21 January 2012

Dungeon Lords part 2: Gameplay and review

Dungeon Lords is described as a game for ”veteran boardgamers”, I don’t know if I would agree with that as the game is fairly easy and have lots of tutorial examples in the rulebook and these awesome “tutorial boards” to help newcomers.  What may create a barrier between players who already know the game and people who have never played this game is that there is a lot to be learned before you start the game. The rulebook characters talking next to each paragraph pretty much encourage whoever is most experienced to perform “learning by showing”. Basically Dungeon Lords is 70% management of your dungeon with bidding and using action cards and 30% combat which uses a clever puzzle system where players have to really think how to best deal with raiding adventurers. Combat is probably the most complex part, which is also why it has the most examples and training scenarios in the rulebook and the tutorial boards.

All players start with 3 food, 3 gold, 3 imps and 3 tunnel tiles.  Each player also have 3 “minion” meeples which are used when players bid for various things on the main board using their action cards. You have a little window on your player board which makes up the area where you can dig tunnels and build rooms in your dungeon. The dungeon must always start from the area leading up to the surface (from which adventurers arrive). There are specific requirements for how rooms and tunnels are placed so you can’t be too sloppy. Most rooms also require to be placed in certain areas of your dungeon, like the outer walls or close to/far away from the surface.

Tunnels  can be used to mine gold, rooms produce various resources. Both tunnels and rooms can contain traps and monsters that are used to thwart the adventurers who will be troubling you. The game is made up of 2 “years”). Each year is made up of 4 “seasons”. I’ll try to break down the game and describe how one year plays from start to finish.
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The nicest player (yes you have to decide that within the group) is handed the 1st player smiley face token. This token is passed on at the start of each subsequent season so that everyone becomes the 1st player at least once per year. Players have 8 action cards showing symbols of money, food, imps etc. Each season the players pick 3 cards from their hand and place them face down on their player board. These are the actions they want to perform this season and this moment acts like a bidding sequence. All players turn the first card face up, and starting with the first player they allocate their minion meeples on the master board in resource areas of interest - to increase their reputation, gather food, mine gold, dig tunnels, buy monsters, buy traps, buy rooms etc. Each such resource location only has 3 slots, but most importantly the game has a small tweak here which makes the player who comes first often getting the worst deal, while the second and third player will get increasingly better deals on whatever they are bidding for. (This is explained with great sense of humor, such as imps selling traps – they sell the first trap to the first player for 1 gold, then become excited and discount their traps down to 0 gold to player 2 only to realize their mistake and revert to charging 1 gold per trap but selling twice as much to the 3rd player).

Once the first card bidding has been resolved, players continue to flip and resolve their 2nd and 3rd action card. Players have expanded their dungeons, stocked up on food and other resources and at this point they may also place any leftover imps they have inside any production rooms to create additional resources. When the season nears its end, two of the used cards become locked and cannot be used during the next turn. So players will both have to be careful with what they do – and when they do it, but also make sure to check what cards their opponents have “locked” and try to work out which resources will have few/potentially many bids the upcoming turn.

Each season starting with Spring, also sees the gathering of adventurers. These are sorted out so that the most powerful adventurers head for the most evil players dungeon, and less powerful adventurers head to the second, third and fourth most evil player. This is a way for the game to balance things out as the most evil character is usually the one who has bought most monster or gathered the most resources (hence added to his “evil ranking). Even at this point players have a chance to influence where the adventurers end up, as you have 2 chances of lowering your “evil” by increasing your good reputation each season either by sending minions on propaganda errand into town or by building a room with a printing machine (also for propaganda making lol). So if you see a powerful adventurer coming up you can dodge that bullet by focusing on lowering your evil.

There is also one BIG deal with the evil ranking, once you cross a certain line you will attract the attention of the Paladin. This is a very powerful hero that will become the leader of the adventurer party heading down into your dungeon. So not only will you have to fight 4 instead of 3 adventurers, one of them will be extremely problematic to deal with.

As seasons pass there are also a few reoccurring events, like having to pay “tunnel tax” or “paying your monsters” with resources required. You know one season in advance what’s coming up so there is once again room for maneuver and focusing on upcoming events.
Once 4 seasons have passed, the players should have stocked up on resources, monsters and traps – built tunnels and rooms and be ready to deal with the incoming adventurers that have gathered above your dungeon entrance. Time for the second half of the game – the combat.

There is much to be told about combat, adventurers, monsters and traps.

First of all, the adventurers are divided into year 1 and year 2 adventurers (so are your monsters). Year 1 adventurers are pretty weak, while during year 2 they are a lot more challenging with more health, and power abilities. The adventurers are divided into 4 classes. “Warrior”, nothing special about these, they act as meat shields and always take first place in the party and as such often take the first hit. Rouges, these are annoying since they have a “disarm trap” ability which negates damage dealt by your traps. Wizards, cast spells during each phase of combat – spells can only be cast when there are wizards in the party. Priests, priests heal – so this is also very annoying as they will keep their party going and reduce the amount of damage dealt by your monsters and traps.  The challenge of this game is to have a good mix of traps and monsters to deal with all kinds of threats. Just focusing on traps might be your downfall if you face multiple high end Rouges rendering all your traps useless.

Defense of your dungeon takes place in both tunnels and rooms. Tunnels can hold 1 trap and 1 monster each round of combat, while rooms can hold 1 trap (if you pay 1 gold to use it) and 2 monster at the same time. It might be a good idea to try to plan the layout of your dungeon to max out on your traps and monsters in your service. Adventurers always enter the first tunnel/room closest to the entrance, and then you can direct them to move towards the next room/tunnel of your choice. The main thing is that the adventurers are TRYING to invade each tunnel or room, so each round of combat is them trying to advance into your dungeon. If your traps and monster fail to annihilate the adventurers they will “conquer” the room/tunnel they meant to invade – this room/tunnel is then counted as lost and cannot be used by you for the remainder of the game.

Adventurers also take “fatigue damage” at the end of combat just before they conquer a room/tunnel so there is actually a chance to wear them down with traps and monster and have them drop dead of exhaustion as well. However if they survive they will keep going until the 4 rounds of combat are over, or if they have raided your entire dungeon. Defeated adventurers are claimed as trophies and saved for later. Should you be unfortunate enough to have your entire dungeon raided and conquered don’t fret – since you don’t auto lose in this game. Instead you can keep expanding your dungeon with new tunnels and room in subsequent seasons the next year.

There is a bit more finesse to the combat, such as a set order of combat actions, traps are sprung before monsters attack, adventurers can cast spells in between which may affect your monsters, adventurers heal at the end of combat if they have a priest in the party – but they also gain fatigue as the last thing to happens each round of combat. Combat is more about problem solving and maximizing your chances by pulling of combos of traps/monsters, taking out the right adventurer first and wounding the rest enough to have them die from fatigue. It is not as complicated as it may sound, and is quite refreshing to just rolling a pair of dice to work out combat.

And that’s pretty much how the game works, but before I talk about the numerous ways to win this game I should talk about how it plays if you don’t fill out all the player spots with human players. The game is 2-4 players. If you play 2-3 human players then the game will have 1-2 “AI” players taking part in the game as well. This is to make the bidding on various resources harder as it would be way too easy if you only had 2 players, no competition at all. AI players only take part in the game during the bidding process, they always place their “minion meeples” at the center of each resource category blocking the (often) best option, and if 2 AI players end up on the same category they take the 2nd and 3rd spot leaving the human player to take the (often) crappy first slot.

Having played the game with 3 players I can say that the AI player rules work rather well and doesn’t feel tacked on. Playing with less than maximum amount of players you also decrease the amount of adventurers turning up each season by 1, meaning that there will be 1 adventurer for each human player and 1 adventurer will be discarded. This is so that the changes of “good/evil” levels can still be used by players to affect which adventurers head towards their particular dungeon.

Winning the game -
At the end of the game players count points. You receive points for having the most tunnels, unconquered rooms/tunnels, having the most resources left, having the most monsters in your service, having the most adventurers, being the most evil player and so on. There are both points directly awarded for specific categories – and there are “Titles”. Titles are earned player positions in the game, such as being the “Tunnel lord”, the player with most tunnels in your dungeon. Titles only held by a single player are worth more points than shared titles. Victory points are all counted up, and then you decrease your points for such things as conquered rooms, and unpaid taxes. So there are really a lot of ways to win this game and it isn’t clear who won until you really do count all the points at the end of the game. You will be surprised how the scores jump back and forth on the board as everything is counted and accounted for. Winning is equal parts good planning and management of your dungeon as well as having a good defense against adventurers who will  drag your score down with their yearly raids.
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There are additional rules for this game which are not included in the main rulebook but have online downloadable rules. These include special events that further impact the game (like tunnel tax and paying monster salary) and a bunch of special item tokens that I have honestly yet to try out.

The core game is quite fun, and not as chaotic as it might seem at first glance and not as hard to figure out as it might sound. The rulebook is great, and the already mentioned numerous tutorials and tutorial boards on which you can train combat situations and get familiar with adventurer/monster/trap functions.

I think the playing time would land at something like 2 hours if you are all experienced, maybe 2.5-3 hours if you have to explain everything during the first play through. The light hearted gameplay, the great sense of humor in game, on the board and in the rulebook and very smooth and solid game mechanics makes this game one of my new favorites.  Just as with Automobile which I had reviewed a couple of weeks ago – I find the predetermined game length just perfect. Neither too long or leaving you feeling it was cut short.

Can’t really compare it to any other game I have in my collection or that my friends own. But the spirit of the game is similar to PC games such as Dungeon Keeper and Overlord. It is meant to be and to look funny, and I think it succeeds. I guess that if you like worker placement games, use of cards/bidding action mechanics and solving puzzles (during combat) this is a game for you. You also have to be a fan of the hilarious "cute" artwork as it is a big part of the game and humor.


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You can get the additional rules for event cards and special items from the manufacturers site: http://czechgames.com/en/dungeon-lords/free-expansion/

You can get this game from GameManiacs

3 comments:

  1. This sounds like a fun game, really strongly reminds me of the PC game Dungeon Keeper 2, which if you like this game and its theming you should really check out (its pretty old now, but should be cheap if you can find it).

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  2. I've played both Dungeon Keeper 1 and 2 back in the days, and more recently "Overlord" which is about you being some evil master controlling a bunch of imps harassing the countryside lol.

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  3. Reminds me of the game Agricola, with a subterranean lair and monsters instead of a farm and livestock. Having to deal with adventurers sounds more interesting than worrying about cows and fences.

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