Dungeoneer – Tomb of the Lich Lord review
-Sometimes size really doesn’t matter-
Tomb of the Lich Lord is the first of the Dungeoneer series game. It’s a fantasy card game where players work their way through a crypt fighting monsters, avoiding traps, building their character, doing whatever it takes to be the last to stay alive or complete 3 quests.
Well, it’s a card game so you get…yup, you guessed, cards! Which is why I liked the game in the first place. If you want your very own portable dungeon crawling experience, this is the game for you. You get everything in the 100+ deck: rooms, monsters, heroes, items, traps, you name it. The cards are of good quality and the artwork is fantastic. Personally I think the flavor text is a bit too childish but maybe I’m just getting old. They are of different sort and have many markings on them making them difficult to digest at first but 1-2 games should take care of that.
Did I say everything? I meant almost everything…there are still things you need to provide in order to play but lets face it: if you’re thinking about buying the game you have at least 1 six sided die in your house, right? So worst case scenario you need 1D6, paper and pencils for everybody.
I must confess I gave this game an embarrassing rating the first time I played it and that’s because of the rules. I mean, if a game is in appearance smaller, faster, easier than most of the others in the same category you would expect the rules to be just as simple, no? Wrong! It took us many games to get things right and even now, after 20 games we’re still encountering odd situations. As in other games, practice will make it better but I still wish there was another more easy way to put it. If you played other similar games before then you shouldn’t worry, things clear out and actually work pretty good…if you aren’t prepared to go through forums and be amazed how many things you got wrong in your first games then don’t bother reading further. On the good side many of those questions have been answered here on BBG and on the official site.
Mechanics and game play
The game runs pretty smooth. Each player has a different hero equipped with special abilities and they take turns in exploring, fighting monsters, completing quests and so on. As much as I like the idea of individual characters I have to say that in most of our games we forget about using their special powers…which kinda proves exactly how useful those are . Besides that, some heroes are overspecialized in one form of combat, making them very weak against monsters who attack with another one.
There are 5 phases in each player’s turn, but only 3 of them are worth discussing for the purpose of explaining interesting/different concepts of this game.
The dungeonlord phase: this is the phase when you act as DM for the other players, meaning you send monsters, spring traps on them or any other dirty trick to lower their health, preferably to zero. There are only two things stopping you: your hand, meaning the number of monsters/traps you have available at any time and the other player’s peril. Which brings me to the one mechanic I like very much about this game: glory and peril. As you explore the dungeon, fight monsters, complete quests, you gain both glory (sort of experience points) and peril (how high is your character exposed to danger) Each monster/trap has a price in peril points that the other must be able to pay or else he cannot be attacked. This mechanic makes it impossible for players to abuse their monster strength and makes room for interesting choices: do I take the short route toward my quest, but gain more peril, or take a detour through safer rooms but loose precious turns?
The defender can choose to play response cards, that allow him to repel the monster or in 99% of the cases accept the fight. There are 3 forms of combat, melee, magic and speed. They are marked either with circle (meaning the attacker may initiate combat only with one of those forms) or diamond (meaning you can only defend with this form). The attacker always decides what form of attack will be used and the defender has no choice but to defend with same form. Combat runs quickly, everybody rolls 1D6, add all modifiers and compare results. Higher result deals one damage to lower result, ties benefit no player. Traps are resolved in a single die roll as well, but usually all heroes in same space are affected by them so they are sweet when played in crowded areas.
The build phase: All heroes start at the entrance of the tomb, with 4 passages leading into the unknown darkness. Each turn the players will reveal one or more sections of the dungeon, adding rooms or corridors. Apart from one quest all the others take place in specific rooms, which means the room you need is the one another player will get and place it in the opposite corner of the crypt… so yes, there’s a lot of cursing involved The rules for putting the dungeon together are pretty clear and although you will always have the same rooms you will never have them in the exact same configuration, highly increasing replay value of the game. Each room has different effect, some make monsters more powerful, some make them cheaper, so on…what I like is that they are all unique, not just some meaningless names. They are easy to read and nice to look at, so even if you won’t have a clear 3D picture in your head you will have no trouble finding your way through the crypt.
The hero phase: during this time your hero may explore the dungeon, move through rooms, complete quests or even attack other heroes. Also now you can activate items by spending glory points. You place them in front of you and they usually grant you bonuses to one of the combat forms. Others give you allies, armor to discard instead of taking wounds, vials to regain life points, teleport allowing you to move through walls and much more. The items combined with your hero’s abilities again show great versatility. You can make him a killing machine by taking only items in a specific form of combat, or choose to balance his natural abilities with different class objects. Each character has finite “inventory” slots but from my experience they rarely fill up…and I’m pretty sure you will often have to discard some of them to save your heroic behind .
Quests: It’s a dungeon…you’re a hero…and everybody knows what heroes do in dungeons, right? Some of the quests are straightforward: you go to X room, you kill the bad guy there. Others require quite some traveling back and forth, others self sacrifice. Quests are the only way you can level up your hero and increase his stats and one of the ways to win the game. Every hero starts with 2 personal quests that only he can perform, and there is the third one, available to everybody. While they come in a nice range, my only problem with them is that they are not balanced at all. Some of them are ridiculously easy, some are hard for a level 1 player to complete…As for a hero who has completed 2 quests and he’s packed up with 2-3 items…it’s almost impossible for him to fail the last one.
Luck? Tons!…random hero…random quests…random cards…random map pieces…random rolls. It doesn’t bother me one bit, the kind of luck you get in this game is the one that makes it new every time you play it, but not everybody is ok with loosing because of it. Strategy and skill? Not much but enough to make the games interesting and sometimes even tense. It’s a fun game despite all issues and our group likes it, even though none of us played a dungeon crawler boardgame before…or maybe that’s exactly why The game is nowhere near the complexity or freedom of most well-known RPGs but those games don’t fit in your pockets also . Anyway, whether you’re an old school D&D player who wants to take a 60 minutes break from that 3 months campaign or completely new to this sort of games, my suggestion is give it a try.
I agree with you, the rules are the problem with this game. If you don't have someone to teach you this game, expect to invest time to clarify situations. I purchased this game for two reasons. First it looked interesting and a friend of mine will most likely have fun to play it with me and the second reason was that you can play a solo version. Problem is the solo version in the german rules is more in a alpha state to me than anything else. I looked around and found 5 places with 8 different solo versions (so to speak). None of the two or three solo versions I played so far have overwhelmed me. But I hope a two player game with my friend will change that (and we will hopefully not stumble over to many questions).