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Subject: Imprisoning Paladins is Our Speciality (am I missing something?) rss

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David Lai
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I apologize beforehand for neglecting names and omitting exact details-- I wasn't planning on writing a session report beforehand. I do also delve a little into review/impressions of the game at the end, but I decided it was more session-y than an exact review. It's also quite long, so sorry that I don't have pictures to break up my wall of text!

Heading into BGG.Con, one of the games on top of my "must-try" list was Dungeon Lords. When the chance came on Thursday, then, I eagerly sat down with a group of three others to try it out. It was the first time for three of us, but we had an able teacher who eagerly explained all the rules for us.

I especially appreciated how he worked the theme into the rules-- indeed, the quirky humor of Dungeon Lords' theme is one of the top selling points of the game. I especially like how the rules explain how you can substitute a troll for an imp even in the "Magic Room," where you send two imps and a romantic meal to produce another imp. It's because "trolls really like imps."

After hearing all of that, I got set to survive in the cold, cruel world where we struggle and scrabble by to build cozy, warm dungeons for our misunderstood minions before the nasty adventurers come and wreak havoc all over our hard work. Even more, there were three other overlords who would come by to either steal the most attractive monsters away from me, already buy all the available food, or worst of all, buy the room that I wanted the most.

Except that I started out with an exceptionally paranoid attitude. Having heard nasty rumors about how devastating adventurers were, I was insistent at the beginning on attracting at least a few qualified monsters to handle the annoying pests. I found a troll to help entertain my few imps available and a room to employ them to make gold, but most of my time was spent buying food and traps, scraping by the little gold I had with my limited work force. I remember that one particular other dungeon lord had acquired the magic room and was encouraging all sorts of procreation, including half-breed troll-imps, but I found that at the end of the first year, I had just enough gold and food to acquire a troll, a witch, three traps, pay taxes and my monsters, and expand my small, cozy tunnel network once. My witch wasn't making the townspeople too happy, and I never bothered to make good press, but I at least hadn't hired Mini-Dracula and gotten the paladin out from his slumber like one of my neighbors had. Instead, I had a 4 HP rogue, a 4 HP/2 power wizard, and a 3 HP/1 power wizard cowering in back.

As winter came and the adventurers approached, I realized that my traps would be weak against the likes of a cunning rogue, so instead I simply allowed my witch to curse him away. The wizards conspired to set up a benevolent Word of Peace (withdraw monsters or gain +2 evil, likely because my monsters violated some sacred ritual) beforehand, which dissuaded my witch not at all. The wizards then decided to cast a slow but particularly nasty spell, I think, but before they got it off, a giant stone (4 HP damage before rogue damage reductions) hit the tougher one and a half-starved troll picked up the runty one and threw him into the prison. I thought I was doing just ok-- my food storage was empty and my gold was nearly out-- but at least I escaped the first year without much harm.

I was, however, developing a mildly nasty reputation at this point. With the confidence of a few strong monsters and a few deadly traps, I set out to again gain just enough food and just enough gold to attract more people to my dungeon. However, this time my representatives quickly raced to get permits to mine gold, while dawdling to visit the village-- under instructions to acquire food by any means necessary. While the neighboring lords were keeping the printing presses busy and ingratiating themselves with the locals, my representatives, uh, burned down a few towns and threatened a few people. Also, word leaked out that the hated dragon who mooned the prince was under my employ, and before you know it, they ran out of bad words to describe me. They did, however, send out their best and their strongest-- while a weakling warrior was my first guest, he was joined by the big bad paladin, a wizard, and a priest rushed out to my modest dungeon. I did have more food this time, however, thanks to burning down the village rather than paying.

The best and the strongest, however, lacked the street smarts of the last party. The paladin ran afoul of a succulent but poisoned meal--acquired last year and made more potent-- that he realized just in time to survive (but having only 3 HP left). Maybe if the priests cared, they would have bothered to heal him, but instead, they just watched him gag before my troll caught sight of him, picked his weak body up, and dragged him away from sight.

They managed to wander around a little bit more after that, but the party was unprepared for the loss of its valiant, if a bit dense in the head, leader. With a dragon, two witches, an exploding imp, and lack of conditioning on their part, I subdued the rest of the party before they burned through my dungeon.

At this point, I expected to have made a modest showing. I had attracted some fearsome talent, but my small, cozy dungeon was still small. And unlike my other fellows, I ended the game with less imps than I began-- while they had built up larger tunnel systems with lavish rooms, with plenty of workers running throughout.

Yet I ended up the clear winner. How? This is perhaps where I start feeling more doubtful about Dungeon Lords, especially as I found these patterns emerging in the second game I played as well.

The game, especially in its titles, really rewards the dungeon lord who does best at combat. In our first game, I scrimped and scavenged (before burning down villages) for food/gold instead of getting more imps and developing even the beginnings of an economic engine. Yet I was able to attract four pretty strong monsters, get just enough food to feed them all, and drive out the opponents before they got too deep in. For that, I won the most monsters title, the least conquered tiles title, and for kicks, the evilometer title. Plus if you're capable enough to beat a paladin, they also give you lots of extra bonus points at the end.

The second game, I ended up having quite a few wasted actions and feeling rather behind-- yet because I was able to acquire a demon for the price of two goblins, I was able to demolish the paladin and other party rather quickly, again gain a few other titles, and rally to finish a respectable second place (our leader had chosen a similar strategy, but made sure to attract the least scary enemies).

Which leads to my other point-- combat, at the moment, feels somewhat unbalanced-- and here's where my question is that I'm playing it wrong. The paladin is scary, but he only really seems undefeatable if he's surrounded by rogues. If you hit him with a heavy trap-- the first game was the poisoned food, the second game was with a giant stone that ended up doing one point of damage-- he then ends up with enough damage that a witch (4 damage) or a demon (7 damage) can finish him off before he can heal. Because rogues do more damage prevention, they seem a lot more valuable than priests. And because priests don't heal unless monsters deal damage, it's easy to deal just enough damage to the paladin before you whack him. Unless there's a rogue present.

Which leads me to my second point-- a lot of the game is spent manipulating the adventurers you get on the field. Again, I may have played this wrong, but I don't really see the "oh, crap" factor of stacked wizards because once you have four spell power, you may as well only have one. The second game I had three spells cast on me the second year, and it ended up being moderately annoying-- I lost a monster from the game-- but nothing more serious than that. Wizards are just annoying, you can usually get around priests with copious traps-- but rogues just seem painful. If that rogue in my session report had been in the back instead of the front, I would have probably had at least three tiles conquered instead of one. And warriors are actually somewhat dangerous, because they have more hit points than everyone else-- and they end up protecting the rogues.

Which leads me to my third point-- that if you're lucky, sometimes it pays to be the most evil character. I only started going crazy evil the second year when I realized that we had drawn powerful priests/wizards, which allowed me to ignore the nearly as deadly rogues just behind. And true, I would get a paladin, but again, a paladin without rogues (a balanced party in general, but especially rogues) is sometimes just an opportunity for a considerable amount of free points. If you're going to attract a lot of evil for keeping witches, vampires, demons, dragons and the like (and burning down villages to keep them in your employ), you may as well get the most out of them as you can.

Which leads me to my worry about the game. Both times I played it I had a blast, and I love the theme, and it's a well-designed game... but right now, I'm not sure if I'll love the game as much after a few more plays. With another Vlaada Chvatil game like Galaxy Trucker-- which is most like this one in its slightly off-beat theme-- there's sort of the general understanding that no game will be alike due to the real-time nature, the fact that there is a general press-your-luck element with the distribution of the ship, and the fact that you can actually get away with an incredibly risky strategy of cargo ships if there's relatively few dangers. With Dungeon Lords, you sort of press your luck if you go crazy evil, but you have enough foresight to know when you can do it and when you can get away with it. And with the main focus of the game on survival even more than developing a large dungeon with lots of industrious imps, it seems like the game doesn't really encourage going for lots of tunnels, imps, and rooms ("Magic Room" notwithstanding). I felt, after my second game, that I would have liked to be encouraged to go for a larger economy or somehow convert food/gold production to victory points, because I found out that I was still able to take on elite parties with my relatively parsimonious dungeons by attracting just enough talented monsters and getting just enough useful traps with the limited gold and food that I had. Yet there's only one title for most tunnels, one for most rooms, and one for most unused items. And you have to pay taxes on tunnels.

There are several caveats to the above statement. Both times we played without the advanced rules-- where there's an extra ? event (we had monster pay day and tunnel income tax both years only), which may make the shoestring budget strategy a failure. I've also only played twice, so maybe I just got lucky-- and that other people who don't get lots of imps or bother with reputation get burned by getting a nasty paladin with two rogues and a priest or something (which would screw up my day too). I would be down for another few games to see where this is going.

Or maybe those twenty-four tokens used for those upcoming expansions will quiet all of my fears...
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Larry Levy
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I don't think you're doing anything wrong, David. When I played the prototype back in April with Petr Murmak, the game's publisher, he emphasized that part of the strategy was knowing when to attract a paladin, since defeating one can give you big points. You were set up well to defeat the Big Boy, so you did well to invite him for (a poisoned) dinner. That's just good play.

But there are plenty of other ways to get points. I don't know the game nearly well enough to focus on the endgame bonuses, but I bet an experienced player can really do well there, even if they did nothing but beat "normal" adventurers.

BTW, the way you feel about thieves is the way I feel about priests. I'll take on all the fighters you got and thieves and mages can be annoying, but I hate those damn priests. All that healing can really put a crimp in your strategy. But even then, the right combination of traps and monsters should knock them down.
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Sebastian
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I also feel an experienced player (but newbie to Dungeon Lords) can get along well with the basic game and achieve a good result.
The full game adds some extra-nasties which will often get you to sweat I think.
 
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Jamie Pollock
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Quick query - you are aware that the Paladin is also a Thief in that he can reduce the damage of traps by 2?

The designer also strongly advocated playing with the advanced rules for balance purposes. Particularly the one where if you use your first order for recruiting a monster/ghost then you need to pay 1 gold.
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david landes
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In initial games with lots of newbies, everyone is exploring their own ideas about what might be best strategy and you may have hit on a good one that others weren't competing as hard for. With a couple extra games, and all the players recognizing more closely what it takes to win, competition in the "auctioing" should rise dramatically, and the ease of getting exactly what you want should drop dramatically. Of course, I have only played a couple games myself, so what do I know.
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David Lai
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Yeah, that makes sense-- I did use the pay gold to hire a monster on phase I and paladin trap reduction (I was lucky enough to not get a rogue either time I welcomed the paladin in with open arms, allowing me to dispatch him in short order). And it's true that if a surprise rogue had come out either time, my strategy would have failed or I would have lost quite a few more tiles.

I only went through the game twice, so I'm not sure what I know either If it does end up a mad rush to get the traps/elite monsters/taking just enough economic actions to acquire them and pay off taxes, then it's still a good game-- and probably quite difficult to do when everyone realizes that, more so than the two more introductory games I played. I also really like the phase system where you have to guess where other people are going/doing, even if it's caught me off guard at moments.

I guess I'm just not sure right now whether, if it does end up a mad rush to get the biggest defenders possible, there are alternate paths to victory-- and whether that will make the game less exciting after 10-20 plays. Only one way to find out, though
 
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Alex Rockwell
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Imo, there should be an "Evil strategy", involving getting strong monsters, being evil, attracting the paladin, and capturing him. Seems like this worked well for you. I would expect a low-evil strategy focusing on growth and weak adventurers would be available as well.

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Doug Adams
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Alexfrog wrote:
Imo, there should be an "Evil strategy", involving getting strong monsters, being evil, attracting the paladin, and capturing him. Seems like this worked well for you. I would expect a low-evil strategy focusing on growth and weak adventurers would be available as well.



Yes, I'm sure both of those are viable. I played a four player last night, picked up the printing press room in the first season and dedicated my strategy to being a nice guy. That, combined with a few visits to spread the word in town kept me nicest for the whole game, despite stacking up with two ghosts and a late vampire. Worked really well with the bonus ghost/vampire room at the end
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Tony Chen
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I don't know...seems like going nice is the way to go in this game. I haven't seen an evil strategy work yet. What was your final score?
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David Lai
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I *think* my final score for the first game was somewhere in the mid thirties-- the paladin plus four titles (most evil, most monsters, fewest conquered tiles, and actually most rooms (I think with 3-4 max) since I loaded up on a few of the monster VP rooms) added up quite fast.

Listening to the replies, it does seem a more high-risk, high-reward type play. Maybe I was just luckier in my first two plays (I'd be interested in hearing a story about someone trying to take on a paladin and getting reamed, so maybe I'll get the chance to write that story up the next time I play! )
 
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David desJardins
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Trocmagic wrote:
Listening to the replies, it does seem a more high-risk, high-reward type play. Maybe I was just luckier in my first two plays (I'd be interested in hearing a story about someone trying to take on a paladin and getting reamed, so maybe I'll get the chance to write that story up the next time I play! )


I watched a game at BGG.CON where a first-time player was about to defeat the paladin in round 2, but the spell that popped up happened to save it, and things went downhill from there as it destroyed the rest of her dungeon.
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Vlaada Chvatil
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Trocmagic wrote:
I *think* my final score for the first game was somewhere in the mid thirties-- the paladin plus four titles (most evil, most monsters, fewest conquered tiles, and actually most rooms (I think with 3-4 max) since I loaded up on a few of the monster VP rooms) added up quite fast.

Well, this explains it a bit. Seems the problem were the other players. It is very rarely to see the player who got paladin to have fewest conquered tiles at the same time. Also, it is rarely to see one player to have both most monsters and most rooms. What the other players were doing all the time?

Of course, you have some advantage if you don't care about evil track. However, you are giving the other players a freedom to care about it less, too, as if you are high on evil track, the other players may even cross the line without fear.

Anyway, I would recommend to use full game rules next time. There are two rules that make your style of play more difficult (it is not so easy to get lots of monsters, and the evil track is limited, so you can't ignore it at all even when going for paladin), and also the special events punish players with fixed strategy more than those who are flexible.

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Tim Kelly
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I taught this game 10 times at BGG con, and I came away thinking "flexibility" was important, too. In some games, the "nicest" dungeon lord would win, and those folks came away thinking "nice" was the surest route to victory. In others, the "paladin killer" would win, and those folks decided going "evil" was the way to win. Both are certainly viable. The one thing I'm sure about: I can't wait to play again!
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Tony Chen
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Trocmagic wrote:
I *think* my final score for the first game was somewhere in the mid thirties-- the paladin plus four titles (most evil, most monsters, fewest conquered tiles, and actually most rooms (I think with 3-4 max) since I loaded up on a few of the monster VP rooms) added up quite fast.

Listening to the replies, it does seem a more high-risk, high-reward type play. Maybe I was just luckier in my first two plays (I'd be interested in hearing a story about someone trying to take on a paladin and getting reamed, so maybe I'll get the chance to write that story up the next time I play! )
I am not sure one can count on getting most monsters, most rooms, and fewest conquered tiles while getting the paladin. I don't see how one can get 3 or 4 rooms and kill the paladin in a timely manner without some luck.
 
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Marc Mistiaen
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Vlaada wrote:
Of course, you have some advantage if you don't care about evil track. However, you are giving the other players a freedom to care about it less, too, as if you are high on evil track, the other players may even cross the line without fear.

It is somewhat off topic but I understand this point quite well.
It reminds me of Conquest of the Empire where the (two) player(s) with the more chaos points lose(s) VP at each scoring phase. In a game I played, the player who had the most chaos points decided that as he coudn't worsen his situation with respect to this he would stop caring for chaos points entirely. This allowed him to raise cash and troops easily. On the other hand, the other players too were allowed to do the same, to some extent, while remaining below the level of that player when it came to chaos points. Moreover, it meant that that player abandoned all hope to see another player become the player with the most chaos points.
(For the record, the player who chose to ignore chaos points didn't win the game, but it can hardly be said it was because of this specific fact.)
 
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