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Subject: A Year With Dungeon Lords rss

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After falling in love with and purchasing Caylus (which happened after playing Pillars of the Earth and having it recommended), I looked into other worker placement games. Agricola, Stone Age, and Le Havre both had high ratings, but it was Dungeon Lords that caught my attention, due to the fantasy theme that I was so into at the start of my boardgaming career.

One of the players at the monthly meetup group mentioned they wanted to play it, and I immediately said I wanted to play it. It was in November of '10 that I got to try it, and after that first playing, it was soon added to my next game order which arrived the next month.

Unlike Caylus, where the other players are the biggest threat to your plans and you can see where they place their workers on their turn, this game was much more brutal. Not only did you have to fight the other players for the spaces you wanted, but everyone chose their placements in secret, so you could never be assured of getting the spot you need. There were also events that occurred in between rounds that were constantly draining you of your resources. It was a constant struggle to keep your head above the water, which made every decision important, and that's what I loved about it so much.

To date, I have played this game 15 times. I know this game would have been played much more if it allowed 5 players, as that's often the minimum amount of players we have when I get together with my friends.

The Premise:
You are a dungeon lord, looking to get your dungeon lording license from the Ministry of Dungeons. The Ministry judges applicants four at a time, so there are three other dungeon lords in the area you're competing with. After two years, they will judge you on how well you followed their rules, paid their taxes, and how well kept your dungeon is after suffering through bands of adventurers.

Over the course of the year, you must send your minions out on tasks to get food, purchase traps and monsters, or even spy on the local adventurers. With your imps, they can be used to expand your dungeon or dig for the gold needed for purchases, and do other menial tasks if you have the right accommodations. At the end of the year, you must set up your traps and use your monsters to defend your hard work from the band of adventurers, capturing them if you can.

After the battle, you do it all again. After one more year, the Ministry of Dungeons will judge who the best dungeon lords are and determine who will get their licenses.

The Components:
The components in this game are great. You get no less than 7 game boards. Four of them are the player boards and represents the dungeon layout, and storage for the different resources/items/creatures you acquire. One keeps track of the turn order, and has the battle flow and scoreboard on the other side. One keeps track of all the upcoming room/adventurer/monster tiles and is also used to hold any discards. And finally, the main resource board is used to determine who gets what resource during the rounds.

There are lots of thick cardboard pieces which represent the dungeon hallways and rooms for the layout, the many different adventurers that can plunder your dungeon, and the monsters you use to fight back. Small green wooden cubes are used to represent food, and wooden yellow discs represent gold. 12 wooden minions (3 in each player color) represent the worker placement for each round, and a bunch of little plastic imps are used to represent the more menial tasks. Red plastic cubes are used to represent damage to adventurers as well as negative points for not paying taxes and other penalties. A large wooden disc (with accompanying happy face sticker) is used as a first player marker.

Cards are used to represent the orders that your minions will carry out each turn. Each player will also get some cards which show how the final scoring works. Cards are also used for traps, events, and spells cast/exhaustion damage during the battle with adventurers.

All in all, the art on the components is fantastic and fit into the theme and world that was created for this game.

The Gameplay:
This is a rules intensive and difficult game to teach. I will only give a general overview here as the rules are online, and are quite humorous and make for a good read. The rules give a thematic reasoning for everything, as well as include teaching modules for how to battle the adventurers which also use the underside of the player boards. This is a very in depth rulebook.

Basically, the game takes place over two years. Each year consists of the four seasons, with each season allowing you to choose three actions with your three minions. This means you get a total of 12 actions before you must battle the adventurers.

Every player chooses their minion orders in secret with cards. There are a total of 8 orders to choose from, and each order space has three locations. With a total of four players, and only three locations per order, there is a chance of getting locked out if you are the last to arrive. However, every player will always have two orders they are not allowed to choose from that will be open for everyone to see (usually the last two orders they chose from the previous round).

When the three orders have been chosen by each player, the first player reveals their first order, and places a minion on the first location of that order. Then the next player reveals their first order and places them on the first available location of that order. The orders are revealed in player order until every player has placed their minions. Then the actions are carried out.

The different orders are as follows: Get Food, Improve Reputation, Dig Tunnels, Mine Gold, Recruit Imps, Buy Traps, Hire Monsters, Build Room. Not only do you have to worry about possibly being locked out of an order (which means wasting 1 of your precious 12 actions), but each location offers a different value for the order, with the middle location often being the best value, and the final location offering more at once but for a heftier price. So the ordering of the minion orders is very important to get what you want (or sometimes need if you can't pay the cost of certain locations in that order) and you will have to take into consideration what the other players may choose and in what order they will reveal them.

In between these rounds, there are events that occur in random order, as well as the adventurers being assigned to players dungeons (based on how evil they are perceived to be, as determined by the evil-ometer). Events and adventurers are always known two rounds ahead of time so they can be planned for.

Fighting the adventurers at the end of the year is like a little mini-game in itself. It works out as a kind of logic puzzle where you must best determine in which order to play your traps and monsters to deal with them most efficiently in order to keep them from destroying your dungeon. If you don't plan this section well enough, or hire enough monsters and buy enough traps during the year, the effects can be devastating.

After the first year is over, you continue on into the next year. The adventurers are tougher in the second year, but more powerful monsters also become available, and several traps are also more effective in the second year. Once the second year is over, it is time to add up the scores. Points are awarded for things like having the most tunnels/rooms/monsters/imps as well as the number of adventurers captured and other things. Certain second year rooms also give points simply for having it in your dungeon. The player with the most points wins, although all players above 0 points (being negative is not too uncommon) are awarded their license by the Ministry of Dungeons.

Final Thoughts:
I will just come out and say, with 4 players, this is probably my favorite game. There is so much to think about each turn, with the order turn, when to have your imps dig or mine as opposed to using the rooms (and which rooms to get) to free up an order. Which monsters to go with that will best deal with the adventurers you are getting, when to expand your dungeon and hire monsters since taxes and payday events will hit you harder. There are a lot of things to consider just to keep up with what is going on in the game, and meanwhile you have to try to stay on top of the categories that will award you points, so you can come out ahead in the end. It is a deep brain burner and I love it.

That is not to say it is without its faults. This is not an easy game to teach. There are a lot of specific rules that must be remembered as well as lots of exceptions to the rules for certain situations. Constantly being forced to pay for events and getting hammered is certainly not for everyone, and some players want to feel they are doing something productive. However, you have to keep in mind that it is happening to everyone, and misery loves company.

The worse thing about this game is that it is built for 4 players, and having less than that means you have to have dummy players. There are a set number of locations and having less than 4 players will greatly reduce the tension, so dummy players are definitely needed. I haven't played the game with only 2, but with 3, a 4th dummy player is easy enough to keep track of, but I find it reduces the strategy and fun quite a bit. The dummy's order are revealed immediately, before the players choose, so the overall difficulty of what to choose and in what order is lessened.

With all that said, I rate this game a 10. It is an excellent game with 4 players, and in my mind, the fun I have with this one definitely outweighs the negatives of playing with less. This game even comes with an expansion (the rules must be downloaded separately) that lets you mess with the other players even more by giving magic items to the adventurers in the other player's dungeons and making them even more difficult to capture. Now all I have to ask is, where is a year 3 expansion?

Thanks for reading! You can find more of my reviews at: A Year With My Games.
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Ryan James
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The one time I played this, it was soooo awesome, and is near the top of my 'Hot List,' which is games I have only played a handful of times and REALLY want to play again. I think with a few more plays, this would be one of my favorites. That being said, on our weekend with Battlestar and Mansions of Madness, we should squeeze a game of this in there. Aw hell, let's just plan another NerdFest weekend...

Nice review
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Noble Knave
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Dungeon Lords is also probably my favorite 4P game, for reasons you've mentioned. I'd check the Variants section, there are a number of good suggestions for making it work better with 2 or 3 P or even a 5P variant that's a lot of fun (there's a Play By Forum 5P currently going on if you want to check it out. It can be brutal, but it makes the successes that much more gratifying.

Here's a quick rundown of how I play the dummies in 2P/3P:

1) The dummy boards are seated as a (3rd or ) 4th player. In a 2P, place them so that it goes player -> dummy -> player -> dummy.
2) Dummies have 3 inaccessible orders and the other 5 are placed randomly face down.
3) Dummy orders are revealed at the same time as player orders and they put their minions out just like humans.
4) If a dummy is to take a room or monster, have it take the rightmost available and keep it by that dummy's board.
5) Track the dummy's evil based on when it gets food, improves reputation, hires monster, performs payday, or other special events. Use all 4 adventurers and assign adventurers to the dummies as well.
6) Dummies don't compete for titles and should be ignored for final scoring.

These are adapted from someone else, it eludes me who originally posted them. But give them a whirl, they make the dummy players behave far more like (rather random) real players and maintain the same tenseness as a 4P!

Excellent review, btw.
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Pedro Pereira
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Quote:
A Year With Dungeon Lords


Nice review, but I think you got it all wrong... DL's played over 2 years not just one! You might have to revise your review afterwards... whistle
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Scott Lewis
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I think the Dummy Player thing is largely a matter of taste. Most of my DL games are with 2, and I disagree it "reduces" the strategy. Certainly it's a different strategy, as you have to plan for a little more unknown randomness (although in a 4-player game, you are still trying to outguess the other players), but there is still a lot of strategy in trying to outguess the other player, especially if a certain order is tight. The fact that you choose one of the dummy player's orders in 2P adds to that - you may want to play an order that you want to boost, or block your opponent, or even just to "burn" an order so you know it won't come up next season.

I do think the 4P game is best, but I have had a ton of fun with the 2P game
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David Jones
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DoomTurtle wrote:

To date, I have played this game 15 times.


For me, I think this is the most "disappointing" aspect of the game. I think I've had my copy only a few months longer than you, but I'm not sure I've had more than a dozen plays. Most people seem to enjoy the game once they get into it, but because of the rules complexity, it rarely gets suggested. Much like Through the Ages, I think its a game that would play much better if you have a group of people willing to commit to playing it on a regular basis.
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davypi wrote:
DoomTurtle wrote:

To date, I have played this game 15 times.


For me, I think this is the most "disappointing" aspect of the game. I think I've had my copy only a few months longer than you, but I'm not sure I've had more than a dozen plays. Most people seem to enjoy the game once they get into it, but because of the rules complexity, it rarely gets suggested. Much like Through the Ages, I think its a game that would play much better if you have a group of people willing to commit to playing it on a regular basis.


Yeah, not having to go over all the little rule nuances every time helps. I've probably played 11-12 of those games with the same group.
 
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Matt Smith
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Doom,

You need to come to ROBA. I needs me some more Dungeon Lords.
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I know, I should check it out some time. I think ROBA is usually the third Saturday of the month, which is the same as the Great Oak game day in Ann Arbor. Although this month it was changed to last weekend, and already had plans.

One of these months if a the date changes for either one I should give it a try.
 
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Jack Smith
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I agree with your review, we really like this game too.

On the first play or two it can seem very dry and frustrating. But it is a much deeper game than its topic suggests as well as having considerable variety and ways to win. The theme really starts to come out as well.

This is one game that I feel does not get the credit it deserves.
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Jay Sheely
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It's ranked number 60 - out of 60,000. how much more credit can we give it?
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Gary Weinfurther
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DoomTurtle wrote:
I know, I should check it out some time. I think ROBA is usually the third Saturday of the month, which is the same as the Great Oak game day in Ann Arbor


ROBA is always the LAST Saturday of the month.
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elmonty wrote:
DoomTurtle wrote:
I know, I should check it out some time. I think ROBA is usually the third Saturday of the month, which is the same as the Great Oak game day in Ann Arbor


ROBA is always the LAST Saturday of the month.


Yeah, I've since noticed that. I'm going to have to make it out soon!
 
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