There were a lot of releases and announcements from Wizards of the Coast to get excited about in 2012, such as D&D Next, the Lords of Waterdeep board game, and the first four Dungeon Command faction packs (covered here and here). But one game slipped through the 2012 coverage here at the rooftop headquarters of Black Gate… in large part because it lacks the bells, whistles, and minis from some of these other games. But, at the same time, that’s part of its charm.
Dungeon (Amazon, B&N) is a straight dungeon crawl game at a bargain basement price ($19.99!) compared to almost any other RPG-related board game that you’ll find in the market these days. This is because there are no miniatures, just little cards and cardboard tokens.
This streamlined approach to the game design also makes Dungeon a pretty quick game to sail through. There isn’t the sort of intrigue that drew our Black Gate overlord John O’Neill into Lords of Waterdeep, but the goal is something that most gamers can get behind: the one with the most treasure wins.
In Dungeon, you play an Adventurer – either a Fighter, Wizard, Thief, or Cleric – who is going room-by-room through a dungeon, exposing and fighting monsters so that you can obtain their treasure. The goal of the game is to reach a certain amount of treasure, with the amounts differing by class. The dungeon is split into levels, with more difficult monsters and better treasures in the upper levels, so the different classes will typically be in different sections of the dungeon. A wizard – who can attack monsters safely with spells from afar – can more easily move through the upper levels better than the thief … whose power, tragically, is to just find secret doors more easily.
As the adventurer moves through the dungeon, they enter rooms and draw a Monster Card to reveal the monster that’s in that room. They then fight the monster by rolling two D6s against a difficulty provided on the monster card, determined by the Adventurer’s class (or spell for wizards). If they beat their number, the monster dies and they get a Treasure Card for that level.
That’s honestly the extent of the game play.
My biggest problem with this game is that, though the rules offer a few variations of play (including some solo scenarios), there is no cooperative-play variation offered. The race for the most treasure just seems a bit uninspired to me and I could easily see a variant where the players are working together to gather a certain amount of treasure in a limited number of rounds. I like to treat my gaming groups as a team of adventurers united (to the degree possible) against a common foe, so the game theme of Dungeon – every adventurer for himself – isn’t really instilling the sort of gaming ethic that I’d like in the gamer-to-be in my household. Still, it’s a fun, quick game that, with a little work, is easy to set up.
That brings me to a second point of criticism: the game has a lot of pieces and cards, but provides no way to organize them. There are 6 levels and each level has Monster Cards and Treasure Cards … which means there are 12 distinct piles of cards needed to play, but the box has no compartments that can be used to keep them sorted. Without some intervention, the sorting of the cards takes a substantial amount of time at the beginning of set-up for any game.
I solved this problem by getting some little 2″ x 3″ baggies from the sewing aisle in Wal-Mart … the kind that sewers use for buttons or pins or whatever they use it for. These are the perfect size to keep the cards in, and there are plenty of bags left over to sort out the various tokens. I then still had plenty of baggies to sort out my RoboRally pieces and a few other games that needed some
Though the criticisms section above is rather lengthy, overall I give Dungeon high marks. It’s a great, quick dungeon crawl game that can be played with minimal fuss. Mix this with the price point and it creates an excellent game that can be used with non-gamers, casual gamers, or starting gamers, in contrast to the usually-much-more-elaborate dungeon crawl games that are available. If you just want to go, kill some stuff, and get some treasure, without worrying about a ton of elaborate rules, this is the game for you. If you’re looking for more than that – including some cool miniatures – then this isn’t the game for you.
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this game was provided by the manufacturer for review purposes.
Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has been a finalist in the Writers of the Future contest and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Science Fiction/Fantasy Competition. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Guide and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook,Twitter, and even Google+.