Matt Carlson: Review of Dungeon!

Designer(s): David R. Megarry, Chris Dupuis, Jeff Grubb, Steve Winter, Michael Gray, Gary Gygax
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Ages: 8+
Players: 1-8
Time: about 30 mins
Reviewed by Matt Carlson (Review copy provided)

As a child, I had an unhealthy interest in Dungeons and Dragons (at least in my parent’s eyes) so as a placebo, I was given a much safer boardgame called Dungeon!  It is a pretty simple game, with lots of exploration and a single die roll determining combat.  What it lacks in depth it makes up in theme, at least for the younger set.  Many a Dungeon! player has gone on to enjoy the fantasy trappings of great fiction, film, and role playing games.  Dungeon! is a bit too light on decision-making to attract an older, experienced gamer audience but it still a fun little themed romp for the younger or young-ish (think non-gamer teen) set.

The game handles up to 8 players, containing two of each character type: Rouge, Cleric, Fighter, and Wizard.  While the game plays pretty fast, I’d question playing the game, with many more than 4 players.  The goal of the game is to explore the dungeon, killing monsters and taking their loot.  The dungeon is divided into six levels, with each level containing higher level monsters (with appropriately more valuable loot.)  Gather the required amount of loot and make it back to the starting square to win the game.

To keep things interesting, the characters are not power balanced.  It is much easier for a fighter to kill a monster than a cleric.  To defeat a monster, a player must roll a specific number or better on two dice.  A rogue might need an 8 or higher while a fighter simply needs a 6.  To balance things out, the more powerful characters need more loot (20 or 30 thousand gold) than the weaker characters (10,000 gold each).   This introduces what little strategy exists within the game.  Rogues and clerics will start by scouring level 1 or 2 rooms, hoping to find loot and equipment to help them against higher level creatures while fighters and wizards will head right for the higher level rooms (4 or even 5 perhaps)..

Wizards are the most unique character as they have a limited number of lightning bolt, fireball, and teleport spells they can use in the game.  They are the weakest at combat but may select a spell to use before revealing a monster in combat.  While either spell works fairly well against low level monsters, higher level monsters will be weaker against one or the other spell.  The teleport spells can whisk the wizard around the dungeon (within specific limits).  This additional power is somewhat balanced by wizards’ inability to use magic swords and their higher loot requirement.

Rolling too low in combat results in a defeat, requiring (you guessed it) another roll to determine the results.  This can vary between no effect, losing one or more turns, dropping a random treasure card, or even death (dropping all treasure and teleporting back to the starting space).  This provides nastier players the opportunity to swoop in to kill a revealed monster and gain its treasure along with any dropped by defeated players.

At a price point below $20, the game is clearly aimed at the mass market.  This can be seen in the production values.  As one would expect, the art is well done, perhaps too bright for some, but my only beef is with the very thin, cheap cards.  I foresee card damage issues arising when playing with the younger set (the target audience.)  I would have preferred to see a price point increased by $5 or so for slightly more solid cards.

In the end, it is a simple game that isn’t quite a “roll and move” game.  Choosing when to push one’s luck and when to play it safe injects a bit of decision-making into the mix.  Where Dungeon! shines is in its presentation of the Dungeons and Dragons mythos.  Many of the iconic D&D monsters appear in the game and thus it provides a stepping stone into the deeper world of fantasy gaming (RPGs, the D&D Boardgame series, etc…)  I cannot recommend it straight up to fellow gamers, but it does provide a fun exploration experience for younger kids, all the way up to non-gamer teens looking for a diversion.  When playing in my normal game group I’d have to rank it “not for me”, but played in the right group (with my young kids, for example) I can rate it as high as an “I like it” for the gameplay combined with its usefulness as a gateway game to future things.

Ratings Review from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it.    Matt Carlson (as a kid game)
Not for me…

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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