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Down in the Depths (A Review of Dungeon)

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Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are enjoyable because they give you a chance to take on the role of a hero and go on adventures to fight monsters and find some treasure. Unfortunately, they usually take lots of preparation and many hours.

In Dungeon!, a recent rerelease of a classic game, players are given the opportunity to snatch up a quick hero, dive into a winding maze of a dungeon, kill a stack of monsters, and snatch up some treasure, all in a game that should take about thirty minutes. Does this game succeed in condensing RPG combat into a simple, quick system that is still enjoyable to play? Read on!

How It Plays

The rules for Dungeon! are pretty simple.  At the start of the game, each player must choose a hero.  There are 4 classes, and a male and female character stand for each class.  The Rogue is the weakest combat class, but only needs 10,000 gold to win and has a better chance of getting through secret doors.  Clerics are slightly better than Rogues at combat, but no other special abilities, and still only need 10,000 gold to win.  Fighters are powerful warriors that can slay much bigger beasts, but need 20,000 gold to win.  Finally, Wizards are not quite as powerful as Fighters straight up, but have access to powerful attack spells which make mincemeat out of most monsters.  However the Wizards need 30,000 gold to win.

The maze makes it look more complicated than it is…

Each turn, players can move 5 steps.  If they stop in an uncleared room or chamber, they must fight a monster.  If they defeat the monster, they are awarded with treasure.  If they fail to kill the monster, the monster attacks back and has a variety of effects that range from “nothing”  to “you lose all your treasure and go back to the central chamber.”  Combat is simple dice rolling – players roll 2 6-sided dice (2d6) and compare the total to the monster they are fighting.  Each monster has a target number for each class.  If you meet or beat that number, you win, otherwise you don’t.  Monsters roll 2d6 as well and a chart tells you what happens based on their roll.

Fortunately, even if you lose your treasure to a monster, you can get it all back by defeating that monster.  Treasures are mostly arbitrary items with a gold value, but some give you a combat boost or other special ability.

The dungeon is a complex maze with areas designated levels 1 through 6.  Each higher level area has more powerful monsters and more valuable treasure.

The game ends when one player returns to the center of the board with the necessary amount of treasure for their class.

The best treasure is more difficult to obtain… but, oh is it dreamy.

A Worthy Adventure?

Dungeon! was supposed to be an enjoyable experience. A simple, condensed RPG that lasted twenty to thirty minutes, where we could role-play our heroes with very simple rules and then get on to another game.

And it was enjoyable. For about twenty minutes. Unfortunately, the game just doesn’t have much to offer, and after the twenty-minute mark, it simply became repetitive. Roll dice, gain some treasure. Roll dice, lose treasure. Roll dice, gain treasure.

The real problem here, though–because, as I said, this can be enjoyable for a quick twenty- to thirty-minute game–is that the game does not have a hard-and-fast ending. The winner is entirely determined by the dice rolls; which is okay, we knew what we were getting into. However, the game end is based entirely on those dice rolls as well.

These 8 heroes have been randomly chosen to participate in an adventure in which only 1 of them will randomly win!

See, when one person rolls really well (as Board Game Josh put it, this is the most winning strategy, and really the only strategy), they will get their treasure and win and the game ends and there you have it.  However, if everyone rolls poorly, the game never ends. Nothing pushes the game toward its conclusion. It is entirely possible to just get stuck in dungeon limbo.

The different classes weren’t exactly thrilling either. The Cleric simply couldn’t do much; the Rogue could only get little monsters, and the “secret doors” bonus isn’t much of an advantage; the Wizard ran out of spells and got stuck; the Warrior just couldn’t seem to beat average monsters for her class. Turn after turn circled around the table and after almost an hour, we still hadn’t finished the game and were nowhere close. I don’t know what we did wrong, but the game stalled horribly, and we ran out of interest.

There really is no predominant strategy here. There really is no strategy here; nothing to make gameplay choices interesting. You have to bring all the fun yourself, really. It’s fun to role-play without worrying about complex RPG rules…but Dungeon! doesn’t give you a whole lot to go on. There’s no player interaction; no way for players to team up and split treasure; no NPCs; no depth to the combat. Each class is slightly different: Rogues have the get-through-secret-doors ability, Warriors are pretty good at killing things, and Wizards have spells. Clerics get the shaft, not really being strong at combat and having no special abilities. Oddly, undead monsters seem to be stronger against Clerics, which seems counter to… well, everything I know about Clerics.

Spells are really the most efficient way to kill monsters.

Each class also has a recommended level to aim for, so it ends up with each player heading off to their corner of the dungeon, separate from everyone else. Sure, players could go outside their recommended arena, but unless you’re really good at rolling elevens and twelves consistently, it’s not going to do much for you. Warriors could certainly go for easy monsters, but with a 20,000-gold goal, it will take them ages to win. Wizards are great as long as you have spells, but as soon as you run out, be prepared to take several turns walking back to the central chamber, then several more turns restocking your spells (you can only get one back per turn spent doing nothing), then an additional several turns returning to your place in the dungeon since you already cleared the rooms along the way.

To be fair, this game is directed toward kids, or adults who played the original version of this game as kids. I could see a group of eight-year-old boys having fun slaying monsters, even if it took two hours. But again, I think the fun really comes from the outside, not the game itself. Plus, there are plenty of games for eight-year-olds that are much better games and that adults can enjoy. I just don’t think Dungeon! has aged very well, and while it may have been a great product in 1975, it just doesn’t cut it with the selection of games available today.

The component quality is okay. This is definitely a game that would have benefited from detailed miniatures, but that would have jacked up the box price, which retails at $22. So at least you’re not shelling out a fortune. As it is, the cardboard-cutout stands used to represent players are pretty unstable, and we probably spent as much time picking them up as we spent rolling dice. The board is nicely colored, although it is difficult in some places to distinguish what counts as a “space,” and though the cardboard is cheap, there are plenty of tokens for everything. The cards are cheap as well, but you won’t be handling them all that often, so no big deal. At least each card has excellent art depicting the monsters.

It’s only too bad most of the card is taken up by numbers and symbols… those monsters look cool!

When I played Dungeon! I was looking for a quick-and-dirty filler game of simply fighting monsters and gaining treasure, and not worrying too much about anything else. Unfortunately, I got an overly simple game that became tedious and uninteresting. While you could use it to keep your kids distracted for a little while, this game shows its age; it’s just not all that stellar of an experience, excepting maybe for nostalgia. It certainly is cheap, though, so if you’re looking for a classic-style adventure to toss to your kids, this might be your ticket.

 

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Wizards of the Coast for providing a review copy of Dungeon!

Summary

  • Rating 6.5
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Summary

Pros

  • Simple Rules
  • Quick setup
  • Casually enjoyable for about 20 minutes
  • Kids might get some entertainment out of it
  • Up to 8 can play
  • Excellent art on the box and cards

Cons:

  • Lack of depth becomes tedious and boring
  • Game can last waaaay too long
  • Rolling well is the predominant (read: only) strategy
  • Cleric has no special abilities
6.5 Average

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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