When I (Mark) was a DM (Dungeon Master to those uninitiated in the Deep Magic of role-playing games) – which, let’s be clear, was a very long time ago – I carried around a pad of graph paper in my backpack and spent inordinate amounts of time during high school classes sketching out dungeon levels to bedevil my players… filled with elaborate traps, secret passages, and treasures guarded by fearsome monsters. You could certainly call me a dungeon scrawler.
That’s decidedly NOT what Dungeon Scrawlers: Heroes of Undermountain is about. Instead, each player is an intrepid adventurer questing his way through a series of dungeons… via a dry erase marker. And scribbling… a lot.
In the past few years, there have been a number of games in the roll and write genre. At first glance, this game seems like it might belong in that class, as the ten different dungeons are on reusable boards, and there are the ever-familiar dry erase markers in the box. But this is not the episodic play of many other roll’n’writes – this is a real-time race. And did I mention the scribbling?
In Dungeon Scrawlers, players are one of five different classic character types (assigned by cards) who are exploring the dungeons under the mountain in, well, Undermountain. A typical game consists of a set of three dungeons played back-to-back.
Play itself is simple enough – when all players are ready, the round starts with the players immediately drawing on their sheet with their dry erase marker. In general, you must always draw in a continuous line which means you should not pick the pen up off of the sheet as you draw (though there is an exception to this we’ll deal with farther down in the review). Each of the dungeons is a maze, and as you are drawing your line, you should try to keep your line within the walls of the particular corridor or room that you are in. If you are unable to do so, you will pick up scoring penalties each time you run into the wall. If you cross a wall and enter another room or corridor, your runthrough of this particular dungeon ends immediately at that point, and anything after this violation of the laws of physics will not be scored!
There are multiple rooms in each dungeon, and as you enter a room, you must interact with all of the elements that you find there. If you do not interact with an element, you are guaranteed to get a negative penalty equal to the score you would have gotten had you interacted with it correctly. (“Interact” is a nice way of saying – you guessed it – scribble.)
Some of the elements that you might encounter:
- Monsters: These are worth 1 victory point. To defeat a monster, you simply must color the entire monster shape on your board with your marker. (Thus, the scribbling.)
- Spells: These are worth 1 victory point each. In order to complete a spell, you must trace the entire convoluted path of the spell with your marker. (Less scribbly… more finesse.)
- Treasure: Also with 1 victory point each. In order to score for treasure, you must trace its outline completely with your marker. (See Spells above)
- Artifacts: These are numbered spaces, usually 6 or 9 in the room. You must connect the stones in numerical order, and for each 3 stones you connect correctly, you score 1 victory point. (It looks scribblicious – but there’s actually a method to your madness.)
- Plants: These are worth one point each, and you score a point if you simply draw your line through the plant. (Bam – run right over it and keep going.)
- Bosses: Bosses are the big monsters at the end of the dungeon. And, like other monsters, you simply have to color the entire Boss in order to score for it. The value of each boss is variable, depending on which dungeon you are exploring/looting. (Ah, more scribbling!)
- Orbs: There are both blue and pink orbs that you might find. When you find one, you color in the white circle at the top, and then you pick up the highest valued orb token of matching color from the center of the table. (Don’t get too zealous – you only need to scribble out the orb circle.)
- Keys: There are 4 different colors and shapes of keys, and when you touch a key with your marker, you can grab the corresponding cardboard token from the table. Later in the dungeon you can use this key to unlock a door which has the matching colored icon on it. (It’s like a plant, only metal.)
- Prisoners: Score 1 victory point by simply touching a prisoner with your marker. (It’s like a plant or a key, only human.)
- Portals: There are generally 2 parts to a portal, 1 for entry and 1 for exit. They have matching letters in their center. When you touch an entry portal, you are allowed to pick your pen up and you restart your line at the exit portal of the matching letter. This is the one exception to the continuous line rule. If your dungeon has an exit portal in it, as soon as you touch the escape portal, the round is over. (Yeah, I got nothing here.)
Each of these 5 characters has a unique special ability which enables them to score one particular dungeon element in a more rapid fashion than usual.
There are a couple of different ways to complete a dungeon, and whenever the end condition is met for the particular dungeon, all players immediately stop writing. Players pass their dungeons sheet to their neighbor, and each player then scores the sheet from their neighbor. (Yes, the first time you do it feels a little like grading your classmates’ spelling tests in elementary school.)
Three dungeon delves/races happen, the scores from the three rounds are summed, and the player with the highest total wins the game.
Dale’s Thoughts on Dungeon Scrawlers
When I first got this game, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had actually mistakenly thought it was going to be a roll and write game – which it most definitely is not. I will admit that there are not many real-time games in my permanent game collection. This is not because of the mechanism (which I am fairly neutral about), but simply that very few of the previous real-time games that I have played have been good enough to stay in the collection for long.
When you are in the right mood, and with the right group, Dungeons Scrawlers can be a lot of fun. It is certainly not the sort of game to take too seriously. It’s a frenzied game to try to make your way through the maze as quickly as possible. It is a nice change of pace from the stuff that we normally play, and an interesting puzzle to try to solve each time. We have found it best to not let players have any time to look at the map ahead of time – so that there is no advanced planning! The added pressure of the real-time race adds a lot of tension to the game, and it can force you to make very quick decisions as you cannot spend too much time trying to find the optimal path.
There have been a number of recent games which have had the Dungeons and Dragons theme tie-in, and I think this is a good way to introduce games to those D&D players who might not otherwise play tabletop games. As far as the game goes here, the dungeons and dragons team definitely fits, though it does not appear there is any requirement of previous D&D play to succeed in this game.
As each dungeon does not take very long, this game has also turned out to be a very good choice for us to start a game night, as we can sit down and play a dungeon quickly while we wait for the rest of the group to filter in. As each dungeon is separate, even if someone arrives midway through our game, they can simply find the matching dungeon sheet for the next round, and just jump into the game and at least compete for that next round. It’s admittedly not the sort of thing I want to play every game night, but when you need some frenetic fun for 5 minutes, this fits the bill wonderfully.
Mark’s Thoughts on Dungeon Scrawlers
Honestly, after my first play, I kinda dismissed it as a nice activity but one I’d be willing to try again. A second play with my sons convinced me that there was more there – not a lot more, but more.
Like Dale wrote, this is not a serious game. But it is enjoyable fun and a friendly introduction to the D&D universe. The real-time element is something I’ve liked less and less as I’ve gotten older (and slower… most noticeably in any game requiring both dexterity and speed)… but it didn’t bother me here. In fact, it fits rather nicely to keep the game moving along (our plays of a full game have all clocked in at 25-30 minutes).
I think there are two keys to getting full enjoyment out of Dungeon Scrawlers:
- Manage your expectations – this is a frenetic exercise in scribbling and drawing under real-time pressure… it’s not Descent or Gloomhaven or even one of the D&D Adventure games. Enjoy the light game in front of you, not some idealized version of it stacked with all kinds of chrome and other bells & whistles.
- Play with the right folks – you know who in your group is likely to balk at real-time and/or scribbling… so don’t make them play it.
With the right crowd, I found Dungeon Scrawlers an enjoyable 30 minute romp. And I’m totally up for my next game!
- Designers: Vangelis Bagiartakis, Konstantinos Karagiannis
- Publisher: Wizkids
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Played with a review copy provided by WizKids
- Review written by Dale Yu and Mark Jackson
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Matt C: I pulled this out to play with my younger son (tween) and we had a good time running through individual levels. We started slow and did the first run a few times before heading deeper into the pool. Later levels do give one more to do. We had fun for what it was, and were pretty generous on what we thought qualified as sufficient scribbling for an obstacle/item. As Dale says, the game is a bit different if you have time to analyze the maze first. If someone is unwilling to just leap in, even giving players a short, limited time to look at the card works well. Since players have different “powers” there are often paths that favor one ability more than others. The ability to score 2x points running over plants in the hallways is fairly powerful if you can find a path with lots of hallways. I feel the other powers are sort of “meh” but at least they don’t detract from the game. As others mention, it is best played as a warm-up or warm-down for a gaming evening rather than an end to itself. It certainly is unique and will stay in my collection for the moment but I’m wary of how long it will keep my interest. If it stays long term it will probably be because it is so age-accessible and quick to play – I can pull it out and get a game going even with fairly young participants.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Mark Jackson
Neutral. Dale Y, John P, Matt C
Not for me…