Jul 292012
 

Dungeonquest[1]By Chris Bowler

Ok, so for the second Unboxed review I thought I’d go a bit old school. This is Games Workshop’s Dungeonquest, I don’t have the Swedish original (which is still available btw and is called Drakborgen: Legenden (“Dragon Castle: The Legend”) and is produced by the Swedish game company Alga.) The story goes that a couple of Games Workshop employees discovered this game in Sweden and they loved it so much that they brought it back with them, word got around GW HQ and soon the bosses were begging for a licence to produce it in the U.K.

I bought my copy from a charity shop for about £1.50 and it was complete except dice, which I had, and a couple of tokens, which I replaced with coins. It also came with the extra characters expansion, but without the figures. The game is still around on eBay, but you’ll be looking at a price tag of around £30. The Catacombs expansion is also on there at the moment, but that is so rare you’d be lucky to pick it up for less than £50. Needless to say I’ve never played that expansion.

Overview

In Dungeonquest you are one of four adventures (or sixteen in my games) each venturing into the ruins of Dragonfire Castle, in search of treasure. The winner is the player who makes it out alive with the most treasure. However staying alive in a game with a 85% death rate is not an easy task.

For this reason I rarely get to play this game anymore. A lot of my friends are strategy geeks who hate the amount of pure luck in Dungeonquest, while my family hates losing. However I love the thrill of it, you never know in Dungeonquest when your number might be up. You can be literally loaded with treasure, mocking everyone else around the table with your wealth and then, “ooops!” you fall down a bottomless pit.

Game Play

You begin the game with one of four characters. Each has four statistics, Armour, Luck, Stamina and Agility. You also have a life point track, run out of life points and you die, simple.

On your turn you choose a direction you can move in and then choose a face down tile from the pile. Place the tile with the arrow facing the way you are moving. Each tile will have a different coloured arrow to indicate the room type, and each tile will have a different number of exits. In this way an entirely random set of rooms and passageways are built up by the players with no guarantee that any of them lead to the treasure chamber.

MSG08051806[1]Everybody moves in this way and resolves whatever room they have drawn, then the first player moves the sun counter on one space along the track. There are 24 spaces on the track, when the counter reaches the end of the track, anyone still inside the ruins is immediately killed and looses the game.

Each turn you move and place tiles and resolve the encounters, until either you die or you reach the centre of the board where the dragon is sleeping on his treasure hoard. This is the only way to score big treasures, although you can win the game with just 10 gold if no one else makes it out. When you reach the treasure chamber you draw two treasure tokens, followed by a Dragon Token. If you draw one of the seven sleeping dragons all is well, if you draw the awake dragon however, you immediately take up to 12 life point of damage, as determined by a dice roll. If you don’t wake the dragon you can stay and take more treasure or leave, but beware, the sleeping dragon tokens are not put back in the pile making it more likely the dragon will wake and fry you alive. Not only that but time is ticking away. Even worse, if other players join you in the treasure chamber and they wake the dragon, you get fried too. All in all it can be best to just cut and run, but where is the fun in that…?

image%5B47%5D[1]Room Tiles

There are 9 types of tile. Rooms (White Arrow) Corridors (Yellow Arrow) Revolving (Blue Arrow) Cave In (Green Arrow) Portcullis (Purple Arrow) Chasm (Blue Arrow) Trap (Red Arrow) Room of Darkness (Orange Arrows) and Bottomless Pit (Blue Arrow).

Room Tiles are the most common and only vary by what exits they feature. Obviously the best rooms have four exits and no doors (Doors can be a pain to get through, you have to take a random door card, it can be locked or trapped and you can end up getting stuck for rounds at a time not going anywhere with time just ticking away)  When you draw a room tile you take a room card and resolve it by looking up the card in the rulebook. This is an unfortunate and clumsy way of doing things, I guess it saved money by using smaller cards and therefore a smaller box.

image%5B49%5D[1]Portcullis tiles work exactly like room tiles, except that a portcullis slams shut behind you and only the strongest characters can lift it. In  most cases it is better to find a new way out rather than waste time trying to lift the portcullis.

Corridors are the best tiles in the game, these count as a free move,  so you can keep drawing and placing corridor tiles until you draw one of the others types of tile. Very useful for getting in or out in a hurry. However there is a card “The Wizard” who causes all corridor tiles to rotate, often making them useless and blocking your escape route.

image50[1]In a Room of Darkness you don’t draw a card, but on your next turn you randomly leave via one of two or three exits. When you are trying to escape with your treasure haul a room of darkness can really mess things up for you.

Revolving rooms revolve only once via 180 degrees. Great for getting out, you don’t have to draw a card, but terrible on the way in, as they effectively block your escape route. As soon as you draw one of these tiles, start planning an alternate escape route.

Trap rooms make you draw a trap card, most of these are  unpleasant. If you play with magic rings, one player may have a ring that disarms a single trap, but other than that you are going to have to take a trap card, there’s no two ways about it.

The Chasm tiles, force you to exit only by the other exit on your side of the chasm. Not too bad if you wanted to go that way. However if you wanted to go the other way you can spend ages trying to get back on track.

The Cave in tile is probably more annoying than most. Firstly you have to take a room card, then on your next turn you have to roll under your agility or miss your turn. Sometimes the only way image51[1]of escape can be to double back!

Finally the Bottomless Pit tile, possibly my favourite (and least  favourite) tile in the game. Draw this tile from the deck and you die, immediately, no save, nothing, you’re simply out of the game. Obviously this is a terrible tile to draw on the way in, but it can be hilarious to watch the winning player suddenly plummet to his death, gripping onto his treasure for dear life as he tries to makes his escape.

Combat

Other than looking up cards in the rulebook, which is a pain, the worst thing about this game is the combat system. It is clunky to say the least. Essentially there are three options, mighty blow, leap aside and slash. The player and the player playing the monster each choose an option secretly and then reveals them, cross referencing the two results on a chart, with  either the hero or monster losing life points. The combat continues until one or the other is dead, or until the hero flees (which I don’t think I’ve ever seen happen.) Combat would be much simpler and faster if the two players simply rolled dice, subtracting the low result from the high result and applying the resulting number as damage to the loser of the roll off. There is a small amount of strategy in the card play, but it really is minimal and it slows the game down a lot.

Unboxed

If your copy comes with all the bits, you will find inside:

  • 6 Board Pieces
  • 115 Room Tiles
  • 68 Counters
  • 174 Cards
  • 4 Character Sheets
  • 4 Plastic Playing Pieces
  • 7 Plastic Tokens
  • 2 Dice
  • 1 Rulebook

The board fits together jigsaw like but it can be a little warped. The card quality is not up to modern day standard but is usable. A nice touch in each deck is the “Shuffle this deck card” which ensures the game remains as random as possible. The models that come with the game are standard one piece citadel models, similar to those supplied with games like Heroquest. Not as good as war-game  models but better than plain tokens. However the nicest part of the set are the tiles, most of which are unique and pretty good quality. Also the rulebook, which is pretty detailed, includes “A short History of Dungeonquest” which is kind of interesting. There is also a solo quest variant included, but I’ve never played it.

Dungeon Crawl

What we have here, in essence is a dungeon crawl, only instead of wondering “if” you’ll die, its more like wondering “when”. There are so many ways to die, lose a fight with a Mountain Troll, die, crushed in a cave in, die, fall down a bottomless pit, die, run out of daylight, die and for some that is why they hate this game, but for me it is what gives you such a tremendous sense of achievement when you live.

I remember when I was young playing Ian Livingstone’s Death Trap Dungeon on the Playstation, I never made it past the first trap. I hated that game and yet Dungeonquest can end up the same way, you could die on your first turn, but you could survive, despite the odds and that is so much more rewarding. Yes, I have seen games where players literally just go into their first couple of rooms and search until they find and a treasure and then they escape, often winning the game. However that is not what this game is about. It isn’t really about which player wins, it is more about beating the dungeon itself. A dungeon so riddled with luck (you even have a luck stat and a luck ring) and death, that no amount of actual skill will help you. If you beat it, which you will do only 10%-20% of the time, then you will nearly always do so with a tale of heroics and near death experiences.

Interestingly this month sees the release of another dungeon delving game that couldn’t be more opposite to Dungeonquest and that is Dungeon Twister 2. Dungeon Twister is a game that is nearly always compared to chess and luck is nearly obsolete in the game. This new version of the game looks to be the nicest (if the most expensive) version yet. It will apparently be backwards compatible with all the old expansions and it is a game I look forward to picking up sometime in the future.

Until next time, this has been Unboxed…

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Mar 212012
 

pic889446_md[1]By Chris Bowler

Every year, dozens of new board games release that are choc full of plastic. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, I can hardly claim to avoid the stuff as an avid mini gamer and dungeon crawl fan I own more plastic than some toy manufacturers but today I’m going ask the question, why?

Why is that board game publishers choose to produce plastic miniatures?

At first plastic may appear to be a cheap alternative to other available products. The price point per miniature drops to an extremely low figure when they are produced in volume. However, the initial outlay costs are not small, the cost of the moulds for plastics can be extremely high. Happily, plastic moulds last much longer than metal and plastic is lighter to ship than metal or wood.

However to make this manufacturing process viable the publisher either needs to raise the price of the game or to produce, and more importantly, sell, a vast quantity of the games. This is why companies like Hasbro can produce plastic heavy games at a very low price point, while a company like Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder has to charge significantly more.

However, many games that use plastic do not use high quality sculpts. This seems like an odd business decision. The sculpting fee is considerably smaller than the moulding process, it would seem that if you plan on producing a quality product you should invest at little more on the sculpts to ensure a quality end product. The truth of this can be seen in the success of Super Dungeon Explore.

However, it’s not just the sculpts that tend to be low quality, but the material itself. There are two kinds of plastics, the hard brittle kind, such as you may find in Risk and the soft rubbery kind such as that found in Descent.

Both such materials present problems. The hard plastic can easily break during shipping, which for companies like FFG, who will replace broken parts, could mean a large second outlay on replacement pieces and shipping costs. However hard plastic holds it’s shape and details better, which is why companies like Games Workshop have used it for years. The soft rubbery plastic neatly combats the shipping issue and the fact that the pieces will be handled by players who may not necessarily know how you should handle delicate miniatures!!! However, this method often results in warped miniatures with a substantial lack of detail.

When you consider that plastic in games increases the price point, not only through manufacturing costs but also through the additional weight and increased size of the box for shipping, it begs the question, why bother? What are the alternatives?

I’m glad you asked. The alternatives are many.

Metal – Metal components would combat the issue of quality, however not of weight or the manufacturing costs.

Resin – Resin production is still a developing process. Resin allows for much higher quality miniatures than plastic, with even less weight and a cheaper overall production process. However, they are also less durable and are susceptible to casting issues with air bubbles. Eventually however I believe resin will become the material of choice, although a more durable kind than is currently on the market.

Wood – Wood is often used in games. It creates a different atmosphere to plastic, giving a feeling of abstraction. With laser cutting complex shapes are not difficult to produce relatively cheaply. Although wood is not as cheap as plastic the initial outlay is lower making it a viable alternative for smaller print runs. However wood is heavier still than plastic.

Cardboard – Cardboard is an alternative that is very affordable. It offers a similar function to plastic miniatures without the associated risks. It also removes the end users need to build and/or paint anything.

But, none of this really answers the question, why do we use plastic?

We know that plastic makes our games more expensive, we know it’s never going to be as detailed as wargames miniatures, we know it will need assembling and painting, we know it breaks and bends and yet we still continue to use it… But why?

Because it looks impressive. Because it feels tactile.

Short of miniature gaming there is nothing quite as imposing as a table covered with 3D cardboard layouts with plastic miniatures  fighting it out for control. While cardboard or wood may allow you to see what is going on the table, it’s just not the same as a fully 3D gaming piece, painted lovingly to look like your favourite in game character.

For me, there is a line between board gaming and miniature gaming. I feel like I’ve reached a stage in my gaming career that I like my games to be complete, in the box, that I can open them and start playing, never having to pick up a paint brush (and paint substandard miniatures) For me, I’d really enjoy the option of purchasing my mini-heavy games “plastic free”, an option where you instead receive the game without miniatures for a moderate reduction. This way I can could substitute in minis from my own collection, which I currently do anyway, without having to pay for mini’s I wont use.

But what about you guys? What do you think of plastic heavy games? What is it that makes you like or dislike them? And what do you think the future of plastic is in gaming?

Until next week, have fun gaming

Chris

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Mar 082012
 

ThunderstoneHeartOfDoom[1]By Chris Bowler

It’s been almost a year since I started playing Thunderstone with my review of Dragonspire. Since then I’ve bought and played every expansion and promo with the sole exception of the 2nd promo (‘Cause it’s outta stock). Heart of Doom will close out the series and with a little creative re-jigging of my Dragonspire box, it will also fill my box with only enough room for a couple more promos.

When AEG very kindly sent me my copy of Heart of Doom I declared myself done with Thunderstone, my set complete, my box full… but then I saw the previews for Thunderstone Advance… But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s pull this back and look at Heart of Doom.

Theme

With seven Thunderstones in hand it is time for the heroes to go in search of the eighth and finale stone, the Heart of Doom itself. Not only is Doom a Thunderstone but he is a villain so powerful that nothing in this world can defeat him, our Heroes only hope is to use the stones gathered this far to banish him forever from this mortal realm.

Unboxed

What do you get in the box? Erm… Cards… Lots of them.

  • 84 Hero Cards (7 Different Heroes)
  • 104 Village Cards (13 Different types)
  • 6 Treasure Cards
  • 70 Monster Cards (7 Different Monster Types)
  • 3 Guardians
  • 3 Settings
  • 1 Thunderstone
  • Dividers and Randomisers

Rulebook

19492,1312368944,Obraz[1]Firstly I must applaud the selection of card types here. This set includes more monster groups than any of the previous small box expansions, along with 3 new guardians and 3 new settings offering more variety and ways to play, but it doesn’t do this at the cost of Hero and Village cards either. Overall HOD is the best value small box expansion to date.

A special note must be made about the rulebook. It’s been a learning process for AEG with rulebooks but this one finally does what all the others do not, it lists every card in the set, so now it’s very easy to tell if you are missing a card.

What’s New

Not much, it has to be said. Buying Heart of Doom will not introduce anything you haven’t seen before, which is unusual as each expansion has brought something new, either card types such as Traps, Treasures and Settings or new mechanics like Raid and Stalk.

DarkAnimator[1]What Heart of Doom does do is provide variety and a sense of closure in the form of a “Boss Fight”. While the game was advertised as including a “scenario” it is not the same as for example Rune Age. The included scenario is a combination of the Rite of Banishing setting and the Heart of Doom Guardian card, but it is essentially the same game, just a bit more climatic.

Essentially Doom is a 25 Health Guardian who ends the game if he moves into rank 1. In addition he has a global effect that destroys all monsters in the hands of players visiting the Dungeon and finally if you fail to defeat him you are eliminated from the game.

Finally each Thunderstone in your hand gives you a +6 attack bonus against him. The Rites of Banishing Setting shuffles upto 7 Thunderstones into the monster deck which can be claimed by defeating the monster in front of the stone.

Once Doom enters play the players will cease going to the Dungeon, instead, they will begin parsing their deck for their strongest heroes and items and preparing for the final battle. Instead of this feeling slow Doom’s presence instead generates an atmosphere of fear and that feeling that you are preparing for the biggest and baddest fight of your lives.

The Cards

So, other than Doom and the Rites of Banishing, what other treasures lie in wait inside the Heart of Doom?

Heroes

  • highlandcaptain[1]Bluefire – The Bluefire Cleric is weak and barely better than a militia but he does give you experience points just for going to the dungeon. At higher levels he allows you to level up Heroes while in the dungeon, making him a great utility hero, without being a good fighter.
  • Canon – The Canon starts out pretty standard for a Cleric, small attack, can destroy diseases. However, then she turns vengeful, allowing you to place diseases into other players discard piles or under monsters in the dungeon.
  • Dark – At low levels the Dark hero allows you to strip your deck of useless militia and villages in exchange for magic attack, at higher levels she powers up off the experience points of monsters in your hand. This makes her useful throughout the game, rather than simply just a way to get rid of unwanted militia.
  • Highland – This fighter/thief starts out as a brigand who can steal other players treasure cards, however when she levels up her charisma allows her to purchase heroes while in the dungeon and even have them join her in battle if she attains 3rd level.
  • Isri – The Isri is an Archer who specialises in throwing weapons. She can destroy weapons to gain bonus attack, at later levels she can destroy weapons in the village to gain a bonus equal to their weight.
  • Jondul – This cleric gets bonuses against undead, ignoring light penalties against them in rank 2 or higher.
  • Nyth – Another archer, bringing this sets total to 3, the Nith gets a bonus equal to it’s level for each rank of the target and additional light for having a bow equipped.

The Village

  • DredgingNet[1]Bag of Holding – A classic item from D&D this card allows you to destroy a weapon or item to draw 2 cards. This is a great way of getting rid of items that are no longer helpful.
  • Belzur’s Blessing – A cheap spell that allows you to draw 2 cards and everyone else draws 1, plus it gives you a light.
  • Chalice Mace – The +3 Attack chalice mace is another weapon that offers Victory points. In addition it counts as a weight 3 weapon for Clerics (instead of 6) and gives them a light bonus.
  • Dredging Net – Draw 3 cards, destroy one, discard one, keep one. The net is a good card to get early on as it allows you some additional card draw as well as allowing you to get rid of unwanted cards.
  • Grognard – The Grognard gives you 2 xp when purchased and he gives you a victory point at the end of the game. He also allows you to redirect traps affecting you to another player.
  • Jondul Bow – This bow gives a +4 bonus in rank 2 or higher and allows you to swap the positions of two monsters in the hall. Useful if you can’t beat the monsters in their current ranks.
  • Magma Hammer – This is an expensive but versatile weapon offering +1 Attack and +1 Magic Attack, meaning you should always be able to hit something. It also generates light.
  • Ritual of Cleansing – This spell causes 1 player to discard 5 cards from the top of their deck and destroy 2 of them. Like the Stalking Spell, it is destroyed when used on a player other than yourself.
  • Short Spear – The short spear makes militia useful, it costs 3 gives militia a +3 Attack and allows you to draw another card. Very powerful.
  • Soulfire – This spell can turn upto 5xp into Magic Attack. It also gives light. Useful in those games with high xp monsters but no hero upgrades left.
  • Swamp Provisions – A food item that gives strength bonuses or if destroyed it gives a +3 Attack bonus but all players get a disease.
  • Village Thief – One of my favourite cards in the set, this is a Hero but he counts as a Village card. He allows you to purchase Village Cards while in the dungeon. At 2nd level he allows you to steal a lower cost village card than the one you bought.
  • War Hero – Another way to make Militia useful. The War Hero gives a Hero or Mercenary +3 Attack but they are destroyed at the end of battle. In the village he allows you to draw a card.

Monsters

  • Rust-Basilisk[1]Abyssal Darkspwan – These monsters present a challenge by increasing the light penalties the closer they are to start of the Dungeon.
  • Basilisk -  These beasties are generally quite easy to defeat unless you happen to have the wrong cards at the wrong time. Some of them power up based on the gold revealed, while one gets +2 health for each card in your hand.
  • Dopplegangers – These are Anti-Villagers and Anti-Mercenaries. Each one is unique and has a global effect that is basically the opposite of the ability of the Mercenary or Villager they are impersonating.
  • Dryad – Each Dryad adds an additional rank to the dungeon. In addition some of these are very difficult to remove. I found them rather tedious to deal with, but they do each give a light to help combat the ever expanding dungeon hall.
  • Lizard Folk – These are all quite high health monsters, but they each display a weakness, such as militia or daggers gaining bonus attack.
  • Spiders – The spiders work on denying heroes the ability to attack or destroying them entirely.
  • Undead Spectral – This monster group are reasonably tough to beat, but in addition to middling to high health they require you to destroy  specific items, heroes or weapons in order to even attack.

Guardians

  • The Last Doomknight – This 15 Health beast gives off global –1 light –1 strength and +1 health to all other monsters.
  • Mournwater Witch – With 14 health this evil witch increases the cost of all Heroes in the village by 2 gold.

Settings

  • Last Refuge – The village holds 2 more stacks and 1 fewer Hero stacks. This allows for more variety and choice in your deck, but it will also lead to a dash for the “best heroes”
  • Mournwater Swamp – Traps and Treasures are triggered when they reach rank 1 rather than as they are revealed. This allows you to plan ahead for traps and gives a sense of reward for killing monsters to gain treasures.

Treasures

  • Gems – These allow you to purchase heroes or village cards or level up whilst in the dungeon. Not only are they very useful they are potentially very powerful.

Thoughts

Heart of Doom does what all Thunderstone expansions do well, it gives you more to play with. It doesn’t add complicated rules, or token or new types of cards, it just expands what is already there, which is great.

Although this is technically the end of a saga, the lack of real story up to this point means you probably wont feel like you’ve been playing a campaign that culminates in the defeat of the Heart of Doom. Of course, there is nothing stopping you setting up a campaign to allow players to win all 7 Thunderstones and then fight their way through to Doom in a final climatic battle, so it gives you options.

I like the new settings, especially the one which changes the way traps and treasures work, something that many fans have disliked and house ruled for years.

I like the continued synergies between the new cards and the basic cards. Many of the cards and monsters either give you ways to strip out the basic cards or to use them for great advantages, or in some cases both.

I like that the set begins to play with the basic concepts of the game, such as shopping while in the dungeon or recruiting and levelling heroes while battling for your life.

I also suspect that in more ways than one this expansion is paving the way for Thunderstone Advance. Not only does Heart of Doom represent the final expansion for Thunderstone as we know it, it also introduces some concepts that have been spoken about in previews for the upcoming next step, Thunderstone Advance

Thunderstone Advance

TS7Board-VillageDungeon3-1019x1024[1]

TA also aims to make the basic items more useful, in Heart of Doom Militia can be used to power many Hero and Village Cards, can be sacrificed to monsters or possibly even provide additional bonuses against them. The drive to make your starting hand more useful (like it is in Nightfall for example) has been a theme of the last two Thunderstone expansions and it sounds like it will be even more important in Thunderstone Advance.

TA will change rules that have have met with player disapproval, I suspect that the way Traps and Treasures work will be high on that list, especially given that Traps appeared in neither of the last two expansions and one of the settings in HOD specifically targeted them and changed the way they function.

So, despite my initial decision to skip any more Thunderstone expansion, I have to admit that Advance is looking to be an even better game, refined from 3 years of trial and error. So, while Thunderstone may be done and Doom may be vanquished, it will return and it’ll be better than ever. Don’t believe me? Then check out the new board!! Gorgeous!

Final Thoughts

So, is the final foray into the world of Thunderstone really worth your hard earned cash? Yes, definitely yes. This expansion is probably the best with the exception of Dragonspire. It’s not too complicated, but it still manages to be new and refreshing despite being the fifth expansion for the game. Go get it and see if you can banish Doom and advance to the next stage of your adventure.

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