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Subject: A GFBR Review: The Whole Package of Gaming rss

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This week we take a look at Dungeon Lords which, coincidentally, is also the winner of the GeekInsight Game of the Year. Dungeon Lords contains worker placement, bluffing, deduction, resource management, puzzles, and competitive scoring. In the end, this amalgam of ideas and options creates a beautiful tapestry of satisfactory gameplay.

The Basics. Dungeon Lords takes about as long to explain as it does to play, so these really are just the basics. Each player is an aspiring Dungeon Lord hoping to create and manage a dungeon in order to get his Dungeon Lord’s license. To do so, the player has to achieve a positive score, and the player with the highest score wins.

The game is played over two years, and each year has four seasons. In the first season the board is seeded with rooms and monsters so that players can see what is available to build and who they may hire. Then the players select their actions. Rather than simply go one at a time, the players instead choose their three (of eight possible) actions using the action cards and put them down on their player board. Once everyone has chosen, all the players then actually place their minions in turn order.

This not only helps the game move more quickly, but it also causes players to deduce what their opponents have done. Each action can hold three workers – the fourth player to place there gets nothing. The second spot of the three is generally the best. It usually allows you to do the action more efficiently or at a lower cost.

Once all minions are placed, each action space is resolved in order. Beginning with the second season, adventurers start to line up outside the dungeons. Warriors, priests, thieves, and wizards all line up to conquer a dungeon. Why do they do it? No one knows. It’s sort of their thing. Each season, the heroes are distributed to each player, with the most evil player getting the most difficult hero and so on down the line. A simple “Evil-o-meter” on the board determines who is most evil at any given time. Especially evil heroes may attract the paladin, who is not to be trifled with.

At the end of the year, the players will have built up a dungeon, hired monsters, and potentially built traps for the adventurers. Then the adventurers attack. At this point, the game goes into puzzle mode, as the players try to figure out the best way to defeat the intruders. Combat is highly scripted, so clever players can use their resources to minimize damage. Combat ends after all heroes are defeated, or after four attempts at conquering the dungeon. After the four attempts, the heroes get tired and go home.

The game then repeats for a second year. The second year progresses in much the same way, except that the heroes are stronger, the traps more plentiful, and there are a few new monsters available that can destroy those heftier heroes. Layered on top of all of this are events, taxes, pay days, and the eight actions, each with three variants depending on when your minion arrives there for a total of twenty-four possible options.

After the final year, the game is scored. Points are awarded for defeated heroes and built rooms, and subtracted for conquered tiles. But then the real scoring begins with the distribution of titles. Each title is worth three points if exclusive or two points if shared. Titles are given for most evil, most imps, most rooms, most tunnels, least conquered tiles, most monsters, and so on. Highest points wins.

The Feel. Dungeon Lords is amazing precisely because it packs so many different “feels,” or kinds of experiences, into one box. But what makes Dungeon Lords unique is that the game is highly interactive without any direct attacks. When it comes to taking actions, you have to be aware of what your opponents have done and what they are likely to do. Without doing so, you may end up being the fourth player to take an action and be out of luck. Looking to get a particular adventurer? Better manipulate your position on the evil meter (propaganda is available) in relation to the other players. And since major scoring happens with the titles, the players are often in direct competition for those.

Each season, the monsters, heroes, and rooms come out randomly. This leads to a radically different experience each game and allows the players to try new strategies and setups. Going for the Imp Lord title, for example, may be more feasible if you also get the magic room where imps can be made.

At the close of each year, the heroes attack. Players can situate which traps they will face and what monsters (or ghosts) reside in the halls. Most monsters will only attack once and then be done. If a dungeon tile is conquered, it is flipped over to its light side and continually reminds you of the shameful destruction of your once beautiful dungeon. The puzzle aspect is interesting since it forces the players to keep track of not only their resources, but also manage healing and fatigue.

Each year also forces the heroes to contend with three events. Two happen no matter the year: taxes and pay day. When taxes hit, the player must pay gold to the ministry of dungeon lords depending on the size of their dungeon. Unpaid taxes result in big negatives. On payday, all of the monsters’ hiring costs must be paid again or they leave and go rampaging through the wilderness. The third one is a random event. All the players brace for impact because you never know how bad it can be. And it’s always bad.

Even while all of this mechanical goodness is ongoing, the game maintains a central theme and sticks to it. The theme is just humorous enough to be enjoyable without being overbearing or obnoxious. It’s fun to give out the titles at the end and all of the mechanics are fitted to the theme. Plus, as someone who has played far more than their share of D&D and the like, it is wonderful to play a solid game from the other perspective.

Despite the somewhat lighthearted theme, this game is not light. Dungeon Lords is on the heavier side of euros and it shows. There are a lot of interactive bits and the rules explanation, even for a serious group, will take about as much time as a play of the game. In fact, the combat is so complicated that Dungeon Lords comes with four pre-printed training scenarios to help new players learn how best to save their dungeons.

That said, the game doesn’t feel like a constant brain burner the way other heavy games can. Instead, the time passes quickly and I’ve generally been shocked when we approach the end and I still feel like I haven’t built my dungeon up well enough yet. Luckily, everyone else feels that way too and the game forces players to make hard choices throughout.

Components: 3.5 of 5. Dungeon Lords comes with tons of cards, tokens, bits, and minions. The imps are sculpted little critters and look great. The artwork is delightful and one of the best parts of the game. However, all of the boards are thin. Surprisingly so. They generally are thick enough to lie flat, but every time I open a board I worry I’m going to tear something. Had they invested in some nice backing, it would have been much appreciated.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 3.5 of 5. The game has a random draw for traps, but most traps are roughly equivalent in power (though often in very different ways). Also, there are times when the rooms come out in the wrong order for your plan, or the monster you want arrives just when your monster action card is unavailable. Events, too, can be devastating to some depending on the strategy being employed. That said, none of these points are critical to gameplay. While a little luck certainly helps, clever play will triumph nearly every time.

Mechanics: 5 of 5. Dungeon Lords, despite the numerous rules and exceptions, functions flawlessly. In fact, once the players start the second season of the first year, enough has been seen that everyone gets the game for the most part. There is a synergy to all the actions and the players are free to implement their favored strategies. And, best of all, despite the utter lack of “take that” elements, the game is highly interactive. Players are forced to interact on multiple levels throughout the game. This keeps everyone engaged and excited the whole time.

Replayability: 5 of 5. I could play Dungeon Lords every week for quite some time and not get tired of it. Because of the high learning curve, it’s not one I anticipate the Wife playing. But any group of gamers should quickly fall in love. The random appearance of heroes and monsters, as well as the random events, help each experience feel different. Plus, depending on what other players do, you will need to adapt. Those titles will be in contention each game.

Spite: 1 of 5. No “take that” elements, no cards to attack other players, nothing of the sort. There are only two areas where spite is even possible. One is in taking a resource that someone else needed in the hope that they are the fourth to take it and thus miss out. This is not only extremely difficult to do, but would likely be just as bad for you. I’ve never seen it happen. The other is in stealing the paladin after he has been wounded. While also difficult, it does happen from time to time (certainly not every game) and it can be crushing. That move alone, rare though it is, is responsible for the sole point in this category.

Overall: 5 of 5. I cannot recommend Dungeon Lords highly enough. It moves quickly, has so much going on that there is always something to do, and a wide variety of tactics being employed. While learning can be rough, and while it is a heavy euro, those two (potential) strikes pale in comparison to all of the wonderful aspects of the game. Great interaction, fabulous theme, high competition without “take that” elements. The game is simply a treat to play and one that will remain on my shelf for as long as I keep doing this board game thing.

(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated Fridays)
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Manuel Pasi
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A quick word on your "spite" rating. In a 2p game it is quite a bit higher.
With each player controlling a separate dummy player there are ample opportunities to block certain action spots and get on your opponents nerves.
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PasiMax wrote:
A quick word on your "spite" rating. In a 2p game it is quite a bit higher.
With each player controlling a separate dummy player there are ample opportunities to block certain action spots and get on your opponents nerves.


You're correct.

But all of my scores are based on a four player game. I think the game is at its best with four, and by a large margin. So I used the four player game as the basis for my rankings.
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