Jim Becker

Nashville
Tennessee
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I tend to do more session reports than game reviews, largely because I’m vastly more qualified to do the former than the latter. I’m also more qualified to shoot a video than shoot a gun, but that’s never stopped me. Here’s hoping nothing gets caught in the crossfire.

I love Dungeon Lords. I haven’t played it enough to comprehend all of the strategic intricacies, and my plans range from staying pure-hearted, to topping out the evilometer, to meticulously calculating which adventurer I can lure into my dungeon so I don’t get one of each. (Inevitably, the landlord with the reputation room gets goody-goody just in time to give me the master healer when I’ve gone all out eschewing traps to hire monsters.) Like most worker-placements, there’s a hefty bit of solitaire mixed with just enough screw-your-neighbor to get the brain boiling and the venom seeping.

The main difficulty I’ve encountered is finding sufficient time for the game. Our sessions of Dungeon Lords usually clock in on either side of three hours, during which one player suffers from apoplectic AP, one hires imps every turn and complains that the year isn’t long enough, and one gripes about how the special events are too random and difficult to plan for, while the fighting season doesn’t make sense with building a dungeon (huh?). All of this to say I’m not the only player in my group who doesn’t grasp everything DL has to offer.

Still, I campaign to get it to the table whenever possible, hoping once we play games in successive weeks, it’ll click. I finally ordered Festival Season with the additional hope that perhaps it would spark enough interest to fill back-to-back sessions.

Oops.

Don’t get me wrong; Festival Season has a plethora of improvements.

Pets are nifty, offer a layer of variety, and because of the drafting mechanic, aren’t overbalanced. Used in production, fighting, or scoring, the cutesy creatures provide tiny benefits that can make huge differences if the right situation arises.

Same goes for the Festival itself, a brief auction to potentially nudge you over the top for what you need just in time for battle.

Both the pets and festival are simple to understand and incorporate, which is always a bonus – few things frustrate me like a game that can’t be played without constantly consulting the rulebook.

My sole objection is the stages aren’t easy to remember on the timeline. Yes, the snowman illustration indicates that’s the time to open the SPCA doors, but we still forgot in year one. I placed a spare imp on the circle in year two to pause my momentum moving the token, and that helped. As for the festival season, why not create the expansion board a tiny bit wider and keep it in line with the other circles? I understand that the pet stage occurs on an already-existent board, but it seems like a designer forgot to include the festival event and added it afterwards. Alas. Even so, it’s a minor gripe.

Bards supply a novel twist with their shielding morale boosts and natural tendency to stay near the back of the party, like so many band geeks I remember from high school. Continuing that bad analogy, it’s no surprise the pep squad didn’t try out for the P.E. (fighting) squad with their low health. We didn’t take the bards seriously until one player’s adventuring party suddenly had two extra morale for the first two in line, like they weren’t perky and pesky enough.

The additional monsters? The Elderbeast was on par with pre-existing year-two monsters, depending on circumstances. (The lord who hired one introduced it on a turn with a slow spell, which limited the monster’s benefit.) The Evil Eye complimented the bard by purchasing front row seats to the show, then storming the stage with deadly force. We tried the cockatrice in year one and found him largely uninspiring. In year two, we found a better role for it as ammo for the monster catapult. Yep, new traps, including the big-price-big-hit Plague, and the Riddle that rewards lords who lure specific classes into their lair. In the heroes’ defense/offense, they also possess new spells to cast.

Lest I forget, the upgraded rooms added complexity to the worker placement bluffing sub-game. Much to one player’s chagrin, imps seem to play a larger role with the expansion. Mining for food, upgraded tunnels, rent-a-rooms, and a pet salon? Bonus.

Ah yes, and there are two (and sometimes three) paladins per year. Perhaps it was our game, but it seemed like someone lit a fire under our evilometer because those cubes kept rising.

All of the elements listed come with the high standard of quality I found with the original Dungeon Lords. Everything falls in line thematically, and each component can be added individually if you want to ease players in or for more replayability.

So what was the problem? A game that usually took three hours took 4:15. The icon on the side of the box estimating 120 minutes? Trollwash. It takes 15 just to set it up.

Also, in typical Chvatil fashion, you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Lots of eggs. That’s not a bad thing. The trick is savoring the omelet with all the crunchy parts. It’s absolutely worth it.

I’m the guy in our gaming group who enjoys Dungeon Lords Festival Season enough to be thrilled at the prospect of an extra hour immersed in constructing my subterranean fortress for whatever unfortunate party stumbles into it. The rest of my group? Too much. Too long. Too fiddly.

It’s the same reason Dominant Species collects dust between cameos on the table.

If you enjoy Dungeon Lords, you won’t go wrong with Festival Season. It does everything an expansion should do and then some. It’s a wonderful evening of silliness and strategy, combining multiple pieces of worker-placement, auction, card drafting, and fighting. That’s at least four games in one (albeit some parts are comparatively minor).

I’ve since tried two sessions of solo (playing all four boards) and clocked those in at 3:35 and 4:05, so either I’m an analysis paralytic in denial or it indeed takes a full session to play. Whatever the case, I enjoyed all of it.


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Jason Rupp
United States
Marion
Iowa
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Sorry to hear that you have a group with AP players! I wouldn't compare how long it takes for you to solo play all 4 players. Typically, I find I play much slower when I do that because you can't plan during other peoples turns and it's hard to keep 4 different players straight.

Sounds like a fun time, I hope it doesn't add too much time to our group. We typically finish in 2-2.5 hours in our group for the standard game. Just need Crusoe to come out so I can finally get my hands on a copy of this :(

Thanks for the review!
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Jason Rupp
United States
Marion
Iowa
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I think you're spot on here. We played our first game last night and while it was pretty fun... but it did add quite a bit of time to our game. It took around 3 hours for us and it normally only takes around 2.
 
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Crazy Adam
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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I know I’m 5 years late: but best title for a review ever.
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Nicola Bocchetta
Italy
Milano
MI
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You can’t compare the length of a 4p game by yourself as everybody should play the combat simultaneaously, while you’re playing it sequentially (omly the. Evilometer should be updated sequentially).
 
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