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Subject: Impressions after first Solitaire Game rss

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Marc von Canal
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I enjoy all kinds of card, board, and miniature games, as well as RPGs. I especially like innovative and unique games from smaller or independent publishers. Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of mainstream games like Dominion, and Thunderstone, but I am always looking for the next unique experience, rather than another derivative game.

So I have had my eyes on Dungeon Crawler (DC) for some time. The name first attracted me, since I do enjoy such games (I own and love Heroquest, Advanced Heroquest, Dragonstrike, Warhammer Quest, Death in the Dark, Descent, Dungeoneer, and even bought Dorn and its expansion from that small company in eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia if I'm not mistaken)). Then I began to research the game through the Geek, the publisher's website (www.dungeoncrawler.com), forums, and a variety of reviews. Many of the reviews were very positive, but I also noticed some complaints about the game's complexity and hard to grasp rules. I watched Drakkenstrike's video review (I value his opinion and enjoy his series very much) and followed the forum thread regarding his misgivings about DC. To decide for myself I downloaded the updated rules and tutorials, and watched the excellent three-part tutorial on the publisher's website. It all seemed to make sense to me, and at the time the company was advertising a 2 for 1 booster box special, so I took the dive.

A few days later the game arrived. I also ordered a couple of starters and the playmat to enhance the gameplay, especially since it neatly shows me where to put all the cards and tokens, and displays a excellent turn summary.

For my first game I decided to just use a Starter Set with the basic starter solitaire setup (65 dungeon cards, 65 crawler cards, 4 heroes, 3 quests and a whole lot of excited anticipation).

I chose my starting heroes based on standard RPG concepts: A warrior, a healer, a scout, and a mage, and then drew three random quests (drawing random quests was my choice, the game directs you to choose your quests).

I immediately realized that just the choice or draw of quests alone can have a tremendous impact on the game play and the choices you will have to make. For my first game I drew Axis of Evil, Rescue the Damsel, and Evil has a Name. Since it was getting late, I decided to play an easy game, where I only needed to accomplish one quest. Based on these quests, my winning conditions would either be getting 3 characters (monsters) of value 3 into play; Overcome (win) the Damsel Trap; or get a unique character (monster) into the grave (i.e.: kill him). The starter set comes with a number of additional quests, so there is already great replayability right out of the box.

Next I drew my initial hand of crawler cards, which included a nice combination of items, tactics, and spells. Remembering the complaints by some about the complexity of the cards, I took a moment to study my hand, referred to the abilities guide in the rulebook, and noticed I had no problem figuring out what my cards can do.

It became time to take my first dungeon draw. Since I played with a 4-point encounter limit, the game directed me to keep drawing cards until I meet the limit with the dungeon card costs or until a card busts the limit (exceeds a total of 4 points). The busting card is then placed face-up on top of the dungeon deck, to be drawn into the encounter next turn. My first draw included a minotaur and ruins. Each of these cards cost 2 points, so I reached my 4 point limit for the current encounter. Being a long time role player I quickly noticed that this (and as I soon realized every other encounter) essentially tells the story of your adventure..."So we set out and after a few days travel discovered ancient ruins. Warily we decided to enter and were quickly confronted by a charging minotaur..."

Neat, I thought, so I first looked at the terrain card "Ruins". It states that characters (you must get used to the fact that the enemies, monsters, are referred to as characters, and that your heroes are referred to as adventurers) and adventurers with Stealth receive +2 Power (which is the attack value in the game). In addition, no one can use flight, and thrown and ranged attack bonuses are reduced to 0. It all makes sense, and sets up a nice tactical suite for the ensuing combat.

Next, I took a look at the "Minotaur" card. It states that the minotaur uses melee as its attack, harm as its damage type (this is the most basic damage type), it has a charge +2 bonus, and its power/stamina is 5/1 (power is the offensive characteristic, and stamina is the defensive characteristic - players of MTG will feel very much at home here). I took a moment to look up the charge ability (since this was my first game, I knew I would learn the abilities as needed). It meant that on the turn the card is drawn, the +2 is added to the minotaur's power, making it a 7/1 on the first turn.

OK, great, it all made sense and now it was time to attack. To defeat the minotaur, I just needed to tie or exceed its stamina. Simply tapping my Gold Dwarf Warrior would produce the single point of power needed to slay the foul beast (since the minotaur's stamina is also its life points). We emerged from the ruins unscathed, without having to use any crawler cards.

An interesting mechanic of the game is the necessity to manage your crawler cards in the most frugal way possible. You don't want to run out of crawler cards before the dungeon deck runs out, as it spells your defeat. Likewise, expending the dungeon deck before your crawler deck grants you victory.

Over the next few encounters I traveled through murky swamps, fought goblins and zombies, got caught in a snare and avoided several other traps until we came to a gaping chasm. (Each of these encounters lent itself to great storytelling, and I really felt like I was travelling through a living and dangerous world, without the need of a dungeon master).

Across the chasm we spied our nemesis, Greenknee the Goblin Necromancer. He is a unique character, so defeating him would grant me victory by accomplishing the quest "Evil has a Name". However, there was the issue with the chasm.

Thus, it was time to take a look at the chasm card: It has a time limit of 2, which means it will stay in play for 2 additional turns (total of 3 turns), and it only allows combat with flight or ranged attacks. So we knew it would take us 3 turns to find a way across the chasm, during which heroes and characters without flight or ranged attacks could not attack. Fortunately I had 2 ranged attack spells (Flaming Fury and Fireball) in my hand, and a mage in my party able to cast them.

Now it was time to study my enemy. Greenknee, which can be considered a "boss" has a slightly more diverse ability set than your run of the mill monster. Looking at the number of abilities can be intimidating at first, but I realized that, if you take a moment to study each line, it all makes sense. Here we go:

Ranged +3 Magic: This simply means that he has a ranged attack (good for him since we are across the chasm from him), that the attack is magical, and grants him a +3 power bonus. So his ranged magic attack has a power of 6. Easy to understand.

Unique: Pretty self explanatory. I needed this for my quest. It also means that only one of these can be in play at any given time. Also easy.

Encounter Limit +1: Simply means that while we are fighting Greenknee, the encounter limit is 5 instead of 4 (or +1 to whatever your current limit is). Clear as a bell.

Reaver (Creature) + Summon 2 (Undead or Spirits x 1): OK this one appeared to have given some people a bit of trouble. I must admit that when reading the explanation in the rule book, I had to read it a few times and think about it for a bit. I think these two powers (Reaver and Summon) could have been explained a bit better in the book, but when you think about it and use a bit of common gamer sense, they both work and are easy to play. For the Reaver power, at the end of an encounter phase, Greenknee will send the lowest cost creature in play to the grave and heal one wound from it. So, in story terms he will kill the lowest cost creature and "consume its essence" to heal one of his wounds. The wording in the rulebook is a bit awkward, but this is a cool ability that makes Greenknee pretty tough while there are creatures around him.

For the Summon power, which is attached to the Reaver ability (note the +), if Greenknee kills a creature using the Reaver ability, he summons an undead or spirit with a maximum cost of 2. To summon, simply keep drawing from the dungeon deck until a cost 2 or less undead or spirit turns up and put him into play. Then shuffle the other drawn cards back into the dungeon deck. The summoned card cost does not count against the encounter limit. So "Summon 2" means the summoned card can have a cost of up to 2, and "Undead or Spirits x1" simply means he summon only 1 undead or spirit. Makes perfect sense.

finally, Stealth: Greenknee can not be targeted by an attack, as long as there are other characters in play as legal targets. OK also very clear.

And that's about as complex as it gets. After Greenknee summoned a Zombie, and a goblin conjurer rushed to Greenknee's aid the following turn, our battle with Greenknee took a total of 3 turns, during which our Dwarf took a wound, and our mage weakenend the enemies with a few fire-based ranged spells. We finally made it across the chasm on the third turn and Greenknee was left by himself to be pitifully slaughtered by our cursing and badly wounded Dwarf.

Victory was ours!

I absolutely loved my first solitaire game. I immediately wanted to play again, but looked at the clock to find it was 3:00 AM. So I packed the game up to play another day.

Final words: To sum it up, I agree that some of the card abilities bring a moderate degree of complexity to the game. However, most abilities are very straightforward, and the more complex ones are easily understood with a little thought and common sense (note: I do not mean to imply to anyone who disagrees with my assessment is thoughtless or does not have common sense, and agree with others that some wording in the rulebook is awkward and can be improved). What the abilities do however, is bring near endless diversity and replayability to the game. I approached the game with skepticism and found myself having a blast and wanting more. My first game took about 90 minutes, as I proceeded very slowly, studying each card and ability as I encountered them. I expect future games to go much quicker, once the cards and abilities become more familiar to me. I also look forward to playing the game cooperatively with my wife and oldest (11 years) daughter.

As a serious gamer (take a look at my extensive collection on the Geek) I highly recommend this game. There is nothing else quite like it currently out there. It is a great solitaire game, not just a game with a solitaire variant. I have not played the multiplayer versions yet, but from my reading, 95% of the same rules are used for all game types, with some variation on card abilities (multiplayer card abilities are clearly marked on the cards) and game setup.

If I have one complaint, and it is only a minor one that does not in any way distract from game play, it is the overall quality of the card print. I wish some of the darker cards were a little lighter, so that the wonderful artwork is not lost in the dim tones. In addition, for some reason the card backs are not completely uniform. The card backs come in three types: Dungeon, Crawler, and Adventure. Within each group, the hues and tones of the card backs differ slightly between the cards. Like I said, this is not a problem at all, but I felt I should mention it to provide a complete and fair review.

I encourage you to visit the publisher's website and go through the excellent video tutorial to get a true flavor of the game. I used a combination of the Starter Set rulebook, on-line tutorial, and downloadable revised rule books to learn the game. These free resources from the publisher address any issues that might have arisen from the printed rules included in the current starter set. I anticipate that future print runs will include the revised version of the rules.

The initial set (Unbound) has 160 cards. The Starters provide a great amount of playability. Additional cards from boosters significantly expand the number of Adventurers, Quests, Items, Spells, Tactics, Characters (monsters), terrain, traps, and events you will encounter in your Dungeon Crawling.

If you have any questions about the game or my review, please fell free to post. I stand by this game, look forward to future expansions, and hope you will give it a try.
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Eric T
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Thank you Marc for a great review! I just bought the whole 160 set of DC also and had the same ?'s and concerns about the rules being difficult.

I have not had time to play yet but your review has helped me get rid of alot of ?'s, so I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to post this session!

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Marc von Canal
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Thanks for the kind words Eric. I am happy to hear I could help clear up some of the questions you and others might have had about the game.

Think of it as a CCG/RPG hybrid. The reason there are so many card abilities is that the game really plays like a RPG Dungeon Crawl. Most RPGs have considerably sized rulebooks with lots of skills, characteristics, and mechanics to learn. The nice thing about DC is that the basic game mechanics are very easy to understand, and then you can simply learn about the cards as you encounter them.

I hope you have fun with the game. Feel free to communicate if you want to discuss any card abilities that give you trouble.

The designer, Jey, has also been very helpful and responsive to player questions.

Happy crawling!
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Cracky McCracken
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Thanks for the review! thumbsup

Would the basic, $25 starter deck be enough to give this game a go?
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Marc von Canal
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Yes absolutely. With the Starter Deck you can play solitaire or 2-player co-op and have the full experience of the game. The card set is diverse enough to give you a lot of replayability.

For my review game I only used the Starter set. The boosters don't change the game in any way, except to give you much more of what you already got in the starters (different Adventurers, Quests, Equipment, Skills, Traps, Monsters, etc.) The cool thing about the starter set is that it is not a stripped down set of common and uncommon cards with a token rare thrown in. You get 140 pre-set cards (non-random) that include useful cards of every type and rarity.

For 3 and 4 player games (co-op or competitive) you would want to add a second starter and some booster packs or a booster box.
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Jey Legarie
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Swampfox01 wrote:
Yes absolutely. With the Starter Deck you can play solitaire or 2-player co-op and have the full experience of the game.

You need just a little bit more for a 2 player co-op game, our math puts it in at around 3 booster packs. Probably best to go with 2 starters, 1 for each player.

I will admit upfront that competitive is just that, competitive, you'll need a large collection to play a head-to-head game agressively. Using 2 starters to play 2-player will be boring.

Multi-player, however, is brilliant with 1 starter for each player; because you'll want "soft" cards to face dungeons that you get to contribute to!

*Soft cards are cards that eat up points without doing anything to you during the encounter either by design or not cooperating with the other cards. Recurring Villain is a high cost soft card in Multi-player, while Reinforcements can actually delay your dungeon deck's depletion and not harm you.
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Libůrek Nývltů
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Ehm, Czechoslovakia doesn´t exist quite a few years now (to 31/12/1992), but otherwise good review. Just, how´s your opinion now, after a year or so? Because reviews after first play are more often than not more enthusiastic and doesn´t account replayibility and such things. So is it still good and hit your solo table often? Thanks in advance for a reply.
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Joseph Propati
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Excellent review! But I second the request, how is the game now after you have had it for awhile and had a chance to play more games? Does it carry the same excitement and challenge or has it become more difficult and frustrating?

Please let us know.

 
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Marc von Canal
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Hi Joseph,

Thanks for your question. With many games, solitaire and co-op played, I continue to find excellent challenge and game play in Dungeon Crawler. There are so many possible combinations of situations to overcome. As you master the rules and begin to learn each card's abilities and dangers (for the dungeon deck), you will find the game takes on a puzzle nature that works equally well in solitaire as in co-op.

This game was released before one of my other favorite games "Lord of the Rings LCG" from Fantasy Flight Games. I find it scratches a very similar itch of having to manage threat and many unexpected situations with a constructed deck of cards and a small party of adventurers. Both games give me the feeling of experiencing a story and both games work excellent in Co-op. However, unlike LOTR LCG, Dungeon Crawler works equally well solitaire. I would never attempt to play LOTR LCG solitaire.

Let me know if you have any other or more specific questions, I'd be happy to answer.

I look forward to new challenges with the Mines of Khurgan expansion.
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