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Dungeoneer: Vault of the Fiends» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Dungeoneer: A LOT of game in a teeny box. rss

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Paul DeStefano
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New York
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I had written a whole family background of why I owned this game for 11 months, but screw it, you don't care.

I never played any of the Dungeoneer series before, and we've only played this one, so I'm approaching this as the entry point. I think because only 1st edition of the first was available at the time or something. Whatever.

So you get this insultingly small double deck box for like $20 or something. And you think - "Well. Isn't that a might small box. What kind of heroic exploration and beatings can happen in this?" and you throw it on a shelf and wonder why people think its good. Ummm. Theoretically. I mean, not like I would do anything like that.

Dungeoneer shares a huge conceptual chunk with another game I love - Summoner Wars. In the end, it's a card driven fantasy boardgame. Not a card game in the traditional sense.

This is a subgenre that I apparently adore.

The 'pieces' are as stupidly disappointing as you can get. You cut them from one of the cards and fold them into little standee type figures. In the days of boxes exploding with minis, prepainted or otherwise, this is just... icky.

Then the game starts, and you don't care. Sure, you could proxy in any of a thousand minis from when you were addicted to collectible mini games, ummm. Theoretically. I mean, not like I would do anything like that.

But it doesn't matter. The standees are fine.

Stepping back, its easy to guess that given infinite resources and no need to worry about price point, this game would have awesome cardstock dungeon tiles, beautiful minis, a rulebook rather than a sheet in 7 point type, various sized decks like an FFG game or Defenders Of The Realm.

But then it would easily run you $65-$100 dollars. And it would take one of those big chunks of game shelf rather than the absurdly small space it does take.

Again - like the stupid standees, the gameplay soon transcends the components and possibly thrives because of them.

The cards you get split out into a few sub decks. Would it be nice if they were different sizes and some bits something besides a repurposed card? Yes, but it pulls it off.

Your decks are essentially your character cards, the dungeon 'tiles', quests and the main encounter deck.

There's a dozen or so optional rules for 'advanced' play. I haven't mucked with them much. They're minor variants, but I haven't seen any as 'advantageous' to the game. Hidden quests are cute, but don't change a ton and add the annoying have to keep flipping the card to read it. The pre made map is OK, but laying the tiles to screw other players is too much fun.

The game uses a great heiroglyphic icon system which seems like a totally alien language. This is nowhere near as complex as Race For The Galaxy, but it still takes a good half game before every player truly gets the nuances of their hand of cards.

The brilliance that sets this apart from the approximately 7,000 other dungeon crawls in the BGG database is the resource system.

Instead of 'mana' or whatever points allow you to play cards, each player has two pools. One is Peril (ooooohhh!), the other is Glory (aaaaahhhh!). We use poker chips now rather than the little score trackers they give. Poker chips make it clear to see who's got the most of what really quickly.

Every move you make... Every breath you take... you gain some Peril and Glory. You spend your own Glory to buff your own dude. You equip artifacts, you cast spells, you gain cool abilities. Peril is spent by opponents. If you gain a lot of Peril, some other player will use it to smite you. Conversely, you use the monsters traps and generally inconvenient things in your hand on other players by using their Peril against them.

This is an absofrigginlutely brilliant concept. It prevents players from picking on a specific other player. If one guy pounds you to bits, chances are no one else can touch you as your Peril is spent.

Awesome balancing.

So, you run your little cardboard dude, keeping your eye on his stats and his unique skill (which really doesn't seem to come into play all that much) as you try to complete your standard RPG quests. Rescue her, kill him, find this. If you complete 3 quests, you win.

Combat is the ever popular (hey, it works) roll a die, add a modifier, high score wins. This works just fine. Combat is contested - you and the baddie roll. Some tasks are not contests (traps and such).

The dungeon is not huge. But movement is pretty slow, so while there's not a ton of spaces to be, it presents a decent maze, with one way doors, traps, teleporters and other devious goodies.

If you die - go home. This means that when someone appears to be close to winning, everyone does what they can to make life difficult. Which, due to that limited Peril thing, isn't always easy. So sometimes, you have to take things into your own hands and pound the crap out of them yourself.

You explore, you level up, you gain this ability and that, you send disgusting yet somehow really funny monsters to chew on your opponent's leg.

Is it random? You betcha. In one game, I had 2 quests completed, my son had one and my wife had abut half of one. My wife won. Her ingenious use of a speed potion, a HUGE helping of luck and some clever teleporting handed her the game.

And in the moment that almost defines Ameritrash Gaming - none of us were upset with the fluke rolls and card draws. The story was too good.

That defines this game for me. Sure - its random as heck. But you can bend those odds. Clever play (my son is a master at subtly taunting players into making attacks he knows will fail due to some counter action in his hand) reaps rewards.

The cool handling of being everyone elses bad guy AND your own good guy each turn is excellent fun and there's little downtime as you often have to defend, but definitely want to watch every turn.

Its a tiny box. But it disguises my one surprising negative about the game. The box claims something like 20-30 minutes per player. Even having gotten to the point of knowing the cards in the game to avoid rereads and rule lookups, I'm leaning more to 45 minutes per player. Anyone else experience the same?

Having not gotten any of the other expansions, I really wonder if combining is an option. The game would end up hugely long. I'm thinking you can combine the encounter decks maybe (probably watering down the theme) and mix in heroes, but you would have separate quests and maps as 'scenarios'. Again, any comment from more experienced players of the system appreciated.

Anyway, its cheap, compact as any game I own, and somehow, a sprawling, gruelling adventure of backstabbing, close calls, races and freakin weird monsters await.

Highly recommended classic dungeon crawl with nice 'gamer' edges.
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Dork Angel
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I collected a selection of these way back but haven't played them in ages. Reading this makes me want to look them out play them again. Good review.
 
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Rob Buchler
United States
Escanaba
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When I travel alone I take this along and play it solo, with no changes to the rules. Takes probably 20-30 minutes a a game for me.
I've to two expansions (3?) that I will add in from time-to-time, but Vault of Fiends on its own is very good.
Good review!
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