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dungeon!_cover[1]By Peter Ruth II

Remember when you were around 8 years old, wearing a blanket as a cape while chasing your friend with a sword made of Christmas wrapper tube or a whiffle ball bat, and wielding an aluminium trash can lid as a +3 Shield of Stench?  No? Well then my childhood was WAY better than yours, because I do. There’s nothing more fun than you and your friends beating the piss out one another with a whiffle ball bat. I mean, you wouldn’t think it would hurt so much, but damn, it  will teach you to defend yourself after the first forearm strike! That’s right, I was a 8 year old LARPer.

Another fond memory regarding fantasy gaming as a “yoot” was sitting around with my best friend’s brother playing games like Dark Tower and TSR’s “Dungeon!” board game. Lo and behold, Wizards brought it back in a value priced, accessible little romp through Dungeonland, complete with updated graphics and new beasties to get slaughtered by. Now, this update has newer graphics stolen right out of DDM, Heroscape, and other Wizards games, but I think that almost all of the improvements are really smart.

But you may not be familiar with Dungeon, so let me describe it for you. From a “depth” perspective, it’s maybe three steps above blowing bubbles with your daughter. It’s not the best game you’ve ever played, but watching your kid’s face light up when it carves the troll-sticles off a foul beast is awesome. I mean, any time you have to spend with your kids is awesome (unless you harbour secret resentment because you know that your best friend fathered them or something…) and if you can get a game that isn’t as truly, abysmally mind numbing as Candyland to play with them, count it as a win. It’s far more engaging than most kid’s games, and it’s actually a lot of fun if you accept that you’re going to die, a lot, and that there’s not much you can do about that. It’s like Dungeonquest, but much simpler, and with far less decisions that matter.

This is a kid’s game, no doubt about it, and it’s the kind of game where the most important decisions are made at the outset, when you choose which archetype you wish to enter the dungeon with. The weaker archetypes such as the Cleric and Rogue need only get 10,000 gold, which is maybe ten or twelve low-level treasures, while the beefier Warrior needs 20K and the Wizard needs 30K. As there’s 6 areas of the board, each with tougher monsters, the beefier guys head out to the higher levels while the weaker players head out to the lower levels, generally. Unless you’re playing with a lot of players, and since everyone normally moves the same distance on their turn, you’re not going to see a whole lot of crowding in one section. That said, the treasures on any given level are limited by the amount of cards available, so once a level is free of baddies, you’re out of luck if you stumble across one in a “named chamber” because he’s going to need killing and you get bupkus for doing it.

The whole game boils down to moving 5 spaces, encountering something, killing or being killed, and looting the corpse of the fallen creature if you were successful. Everything is resolved by the roll of a couple dice, and it’s all very, very simple to understand for adults and youths alike. There’s a bunch of rooms, each with one monster in it, and the object is to kill as many as you can manage to in order to get your loot bogey as fast as possible. It sounds really easy, but in many cases, you are dealing with a one-in-three chance of actually killing the bad guys. If you lose, you roll again on a table with various results that go from nothing at all to instant and excruciating death, resulting in the dead player picking a new character and starting from scratch.
Now that you know, or were reminded, what the game is about, let’s move on to what you get for your twenty dollar “investment in your kid’s future nerd lifestyle”. You get the board, which has been reworked from the ground up, and has a player reference printed right on the face. Then, you get eight of the most ill-conceived pawns in the history of pawns, which I’ll get into later. Then, you get what can only be truly described as a metric ton of cards. There are three miniature packs of them, and there has to be a hundred or more of the little bastards in there. Many have very similar backs, which makes it hard to separate at a glance, especially so if you’re colour blind, but the text is the saviour since it’s clear and in large print for us old codgers who may have decimated our eyesight due to miniature painting. Then, finally, you get a bunch of counters which will absolutely require bagging, all of which look great. All things considered, it’s a good deal at twenty smackerels.

Getting back to improvements, let’s first talk about what’s NOT an improvement, because there are two that made the game really a pain in the ass for me. The first is easily correctable with a drop of PVA glue: the pawns. These standies are of the kind that have intersecting grooves so the piece stands on a plus sign of cardboard. Well, the fit is really loose and the moment you pick the standie up, the second section falls out. The first time I played, I wanted to punch someone. It was infuriating. About halfway through I fired a dot of PVA glue into the loins of the things and within 15 minutes it was sorted out. When my Bones Kickstarter stuff comes in around May, I’m absolutely canning them and replacing them with 50 cent miniatures. It’s almost worth buying some cheap, clearance 15mm minis because the base size is perfect for the spaces on the board.
My only other bitch is the is the size of the player spaces, which are clearly too small for the standie to fit in. It’s not a big deal at all, and if I had some 15MM miniatures sitting around this would’ve been a non-issue, but I don’t, so it was a little bit of a head-scratcher. The good news here is that with the standies being the plus sign type, the intersection is pretty much perfect as a bomb sight to identify a player’s precise position. One last thing I’d like to mention is that the cards are a little bit on the thin side. These are not linen-coated ninja cards, they’re glossy card stock. I have no problems with this, especially for the $16$ I paid for it. I’m not a “sleever”, but if you are a person who thinks that the world will burst into flames if you don’t sleeve every card you own, it wouldn’t be a bad deal to do so here. This is the first game I’ve played in a long time that really could benefit from it.

That said, everything else is brilliant, so onto the improvements from the original. No longer do you put the monster and treasure cards in the room, now you put a little number counter and then you place the cards under the edge of the board on a corresponding space, Runebound style. Great implementation there, and it saved a lot of headaches that I remember from playing the old 1975 model. Next, you have little tokens that represent you losing turns by being beaten up on and rolling poorly on the result table. No more arguing about how many turns you lost!
There’s also been some other improvements to the game, but the single most welcome is that no more do you have the traps sitting you out for up to six turns as in the old version. Now, the most turns you have to sit out is two. Next, the rule book is cleaned up significantly, and so there’s no more “Master Rules” and “Normal Rules”, just one unified rule book now. The other major differences stem into layout, such as making it much easier to determine if a magic sword has a +1 or +2 bonus. In all, it’s a really nicely modernized version of one of the first (if not THE first) dungeon crawlers in history. Oh, and I guess I should mention that you can play with eight players now!

Now, I’ve called this game really simple, with few decisions, but maybe that’s not entirely fair. The Wizard gets to use Teleport, Fireball and Lightning spells, and there’s secret doors that you can opt to try to pass through. There’s other decisions, such as which levels to dive into, and whether to go into a room or not. There’s arifacts to use such as the ESP Medallion and the Crystal Ball, which can be used to stick rooms with enemies, potentially blocking opponents’ paths or at least allowing you to see what’s in a room. So, there are decisions. But, in the end, it’s about tossing dice and doing a fair bit of praying. It is what it is, it makes no excuses, and it’s just plain fun.

So, at the end of the day, it’s a hell of a great little game to play with your kids. If you want something like this, but for adults, buy Dungeonquest instead, because this is not going to be the game that makes you convert from Agricola or something. This is a very simple game with very simple rules for kids and young adults, like my 11 year old daughter who absolutely adores it. She even comments on the characters now, such as renaming the Ghoul to “The Mummy Dude” and giggling when I scream “It’s like hot lava coming out of me” when I use a Fireball spell.

25 years from now I’m going to still have this game, and her kids are going to play with the dirty old plonker they call Grandpa. And I’m still going to say stupid stuff, just like I do now, and the kids are going to giggle. And that’s what board games like this are really about, when you cut out all the egotistical elitist gamer rubbish. It’s about being an awesome dad, playing fun stuff with your kids, and getting some giggle time in. If this is not your objective, I kid you not, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

Why I Dig Dungeon!:

  • So simple, a caveman could do it (TM)
  • The art is really nice, with really decent production value
  • 20$ buys you a pizza night or an AWESOME NIGHT…your call
  • Playtime in an hour for four players keeps it from getting too stale

Why It Felt Like Hot Lava Was Coming Out:

  • The standies truly pissed me off, but it was easily remedied
  • The cards are on the thin side
  • The board spaces are too small

This may be the cheapest decent game ever, and it’s most certainly one of the best value titles ever. I mean, I’d almost rather be dragged naked, by the dick, across a bed of glass than play Munchkin or Fluxx ever again, and this game absolutely crushes those two from a fun factor perspective. It’s great for the kids, it’s great for the adults, provided they’re not looking down their nose at you for suggesting an Ameritrash classic. $20.00 MSRP, $13.99 at Coolstuff, it’s a no-brainer, especially if you have kids or an old school nerd who knows who Nord and Bert are.

4.125/5 Stars

Check out Dungeon! here at the Wizards Of the Coast page:


2 Responses

  1. David Megarry says:

    Thanks for the great review. I am glad you enjoy my game and that you understand the audience for which I created it.


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