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January 14, 2015 / Jett

Dungeon! Review

Originally released in 1975, Dungeon! transforms Dungeons & Dragons into a board game. Granted, it’s an experience that is greatly streamlined compared to its source material, though it aims to still deliver the essence of what D&D is all about. Is this a dungeon worth raiding?

Dungeon! takes place on a large board which represents the dungeon you’ll be raiding. The dungeon features a number of different chambers, hallways, rooms, doors and secret doors, which are divided into regions based on their level. As rogues, clerics, fighters and wizards, your job is to explore the dungeon and defeat monsters in order to collect loot. The first player to reach the Great Hall with the required amount of loot is deemed the victor.

Character classes in this game are not as dramatically different as those in traditional Dungeons & Dragons, though the game does differentiate them in a few different ways. For instance, the amount of money you need to collect in order to win will vary based on the class you choose. Rogues and Clerics only need 10,000 gold to win, while Fighters need 20,000 gold and Wizards need 30,000 gold in order to do the same. The general trade-off here is that the Rogues and Clerics are most effective in lower-leveled zones that contain weaker monsters and less valuable loot, while Wizards excel in higher-leveled zones but struggle in weaker areas. Rogues may be the weakest in terms of combat ability, but they instead have a much easier time opening secret doors.

Wizards are the most distinct class of the bunch. Unlike the others, they have access to powerful spells that lets them quickly traverse between chambers or make a fight dramatically easier, even against the most dangerous monsters. However, they can only carry a limited number of spells at a time, reloading on spells can take a considerable amount of time, and success is far from guaranteed each time you use one. You can even customize your spell load-out in order to have just the right combination of teleport, fire and lightning bolt spells on-hand.

This class is hardest to learn, though they’re by far the most compelling due to the intricacies that come with managing them. I feel like the the process of streamlining this experience really hurt the other classes, as they don’t stand out from each other nearly as much as the Wizards do. In the end, each class probably has a roughly equal shot of winning, though I think Wizards will have more fun doing it than the others.

IMG_3700Regardless of who you choose, the core of the game revolves around exploring the dungeon and fighting monsters for loot. A Dungeon Master is not required to play this game, which greatly reduces its barrier to entry. Movement rules are simple enough, as you can move 0-5 spaces without the use of dice. When you enter a room or a chamber, a monster will usually appear for you to fight based on what room level you’re in. In a few rare instances, turning over a monster card will reveal a different type of event, such as a trap door or cage. In order to beat the monster, you’ll need to use the two dice to roll a certain number or higher, depending on who you are, and if you’re the Wizard, which spell you used.

If you do defeat it, you’ll get a treasure equal to that room level. My personal favourite piece of loot is the Magic Sword, which can grant you +1 or 2 on any of your combat rolls. If you fail, you’ll roll the dice again to see how the monster strikes back. Hopefully it misses, but the monster’s attack can force you to drop your loot, lose turns, retreat, or even kill you. In that awful worst case scenario, you drop all of your loot and are forced to choose a brand new character. Since this is a D&D game, most of the outcomes are luck-driven, though you’ll have many opportunities to manage your odds. For instance, just because you’re a Rogue that excels in lower-leveled dungeons, that doesn’t stop you from trying your hand at higher levels. Sure, the fights are much harder, but if you’ve got the hot hand (and possibly a Magic Sword), you could topple a few extremely powerful monsters and score enough points to win in very short order.

FullSizeRender(4)I’ve never played real Dungeons & Dragons before, though I have played games that try to provide that experience at a more introductory level, such as Munchkin and Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords. Compared to those, Dungeon! is probably the easiest to learn while sticking fairly close to the source material. In fact, this probably could even work as a D&D-type of experience for kids as young as 8 years old or so to get their feet wet in that style of game, though adults who aren’t already invested in the core game and want a dungeon-exploring experience will have fun with this too.

My only real gripe with the game is that the process of streamlining the game probably went a bit too far when it comes to the different character classes. The Wizards are awesome because of how unique their play style is, though very little is done to differentiate the rogues, clerics and fighters beyond the tweaking of numbers. I wish they had more unique mechanics to them in order to add an extra layer of flavour and depth to the experience, though it feels like this was a conscious decision to make the game more accessible.

Overall, Dungeon! is a solid choice for players looking for a lighter dungeon crawl. Much of the excitement that comes with raiding a dungeon, fighting monsters and scoring loot is kept intact while making the core concepts easier to grasp with simplified rules and physical components that add a visual component to a game rooted in pen and paper. If you want more complexity out of it, stick with the Wizard class, as they add a number of unique wrinkles to the action. If the idea of playing classic D&D seems intimidating, definitely start here.

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