Dungeon! board game review

Sections: Adventure, Board, Reviews, Strategy, Tabletop

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Title: Dungeon!
Price: $19.99
Release Date:
October 2012
Wizards of the Coast
Recommended Ages:
8 and older
Simple, fast games.
Very random, almost all luck.
Overall Score:
One thumb up and one thumb sideways, 85/100, B, ***1/2 out of 5.

Perhaps the very first dungeon crawl board game was Dungeon!, released by TSR hobbies way-y-y-y back in 1975. Wizards of the Coast (WotC) purchased the rights to TSR games along with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) and have re-released the game to take advantage of the D&D name.

In Dungeon!, players take the role of a character and go into a dungeon to bash monsters to get loot. Whoever gets sufficient loot (depends on the character, with more powerful characters needing more loot) and makes it out of the dungeon first, wins.

Branding doesn’t hurt, right?

The the most obvious change between old and new versions of the game is the artwork. While the newer artwork is totally more vibrant, I think the cover art on the old game (pictured) is just a bit more evocative of how the game plays: you’re just one person, alone against the horrors of the dungeon.

Other changes are more subtle and more of a re-skinning than anything else, to take advantage of the Dungeons and Dragons license. The character classes in the old game were elf, hero, superhero, and wizard, none of which were even classes in old D&D (in old D&D, there were no wizards, only “magic-users” and “elf” was basically a fighter/magic-user class, incidentally).  The new version choices are rogue, cleric, fighter and wizard (they’re given a race in the rules but it has no effect on the game). Similarly, old monsters like Evil Superhero are replaced with more specifically D&D enemies like Drow. It’s merely cosmetic and doesn’t have any real effect on the game.

The classes basically determine where in the dungeon a player should go. The rogue and cleric generally should stay on the top few levels, with the wizard making a beeline for the deepest part of the dungeon (level 6). The monsters are tougher as you go deeper but the treasures get better. The wizard needs 30,000 gold to win, whereas the weak classes only need 10,000, balancing it out.

Getting kicked old school

While the artwork is very modernized (the little cards are from the old game), the game still reflects old school sensibilities.

Combat is very straightforward. The non-wizard characters are all basically the game, merely determining what number the character needs to roll to kill a monster (for example, a cleric, represented by the blue mace symbol, needs to roll a 9 or better on 2d6 to beat a drow, or 11 or better to beat a green slime). If the roll fails, the monster strikes back, possibly missing, dealing wounds (forcing a treasure drop), or even killing the player.

Every fight has around a 1% chance of the player getting killed, removing the character from the game and having all his loot claimed by the monster. The player can start over with a new character on his next turn (and will probably make a beeline for where his old character died, hopefully reclaiming the loot before another player grabs it).

Wizards play quite differently. While they are semi-competent in combat (about as good as a fighter), they also come with a random number of spells, of three types: fireball, lightning bolt, and teleport. Wizards can toss spells from an adjacent space, thus not being in danger if they fail to kill the monster. Wizards can even attack randomly, simply tossing a fireball into a room and hoping for the best–the green slime, for example, is immune to lightning, which could lead to a wasted spell. The slime, incidentally, is level 4, and thus could be met by most players, to give an idea of how brutal the odds can be. Teleport is very short range but is enough to help the wizard navigate the dungeon, and get down to the lower levels just a bit more quickly.

A typical game will have most players running into some rough battles, leading to frustration not common to games today. The nine-year-old I played with wouldn’t even play a second game, for fear of how hard the fights can be (I finally cajoled him into playing again, after introducing a “+1 to all player attacks” rule, making the monsters just a bit easier to kill, especially useful on levels 3 or lower).

A path of destruction until destroyed

Another cosmetic change is how the game is set up. The old game took a while set up, as the players needed to put a monster and treasure in every room on the board–even though most games use less than half the board. The newer game is more efficient, as a player just draws a card when he comes to a room. While it is better, there’s something to be said for looking at a fully stocked dungeon, ripe for plunder, instead of a blank board. Also, the newer method requires a bit more record-keeping to keep track of cleared rooms (via lantern tokens) and when monsters are holding fallen characters’ treasures…this might be too much for an 8 year old (the recommended youngest age) to be able to do, though certainly a child of that age can play the game with a little help.

On the other hand, tracking all the cleared rooms lets a player admire his path of carnage through the dungeon, and makes it easier to see what route to take when he gets killed or when he’s ready to get out.

Something not here

Dungeon! is a simple game and it’s odd that the newer version is missing many of the rules that were present in the old, and ignores minor “expansion” rules from old Dragon magazine that allowed for more monsters and different character classes. More importantly, there are no rules for player versus player combat (or trade), making the new Dungeon! something of a solitaire game played by multiple people.  As it is, once a player has enough treasure, there’s nothing to stop him from just walking out of the dungeon and winning, whereas in the old game the other players would at least have a chance of stopping him.

Overall, Dungeon! has aged well, and the price tag of twenty bucks is a refreshing change in an era where $100 board games are not unusual. There are better games, but all of them are more complicated and more expensive, making this a pretty good choice, especially if you’ve a little dungeon-crawler in mind.

Product Page [Dungeon!]

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  • Dan

    Great review! I performed my own comparison review between the new version and the older 1989 version.
    You can see it here: