Back when D&D 4E was still a thing, a 3rd Party Publisher named Northwinter Press released a supplement aimed at merging elements of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition with the well-known Pokémon franchise. The resulting genre mash-up setting was reviewed here on EN World a little over a year ago in this same column (Click here to read the previous review.)
It seems the WotC developers had been working on a new rendition of the famed D&D-inspired board game, and had actually called Mr. Magerry to consult on their new design. From what Mr. Magerry revealed on the panel, the original DUNGEON! was created to give harried early edition Dungeon Masters a needed gaming break, and let them play a fantasy adventure now and then without the need of a referee. According to the game’s original creator, the first version of the game was put together rather quickly - in about 3 days – and offered as an alternative as something to play with Dave Arneson other than massive Napolionics battle. From there, the game became a part of the legacy of TSR and D&D…
WotC’s new version of DUNGEON! has been in the works now for a bit longer than three days, but is now out on store shelves, and released early enough to be poised as a potential “must have” on fantasy gamers’ gift lists this holiday season. So exactly how good is this new version of a nearly 40 year old game? Step into the DUNGEON! and find out…
DUNGEON! Fantasy Board Game
- Original Design: David R. Megarry
- Development: Chris Dupuis, Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, Michael Gray, Gary Gygax
- Cover Illustrator: Michael Komarck
- Game Board Illustrator: Franz Vohwinkel
- Card Illustrators: Mike Faille, Wayne England, Lee Moyer, Julie Dillon, Warren Mahey, Eva Widermann, Mike Schley, Anne Stokes, Daarken, Michael Komarck, Chris Seaman, Ben Wootten, Wayne O’Connor, Howard Lyon, Lee Prescott, Dave Allsop, Lars Grant West, Craig J. Spearing, Sarah Strong, Chippy, Lucio Parrillo, Tyler Jacobson, Miguel Columbra, Sam Wood, Ron Spears, Jesper Esjing, Andrew Silver, David Griffith, Carl Frank
- Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
- Year: 2011
- Media: Board Game (box)
- Retail Price: $19.99 (Available from [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Wizards-of-the-Coast-A12900000WOC/dp/0786962984/ref=as_li_tf_mfw?&linkCode=wey&tag=neurogames-20"]Amazon.com[/ame])
DUNGEON! is a new fantasy adventure board game from Wizards of the Coast, and is an updated version of the board game by the same name released in 1975 by TSR, Inc. The game is designed for up to 8 players, ages 8 years old and up, and includes variant rules to allow even a solo player to have a fantasy adventure gaming experience. The game comes boxed with a fold-out game board, eight card-board Hero standee tokens, 164 treasure, spell, and monster cards, two six-sided dice, and 139 other tokens used in game play. The rules come on a four panel folded sheet, with the instructions and illustrations of game play printed on the front and back sides.
The production quality of DUNGEON! is really quite impressive. Right from the point of unwrapping the gorgeously illustrated box and delving inside, there is the feeling of a high quality board game in there.
The game board, hero standees, cards, and other tokens look great, and have a good feel to them. The tokens and standees are made of a solid cardboard, and printed with vivid colors which really stand out against a very “busy” game board. The game cards for treasures and monsters are printed on a light stiff cardstock, but have been finished with a nice slick texture for easy handling.
The artwork is top notch, from the board to the tokens, and the cards actually have the artists name printed at the bottom so you know who did the work. I thought that was a nice touch, and a great way to give credit where credit was due.
In many respects, this version of DUNGEON! is a lot like the original game put out in 1975, and as discussed previously, David Magerry was consulted during the development process for this new rendition.
Play is handled very simply, with heroes moving around and exploring the six “levels” of the dungeon, encountering monsters and traps, and recovering treasures. There are four character classes – Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, and Wizard – which have four corresponding races: Humans are Fighters, Dwarves are Clerics, Halflings are Rogues, and Elves are Wizards. Each class comes with a male and female character type, so there is no gender bias among Heroes when they go DUNGEON! delving.
Each of the four classes has a different power level of fighting ability to overcome a particular monster. The Fighter can overcome most monsters easily, while Rogues and Clerics have a slightly more difficult time of battling the denizens of the dungeon – although Clerics are given a noticeable edge against undead. Wizards have the easiest time battling monsters as have Lightning Bolt and Fireball spells which do well against strong monsters. But while Fighters and Wizards do well in combat, they require more treasure to win the game – 20,000 and 30,000 gold pieces worth respectively – while the Cleric and Rogue only require 10,000 gold worth in treasure emerge victorious.
Combat is simple as well, with each monster having a target number that a particular class needs to hit or exceed on 2d6 in order to kill it. Heroes encounter monsters when entering a room or chamber, and a card is pulled from the appropriate Level stack to reveal the creature that must be fought. Heroes get first strike, and only get attacked if they fail to kill the monster. If they do not hit, the monster gets a counter attack, missing about 28% of the time and killing a Hero about 1 in 36 times (6s on 2d6). Other results cause a non-fatal hit which cause the Hero to drop one or more of his treasures! Of course, a dropped treasure is them guarded by the monster until it is killed – meaning another Hero could get your dropped booty! In the event of death, a player starts a new character in the starting chamber, and starts adventuring again.
So how tough are the monsters? Well, for example, an Orc (found in Level 2) can be hit on a 4 or better by a Fighter, a 5 or better by a Wizard, and a 6 or better by the Cleric or Rogue – easy pickings for any of the classes really. Not so when encountering higher level monsters like a Fire Giant (found in Level 5), where target numbers to kill are in the 9,10, or 11 range! Magic swords of +1 or +2 variety can be found among the treasures, and add to the dice rolls of the Fighter, Cleric, and Rogue to kill their foes.
However, Wizards cannot use magic swords, but have access to the aforementioned Lightning Bolt and Fireball spells which can be used to take out higher level monsters – and spells can be fired off from an adjacent area to the room where the monster lurks, allowing the Wizard to kill it without risk of reprisal. Wizards also have a Teleport spell which allows them to move to another part of the dungeon, possibly escaping a tough encounter. Spells are replenished by returning to the Great Hall, and regaining them one spell per turn.
Treasures are obviously better in high level areas of the dungeon, but the monsters guarding those treasures are also tougher. So Fighter and Wizard players are encouraged to go into higher levels of the dungeon in order to meet their victory requirements, although nothing stops them from tearing through lower level rooms, although it will take them far longer to get their victory that way. Here is a break-down of the treasure value ranges found in the various areas of the dungeon:
- Level 1 Treasures range from 250gp to 1,000gp, and includes a magic sword and secret door cards
- Level 2 Treasures range from 500gp to 2,000gp, and includes a magic sword and secret door cards
- Level 3 Treasures range from 500gp to 3,000gp, and includes an ESP medallion and secret door cards
- Level 4 Treasures range from 500gp to 6,000gp, and includes a magic sword, crystal ball, and secret door cards
- Level 5 Treasures range from 1,500gp to 8,000gp, and includes an ESP medallion and secret door cards
- Level 6 Treasures range from 2,000gp to 10,000gp, and includes a magic sword card
Obviously, there are also traps in the dungeon, which cause Heroes to lose turns, or fling them to deeper levels into the realm of tougher monsters! This can be really dicey, especially if you are playing a Rogue or Cleric, and get flung into an encounter with a monster that is way tougher than you can fight.
Sadly, I was unable to get to play a session of the game with friends before my review, but I was able to give the Solo game rules a nice playtest. The developers of this version of DUNGEON! did a good job creating some nice variant rules for playing the game solo, allowing a fun fantasy gaming experience without a DM – just as Mr. Magerry intended when he made the first version! One can play a challenging solo game by adding a time limit, selecting a single specific treasure that must be recovered in order to win, or a “hunted” variant – this latter version is the one I used for my playtest.
In the Hunter vs. Hunted variant, a random Level 6 monster is selected and placed over in the Level 6 part of the dungeon. But it does not stay there! It moves after the Hero does each turn, “pathing” closer and closer to the solo player’s Hero. When it reaches the Hero, it must be fought, and has a very strong chance of overwhelming all but Wizard Heroes. If it is defeated, it drops no treasure, and a new Level 6 monster emerges to hunt down the Hero! In my own playtest, I chose a Fighter, and ended up being chased down by a Red Dragon, a Purple Worm, and finally a Blue Dragon before I amassed my 20,000 gold worth of treasure. I did die once to the Blue Dragon, and had to run back to gather the loot from my previous incarnation before I had any chance of winning. The game was fun, fast-paced, and exciting, even in solo play, and I imagine folks will likely come up with some interesting variants on their own to add more spice and excitement to a DUNGEON! session!
Overall Score: 4.17 out of 5.0
DUNGEON! is one of those board games that has always been fun to play, and this new rendition of the game is no exception. It’s easy to learn, fast-paced, and just a darned good time to play - even solo. It is very much a family style game, and both children and adults can enjoy a good DUNGEON! delve anytime they have time to play. And it is definitely one of those games that makes a good “litmus test” to see if a friend or family member might make a good recruit into a Dungeons & Dragons game group!
And the pricing for DUNGEON! is really great for a modern board game, coming in at or below 20 bucks depending on where you buy. I definitely will be buying copies of DUNGEON! this year at Christmastime for my nieces and nephews, being a perfectly good family game for the long winter months ahead!
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 4.25
- - Design: 4.5 (Great game design; easy to learn)
- - Illustrations: 4.0 (Cool board design; excellent illustrations on game components)
- Play: 4.0
- - Strategy: 3.5 (Simple strategy but fast paced; good solo play; better with more players)
- - Fun: 4.5 (Very enjoyable gameplay!)
- Value: 4.0 (Great price for a quality board game!)
Reviewer’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the board game from which the review was written.