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Subject: More Vlaada Goodness rss

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Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
North Carolina
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My Background and Biases

I own a FLGS in North Carolina, and play board games at least a few times a week. First and foremost, I play to have fun with my gaming group. Sure, I like winning as much as the next guy, but it's pointless if we're not having fun playing.

Because of this, I generally prefer very thematic games with a lot of interaction, such as Chaos in the Old World and Cosmic Encounter. There are certainly Eurogames that I enjoy, mostly strongly themed ones such as Dungeon Lords, but in general I lean heavily towards the Thematic side of the spectrum. The more abstract Euros tend to feel incredibly dry to me, so if you are the sort of gamer that loves Attika and hates Mansions of Madness, you probably won't find my opinions to be very useful.

Also, I am a confirmed Vlaada Chvátil fan. Dungeon Lords, Space Alert, and Galaxy Trucker are all among my favorites.


Overview


Dungeon Petz is set in the same universe as Dungeon Lords. You are a pet shop owner, raising and caring for fantastic beasts who will eventually be purchased by the aforementioned dungeon lords. Your pets (petz?) will prove to be troublesome little buggers, requiring constantly-increasing amounts of attention and resources as they grow. Angry pets will break free of their cages and put your imps into the hospital, magical pets will overcome your antimagic shielding and begin to mutate, and hungry pets will eat everything in site and produce enormous piles of poop, all requiring your constant attention to manage.

You will earn points by showing your pets in exhibitions and selling them to customers. Both processes are similar, in that you will be shown a list of traits that count as positives and a list of traits that count as negatives.

Positive traits (as far as this customer is concerned) are in the light rectangle, negatives in the dark rectangle.

A particularly savage customer might desire a very angry pet, giving you positive points for anger and negative points for playfulness, while the Children's Day exhibition will reward playfulness and punish messy cages. Skilled players will plan ahead to try to have their pets in the right mood come exhibition or sale day, but dungeon pets are unpredictable little buggers at the best of times and may well do the exact opposite of what you are expecting.


Mechanics

Mechanically, despite being by the same designer and being set in the same universe, Dungeon Petz has surprisingly little in common with Dungeon Lords. Both titles are worker placement games... and, really, that's about it for mechanical similarities. Despite that, the feel of the two games has a lot in common despite the lack of mechanical similarities.

The major mechanic in Dungeon Petz is worker placement via forming groups of imps and gold. Each turn, you will take some or all of your imps and gold and secretly divide them into groups. Gold, for the most part, just counts as a "single-use imp" -- generally, a group of two imps and a gold is exactly like a group of three imps. Of course, gold can't go shopping on its own, so your groups will need to include at least one imp.

Groups of imps ready to head out. Image by diddle74.

Bigger groups get to pick their action before smaller groups, so once everyone reveals their groups, the player with the biggest group can freely select any spot he wants on the board. Obviously, the disadvantage of big groups is that you will have fewer groups to work with, so you might be able to grab that choice pet you're eyeing, but won't be able to do much else. Actions that you can perform include buying cages, pets, artifacts, food, and potions, or volunteering to judge exhibitions -- which, since you're an imp, means you will of course vote for your own pet (and therefore get bonus points in the exhibition).

The main board

Each pet you buy has different needs. Some pets will be very angry, and require a strong cage to hold them, while other pets may do nothing but eat and poop. Mechanically, this is represented by a row of Need symbols along the bottom of the pet. The smallest pets have two Need symbols, while the biggest have seven.

A rotating wheel adjusts the pet's age, and thus needs.

There are four different colors of Need, indicating the different decks you will draw Need cards from. The red Need deck, for example, is mostly Anger, while the green deck is mostly Eat and Poop. You have a hand consisting of one Need card of each color, and every turn you will have to draw and play one Need card for each such symbol on your pets.

So for example, suppose you have a Size 7 Fiery Fairy:

This pet has four red Needs (mostly anger, requiring an anger-resistant cage) and three purple Needs (mostly magic, requiring a magic-resistant cage). You will draw four red cards and three purple cards into your hand, and then play four red cards and three purple cards from your hand onto this pet. And, of course, while red and purple needs are mostly anger and magic, you could easily find that you have had the bad luck to draw a bunch of Eating, Pooping, and Playing cards that you are ill-equipped to deal with.

Pets and need cards. Image by diddle74.

If you play an Eat card on your pet, it either consumes one unit of food, or if you are unable to feed it, gains a Suffering token. Suffering reduces the value of your pet, and too much suffering kills it. Play works similarly -- you either assign an idle imp to play with the pet, or it gains a Suffering token. More Anger than you are equipped to handle means that your pet escapes, and you will either have to assign idle imps to catch it (who will end up in the hospital) or lose the pet for good. More Magic than you can contain causes the pet to mutate, reducing its value. Two mutations will cause the pet to vanish to another dimension. Pets also Poop in their cages, requiring you to assign imps to clean it up or risk your pets getting sick when you assign Disease needs to them. What's worse, without the Long-Handled Shovel artifact you can't clean cages while the pets are in them, meaning you will have to shuffle your pets around to keep things from getting filthy.

An exhibition

At the end of the second and subsequent turns, there will be an exhibition. Exhibitions have a row of symbols on a light background which score positively, and a row of symbols on a dark background which score negatively. The Arena exhibition, for example, gives you two exhibition points for each Anger need assigned to your pet this turn, and deducts one point for each Disease need assigned. The player with the most exhibition points receives 8VP, the second place player receives 6VP, on down to 2VP for last place. You can see upcoming exhibitions from two turns ahead, so you have time to prepare by acquiring the right sorts of pets and managing your hand -- as you can hang on to one card of each of the four Need colors, you can try to hold on to, say, a few Anger cards for the upcoming Arena exhibition.

Customers work similarly, beginning to show up in round 3. Each customer looks for different things, with e.g. Dungeon Girl favoring playful pets and Lich Lord wanting to see different-colored Disease needs. You add up the points for the pet you're selling, and then multiply it by either two (the default) or three (if you use an imp on the sales platform). So if you had (real world example from my game last night) a pet with three different colored Disease needs (9 points) and two Anger (2 points), but three suffering (-3 points, some suffering is inevitable with that many Disease needs), Lich Lord would value the pet at 8 points. Get a 3x multiplier by having an imp on the sales platform, and you can nab a whopping 24 reputation points from selling the pet. You also get a modest amount of gold, which is determined entirely by the pet's type and size (except mutations reduce the price).


Components

Dungeon Petz may well have the nicest artwork of any boardgame I have ever played, bar none. It is by David Cochard, the same artist behind the fantastic Dungeon Lords, but in my opinion the art in Dungeon Petz is even better. The cute style combines with the baby monster theme to create incredibly adorable, memorable pets. The boards are phenomenally detailed (there are imps playing Dungeon Lords!), and just as in Dungeon Lords there is a great merger of form and function, with the boards having beautifully rendered spots to store every component.

A small patch of the central board, with imps playing Dungeon Lords

The production goes the extra mile by putting incredible attention into details some people will never even notice. For instance, each of the twelve sets of minion stickers (you only use eight) is subtly different -- one minion has bug eyes, another glasses, another is old and wizened. We're talking about a tiny sticker that gets affixed to a meeple, and in every other game they would happily just be recolors of each other, with the three minions for each color being identical. Not so in Dungeon Petz.

The minion stickers, with unnecessary but awesome cosmetic differences

Similarly, each of the player boards has a different screen, and each of the four cage boards has differences (they form a sequence, with a monstrous worm progressively emerging further from its burrow). These details are, of course, completely unnecessary. There is absolutely no practical reason for the four cage boards to be different from one another. But there's also no practical reason for a game to have beautiful artwork instead of a stark board with some squares on it, and I for one find that art of this caliber makes for a more enjoyable game. If you like the art style of Dungeon Lords, it is dialed up to eleven here.

The iconography is outstanding -- not necessarily clear until you actually know how to play, but once you do you will find that you can read the icons as easily as you would words. Each player board has what is, essentially, a complete iconographic reminder of the rules: every step of every phase, as well as how to handle all of the individual needs, that reads as clearly as English text.

Icons describing the turn phases

The imps are identical to the ones from Dungeon Lords, but in four different colors, each with a somewhat metallic sheen:

The four colors of imps. Image by ZaNaBoZa

The components are all of good quality, as expected for a Z-Man production. I was mildly annoyed that the cards are not of a standard size (they are, I believe, the same size as the small cards in Space Alert) and therefore no snug-fitting sleeves are available, but this is a minor annoyance at worst and obviously only affects compulsive sleevers like me.


Play & Final Thoughts

Dungeon Petz is, I believe, substantially more accessible to non-geeks than Dungeon Lords.

This game is, for me and my group, pretty much the perfect Euro. It has an appealing and very well-executed theme, it gives you a lot of things to juggle and keep track of without being overly brain-burning, and the decisions you make feel significant. The generic "build a nice castle to impress a nameless monarch" Euro theme does nothing for me, but here you're raising cute -- and very dangerous -- monsters, and you get genuinely attached to the little guys, even as they are pooping all over everything and chewing on your imps.

There are plenty of tough decisions to make. Poop in your cages has no effect unless you draw a Disease Need (risking having to add Suffering to your pet) or an exhibition specifically cares about it. Those are relatively uncommon, and poop can be difficult to deal with, so you might be tempted to just ignore it and hope for the best. Likewise, while (say) the red Need deck is heavily biased toward Anger, a very unlucky player might draw six red cards and get not a single Anger, so there's a question of how much you prepare for unlikely outcomes -- do you hold a couple of imps in reserve to play with unexpectedly playful pets, or do you cross your fingers and hope it doesn't happen? A good chunk of the game is risk management, and players who are not fans of randomness or risk management may not find this process enjoyable.

We found Dungeon Petz relatively easy to teach and learn. The rulebook has a good deal of Vlaada's signature wit, and the game is somewhat simpler and more approachable than its cousin Dungeon Lords. I'm happy to have both in my collection, as they are different enough that neither one eclipses the other. Again, fans of tight no-randomness "impress the grumpy king by building the best castle" Euros will probably not fall in love with Dungeon Petz, but (as with many of Vlaada's games) I think it does a great job of straddling the line between theme and strategy. It's a Euro, make no mistake about that, but it is a Euro in the same family as Dungeon Lords -- a smart design with a deep, well-integrated, appealing theme. Not to mention the cutest little monsters you'll ever see.

Seriously, how can you not love this little guy?
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James Derbyshire
United Kingdom
Norton Mandeville
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Great review - I think you've got it spot on. A great game.
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Gustav Åkerfelt
Finland
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Wish my copy would hurry up and get here.
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John Poskin
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Great Review, and as an owner of both Dungeon Petz and Dungeon Lords I agree 150%
 
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brad poon
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Excellent overview of the game.

I haven't read the rules, but judging from the context I'm guessing that you meant to say that the dark background scores negatively?

dragonnyxx wrote:

Exhibitions have a row of symbols on a light background which score positively, and a row of symbols on a dark background which score positively.
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Ethan Nicholas
United States
Wake Forest
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poondog wrote:
Excellent overview of the game.

I haven't read the rules, but judging from the context I'm guessing that you meant to say that the dark background scores negatively?

dragonnyxx wrote:

Exhibitions have a row of symbols on a light background which score positively, and a row of symbols on a dark background which score positively.

Derp. Thanks for the catch, fixed.
 
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Andy Andersen
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My thanks for a great review. thumbsup
 
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Peter O
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Great review! I got my copy last night and we all had a blast, including the guy who came in dead last by a good margin. Our initial game time came in at 3 hours total (with rules explanation and 4 new players). We also have a notoriously slow group. It will take some more plays to see where my rating goes, but it will at least be an 8 or higher.
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