$10.00
Marcin Mościcki
Poland
Warszawa
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So, you got interested in the game because of its cute and original theme. Is it pasted on? What's the game behind it like? Is it anything more then a novelty? How does it compare to Dungeon Lords? Read on!

It is undeniably a euro game, a worker placement of sorts. Unlike most euros, and like most other Chvatil's games, the theme sinks deep in this one. Better be prepared, as it means there is a lot of small rules which could be considered unelegant and often do not add anything meaningful to the gameplay. They are however very well explained in the rulebook, have an easily memorable thematic reason behind them and the game is full of iconography to remind you of them, so most people grow to like them. It is not however a game for beginners or fans of elegant, streamlined mechanics.


Gameplay

Despite all those details you need to remember, the gameplay is rather simple: as a pet shop manager, over 5 or 6 rounds, you send your imps to town to do the shopping. First, every player prepares in secret groups of imps and gold, placing them on exits from their cavern (playerboard):


After everyone reveals their groups, they are sent to town starting with the biggest one (total of imps and gold):


When a group is placed on an available spot on the main board, the player executes the associated action immediatly.
When all shopping and business is done comes the time for caring for you pets, which is the heart of the game and a mini puzzle in itself. The dial on every pet shows what kind of need cards should you draw depending on its the size.


For example, a grown direbunny requires you to draw three red cards (which will usually mean the direbunny will get angry), two yellow cards (usually will be playful) and two green cards (hunger or crapping the cage). The trick is, the actual need is defined by a symbol on the card, and you don't know what you'll find (although the distribution for every card colour is printed on your player board). This means your animals will be a bit unpredictable. The needs are of twofold importance: first, you'd better fulfill them, or the pet will suffer (and die. Or escape. Or teleport to another dimension). Secondly, the petz are judged by the needs assigned to them on shows (starting from turn 2) and by the customers (from turn 3), which translates directly to your reputation points.


This dungeon lord will give you two points for every 'angry' need and one for 'magic' need and minus one for every playfull need or suffering token on the pet you sell to him.

The good news is that there are ways to control this randomness. Firstly, you draw the cards collectively for all your pets and assign them as you please. Secondly, you have one spare card in every colour at the start, and can acquire more during the game, further widening your options. Thirdly, even if the symbol on the card is not the dominant one in that deck, you can play it so it becomes two needs - one shown on the main symbol, and one specific to the deck of that colour.


All yellow cards can be played to assign a pet the need to play, even if the primary symbol is not a ball of wool.


Feel of the game

As you might have realized, this game is a constant fight against the unknown and unfavorable circumstances. You don't know what exactly will your pets and other players do. You'll often have other player snatch the cage you really, really need to constraint that difficult Fiery Fairy, or Bubl will unexpectedly want to play when you have no imps available. The animals require your constant attention but you still need spare imps for acquiring new pets, selling them to clients and win favors of the judges. It is a hard life, I would say more stressful then harvests in Agricola, as you have to repeat it every round. This game is not really suitable for casual play, but it rewards you with very intense gameplay - rarely I find myself as involved in a game, always biting my lip feverishly hoping I'll manage to last through the round without losses. It has a high puzzle factor, as every round you have to stretch your brain when assigning the needs to your charges (and before, when deciding how many imps to save to tend to them). It might be a bit of multiplayer solitaire, but at least it is a very good one: there's a lot of thinking involved, but little downtime, as thanks to the original worker-placement implementation, everybody plans their actions simultainously and in advance. The perceived interaction is quite high for the genre, as there are relatively few action fields and at most two (usually one) per action, meaning you have to race to get what you want, and if you don't get it, you have to somehow make through the round without it. If somebody got the pet you want, steal away the cage or cage modification they need for its proper care! You have also to keep an eye on other shops and how high will they place in the shows comparing to you. It represents a rare breed, and my favorite type of games: a proud euro, but with a theme many ameritrash would envy, with randomness forcing you to make bets and hope while trying to prepare for the unexpected, while at the same time with means to harness the chaos. The pets feel alive, and managing the business resembles juggling torches and knives.


Vs. Dungeon Lords

Dungeon Petz is a youger brother of Dungeon Lords, and as such, it's a 'smaller' game. There are definitively fewer rules and it's easier to learn. It's also faster and more focused - in 'Dungeon Lords', you had all different aspects of a dungeon to think about, in 'Petz' it's all about the pets and their needs. The dungeon conquest puzzle has been replaced with needs assignment, which happens every round, is faster, better integrated and doesn't feel like a mini-game inside the main game. The interaction level is similar, but the competion feels fiercer : in DL there are three fields for every action, differing in power, vs. one-two in DP. Of course, sometimes going third instead of first (or vice versa) is a big blow rather then an inconveniance, but it does not compare to not getting the action at all. On the other hand, the element of predicting what orders other players will issue is less significant in DP. While good play still involves anylizing what other players need and thus most likely will do, as well as how much will they score in the shows, so you know where you stand, but you don't have to do it in your first game.

There's more apparent randomness involved, but paradoxally it feels less chaotic to me. I know what my pets might need next turn, I also know the details about future shows and customers and how much food there will be in the food stalls. I can plan. In Dungeon Lords however, I don't know if the room or monster that suits my strategy will pop up next round, when my corresponding order will be blocked. It's impossible to navigate on the evilometer with any certainity so you get the adventurers you can defeat, and the failure may prove very costly. All in all, Dungeon Lords is not only more complex, but also more penalizing, and while I enjoy the challenge it provides, even my subtle mistakes or even my position in a crucial round, can have devastating effect on my dungeon and final score. I feel more in control in Dungeon Petz, and while still it's not difficult to lose a pet and it is a significant setback, it's a result of a clear mistake or pushing your luck too far - nothing you couldn't anticipate.

Another advantage is that it scales better (that is, at all): with fewer then four players, you play on a board with tracks for neutral imps. Whenever an imp enters an action space, that action is blocked for the round. It's still not ideal, as an action becomes unavailable now matter how much you want it, which is never the case with a full cast, but at least it's not random and allows, nay, requires, you to plan ahead. It's much better then random orders from DL, and better then not having those neutral players, no matter how much I dislike the idea, as it keeps the game tight, unlike many worker placements with only 2 players. When you add that the theme is even better implemented, I think that Dungeon Petz is the better game between the two.


Summary

You already know I like this game a lot. In fact, it's one of my three nine's on BGG and a current favorite.
In bullets:
* Theme, theme, theme - how good and deep it is!
* A medium-heavy game
* High puzzle-factor
* Intense gameplay
* You plan 2, max 3 rounds ahead
* High randomness for a mid-heavy euro, but with enough means to mitigate bad luck
* Scales reasonably well (with a predictable dummy player): best with 4, recommended with 3
* Quite a few rules
* Penalizing for mistakes (although not as much as Dungeon Lords)
* Limited but significant interaction


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Purple Paladin

California
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What a great review!

I would like to add, we have had as much fun with the game reguardless of the number of players.

Also, this has to be the most interactive solitare game I've ever played. For those who have not played, you fight tooth and nail for the goods/items/manpower (Imppower?), then go to your seperate corners hoping you got what you needed to compete in the marketplace and competitions. It's interactiveness is so deep and subtle, that it takes several games to see just how much other player's actions can effect you.

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Marcin Mościcki
Poland
Warszawa
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Oh, I forgot to mention how it scales - I'll fix it briefly.
 
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Purple Paladin

California
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Ya, I assumed you had only played 2p. I played 2p twice first, then more players later, all games being just as great.
 
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Marcin Mościcki
Poland
Warszawa
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Edited. No, I played only 4p and once 3p. I dislike dummy players as a rule, and generally don't have problems with finding enough players. I prefer other games for 2p.
 
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ErikPeter Walker
United States
Rochester
Minnesota
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Good review. Thanks especially for comparing it to Dungeon Lords--it sounds like I might like this one more than that.
 
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James Derbyshire
United Kingdom
Billericay
Essex
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schizoferret wrote:
I dislike dummy players as a rule... I prefer other games for 2p.


Me too, and that's my main gripe with Dungeon Lords. The dummy player in Petz is VERY good though. We've played more two player games of this than with more players. Definitely recommended 2p.
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Belgium
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Congrats on a great review! Exactly as I like them. thumbsup
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Marcin Mościcki
Poland
Warszawa
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Thank you all for kind words!
 
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Nick
United Kingdom
Somerset/London
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Picking this up next week with its elder brother - can't wait!
 
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