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Subject: ...and after 100 plays. rss

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Wilson St.James
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Winona
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I had thought this was the first game to 100 plays for me, but, I think ironically, it was actually the Lord of the Rings:LCG that got there first. I say ironically because although there are some similarities here, I stopped playing LOTR:LCG about two years ago. As I re-read my text, it occured to me that I am making frequent comparisons between the two games, so instead of fighting against that I may as well embrace it.

The complexity of LOTR started to really ramp up as each expansion was released. I felt like I was continually learning new things, and more to the point, needing to “remember” critical new rules during gameplay, whereas that is not the case with Dungeon Crawler. Once you learn Dungeon Crawler, at least so far in my experience, you're equipped to play through the base game and all the expansions.

In both games you build your deck outside of/before gameplay, and bring that deck into the setting. In other words, you will not be building your deck once the game starts, but just like LOTR you will still be crafting your hand.

One caveat, I do play solo and this review is built upon that background. Jey, the designer & fellow Canadian (just one more reason to love the game!), once asked if I would playtest the game cooperatively but I could not. I literally have no one else to play with ☹

So solo it is!

A further note that I am reviewing the game with the sum of all my Dungeon Crawler material. That includes two base games, two expansion packs (with two more on the way!) and multiple Delve Packs. There are perhaps only one or two cards I am actually missing (both promo’s).

Shall we begin?

Early reviews always mention the art. I don't want to dwell on this. Suffice it to say that as the game expanded the art evolved into a more typical rendering of what one might expect from a game with this theme. The art is now significantly more “high fantasy” and a lot less “interpretive.” Obviously those original cards are still there but with enough new content that you can work your way around them if you feel you must.

The newest artwork should satisfy most people's expectations.

Gameplay: components.
Among all the expansions I've purchased the die lot still seems messed up. There are some rather extreme examples of brightness/darkness, and sharpness/blurriness. So the consistency isn't there. However, I have never found this to be a problem. I have never played a game remembering that “the Dragon was on a blurry, dark Dungeon card” and had the randomness of the encounter spoiled. It's just never happened to me.

If the die lot issues are a problem, just sleeve things. Don’t let that keep you from this game.

The game also comes with little tokens. They are poor but they do the job. Whereas I had upgraded my game with different tokens, I have recently returned to the small, included cardboard ones when traveling and I am grateful to have them for that purpose. Sure they are hard to read and pretty flimsy but it doesn't really matter, and doesn't affect either my gameplay or enjoyment.

After lots of handling I'd say that the cards themselves hold up, ok. Not great, but ok. But what can be expected after dozens of plays? It is reasonable to expect wear. I would say that AEG’s Thunderstone stock do not last as well as these, but Fantasy Flights LOTR cards are more durable/superior. Dungeon Crawler is between these two, leaning toward the quality of Fantasy Flight in terms of durability.

Getting back to the iconography, I can foresee one issue. The Adventurer’s and Character’s actually have alignments, and if you look closely you'll find the associated symbols on all of their cards. It could very well be my age, but honestly I cannot make them out whatsoever. Graphically I find this to be the low point. I'm trying to remember if those symbols come into play at all, and right now I don't believe they do. However it is my understanding that a potential future expansion will make use of Adventurer alignments and when/if that happens we will absolutely need some sort of player aid extra-component-kind-of-thing. Being said, I would gladly “suffer through” whatever adjustments necessary to have more expansions.

Gameplay: table space, complexity and preparing to play.
I am something of a minimalist when it comes to games. Fiddly tends to turn me off, and this game is not fiddly. There are essentially two decks, period. One deck is all the good stuff and the other is all the bad stuff and n’ere the two shall meet. All in all this has things covering a very acceptable amount of acreage.

The same thing goes for bookkeeping. Essentially there is none. The only possible exception is having a so-called ‘permanent’ card in play. When you employ permanent cards they become part of your tableau but not strictly part of your hand. Permanents need to be managed but it's really simple. There are also almost no “if this, then that” situations. The best example I have to offer comes from my experience with Sentinels of the Multiverse. Following the order of actions in Sentinels is linear but complex. In Dungeon Crawler the turn sequence is also linear but crystal clear, and I can’t think of an exception.

Some of the game happens before the game. Of course I’m specifically speaking about deck construction.

You can avoid deck construction altogether but there are consequences to your enjoyment. For example, the only win condition for a truly random Dungeon Deck is to play against every card in that deck, ignoring the variety of quests that bring better focus and theme to your game. In other words, you really don't want to play a true random set up, and that means Dungeon and Crawler Deck construction prior to flipping that first card.

Done with a minimum of attention I'd say you can be up and playing in 20 minutes. However if you want to attentively build and craft your decks, consider that you might take up to 45 minutes. In some cases I've allowed myself two days to construct my Crawler Deck (that is, the player deck). Player deck construction in Dungeon Crawler has never felt nearly as complicated as LOTR to me.

Additionally there are several card combinations worth mining for. Some people have said that there is little synergy in this regard but I would absolutely disagree. Of course, the more material you have to draw upon the more combinations are available and perhaps this is where the criticism comes from.

In the Lord of the Rings I found that I was waiting for, and even needing, a specific card. I often felt as though my entire game hinged on a single card, and whenever I lost that card, or it didn’t show up in time, or was unplayable, I would feel tremendously deflated. At that point I would typically look at that session as an irredeemable bust. I found this to be a common cycle and it just added to my growing frustration with the game.

I daresay Dungeon Crawler is superior in this regard. Whereas you may be hunting for “that” one card in your player deck (called the Crawler Deck) it is not the end of things if you don’t acquire it. There are typically “back doors” that you can construct in order to accomplish the same thing as the card you felt was needed. So no single card or approach is paramount. I would not describe missing out on a particular card in Dungeon Crawler as “deflating” because it simply causes you to make adjustments, sometimes very complex ones, in order to achieve the same objective. The point is that achieving the initial objective is frequently possible from varied directions! Therein lies the heart of this game! For me, this is the theme and the joy Dungeon Crawler uniquely offers.

Gameplay: turn sequence.
Nothing out of the ordinary here. Player goes first, the dungeon next, and there's always potential for some things in between. The mechanic itself is not complicated but each hand and dungeon creates a unique situation that must be puzzled out using basic attack/defend and more esoteric things like skills, tactics, frenzying monsters, area attacks and other special effects. If you've sweated out card combinations in Mage Knight, Dungeon Crawler will scratch that same itch but won't leave you puzzling out your combat for any excruciating 15 minute turns. If you prefer mega-complexity stick to Mage Knight, but if a taste will do then Dungeon Crawler certainly will not disappoint.

Gameplay: keywords.
If you are like me then you expect a new game to introduce new key words. Who wants to play the same game with a different package? Learning new key words is fun, and in the case of Dungeon Crawler, not difficult.

Unlike LOTR new keywords are not being added. People complain, but ultimately it's a finite pool of keywords we are dealing with. So once you pick up any expansion or Delve pack you are ready to mix the cards right in.

After more than 100 plays you can imagine that I have little difficulty with the key words. However, I will say that it probably took 10 games to feel comfortable with the common ones, and 30+ games to get familiar with the less common ones (like ‘Shaken’ or ‘Frenzy’ for example).




Why has the game held my attention and not gotten boring?

Just so many combinations to try. Dungeon possibilities are almost endless because you can stock them any way you desire. Similarly, player decks are built upon the talents of several different heroes to choose from. I always tended to use two magic users until a fellow player challenged that strategy in a forum. So I tried it their way and removed all magic users from my group, and it was such a fun shift of paradigms for me!

The game scales really well. You can make dungeon as hard or as easy as you like. The designer has prepared several scenarios on the website.


Why don't people like this game?
Artwork.
Confusion with the keywords (which I feel is mostly a misunderstanding).
The need to own a lot of the material in order to play out the designed adventures and included quests. However, the game and the expansions have a very reasonable msrp.
Variety depends upon your access to the website. It's the only place to find a complete set of rules and all the potential dungeon decks. It would be nice if both were available in a printed copy.
Needs more themed quests.

Note: I might edit this review in the coming days to include linked references to the other games I mention.

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Joshua Nash
United States
Manor
Texas
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Epic!

Your playthroughs many moons ago helped me get into this fine game. Cheers!
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Bryan Felsher
United States
Rancho Palos Verdes
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Great post. I can't wait to receive my copy of the Thorn.
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X Topher
United States
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Interesting. I never heard of this game.

Suggested retail $24.95
Amazon.com $46.99

Suddenly, less interested.

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Hoping that 'The Dishes Fairy' is Real
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Wow. Well done Wilson.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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Jonathan Meltzer
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Nice review! Does anyone know of a review of the co-op play of the game? If I get this at all, it will be as a co-op, not a solo game. Interested to hear how it does in that regard.
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R H
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gattz wrote:
Suggested retail $24.95
Amazon.com $46.99

gattz, I think you should buy it...

Amazon.de has 2 copies to sell:
One is €120, the other €320! (w/o shipping)

gulp
 
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Joe D
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I actually have an extra (new, sealed) that I was looking to sell. If you're interested let me know (I've never sold anything on here, but I do believe there is a protocol for going through the Market).
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Aaron M
United States
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Excellent review!

I think Dungeon Crawler is a fantastic game and just opens up the more you play it and the more of it you have (expansions, etc).

Also, the support in the forums from players and the developer *Jey, is amazing.

Thank you for your post, Wilson.
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Jamel Rha
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Blitzbuff wrote:
gattz wrote:
Suggested retail $24.95
Amazon.com $46.99

gattz, I think you should buy it...

Amazon.de has 2 copies to sell:
One is €120, the other €320! (w/o shipping)

gulp


Prices on Amazon are just... weird. I strongly suggest buying directly from the designer : http://www.dungeoncrawler.com
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