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Subject: Geeks Under Grace Reviews: Welcome Back to the Dungeon rss

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Derek Thompson
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INTRODUCTION

In 2012, the game Love Letter from Seiji Kanai and Alderac Entertainment Group revolutionized board gaming. It was a full, playable, fun game made of only 16 cards! Since then, “micro-games” have become a bit of a craze. Like any sudden fad, there’s been a sea of mediocre micro-games, but the original Welcome Back to the Dungeon rose above the pack.

Now, Japanese designer Masato Uesugi has teamed up with famed French designer Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Hanabi) to bring a sequel. The appropriately titled Welcome Back to the Dungeon contains four new characters and new special monsters. It can be mixed with the previous game as well. Is it worth getting if you own the original, or if you don’t? Let’s find out!

REVIEW

It’s impossible to discuss Welcome Back to the Dungeon without referencing its predecessor. Fortunately, my opinion of Welcome Back isn’t far off from how I feel about the original. I’ll begin with some thoughts on Welcome to the Dungeon and you can take it for granted that they also apply for Welcome Back.

Welcome to the Dungeon is a push-your-luck game with a bit of bluffing. Each round, players “bid” on a single character to go into a dungeon of monsters. Players draw a monster card, and then either add it to the dungeon or remove equipment from the character. In either case, the player does not reveal the monster card to anyone else. Players can also pass, which triggers the resolution of the round. The last player to pass must go into the dungeon with whatever equipment the character has left. If you survive, you score a point, and two points wins the game. However, if you don’t make it through, you take one damage. Two damage, and you’re out of the game!

While the push-your-luck element is clear from that explanation, the bluffing part takes a while to manifest. Once players know the game well, they can try and “signal” a certain monster is (not) in the dungeon. This can let you trick opponents into foolhardy trips into the dungeon, or you can secure a safe trip for yourself. However, this means it takes a few games for the game to really “click” and can feel pretty random before that. It’s short enough that players can get to that level pretty quickly, but most other fillers don’t require any kind of “buy-in.” For example, the game’s scoring system, bidding, and bluffing element is incredibly reminiscent of Skull, which is a themeless, “pure” bluffing game. I prefer Skull because players get the bluffing element almost instantly. However, some players will be willing to put the extra commitment in for Welcome to the Dungeon due to the thematic elements, which are pretty awesome for a game so compact.

So what’s new in Welcome Back to the Dungeon? Most importantly, those thematic elements which give the system its edge increase tenfold. There are a slew of new monsters with unique powers, all of which I find to be incredibly fun. Several are also classic monsters evoking Dungeons and Dragons, such as the gelatinous cube. Additionally, four new classes complement those found in the original release. A ninja, princess, necromancer, and bard join the original barbarian, warrior, mage, and rogue. If you buy this release first, it might seem like quite an eclectic collection, but as a group it’s a nice mix that (happily) reminds me of Final Fantasy IV.

Although this release has new monsters, I don’t think they necessarily need to be in the monster deck, which otherwise seems identical to the one found in Welcome to the Dungeon. This allows you to use any character with any monster deck, allowing the games to be fully compatible, I think. My only real complaint with Welcome Back to the Dungeon is the problematic rulebook. The rulebook mentions at the end that the two sets can be combined, but gives absolutely no detail on how to go about this. Also, the rulebook is missing a key rule (who starts the round after someone is eliminated?) which was in the previous rulebook, strangely enough. (By the way, if you need to know, it’s the player to the left of the eliminated player.)

None of this is really a deal-breaker, and Welcome Back to the Dungeon is at least as good as the original, if not better. Quick play time and push-your-luck element make the game a lot of fun, but let’s be honest. The game’s appeal is amplified considerably by the wonderful artwork and the monster/dungeon theme, which is done incredibly well in a fairly tight design space. The next question, then, is: which do you buy first?

First off, the MSRP of either set is a mere $14.99. It’s not as if you’ll have lifelong regret if you buy the “wrong” one first. I think it really comes down to which set of classes you find more exciting. The new monsters and characters make Welcome Back to the Dungeon more complex. However, the game itself isn’t complicated enough for that to be a huge issue, particularly if you’re already a gamer. It might make buying the original feel a little dissatisfying, though. For me, I’m quite happy to have both and may try and condense them down to one box.

For fans of the original, I think Welcome Back is an automatic buy. For others, regardless of which game you start with, you’ll find a fast, fun, thematic game to fill in that opening, ending, or in-between half-hour of your game night.

POSITIVES

+ Awesome artwork
+ Cool theme compressed to a small, short game
+ Fun push-your-luck gameplay
+ New twists on the formula in second release

NEGATIVES

- A lot of "buy-in" for a filler
- Key elements missing from rulebook

BOTTOM LINE

Welcome to the Dungeon was already an easy recommendation for a quick filler to begin or end a game night. Welcome Back to the Dungeon increases the variety in the system extensively while maintaining all the fun of the gameplay.
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Thanks for the review! I bought both Welcome to the Dungeon and Welcome Back to the Dungeon for about $25 combined (new), so they're definitely affordable if you're undecided.

I like that the health counter and special monsters can be used with either game, in case you prefer certain classes more than others (you would have to swap out the entire monster deck so the backs still match if you use the special monsters).

So you just use the deck from Welcome Back (with or without special monsters) along with the HP counter and include any of the classes you like (pick between 4 and 8 classes) and you've got the game the way you like it.

You can fit both games, excluding the extra monster deck, into a single box. I exclude some of the success cards since they're not needed, but I do keep 9 successes in case we decide to play to 3 successes instead of 2 for victory for a bit longer game.

It would have been nice to have all the symbols for the equipment from both games on the Welcome Back monster cards as well as the Welcome Back reference cards. This would minimize juggling reference cards, etc. for new players. That's a minor gripe, though. The quality of the components (especially the characters, equipment and health counter board) are super nice.

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