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Subject: Can my problems with dungeon-crawl style games be resolved? rss

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Mark Green
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So, my group tend to be a big fan of the dungeon-crawl style games, such as the Descent chain (Doom -> Descent -> Descent 2e -> Imperial Assault), Dungeon Saga, etc. The problem is, we've found big problems eventually with pretty much every one we've tried.

One is that some of the design more or less require quarterbacking on the hero team, but that's less important.

The big problem is with the overall objective design. In the older games, (pre-Descent 2e) there tend to be fixed numbers of monsters on each map and unlimited time. This tends to create deadlocks as both sides wait to take their move in tactically advantageous positions.

In the newer games, monsters tend to be infinite and there's instead a time limit. The problem with this is that it tends to reduce the game less to being about fighting heroes and more into a puzzle game based on the movement mechanic, and also to result in terrible damp-squib endings. Which is a better loss ending - the hero team going down fighting to waves of monsters, or what we found tended to happen in IA/DS: the monster player blocks a critical path with a monster, the movement rules won't allow a hero to defeat it and move on without a turn end, the total measurable distance to the objective is less than their speed times the number of turns, so the heroes can't win and the game's over. Heroic death vs one step and a bunch of math. 90% of our losses in Dungeon Saga were like this. I know which feels better!

So is there any design or design fix that can overcome this, or ideally both? I notice the problem comes up less in RPGs even with similar mechanics, so is it a matter of character flexibility or adaptivity of the monster team?
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Pasi Ojala
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Get the Imperial Assault Campaign module for Vassal from http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Star_Wars:_Imperial_Assault
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There's always house-ruling in the form of the antagonist player becoming a dungeon master instead of a real competitive opponent. Use thematic instead of "optimal" units, give players extra rounds, i.e. adjust the missions to the capabilities of the players and their characters.

With my experience of Imperial Assault, with good knowledge of the game, building towards a good hero synergy, and good mission strategy, the rebels can become almost unbeatable. However, if the imperial player is much more experienced, the tables turn easily. The more I play, the more I go for the thematic direction to reduce that skill gap.
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Sal
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This is why I've gravitated toward dungeon-crawl games where the enemies are not run by a player but by a set of game rules. An example of this would be Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower.

The only solution I've found for this sort of thing is to have some sort of agreement between all the players and don't actively go for the 100% most optimum move but rather try to role play with the units you are controlling. So if I'm controlling a bunch of minion archers against the heroes, I'm not going to go within melee range of a hero just to blockade their path because it's not what an archer would do. Vice-versa for the heroes.

Even though I typically like "doing the math" in games, doing that in a dungeon-crawl bogs it down and makes it into an uninteresting puzzle-like experience, as you said.
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Josh
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RPGs inherently require crewtivity and flexibility on the GM's part. Close calls and epic moments are often built on the back of behind the scenes tsiloring and fudging. This is an accepted aspect of RPGs and why a lot of premade scenarios can fall flat if done by rote.

A dungeon crawl board game has a different design space. The overwhelming majority of people who buy board games expect the entire game to be in the box. You play by the rules, you get your experience. The game that tells players 'you're going to have to fudge it and make things up as you go' is going to get a lot of negative responses from buyers who wanted a game they could just play. This leaves the designers trying to find hard and fast rules to account for a fluid dynamic. The results vary, which is why the responses do too. Some love the new back and forth puzzle aspect of D2 and IA, some (oh me me!) Don't. Some loved the old tactical standoffs of D1, some didn't.

The answer is understand the limitations of the genre, and just keep on looking I myself ended up going with Catacombs, because the hybrid flicking/dungeon crawl means even if things go a bit pear shaped you can still have fun because in the end... it's a flicking game.
 
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M Smith
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Two things from the classic Warhammer Quest could be house ruled into the odd game.
1. Power dice. Have a D6 and roll at beginning of turn to see if random monsters appear . For example if a 1 or perhaps 1-2 1-3 etc .. the current level creatures appear. Depending on game and difficulty required .
2. Get some pennies of counters and write numbers on with permenant marker to represent the heroes. When creature appears pull out of cup to see who they attack. Blocking creatures or powerful ones can be 'taunted' by the hero involved.
Of course abuse can be used with these but they are good rules for some of your grievances.
Good luck with the delving.
 
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Ben Asher
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Take a look at the upcoming Gloomhaven. Don't know if it solves all your issues, but it sounds to me like it might.
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Brad Miller
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Seems to me Descent first edition dealt with this pretty well. Set monsters, with additional spawns coming from the Overlord's card plays. But, it's not shiny and new so...
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Tony Go
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I think it was Level 7 [Omega Protocol] that had a mechanic where the more time and actions you spent the more numerous the enemies would become.

This forces the players to find a balance between fighting endless hordes and being expedient.
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Alex P
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I too think Gloomhaven could be the answer. It fights quarterbacking by having the players all control characters who are allied, but who each have secret personal goals that might lead them to spend a turn doing what helps them best instead of the group, you're not allowed to have detailed discussions about what to do, and each turn you pick your actions in secret.

Each scenario is populated with a specific number of monsters (which is based on number of players). Each player starts with a set number of ability cards they use for actions, and when they get used up, you're done (you don't die, but you're exhausted and out of the game). So there is rarely time to stall, because you have a clock -- you have to spend two cards essentially every turn, so time is always a limited resource.
 
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Freelance Police
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Design your own scenarios. Also, search for fanmade scenarios.

I know FFG used to have its own database for fanmade scenarios, so see if they have them for the games you play.
 
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Carel Teijgeler
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Have you looked at Mistfall?

Not really a dungeon crawler but has a similar approach, I think.
 
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Adam Tucker
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hyphz wrote:
The big problem is with the overall objective design. In the older games, (pre-Descent 2e) there tend to be fixed numbers of monsters on each map and unlimited time. This tends to create deadlocks as both sides wait to take their move in tactically advantageous positions.
I don't understand as a complaint for Descent (First Edition). One of my biggest criticisms about D1E is that it was always more of a Dungeon Race than a Dungeon Crawl. I have to agree with the comment here:
Windopaene wrote:
Seems to me Descent first edition dealt with this pretty well. Set monsters, with additional spawns coming from the Overlord's card plays. But, it's not shiny and new so...

The threat mechanism in D1E specifically counters this. Cards like "Doom!" and "Evil Genius" meant that if you meandered too long in D1E quests, you were sure to have heroes drop from well timed Beastmen or Skeleton Archer spawns.

Now D1E does have its faults:
Monsters are balloons with hammers.
Far to much of a jump in power from copper to silver weapons
--> A decent early silver weapon drop can have a very significant impact on likeliness of a hero win for far too many quests.
The reliance on threat and the Overlord deck to create a time pressure for the game means that the game has a relatively set dynamic tension and arc.
--> Longer quests can easily end up too difficult for the heroes, shorter quests can easily end up too easy for the heroes.
--> A relatively large number of factors can have influence over the time element of the game (number and distribution of glyphs, difficulty of starting rooms/enemies, distribution and type of chests and how easy/quick/random it is for the heroes to get at them, how resilient certain quest/monsters are to specific hero and hero skill combinations, etc.).
--> All of this leads to the problem that it is very difficult to design reasonably well balanced quests and that quests pretty much all need to be of a relatively similar length, and thus ...
--> Never a good guide for quest development/design released.
Treachery cards were a great addition to the game, but the costs for many of these cards are wrong/imbalanced
Later additions to the game, e.g., The Tomb of Ice tended to slow the game down and make a long game, much, much longer.
Not initially designed with campaign play in mind, and the attempted jury rigs of Road to Legend and Sea of Blood, kept having to be errata'd while still ending up quite flawed.

I would still argue that other than D2E's focus and initial design around campaign play, D1E is a better game than D2E.

The large difficulty here is with two diametrically opposed design goals. The reasonable implementation of tactical miniature skirmishing (specifically in confined quarters), i.e., a dungeon crawl with a game (not narrative) reason for continuing to push the game forward (which tends to result in more of a race than a crawl) is extremely difficult to accomplish. Many games attempt to implement this via attrition mechanisms (e.g., Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System Board Games, Road to Legend (D2E)); unfortunately, this can easily mean that a string of misses for the heroes can inevitably result in a loss and/or that some heroes for a game are at a specific disadvantage. Some games will attempt to implement this with the threat of more monsters (Mice and Mystics, Zombicide, etc.); but this can occasionally induce longer games, as the heroes attempt to manage when/how monster reinforcements come into play or are increased, negotiate the balance of increased resources with time spent, and implement more risk averse tactics based on that threat. Such games can also reach definitive tipping points well before the game is officially over, and increase maintenance cost/fiddliness substantially on the way to that inevitable conclusion. Frequently this can easily become a snowball effect from which players have little chance to escape (more monsters means more time, which means more monsters, which means ...).

hyphz wrote:
So is there any design or design fix that can overcome this, or ideally both? I notice the problem comes up less in RPGs even with similar mechanics, so is it a matter of character flexibility or adaptivity of the monster team?
With RPGs, you have a great deal of flexibility that you do not have in board games. Far more opportunity to role play hiding from a band of wandering monsters, or trick them so that you can deal with smaller groups at a time. The heroes can sometimes find a place to rest and recuperate - even if only for a short time, and the time it takes can be hand waved away as nothing happens or played out if the GM decides that the heroes are found/interrupted. This isn't something you can easily accomplish in a board game (especially not a competitive 1 v All like Doom or Descent or Conan, etc.). With board games the attempt is to create a balanced game that doesn't have knowledge of strings of misses or relative success rate versus expected success rate.
 
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Andreas Krüger
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Galaxy Defenders works without a GM, perhaps something like this would work.
 
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J Mathews
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Thamos von Nostria wrote:
Galaxy Defenders works without a GM, perhaps something like this would work.

We found Galaxy Defenders to be a major grind though. Endless waves of enemies throwing themselves against you while you move towards the objective. I traded that and am hoping that Gloomhaven is the answer I am looking for.
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Jason
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As other's mentioned, the co-op dungeon-crawl would probably solve about everything except maybe the quarterbacking. However, there may not be as much of a need for quarterbacking either.

Released
- Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower
- D&D Adventure System: Castle Ravenloft/Wrath of Ashardalon/Legend of Drizzt/Temple of Elemental Evil
- Mansions of Madness: Second Edition (DC-ish)

2017 Games:
- Gloomhaven
- Sword & Sorcery

If you don't want to be working together as a team, you could look into Arcadia Quest. The monster's themselves really don't do anything unless triggered. But, the conflict between players is fun and interesting.

Another option that feels like a spin-off from dungeon-crawlers is Vast: The Crystal Caverns. The Knight player's role is very similar to the hero role of a dungeon-crawler. The Goblins player and Dragon player are kind of the overlord monster experience split up. The Cave player is effectively the turn timer controlled by a single player. Biggest hurdle with the game is that each role is like playing it's own game.

You also have games that focus on a few combat encounters with more tactical AI than the standard dungeon-crawler with dungeon exploring. These tend to have some sort of overworld experience as the counterpart to the combat.
- Assault on Doomrock
- Kingdom Death: Monster
 
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