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Subject: A (Long Winded) Review of Dungeon Dice (And All Expansions) rss

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Josh Mass
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For those in a hurry, a brief summary of the game
Players: 2-5
Game Time: 20-60 minutes (with all expansions)
Rating: 8/10 (with a revision to 9/10 possible, read the bottom paragraph for more info)

Greetings Dungeon Dice Fans and Prospective Fans! Thank you for clicking on my review of this fantastic dice chucking dungeon crawling negotiation game. Encompassing the ideas set down by adventure games like Dungeons and Dragons and Diablo, the game seeks to recreate the epic tale of young, fresh heroes venturing into their first dungeon all the way through to when they are mighty, overpowered masters of their weapons and spells. But here's the twist: everything from your gear to your companion familiars to your experience points and levels comes in the form of dice. All of your weapons and spells have unique symbols dictating their abilities, giving you lots of ways to manipulate your rolls and achieve ultimate victory of FAME and fortune! But be warned, wary travelers; monsters have abilities too, and they'll stop at nothing to devour/suck the life out of/burn/freeze/stun/polymorph their meals (i.e. the players) into oblivion. Have I got your attention? Good; let's talk components.

The dice that are included with this game are truly outstanding. They feel nice and chunky as you handle/roll them, their colors are bright and vibrant, and the symbols are well etched and well painted in starkly contrasted colors; even when they are small and in corners, it's always easy to see which symbol is which. Each type of die is color coded: blue dice are basic equipment, and come in worn, normal, and superior varieties, all of which have painted symbols in gray, black, and purple to denote this; yellow dice are artifacts which are more powerful versions of the basic equipment and provide more diverse abilities, and they're also uniquely colored for the most part which is neat; red dice are one use items that can buff players' rolls, lower monsters' rolls, heal players, unlock chests, and give players access to powerful spells; dice denoting players' levels are green, while monsters' level dice are black. The monster dice themselves reside in the encounter bag, which players draw from each turn. Monster dice are all uniquely indented showing images of the monsters in various colors, which indicate the level of the monster you'll be fighting; green monsters are the lowest level and easiest to defeat, while gold monsters are excessively rare and provide the greatest rewards. Speaking of rewards, each monster die has a symbol on one of its six faces denoting what the player receives for defeating the beastie in question. Also in the encounter bag are familiars to help in combat, classes that provide new abilities if players can meet their equipment requirements, cursed items that both hinder and help the player who draws them, and unique event dice that could cause players to work together to defeat epic scale monsters or to fight one another for sweet loot!

The containers for all of these dice are also excellent. The standard bags that come with the game are functional, sturdy, and give you lots of room to rummage through them to draw your dice. The luxury bags on sale from Potluck are in fact nicer, and do provide some stretch which helps in your digging, but are by no means necessary. The bag that currently holds the dice is sturdy enough to hold everything the game currently offers, but will struggle and show signs of strain after a while; there are a LOT of dice in here. The game mats can help players organize their dice as they have locations for the general inventory, a place for one use dice, a place for monster trophies, etc., all of which are a super helpful tool for teaching new people how to play the game. The only potentially "poor" quality component is the rulebook. Each expansion comes with a set of rules and the book itself is of fine quality; the pictures are bright, the illustrations are adorable, and everything is brightly colored and appealing to look at. Unfortunately, the explanations of the rules can get confusing, or you may encounter rules interactions that are not specifically explained, leading to a lot of head scratching and house ruling. There have been fixes and explanations given by the creator of the game, but they're in the form of online FAQ's and answers in comments sections of BGG or Kickstarter. It's definitely not ideal, but our plight has been answered, and the newest expansion is offering a comprehensive rule book (one being reviewed and revised by gameplay veterans and designers) which should fix what's ailing the game.

Combat is relatively straightforward. Upon drawing a monster from the encounter bag, the player rolls it to see how powerful of a creature they need to defeat; if they roll the face depicting the reward, they've discovered unguarded treasure that's theirs for the taking! The number printed in the center of the monster indicates its level and thus the number of dice they will roll against the player. Other players may offer assistance to the active player, who may choose to accept the help of one person, charge into battle alone, or simply run from the creature in question with no penalties (beyond a turn not gaining any experience or treasure). Then the active player and any assistants roll their dice, someone rolls for the monster, abilities are activated, and then totals are compared. If the player is victorious, they claim the reward indicated on the monster die. If the monster wins however, the player is wounded and loses one of their level dice. In the event of a tie, the player is wounded but also claims the reward. If the defeated monster is a high enough level, the player will also claim the monster die as a reward, providing the player with FAME. Players also gain experience for defeating monsters, and gaining enough experience will allow players to gain additional levels (expressed in game by gaining additional level dice to roll). Adventurers with a lot of experience also earn FAME for their exploits.

A small interjection, you'll no doubt have noticed the word FAME listed in all caps throughout the review; this is quite intentional, and by no means the result of a stuck shift key. No the first player to earn four points of FAME will be crowned the victor. With the advent of Dungeon Dice: Coliseum, games can now be extended up to seven points of FAME to compensate for the higher levels players can achieve as well as the epic monsters that can be fought for rewards. This is the first point that I want to interject, though it won't be the last time I advocate for buying all of the expansions to this game: I heartily recommend that anyone interested in this game purchase the Coliseum expansion so that the games have some heft to them. If you prefer a more filler style game you could in theory keep to the four FAME games in which players can reach 6 points of experience, but I find that the game feels like it's just gearing up by the time someone gets to four FAME, so the additional time to play makes the game feel complete to me. Anyway, back to the review.

The way I described combat makes it sound like a luck based, deterministic grind for experience points and fame, but it glosses over the meat of the game: the abilities granted to the player through equipment, one use dice, and class dice as well as the abilities possessed by monsters. By having an armor die with the Protection ability (indicated by a shield), player can reroll a monster's high valued level die to make their combat total lower. A drop of blood symbolizes the Drain ability, and allows players to steal the lowest value die from their opponent, while the black and nebulous Void symbol allows players to remove their opponent's highest die from combat entirely! There are even abilities that can be activated outside of combat, such as using the music note symbol to Charm another player into helping you in combat, or trying to Intimidate your opponents into reducing their die rolls. Monsters have their own abilities that are usually identical to the players' choices, but they have some additional tricks up their sleeves (carapaces? slime bubbles?) that they can use to prevent players from fighting them at their peak effectiveness. It's this back and force of powerful abilities that allow players to manipulate their dice, their opponents' dice, and ultimately come out victorious. Each weapon type has its own abilities associated with it and some powerful dice (such as artifacts) can even grant multiple abilities with a single roll. In addition to combat abilities, there are abilities that grant Healing, allow players to Upgrade their equipment, and even select from multiple different dice to encounter. "But what if one player gets all the GOOD stuff and I can't beat any monsters on my own?!" I hear some of you crying from the back. Fear not, fellow adventurer, there is a solution, and forms the other major backbone of the game.

A lot of people throw around the game "Munchkin" as a fair comparison to Dungeon Dice. While both games are dungeon crawlers, I don't think the resemblance goes any further than that. The goal of Munchkin is to constantly bring down other players, climbing over them and stepping on their heads to try to make your grab for the win. Dungeon Dice I feel has a much more cooperative feel, as your interaction with other players is usually more geared towards asking for assistance to defeat a monster. When playing Munchkin, assistants will usually require a treasure or two of the rewards in order to assist in your endeavor (unless they're an Elf of course), whereas you can much more easily negotiate with another player in Dungeon Dice; I've seen assistants agree to help based on simply getting a one use die from the active player. There's also the idea of players defeating a high level monsters and splitting the rewards so that both parties earn equal fame: one player would take the monster trophy, and the other would take the artifact. There's a lot more room to negotiate your way into combat as well, as your experience total does not equate directly to your victory, and so players are less wary of you suddenly gaining levels. It may just be my own experience, but I've found much more camaraderie and a lot less backstabbing around the table when Dungeon Dice is there as opposed to Munchkin.

So now you know how the game is played, the major pillars of how it functions, and how good the component quality is. So now we come to the subjective part of the review: my opinion on the game. I wanna look at this in four parts: the base game, the Guilds expansion, the Coliseum expansion, and the smaller packs offered by Potluck (which will now be included in the base game). Afterwards, I'll give you a brief look forward to the expansion currently on Kickstarter: The Lost King.
The base game of Dungeon Dice is what first grabbed my attention. While the initial campaign failed, Potluck Games really worked it over in their heads before launching the game again to resounding success. The great looking components and snappy gameplay were what drew me to the game, and I was so enamored I bought a bunch of wooden cubes, printed out the Print n Play version, and spent hours gluing it all together. The result was janky, but I spent hours with friends playing it; I was ecstatic about receiving my copy in the mail, and immediately started playing the game like crazy… but there was a slight problem. I was totally hooked with the concept, but found myself burning out before too long. I was craving more variety in my fights, I wanted new abilities to try, and I needed to expand the amount of dice in my bags. By no means was the game bad, but it needed some more “oomph.” Thankfully, Potluck answered my prayers and Guilds came out shortly after.

Dungeon Dice: Guilds was an absolute godsend for me. This will be the second time I seriously plug a product of Potluck's; if you are going to purchase an expansion to this game, Guilds is what you want. Yes, I know I said Coliseum before, but trust me: Guilds is the ultimate game changer. The diversity provided by this expansion is what made Dungeon Dice come alive for me. Adding a ton of new monsters, a whole slew of new equipment options, new familiars to use in combat, and most importantly the Class dice, this expansion transformed the game entirely. Suddenly you had a reason to try out different equipment combinations, and you had more dice to trade between players. The majority of the games of Dungeon Dice that I have played occurred after Guilds came out. Most importantly, all of the classes introduced feel balanced, and they’re all equally fun to play. I fell in love with Dungeon Dice all over again once these dice were added to my bags. I didn’t think the game could get much better than it was after Guilds…

And then Coliseum came out. This expansion added a small smattering of regular monsters, but more importantly, epic monster combat. Along with a much-needed double sized gray bag to hold the multitude of monstrous minions of evil, the game came with 10 giant sized epic monsters to square off against once someone hit four FAME who would now reside in the suddenly vacant black bag. Now you’d have moments where you were all fighting against a giant multi-headed dragon, or a kraken that could decimate whole groups of adventurers. This added a lot to the sense of camaraderie within the game. To balance that, Potluck added dice to the encounter bag that allowed players to engage in duels, or to have massive brawls involving all players duking it out for huge rewards. While I enjoy both of those things, I find that the increased variety of spells included within this expansion is what made it really exciting; plenty of new ways to combat monsters to be had there. But the absolute star of the show for me, by far, was that this is the expansion that added experience trackers that would go up to 9 experience, allowing for longer games where players would compete for seven FAME points. Once I tried that, I was never going back to four FAME games. It felt like a sizeable, fun, interactive dungeon crawler, and I’m always itching to get it to the table for another few rounds. This alone is what took it to its current place as my favorite game of its type.

As for the smaller packs Potluck released within the first campaign, such as the familiars, the potion pack, the extra monsters + a trap and more unguarded treasure, the thief die, the Kickstarter exclusive dice… They’re all great. Of them, the familiars are my favorite; they provide an additional option during most combat, and are a really neat press your luck mechanism. “Do I need to roll the snake to win this combat? It could run away. Maybe a spell would be safer, I need to preserve the snake for when I need him…” And so on. More variety of monsters is always good, the addition of traps (more on this later) makes the encounter bag feel more dynamic, and an additional legendary artifact (i.e. the Necromancer’s Staff) is a fun addition that makes your monster trophies as valuable as artifacts. The potion pack also shines for me, as I like having more variety when I reach into a bag to draw dice. I liked it so much that I bought a second, which leads to another great strength of this game: you can customize and alter the exact contents of the bag and make your experience even more tailored to what you want.

So in case it wasn’t clear, I really love Dungeon Dice. It’s among my favorite games to play: it’s fairly portable, games aren’t so long that I feel burnt out after a few playthroughs, and it always gets some appreciative nods based on the quality of the dice alone. I’d give it a 9/10 if not for one thing: the rulebook needs some amount of work in order to make it more clear to new players. I’ve been playing since the first expansion and have dug through FAQ’s and rules explanations repeatedly, and I still find myself getting tripped up on certain rules or rules interactions. It’s been a point of contention throughout the game’s lifecycle and it is one that has not gone ignored. They’re making sure that this final expansion will contain a comprehensive rulebook to handle all the explanations and clarifications that players can ask for. Some people complain that the game is stored in a bag, and while I’ve never felt any difficulties because of this, it is a concern that is also being remedied by The Lost King. That game also promises a new dungeon die that will alter the locations players are fighting through and providing both positive and negative effects for players and monsters alike, new one use dice to provide even more options when digging through that bag, and relics which are special passive bonuses for players lucky enough to draw them from the one use bag. Add-ons for the campaign currently offer more artifacts and special “boss monsters” that are location specific and provide passive bonus rewards to the first player who can defeat them.

I didn’t think the game could get any more fantastic after what Coliseum and Guilds did for the main game. It created a fully fleshed out experience that replicates a dungeon crawl using only dice and it is just marvelous. My objective view on the game currently stands at a respectable 8/10, though with the new expansion providing even more content and a clarified rulebook, I think I’ll easily bump it to a 9/10. This has been long winded and over the top perhaps, but I hope it gives you an accurate view of what the game has to offer, and I hope you’ll join us in the Kickstarter campaign to help send the final expansion off with a bang.

Cheers!
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David Villa
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Great all encompassing review of the game. I particularly appreciate the summary of all the expansions and what they add to the game individually and as a complete experience. Well done!
 
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