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Domain: The Warlock's Challenge» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Domain - The Warlock's (Disappointing) Challenge rss

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Trencher for Life
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I picked up this game back in 1991 at my local game store. What sold me on the game was the replayability factor: “No two games will be the same.” Add the fact that it was a dungeoncrawl made me part with my money. For the most part, the game languished in my closet, seldom played, for a good number of years.

Then, I noticed on a Geeklist and a Forum that someone wanted more information on the game. So, I pulled out the game, blew off the dust, and played a few times solo. Here’s my review.

Enter unarmed, there are weapons within

Premise:

Domain is a tile laying boardgame for 1-4 players. The players take the role of adventurers who accept the challenge of the warlock, Algrim. The challenge (and the object of the game) is simple; the players must wend their way through Algrim’s dungeon, grab one of four treasures from the warlock’s treasure chamber, and make it out alive.

The theme and gameplay is pure dungeoncrawl, with some interesting concepts, but when compared to other games of its kin, it unfortunately pales in comparison.

My guardians are bold and you may not win

Components:

The dungeon is comprised of sturdy, durable cardboard tiles. There are three sets of tiles: The outer dungeon, the inner dungeon, and the 6 Antechamber/Treasure Chamber tiles. The tiles are nicely drawn and are easily recognizable from each other, thanks to the placement sheet reminder on the smaller tiles. The big tiles clearly indicate where they are played, so that’s not a problem. There are four Antechamber and two Treasure Chamber cards. The smaller tiles notwithstanding, that gives you twelve possible combinations. Add to that the placement of the major treasures make the game slightly unpredictable.

The tiles, when played, are placed on a flimsy cardboard placeholder in the player’s entrance area, which is clearly marked by quadrant. Unlike the tiles themselves, the placeholder is purely functional and adds nothing to the game, save on telling you where the various tiles go.

The players’ playing pieces are cardboard standups placed in plastic bases. The artwork of the various adventurers and the warlock is quite bland and I ended up swapping them out in favor of actual fantasy miniatures.

Each player gets a status card, which keeps track of Experience earned, Luck, Life Points, Attack Strength, Defense Strength, and a travel marker that is used when the player moves between trapdoors. They also get a lantern card to denote it being lit or unlit.

Magic and treasures simply abound


Gameplay:

Once you’ve picked a quadrant to start, the player may enter one of the twelve positions marked on the placeholder to enter and to lay down a tile. The 3x3 outer and inner tiles are placed in a particular fashion. The outer tiles are placed so that they line up with one of the dots that mark the players’ entrance. So, when a player moves to a new tile, he rotates the tile so that the dot marks the player’s entrance point from the previous tile. The inner tiles do not have dots, but are laid out in the same way as the outer tiles. The Ante chamber tiles and the Treasure chamber tiles are randomly selected and placed to line up with the arrows both on the placeholder and the tile.

The players can move 1-2 spaces a turn and earn experience by exploring the dungeon (i.e. laying tiles in their own quadrant) and fighting monsters (more on that later). Experience is purely used for combat purposes to determine who strikes first.

On the tiles, there are sunburst/diagonal arrow symbols of various colors marking off the locations of either: a) monsters b) objects of various sorts c) pentagrams used by the warlock d) traps/obstacles. As the players make their way to the center of the board, the color of the symbols change from light (in darkened areas)/black(in lit areas) to red (inner tiles) to green (Antechambers/Treasure Chamber). Players who land on the marked spaces draw a chit of that particular color/shape to see what they have found.

If the chit is a monster, the color code indicates at which speed that it attacks and the amount of life points lost if the monster hits the player. The player’s experience is compared to the monster’s speed. If the player’s is greater, then the player strikes first. If not, the monster strikes first. Combat is resolved by rolling a die, adding the result to the player’s Attack Strength, and finally adding any modifiers given by objects found in the dungeon (weapons or spells). The final number is compared to the monster’s defense strength and if the total exceeds it, then the monster is defeated and the player gains an experience point. If total is equal or less that the monster’s defense strength, the monster has shrugged off the blow and can attack the player, using the same procedure listed above (taking the printed Attack Strength and adding it to a roll of a die). If the monster hits, then a number of Life Points is deducted from the player’s starting total of 10 based on the monster’s color code (ranging from 1 LP to 2 LPs) and the player is forced to retreat one space. Certain monsters are undead and can only be killed by either one of two magic weapons (Sword of Light or The Javelin) or one of two spells (Ante Freeze or Boneshaker). Curiously, the undead in Domain are immune to Fireballs.

If the chit is an object, the player can either take it or leave it. The objects have specific weights and a player can only carry eight average objects, of which only two can be heavy. Players can find mundane items such as potions, keys, and rope (useful for opening certain locked doors and crossing pit traps) to magic ingredients for casting spells to armor and magic weapons (like the above mentioned weapons or weapons found in a Magic Room).

If the chit is a pentagram, initially nothing occurs and they are placed face down where they were found. However, when an adventurer makes it to the center and takes one of Algrim's treasures, the pentagrams become active and summon the warlock. After that, any player walking on one activates it and brings the wrath of the warlock down upon them. The player suffers two points of damage and is forced to retreat a space.

If the chit is either a pit trap or other obstacle (collapsed ceiling, locked door), then the player takes damage from the trap, must find a particular key to open the door; or in the case of the collapsed ceiling, another route to the Treasure Chamber.

For the challenger, there to be found

Interesting game concepts:

First of all, I adore the dungeon building process. I enjoy seeing how the dungeon will coalesce and form each time. The outer rooms were akin to raised walkways, with areas to walk down into the darkness to locate monsters or objects. The inner region was more of a maze/obstacle area. Also, some of the rooms act as a boon or a bane. In the two available Magic Rooms, all objects and monsters found there have their value doubled. In the Skull Chambers, a player must be armed with a talisman, otherwise they must pass Luck tests or be stuck in the room, with their life force being slowly drained away.

I also liked the Luck attribute. For instance, if an adventurer loses life points for any reason, he can roll two dice and compare it to his Luck, which starts at 10. If it is less than or equal to his current luck, he passes and takes no damage. He must then permanently reduce his Luck stat by one. On an up note, passing a Luck test earns a point of experience. Furthermore, you can come across trapdoors to circumvent certain parts of the dungeon, such as a problem door or collapsed ceiling.


Should your luck fail and death take its toll

Problems with the game:

There are many problems with this game. First, all the characters are exactly the same. Everyone starts off with four Experience, 10 Life, and 10 Luck. I can understand the concept of balance, but since there is no difference between any of the players, then there is no sense of individuality or uniqueness. Instead of Conan the Barbarian, you have Milquetoast Joe the Adventuring Schmoe. Yipee. More bland play, please!

Second, all the players compete against the board only. The rules are silent on attacking another player, blocking another player, stealing from another player, or even trading with another player! There's only two ways to directly have a hand in killing an adventurer, one of which involves you also dying in the process. One is casting a Fireball spell. The spell, like a heat seeking missile, locks on the nearest life force that is not the caster and destroys it. That means you can fire off the spell and end up killing a player that way if it turns out he is closer to you than a monster chit. The other way to kill a player is to summon evil in a Skull Chamber. If you perform the summoning and happen to roll a one, then everyone's life force in the room dies, including you. If a player dies, he has the option of coming back, but his stats revert to where they were at the beginning of the game and his items are placed at the location where he died. If you've already laid all your tiles in your quadrant, then you have to go monster hunting in order to gain experience, a dangerous prospect unto itself with no weapons to boost your abilities. Another rub, you only earn experience laying tiles in your own quadrant, you get no experience when you venture into another player's quadrant. However, this rule can be used offensively by depriving another player of earning experience if you have already filled up the tiles your side adjoining your neighbor's quadrant.

Third, the magic system is limited to only twelve spells of varying effectiveness. To hamper things further, you need to scrounge around the dungeon looking for reagents in order to cast them. At first, I tried looking for them in order to cast the various spells. Then, I realized that doing that was just making the game longer and distracting me from the real goal: getting to the center of the board to snag one of the warlock's treasures. The only thing that was necessary for that task was one thing: earning experience, because of the high initiative, attack/defense strength monsters resided in the Antechambers and Treasure Chamber.

Fourth, there can be times you can literally explore yourself into a corner. Since the inner region of the dungeon is more of a maze than the outer region, you could run the risk that the layout of the tiles and placement of the chits could cause you to have no path to get to the Antechambers. This is especially troubling when playing solo or with less than three players, as the unused areas cannot be entered. Some people will think that luck has too much of a factor in this, and I disagree. Aside from combat and Luck tests, Luck has a very small role in this game. It's a glaring playtesting shortcoming that this situation should even happen.

Fifth, the warlock's treasures and their powers are nothing to write home about. The most valuable treasure (The Staff of Life) has no game powers whatsoever and the least valuable treasure (the invisibility cloak) gives you the best chance on getting you out of the dungeon alive. Symmetry strikes again, and it's not good.

And finally, I now throw a rock at the warlock, the so-called master of the dungeon. Out of all the denizens in the dungeon, he is the least frightening. The warlock only appears if a pentagram tile is drawn and placed on the board. If that doesn't happen, no warlock. Even if they are played, any player with a good memory can plan a route around them or simply leave through another player's entranceway to avoid them. In fact, the scariest monster in the dungeon is not the warlock but his serpentine locked harridan: The Medusa. If you don't have a) the mirror shield or b) high enough initiative to run away or to cast Mirror Image or Fireball, then you're statuary, my friend.

Then all I claim is your worthless soul

End Result:

As I mentioned earlier, Domain is a tile laying dungeoncrawl, but the fact remains that the game has several problems, least of which is bland play. Will I play it again? Probably, primarily because I am a sucker for nigh infinite permutations on how the dungeon will be laid out. Will it be part of my collection for the coming years? Definitely not. I've already put it up for trade. My attachment to the game is simple nostalgia for the time when I bought it so many years ago.

Final rating: 5/10
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Jack Swift
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Good work with the review. Very thorough.
 
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Trencher for Life
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Jack Swift wrote:
Good work with the review. Very thorough.


I saw your plea for a review of the game on a geeklist and I thought, "Eh, why the Hell not?"

Glad you liked the review.
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Norman Petry
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Oddly enough, this quite negative review actually inspires me to try out the game. Despite the many problems you identified, it still sounds like it could be fun! laugh

I think I'll break the shrinkwrap on my copy and give it a try.
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npetry wrote:
Oddly enough, this quite negative review actually inspires me to try out the game. Despite the many problems you identified, it still sounds like it could be fun! laugh

I think I'll break the shrinkwrap on my copy and give it a try.


Oh, that's fine. It's not the worst dungeoncrawl experience, but I have played better, much better. This one was just vanilla. I'll keep playing it until I trade it away, but I won't shed any tears upon its departure from my collection.

Enjoy!
 
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David Kuznick
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I think this game had the dubious distinction of being the first one I ever sold. :-) It seemed like a total snoozefest.
 
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dkuznick wrote:
I think this game had the dubious distinction of being the first one I ever sold. :-) It seemed like a total snoozefest.


Without any real player conflict possible and the forced snail's pace the players are restricted to when exploring the dungeon, it can be.
 
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Gary Nichols
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Your review was possibly the most well-written of all those I've read on BGG. Thank you for being so informative, and especially for proper spelling and grammar. It made the reading a pleasure!
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Thank you for your kind words. I hope you had a Merry Christmas.
 
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Tim
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Excellent review. I was undecided on this one and you just talked me out of it, which is why I read reviews in the first place. I find it interesting that the use of luck to prevent a loss of life point was a staple of the old Fighting Fantasy books of the early to mid '80s, and was probably taken directly from them to be used in this game.
 
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relic10 wrote:
Excellent review. I was undecided on this one and you just talked me out of it, which is why I read reviews in the first place. I find it interesting that the use of luck to prevent a loss of life point was a staple of the old Fighting Fantasy books of the early to mid '80s, and was probably taken directly from them to be used in this game.


Glad to help. Fortunately, there are a lot better dungeoncrawl games than this one.
 
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Jason Eaton
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I've played this one quite a few times, it's odd that they didn't use different character types, there are plenty of dimensions to the character himself to make very different characters.

Here's a list of characters and suggestions for differences:

Wizard - is able to activate more that 1 ring at a time
Sorceress - starts with a heal spell that requires less ingredients
Amazon girl with 2 blades - gets a bonus to attack or defence when double wielding, may move 3 spaces instead of 2
Swashbuckler - starts game with extra luck or takes less damage from traps
Archer - starts game with extra initiative
Knight - is able to carry 10 objects instead of 8
Cleric - may kill undead with normal weapons
Valkyrie - can throw other weapons like the spear
Barbarian - starts game with more hit points, may use a 2-handed weapon in one hand

Haven't play tested, just some easy examples of simple changes that could be done to character stats.

Really this game seems to have some potential, but yea, the biggest problem is getting blocked into a corner. Although getting the human mole spell fixes that problem if you can find it. And if you can find a ring and amulet, then you can mole your way anywhere into the dungeon.
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I have just received this game and I am already having trouble guessing how the tiles are supposed to be placed. I need to read the rules again.

I have obviously not played any game yet but so far I am very excited about it. It does look like a pure dungeon crawl. Which means that no way I am going to trade or sell this one! I like the cheesy aesthetics, the many chits, even the tiles. The mechanics look interesting too. However, how the heck are the tiles supposed to be placed?!

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It's simple. Although you've probably figured it out yourself. The outer dungeon tiles are placed in such a way that when you enter the new tile, it will be on the dot marked on the tile itself. The middle tiles are situated as they form the hallway.
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George Grace
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Congrats and suggestions.
Excellent review. I'd still like to try this game, even though if it is just a "vanilla Dungeon Crawler"... I guess that means I can play it with my kids?
So anybody interesting in selling a copy for my to try it out?

P.S.:Rliyen do you have any suggestions for a "Dungeon Master-less" Dungeon Crawl packed in a box (Meaning ready to play out of the box?)

Thank you.
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kingeorg wrote:
Excellent review. I'd still like to try this game, even though if it is just a "vanilla Dungeon Crawler"... I guess that means I can play it with my kids?
So anybody interesting in selling a copy for my to try it out?

P.S.:Rliyen do you have any suggestions for a "Dungeon Master-less" Dungeon Crawl packed in a box (Meaning ready to play out of the box?)

Thank you.


Thank you for reading it. As for DM-less games? Dungeon Quest comes to mind, but FFG added on some rules that, to owners of the original DQ, didn't like. I can also recommend Dungeon and Talisman. If I come up with any more, I'll be sure to let you know.

Thanks again.
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