for me.
But for all that it’s a quick game, it’s not without strategy or interesting decisions to make. MBR is a game that offers many ways to score points, and lots of different strategies to pursue. It’s a game where almost every move you make is a positive one, so you’re choosing the “best” option available, not necessarily the “right” option. There’s nothing here that will put you out of the game if you make a less than perfect choice, but to win you’ll need to consistently make good choices. Some people hate this sort of game. They live to see other players punished, or to suss out the absolute perfect decision. Personally, I enjoy games where the frustration factor is low and take-that is almost non-existent.
The penalties here come from failing to meet a condition on one of the scoring tiles. Fail to meet it and you will lose some points, although the point loss can be made up in other ways if you’re careful. (And, in most cases, with so many tiles available and the success condition set fairly low, there’s really no excuse for not meeting the minimum condition unless you’re just not paying attention.) There’s nothing here that allows you to destroy another monster, or undo any of the work that another player has built. Remember, this is a family game, so positive play is a plus so that kids and non-gamers can remain competitive and engaged.
Turns move quickly because your only main decision on a turn is which tile to take from the market. Basically you’re asking yourself, “Which part of my critter do I want to upgrade next?” Or, “Am I paying enough attention to the peripheral scoring opportunities like doctor visits, goal tiles, beds, and playtime?” Since you’re only punished if you fail to meet certain conditions, most choices will earn you some points at the end of the game.
This decision is complicated a bit by the time track. When you pay for your tile, you move around the track. Sometimes you’ll want a tile so badly that you won’t care how much it costs or where you end up on the track. Other times, you’ll want to give this some extra consideration. If two tiles are equally good for you, where will each one put you on the track? Will one leave you behind everyone else, allowing you to take another turn? Or will another one propel you far ahead on the track, but give you enough hearts or other bonuses to make it worthwhile to miss a turn or two while other players catch up to you? These decisions aren’t complicated, but they do add a bit to the cognitive load, keeping MBR from being too simple.
The fact that every tile in the game can lead to points in some way or other means there are lots of strategies you can explore. You can choose to focus on grabbing goal tiles, gathering hearts, upgrading body parts, or maximizing whichever bonus scoring tiles are on the table. Of course, you can also go broad and try to grab a little of everything. You’ll have some say in which strategies you pursue, but sometimes your choices will be dictated by the tiles available. The good news is that even if you have to go off-script, you still won’t damage your chances because most things contribute to your point total in some way.
Because of the positive play and adorable theme, the game is great for kids and non-gamers. Bonus: It offers some simplified rules to get gaming novices up and running much quicker. However, even if you play by these rules, the game isn’t so simple that it’s brainless. All you remove are some of the scoring options, but the basic game remains the same. Once someone has mastered the simplified game, adding in the other things is a breeze.
MBR is also a good game for teaching basic Euro mechanisms to gaming newbies. Set collection, variable scoring and turn order, tile drafting, and end-game bonuses are things that appear regularly in heavier games but are introduced here in simplified ways. MBR is the very definition of a gateway game, designed to lead people gently into the hobby without overwhelming them with choices and rules.
Is there anything I don’t like about MBR? No. I adore it. But you may find that it’s too simple for you. While there are interesting decisions to make, this is not a heavy game. A group of gamers may find it cute once or twice but quickly move on. MBR shines best in the family setting.
As an experienced gamer, the time track doesn’t bother me, but it was the hardest thing to explain to non-gamers. I’m not certain if it’s the way it’s laid out, or that non-gamers are used to linear space-by-sapce movement, but the idea of moving ahead by whole sections rather than by individual spaces sort of threw them. Also, the idea that the player furthest behind takes the next turn was a difficult concept. This doesn’t ruin the game by any stretch, but be aware that teaching this to non-gamers might require some gentle handling.
Monster Baby Rescue is one of those games that’s just fun to play. It’s not complicated, deep, or overly thinky. It doesn’t have an agenda, or any deep meaning to impart. There’s no pretense of it being anything other than a light romp through monster-rearing silliness. It’s just a fun, family game that’s great for kids and non-gamers, but which is also fun for gamers who are happy to engage with a breezy, funny little game. Recommended for all but the most serious gamers, or those who have an aversion to fun.