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Subject: 3 out of 5 Points: Fun Theme yet Doesn't Meet It's Full Potential rss

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Dustin Whitmire
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Welcome to my review of Dungeon Lords by Z-Man Games. I will try to break down several categories, and give my closing comments at the end. My scoring is on a 5 point scale. Any is appreciated – I am trying to earn some micro badges.

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Quality: 4 Points
The game has some excellent components. The game boards (which include common play areas and individual player dungeons) and various tile pieces (monsters, rooms, and adventurers) are thick and sturdy. The seams that fold/unfold for the boards are durable, and seemingly long lasting. There is a great deal of detail that went into the imp figurines, and yet other components are fairly abstract such as the minions who are represented by blocky cutouts and food which is represented by green squares.



Artwork: 5 Points
The artwork for this game is top notch. The depictions of the dungeons, monsters, adventurers, etc. have a cartoon like flare to them that fits well with the tongue in cheek theme of the game. The artwork doesn’t go too far with the light heartedness though, and uses dark tones and shades that work well to make you feel like you are a dungeon lord, busy at work.



Theme: 5 Points
Dungeon Lords shines in this category. A lot of people like to experience a stereo-typical storyline from its flipside perspective; much like the Broadway show Wicked (The Wizard of Oz) and the book Grendel (Beowulf). Dungeon Lords does this in a fun, tongue in cheek fashion. You play the role of a dungeon lord, largely trying to mind his own business as you prepare your dungeon, paying taxes to the bureaucratic Ministry of Dungeons, and working hard to ward off those blasted goody two shoe heroes who keep trashing your stuff. Dang them!

Waiting: 4 Points
There is not a lot of waiting in between turns. Many phases take place simultaneously, or can be chosen and enacted quickly. You stay engaged while the game is playing out, because even if it is not your turn, you are using the time to think through what you want to do next, and taking a peek at what you expect others to do.

Interactivity: 3 Points
Dungeon Lords has a good amount of interactivity, mostly found in the worker placement mechanic. Each player has 3 minions whom they can give orders (actions). 3 actions are chosen from a varying, limited pool and given a priority or sequence. This priority is important, because the actions you choose can result in some different outcomes for that same action, and you can even be prevented from carrying out the order if enough players get to it ahead of you. It results in some good table banter, and thoughtful thinking on when and what actions to take, according to how you anticipate what others will do.

Learning Curve: 2 points
Unfortunately, the game takes a hit here. Essentially, Dungeon Lords is two games in one. The first is a worker placement style game. The second is a puzzle solving mechanic used to resolve the combat that happens twice; at the end of each “year” (the game is played over the course of 2 years). The first is fun; the second is cumbersome, awkward, and often frustrating. The combat system involves figuring out how to best align your monsters, traps, and rooms as adventurers pour into your dungeon over the course of 4 rounds. It interrupts the flow of the game and can lead to some frustrating outcomes as you watch your dungeon get ransacked (with portions rendered unusable for the 2nd half of the game) just because you didn't have the right trap-monster-room combination to reduce the adventurers’ success or made a simple mistake (leading to substantial consequences). I think this manner of combat, which requires a lot of fastidious problem solving, makes an otherwise approachable game, unenjoyable and not recommendable to a broader audience.

The rulebook itself spends 9 pages explaining and giving examples of how the combat phase works, even though it only comprises a relatively small portion of actual playing time. And the experienced player will have to invest a fair share of time just explaining and reaffirming that all players know how the combat phase works, because it is so consequential.



Replay: 2 Points
Unfortunately, I feel that the replay of Dungeon Lords is hurt by a couple factors. First, I think the combat phase of the game limits the number of people who are willing to sit through the substantial time it takes to effectively teach it, let alone the rest of the rules you have to explain about the game before playing. Furthermore, I don't feel the building options (tunnels, rooms, gold, food, imps, etc) and the victory conditions lead to nearly enough customization for YOUR dungeon - everyone is essentially doing the same thing, resulting in more or less homogenous dungeon layouts. In effect, everyone is keeping enough food and gold, building tunnels to get a room or two, buying a monster and trap or two, and then waiting to see who does best with the adventurers which got assigned. That is not completely so (I do believe there are some variant paths to victory), but I argue that this game leaves much less room for strategic choices and differentiation than what you would want or expect.



Luck: 4 Points
Luck is not a factor in this game, and it works well for the play style. Luck is limited to when potential monsters and room tiles are available for purchase. Otherwise, the game is about efficiently using your available actions (3 per turn; 12 over the course of a year; 24 in the entire game) and manipulating the results of the Orders Phase to help you or hurt your opponents.

Cost: 3 Points
At $65 RSP, the game is a fair price for comparative games in its category.

Length: 3 Points
The game takes about an hour and a half to 2 hours, not including the explanation of the rules. It feels about right for the type of game.

Miscellaneous: 4 Points
1) The rulebook is clearly written in a logical fashion and with well denoted variations for 2 and 3 player games. 2) The gameplay is very engaging; you really feel an attachment to your dungeon, preparing for those goody two shoe adventurers on their way, and putting a speedily end to their exploits lest large parts of your dungeon be turned upside down and purified. 3) The game is arguably best with 4 players, anything outside of 4 players, in my opinion, takes away from the dynamics of the game and/or makes it more cumbersome.

OVERALL: 3 Points
I give Dungeon Lords 3 out of 5 - a strong 3. But unfortunately, it fails to live up to the peculiarity of its theme; diminished by a disjointed, forced combat system and a failure to give players diverse dungeon possibilities and paths to victory.
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Lloyd
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Dungeon Lords has a lot of interesting things going on. Of all the WP games I've played, this is the one where I'm most aware of what my opponents are doing. It's a constant battle to get enough stuff and score points, all whilst trying to ensure your dungeon doesn't get cleaned out.

Ultimately though, you're trying to put out a house fire using a newspaper and a hankerchief. It's not enough and it's going to go badly. You just have to do what you can.

Oh, and I don't mean house fire like this:



I mean like this:



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Tim Kelly
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sweetsweetdoughnuts wrote:

Ultimately though, you're trying to put out a house fire using a newspaper and a hankerchief. It's not enough and it's going to go badly. You just have to do what you can.

Perfect description of one of the many reasons I love this game.
TK
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Dustin Whitmire
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sweetsweetdoughnuts wrote:
Ultimately though, you're trying to put out a house fire using a newspaper and a hankerchief. It's not enough and it's going to go badly. You just have to do what you can.


Pretty funny of you, and true. It's a reason why I give it a 5 in theme, and yet ultimately some of the design fails to give the players the ultimate experience that it could. Dungeon Lords is a game that I will play again and enjoy. It's a weird feeling; I WANT to like this game more, like I'm rooting for it, but I ultimately know the truth, it's just not as good as it could have been.
 
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Brian Schroth
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I get the impression that you've only played this game 1 or 2 times. Is that accurate?
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Vlaada games are generally on the sadistic side: you never have enough of anything to do what you want. If you're not a glutton for punishment, prepare for some pain.

I also find his games to be fairly "work-ish" at times. It feels like I should get a paycheck for playing.
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Ian McCarthy
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Great assessment of this ho-hum game!
 
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Jason Rupp
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Thanks for the review. I agree with most of it but I wanted to add a bit about the Combat phase.....

I don't quite get why you think the dungeon phase is so disjointed.

The dungeon phase is basically the resolution of your prep in the village phase. They are very interconnected in my opinion. You have to keep the dungeon phase in mind while playing the village phase or quite simply.... you will not do well.

Gameplay wise, they play quite differently. Maybe that's what you're getting at? The village phase is planning, resource management, and worker placement (with some interesting guessing about who's going to do what). The dungeon phase is a logic puzzle.

Playing the planning phase poorly can result in losing 4 tunnels in year 1. On the flipside, playing the dungeon phase poorly can result in losing 2 instead of 1 tunnels in year 1. Basically, the most important phase is the planning but you can typically save an additional tile if you solve the logic puzzle. It's not the end of the world if you can't though.

Also, it sounds like you didn't explain the rules to the dungeon phase until you reached it? I don't see how anyone could enjoy the game in that case. How can you plan in the village phase if you don't know what you're planning on doing? I've never had an issue with new players learning this game. In fact, I've had a non-gamer want to play this game and they understood the game fully in under 10 minutes. The rules just make sense because thematically they work. It helps a lot if you teach the game and add some of the funny jokes from the rulebook btw. I highly recommend it.

It sounds like you just didn't like the fact that the game punished you. That's fine, not everyone enjoys a stressful game (which is basically what every Vlaada game is).

I'm sorry to hear you didn't like the game but we all look for something different in a game! At least you gave it a try!
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Grant Johnson
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In my opinion, this is a game that has to be played multiple times to fully understand what is going on. There are a lot of things to consider, and no matter how well you explain it a new player is going to have items that they'll not fully grasp the first time around. And I agree with you that if you can't get a repeat play out of the game its not worth the time.

Where I disagree is the idea that the combat is disjointed from the rest of the game. I think the rules from the combat do a fabulous job of condensing something that is very broad and abstract in a real RPG to a simple to follow system for use in the game and fits nicely with the theme. I love the way the symbols on the adventurers provide a universal application in their mechanics. And I think this is the real shining aspect of the game's design: you are building for victory points, but you have to balance that with the function of your Dungeon. It provides multiple paths in overall strategy that- you can win with a well protected simple dungeon that absolutely crushes weak adventurers and takes the Battle Lord title, or you can go big evil and take a lot of thrashing, but ride to victory through additional Paladin points and the Lord of Dark Deeds Title. Or you can walk the middle of the road, design your defenses around the types of adventurers you expect to see, and snag enough titles to pull ahead.

And I do want to say the review is excellent and informative, and I can fully appreciate and respect your opinion on combat. I just disagree
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David Witzany
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The combat portion is also my hangup with the game. Of the half-dozen times I've played this, twice we stopped after one year because after things went smoothly for the worker placement part, working through everybody's encounters with the adventurers drained peoples' enthusiasm. It's true that in both cases it was the first play for the others, but the two groups have dived into plenty of thinky games like Agricola and any number of Knizia games. I like Dungeon Lords, myself, but that second phase just doesn't sit well with some folks. I ended up selling my copy.
 
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Dustin Whitmire
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Thanks for the feedback. I've enjoyed it. I'll clarify and answer some things.

BagelManB wrote:
I get the impression that you've only played this game 1 or 2 times. Is that accurate?


Fairly accurate. I've played the game a half dozen times, with varying group sizes. I would play more, but the game doesn't get chosen over other options. It's been the opinion of about a dozen friends, that they aren't too hot on it; some never got passed the rules being explained and having a run through of the combat examples.

rrrupp wrote:
I don't quite get why you think the dungeon phase is so disjointed... ... Gameplay wise, they play quite differently. Maybe that's what you're getting at?


You're correct. I argue that it feels like a hard transition going from a worker placement mechanic to a logic puzzle. And what matters more; it's not fun. "Where did my worker placement game go? What is this?" kind of feel. Subjective? Sure. Others won't have a problem with it, and in a sense, I don't that much, but it's there, and I feel that it's clunky. What would be an alternative to deal with the adventurers aspect of the theme? I confess, I don't know. Maybe a more forgiving puzzle system; less intricate or a different approach. And I personally do fine with it, regularly only losing a tunnel or two, but this type of format needlessly excludes players who enjoy worker placement, but don't click with the puzzle solving mechanic.

tallgrant wrote:
In my opinion, this is a game that has to be played multiple times to fully understand what is going on. There are a lot of things to consider, and no matter how well you explain it a new player is going to have items that they'll not fully grasp the first time around. And I agree with you that if you can't get a repeat play out of the game its not worth the time.


Exactly. Going back to my points by category, it is the Learning Curve and Replay Value that hurt the game. You have to play roughly 2-3 games (arguably faster for others; ie. only 1 game) before you really grasp how the combat plays out and how to effectively deal with it by acquiring various monters,traps,etc, looking at what spells happen in the 1st or 2nd round, and properly setting up your defense, and so on. And by that time, Fuldhim's point has taken it's toll:

fuldhim wrote:
Of the half-dozen times I've played this, twice we stopped after one year because after things went smoothly for the worker placement part, working through everybody's encounters with the adventurers drained peoples' enthusiasm.


Bingo.

tallgrant wrote:
It provides multiple paths in overall strategy that- you can win with a well protected simple dungeon that absolutely crushes weak adventurers and takes the Battle Lord title, or you can go big evil and take a lot of thrashing, but ride to victory through additional Paladin points and the Lord of Dark Deeds Title. Or you can walk the middle of the road, design your defenses around the types of adventurers you expect to see, and snag enough titles to pull ahead.


I want to agree with you, but this is the 2nd big failing of the game; the diversity of paths to victory and customization of YOUR dungeon. You have a total of 24 actions over the course of the game. Now it's given that some of those actions are going to have to go to food, money, some tunnels, and a minion or two (just like everyone else's); I can't say that what is left of your actions really leaves you with much to customize and diverge. Is that totally true? NO, but I argue that the game leaves you with much less options than you would hope or expect. And a game where everyone is essentially doing the same thing, doesn't make for a good game.
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Jason Rupp
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dustwhit wrote:


I want to agree with you, but this is the 2nd big failing of the game; the diversity of paths to victory and customization of YOUR dungeon. You have a total of 24 actions over the course of the game. Now it's given that some of those actions are going to have to go to food, money, some tunnels, and a minion or two (just like everyone else's); I can't say that what is left of your actions really leaves you with much to customize and diverge. Is that totally true? NO, but I argue that the game leaves you with much less options than you would hope or expect. And a game where everyone is essentially doing the same thing, doesn't make for a good game. :)


I would argue that just because they're doing the same action, it doesn't mean they're doing the same thing. One person will have room x which lets them do x. One person will monster y which will let them do y.

Is it true that everyone will want to do the monster action a few times each game? Sure. Is it true that everyone will want the SAME monster? Not at all. It's all about the timing.
 
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Brian Schroth
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dustwhit wrote:
Thanks for the feedback. I've enjoyed it. I'll clarify and answer some things.

BagelManB wrote:
I get the impression that you've only played this game 1 or 2 times. Is that accurate?


Fairly accurate. I've played the game a half dozen times, with varying group sizes. I would play more, but the game doesn't get chosen over other options. It's been the opinion of about a dozen friends, that they aren't too hot on it; some never got passed the rules being explained and having a run through of the combat examples.


Huh. I'd actually call that inaccurate, 6 plays is pretty different from 1-2 when it comes to experience with a game.

The weirdest things about this review to me were the interactivity and replayability ratings. IMO, these are where the game shines. It's by far the most interactive euro I play- every single decision is agonizingly based on what I think my opponents will do and Sicilian-poison-drinking "he'll want to do this, therefore I'll do this, but he'll recognize that I would see that and thus do this other thing instead, so I should really do this other thing, except he'll recognize that I'll do that and do the original thing" decisions. I can't think of another game where I'm more focused on what my opponents are doing than this one. It might not be direct "I'm attacking you" conflict, but it is absolutely highly interactive.

The replayability thing is also weird since every game there is so much randomness in the setup and outcomes- which adventurers, monsters, rooms, traps, and events come out change every time, and even order of events means that each game plays out very differently. It even includes what amount to two expansions, if you get sick of the basic gameplay- first the advanced rules of using the special event tiles, and then the free items expansion. I haven't even touched either of these since the replayability of the base game has been plenty for my limited number of plays.
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David Witzany
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BagelManB wrote:
The replayability thing is also weird since every game there is so much randomness in the setup and outcomes- which adventurers, monsters, rooms, traps, and events come out change every time, and even order of events means that each game plays out very differently. It even includes what amount to two expansions, if you get sick of the basic gameplay- first the advanced rules of using the special event tiles, and then the free items expansion. I haven't even touched either of these since the replayability of the base game has been plenty for my limited number of plays.

Except he's not giving Replayability a low rating because there are so few choices; he gave it a low rating because he sees few chances to talk his friends into playing it. He clearly likes the game himself--I suspect his own personal opinion of the game is higher than his rating suggests. He just downgrades the game significantly because of the particular gamers in his groups.
 
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Brian Schroth
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fuldhim wrote:
BagelManB wrote:
The replayability thing is also weird since every game there is so much randomness in the setup and outcomes- which adventurers, monsters, rooms, traps, and events come out change every time, and even order of events means that each game plays out very differently. It even includes what amount to two expansions, if you get sick of the basic gameplay- first the advanced rules of using the special event tiles, and then the free items expansion. I haven't even touched either of these since the replayability of the base game has been plenty for my limited number of plays.

Except he's not giving Replayability a low rating because there are so few choices; he gave it a low rating because he sees few chances to talk his friends into playing it. He clearly likes the game himself--I suspect his own personal opinion of the game is higher than his rating suggests. He just downgrades the game significantly because of the particular gamers in his groups.


That's not what it sounded like to me:

OP wrote:
Furthermore, I don't feel the building options (tunnels, rooms, gold, food, imps, etc) and the victory conditions lead to nearly enough customization for YOUR dungeon - everyone is essentially doing the same thing, resulting in more or less homogenous dungeon layouts. In effect, everyone is keeping enough food and gold, building tunnels to get a room or two, buying a monster and trap or two, and then waiting to see who does best with the adventurers which got assigned.


Sounds like he feels the game plays out about the same every time.
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Jack Smith
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dustwhit wrote:
sweetsweetdoughnuts wrote:
Ultimately though, you're trying to put out a house fire using a newspaper and a hankerchief. It's not enough and it's going to go badly. You just have to do what you can.


Pretty funny of you, and true. It's a reason why I give it a 5 in theme, and yet ultimately some of the design fails to give the players the ultimate experience that it could. Dungeon Lords is a game that I will play again and enjoy. It's a weird feeling; I WANT to like this game more, like I'm rooting for it, but I ultimately know the truth, it's just not as good as it could have been.


Nice review although I did not experience the issues you seemed to have. I do not use the combat learning boards to teach this part of the game as really combat is mechanically simple to teach. The devil is in the puzzle aspect of it. I also think spending more than a few minutes teaching a game rather than learning by playing it is time wasted and risks boredom.

I also found the more I play the more I like it. There's a lot of subtle depth to the game I did not get for some time. This also means I disagree with your comment about variability and replayability as several ways to approach the game become apparent.

Finally I like the 2 and 3 player games but of course that is a matter of taste.

I'm not knocking your review at all, I'm just giving my take on the game


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Alison Mandible
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I played this for the first time last night, and even though I *liked* the puzzle-y feel of combat, it still felt strangely like a slog to actually execute it. In part, I think the problem may have been that we ended up with zero spells being cast the entire game, so basically the adventurers were just damage-soaking machines of various kinds.

I found myself wishing afterward that the adventurers varied in what they did upon conquering a tile. As it was, the first combat phase had no real effect on the second year's orders phase.
 
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