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Subject: H2P Gaming Reviews: Dungeon Petz - POOP CUBES! rss

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Bryan Gerding
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I was always a terrible owner to my Tamagotchi. That poor pixelated creature was always either starving for food or swimming in poop. I feel like I have a similar problem with my Petz, but at least they have the good sense to try and break free from their cages.

Dungeon Petz does a good job of encapsulating what it is like to take care of a high maintenance creature. These are not loving pets that provide warmth and comfort in exchange for food and a warm bed; these are savage monsters that do nothing more than eat, poop, and thrash around in their cages. Sometimes they want play time, but I’d be careful going in for that hug. You’ll also need to be very protective of their health so that they don’t get sick or mutate to the point that they phase out of existence.

My last cat did that. Still not sure what reality she ended up in.

Dungeon Petz is an incredibly colorful game with a great amount of theme and flavor that truly shows through its design. It uses worker placement mechanisms with a unique take on turn order to create tense decision making. But for all these benefits the game may be a bit too tense and too punishing without giving a satisfactory enough ending.

BEGIN RULES EXPLANATION

The goal of Dungeon Petz is to raise pets to be sold to Dungeon Lords. Each round your pets will require specific needs to be met, among which are food, poop, and ways to get rid of their excess energy. On your turn you will be sending your imp workers out to collect the things required to suit your pet’s needs. At the end of each round the players will put their pets on exhibition to earn points and then sell their pets to become dungeon guardians.

At the beginning of the round, players secretly create groups of imps and coins from those available to be sent out for the day. When revealed, turn order is decided by the largest groups going first with player order breaking ties. Available actions include buying pets, getting cages and food, bribing judges, collecting magical artifacts or potions, securing positions on selling platforms, and collecting more imps.

After taking actions players will draw from decks of needs based on the level of their pet. Players then assign need cards to their pets. Need cards come in five colors with each color having a dominant need (though half the deck also offers different types of needs). Needs include hunger, poop, play, anger, magic, and disease. Potions can be used in place of needs and not meeting a pet’s needs will cause them to suffer or mutate. Pets that suffer or mutate too much will run away.

After fulfilling needs players will compete in exhibitions to show off who is running the best pet shop. Exhibitions requires pets to have met certain needs while offering negative points for other needs or penalties. Players that competed in the exhibitions will earn victory points based on their ranking. After the exhibition players will sell their pets to Dungeon Lords in a similar way. The lords are looking for certain needs and not looking for certain other needs. Players take the scores given by the lord and multiply it by 2 (or 3 if using the platform space) and turn the new score into victory points. Players also earn money from the lord based on the level of the pet.

In the last phase of the round the players will use extra imps to clean cages or earn extra coin. Food stored away will spoil and pets in cages will level up. At the end of the game there are two final exhibitions to score all the left over items.

END RULES EXPLANATION

I really enjoy this game, though I often feel it can be a bit too stressful. There are simply too many things that you need to do and I rarely feel satisfied with my final board. But what keeps me coming back to the game is the theme and experience it creates. From the poop cubes to the extra meat available when a pet doesn’t get sold in time, the game is hilarious in both design and execution.

EXPERIENCE


Dungeon Petz makes for an incredibly stressful game. Like most worker placements, there never feels like there are enough available actions for each player to take. But what adds to the stress is the element of time. In most games the goal is to reach a certain point after X number of rounds, but in Dungeon Petz you are trying to meet goal A on round 3, starting goal B on round 2 to finish it by round 4, and maybe trying to reach a third goal on the fifth round if you did well enough. The goals are selling pets for enough points to make the stress of raising them valuable. But because each buyer has specific needs, the first pet you get might not be worth its full potential in round 3, causing you to take care of it for another full round. Meanwhile, if you spend the whole game raising just one pet you probably won’t do very well, therefore you are forced to raise two pets at a minimum. And if you ever get to a point where you are trying to raise three pets, you’re bound to start sacrificing the wellbeing (and value) of at least one of them.

What alleviates some of the stress is the Need cards themselves. Not every green need will be food, not every yellow need will be play. Half of each color will be a need aside from the dominant option, allowing you to relax a bit more on your worker placement. Didn’t get food before everyone else? Well maybe your green need can be poop instead. It adds a random element to the game, but because you always have an extra card of each color in your hand there is a way to plan for better rounds.

At least, that’s how it should work in theory. What actually happens is that you start to stack your cards as best you can to prepare for the buyer that really wants the angry monster pet; so if that buyer comes up in round 4 you are going to save back your Anger needs and make your pet poop a lot this round in preparation. In fact, you’ll probably have one round where all your pets poop in one giant bowel movement causing you to abandon their cages as toxic waste dumps. But it sure will impress the troll if he’s looking to buy.

When you combine all these requirements you get a game that really pushes your need to strategize and plan ahead. You cannot be lazy in your animal husbandry; you must be calculating and prepared or your big sale will not go as well as you hoped. It’s a great experience, if incredibly frustrating at times.

The only real problem I have is that I am not sure I enjoy the end game. In a lot of worker placement games the end board is something you can look at and see your progress. But in Dungeon Petz your end board is, hopefully, empty as you’ve already sold off your pets. Even looking at your final pile of gold isn’t that interesting because it doesn’t translate completely into victory points. So while the experience you get from the game is incredibly tense and requires a lot of hard work and calculation, the only end product you can physically see is your position on the score tract.

NITPICK

Though I find the final product to be a fun experience, there are pieces of the puzzle that I question whether or not they truly fit, mostly a couple of action spaces. The action space I question the most is the one that allows you to get more imps. At the beginning of the game there are imps that you store on the turn order track, one on each round. When you take the recruit action you get the current round’s imp, and all the imps from the previous rounds that you didn’t collect previously. During the last exhibition of the game you lose points for imps you haven’t recruited.

It’s hard to define my complete issues with the space, but suffice to say it mostly just feels out of place. The imps don’t give you more actions so much as they let you steal actions from other players. Since the number of available actions never changes and is, overall, fairly small, the extra imps only help to increase your turn order priority. They’re basically just a few permanent coins. When you add up the benefit of the space with the time element of when it is useful to take it, it feels like both an unfair advantage and a waste of an action. Which is weird. It is simultaneously both the action you want and don’t want. It’s an action sink (see: gold sink) and I don’t like it.

If the game needs an action sink, why not make two action spaces for the two artifacts? Currently, if you take the artifact action you get both of those available that round. Some of these artifacts, like the books, are incredibly useful to own because they make it easier to control the needs you’ll play. Having only one action space creates yet another really powerful space on the board that is outside the main three concept actions of adopt, cage and feed.

Aside from these two actions, the other extra spaces are cage upgrade, potion/healing, exhibition bribe, and selling platform. I don’t have much issue with these spaces because they all are directly tied into the central theme of raising pets, showing them off, and selling them for profit. That these spaces work so well thematically just helps to highlight the out of place nature of the recruit action. I especially like how the platform action does not need to be taken immediately but can hold imps for selling at a much later round, but every imp you placed there as part of the action will not come back until they are used. Maybe the recruit action is supposed to counteract this risk, but it’s hard to say.

THEME

What keeps me coming back to this game is the theme. So many of the mechanisms are thematically tied to the story you weave as you play. I imagine that every board game would be better with the inclusion of poop cubes. For anyone that learns the game only from a friend, I highly suggest you take the time to also read the rulebook. In fact, I suggest everyone read the rulebook while playing to find the explanations of the pets, exhibitions and lords.

“Before moving pets from the lower half to the upper half, discard all pets in the upper half. They are removed from the game, but don’t worry: They go to farms in the country where they live happily ever after. For each pet discarded, add 1 meat token to the meat stand in the food market. Um, it’s just a rule.”

Board games will forever be easier to understand and explain when the theme flows into the mechanics. “Why does it take two imps to get a cage? Because you need two to carry it home.” “How do pets get sick? If their cages are too dirty.” The art and graphic design of the game add so much to the theme and feed so well into the gameplay.

“This whip is imbued with a mystical power: When you hold it, exhibition judges are reluctant to do things that make you angry.”


The humor in the game is so subtle, yet so brilliantly executed. It is dark, witty and satirical, but none of it detracts from the overall experience. Like Dungeon Lords and Alchemists, Dungeon Petz has a rulebook that is fun to read with gameplay to match.

In the pictures I’ve included you will see upgraded wooden tokens from Meeple Source. I’ve also been told that Unicorn Poop makes for a great replacement to the poop cubes.

CONCLUSION

Dungeon Petz is a highly thematic game that creates a tense and challenging experience. Raising pets to be sold is not easy, and doing it well will require a large level of future planning. Dungeon Petz should go over well with both types of gamers, the thematic and the strategic, due to its fun blend of both.

A word of caution though, the game is highly involved. It is a pretty heavy game and there are a lot of moving parts to figure out. This is not an entry level experience and should be approached with caution by players that aren’t accustomed to heavier levels of games.


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See more of my reviews: HERE
Follow me on Twitter @HeirToPendragon
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Michael J
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Great review for one of my favorite games. I'd like to add that the expansion for the game actually makes it slightly more forgiving (for those that are interested). It adds more ways to buy things, cool cage additions with helpful abilities, and some special powers that you can take advantage of using imps that didn't work. So for those that consider the game too frustrating, consider playing it with the expansion to ease it up a tiny bit... It's still a hard game regardless.
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Bryan Gerding
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mjacobsca wrote:
Great review for one of my favorite games. I'd like to add that the expansion for the game actually makes it slightly more forgiving (for those that are interested). It adds more ways to buy things, cool cage additions with helpful abilities, and some special powers that you can take advantage of using imps that didn't work. So for those that consider the game too frustrating, consider playing it with the expansion to ease it up a tiny bit... It's still a hard game regardless.


We are actually torn on the expansion. I like what it adds, but we sometimes feel that it just makes the game a bit more convoluted. Too many more moving parts to keep track of, even if it does give you more options for your imps.
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