Meeples and Monsters – Wood You Like to Play?
Ever since the (possibly apocryphal) story of wooden totems being declared “My-people”, and then “Meeples”, the term has entered the parlance of hobby board gaming. There are now well over a dozen games with “meeple” directly in the name. None I’ve seen lean so far into the quiddity of these little wooden characters quite like Meeples and Monsters.
Meeples and Monsters was designed by Ole Steiness and published by AEG. According to the box, a session takes 45-60 minutes (we disagree). It’s best for players ten and up.
Meeples and Monsters has a convoluted setup process including building the deck (Building the deck is its own 10+ step process), laying out the various decks and tile stacks, and sorting the nine different colors of meeples. Give each player a tavern and matching bag with their starting meeples inside (seven white and three gray). Each player puts a matching scoring token on the scoring board. Lay out tiles face up in the “For Rent” sections of each district. Each player draws two quest cards and puts four meeples from their bag into their tavern. The player with the most Corruption (grey meeples) gets the first player token. It’s time to play!
How to Play
Mechanically, Meeples and Monsters is a bag building, non-blocking worker placement game. Each player places their available meeples, resolves their turn, cleans up their meeples, and play moves to the next player. Each turn has three phases: Development, Main, and Draw.
In the Development Phase, players may place white “peasant” meeples to build new locations or they may upgrade one type of colored meeples.
When building, players select a building tile from the face-up options, or take a building off the top of the building deck. The player receives the bonus printed on the board when placing on an empty (For Rent) location.
When upgrading a colored meeple, players pay the cost in victory points and allocate a meeple of that color to the upgrade icons. They also put an upgrade card on their tavern board in the correct place. Players can only upgrade one meeple color per turn.
After this, players put the meeples they used in the lodging section of their board.
In the Main Phase, players may assign meeples to activate locations. This allows the player to perform the action on that location. Each location requires quantities of specific colored meeples to complete the action.
Players may also place any number of meeples on monster(s) anywhere on the board to battle. Monsters have a power in the upper left of their card that players must exceed with meeple power.
Each meeple class has a power on the player’s tavern board. Defeated monsters and completed quests may add bonuses to this power. Players cannot attack a monster knowing they will lose.
If a district ever has two or more monsters in it, the district is considered to be overrun. If a player activates a location in an overrun district, they receive extra peasants, unless the player also attacks a monster in that district. Peasants are good in the very early game but quickly clog up players’ bags later on.
Players need Victory Points to win, but also to use as currency in the game. Players can get Victory Points by defeating monsters and by completing quests. Quests may provide an instant reward, an ongoing reward, or end game points. End game quests aren’t complete until final scoring, Unfinished quests are worth negative points at game end.
Once a player has finished their main phase, refresh the monsters from the top of the monster deck. Put each monster in its appropriate district on the board (unless that district already has three monsters). There must always be six monsters on the board.
If a player draws one of the first two “Dark Council Arrives” cards, everyone adds an additional corruption meeple to their bags. For the rest of the game, everyone draws one additional meeple during the draw phase. Keep drawing until there are six monsters on the board.
The active player draws meeples from their bag (four, five, or six). If the player empties their bag they fill it again with the meeples in the lodging area.
Activate any “Draw Phase” quest abilities.
Finally, refresh the face-up location tiles next to the board to four if the player built any.
Drawing the third “Dark Council” card triggers the end game. Play continues until it is the first player’s turn, and then each player gets two more turns. In this last part of the game, players may attack the Dark Overlord or Henchman enemies on the victory point tracker. Each player may only attack each Dark Overlord once.
After two final rounds the game is over. Tally up victory points from all sources. The player with the most points wins!
Playing Meeples and Monsters makes me feel like I’m reading a pulp paperback. The mechanics aren’t particularly imaginative or inventive, but everything is fun and rewarding. Meeples and Monsters leans heavily into the wooden meeple theme, featuring monsters like Termites and Woodpeckers. Later monsters feature Plywood Golems and Gelatinous Cubes, which are literally blocks of wood. Beware the final Overlords, featuring the likes of Sapsuckula and, of course, Saw-ron.
The humor doesn’t stop with the monsters, of course. Perhaps my favorite piece of art from this game is that of the cleric, who is featured holding a bottle of wood glue.
Meeples and Monsters is a fantastic entry-level worker placement game. Since each player places all of their workers and cleans them up before the next player’s turn, there’s never any blocking of locations, a key next-level strategic mechanic for more advanced worker placement gamers.
I generally don’t care for “proximity solo” style games, where each player is playing their own game with minimal player interaction, but it is fun to watch other players open up new opportunities by killing monsters or building locations. It’s still not my favorite way to play, but it’s tolerable here.
One thing that is intolerable, though, is the length of the game. In your first few plays, you’ll be focused on building up your meeple army. Unfortunately, this means the game can easily take three-to-four times the length listed on the box. Everything is super fun, but there’s just a lot of it.
It’s important to remember the monster deck is your game timer. If players aren’t killing monsters, the game doesn’t proceed. It would be better to burn monster cards every round, or if your player group is obsessively growing their meeple army’s power, simply removing cards in each level from the monster deck to shorten the game length.
This is primarily an issue to be aware of, not a distinct negative to the game. As you learn your group’s play style, you’ll know how to push them or to modify the game to keep it from running unnecessarily long.
The campy but amusing art, the simple straightforward gameplay, and, of course, the puns and references have me chuckling whenever I play. I feel like I notice a few more funny things every time I get this game to the table.
For an enjoyable romp through a wooden figure filled fantasy landscape, I can’t think of a better title than Meeples and Monsters. Just make sure that pulp is coming from the style, not from your meeples!
Find Meeples and Monsters on Amazon or at your friendly local game store!
AEG provided The Family Gamers with a promotional copy of Meeples and Monsters for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Meeples and Monsters - Wood You Like to Play?
Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 14+ (we say 10+)
Playtime: 45-60 minutes