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.
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.
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.
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…?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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…