People play games for many reasons, but I find you can generally split them into two camps; those who love the chaos of a dice roll against the folks who demand total control over their gaming destiny. Personally, I’m in the first camp – I don’t mind losing a game should a crucial dice roll not go my way. For me, the joy in a game comes from the playing and the stories that are told. The latest release from Plaid Hat Games, Dungeon Run, is a game that is very much reliant on dice – lots of dice, in fact – so before I go on, I’ll put my cards on the table and say that it’s not for everyone.
Originally a print and play title designed by the curiously named Mr. Bistro, it was picked up by Plaid Hat, given a very shiny makeover and is now available in your Friendly Local Game Store. Set in Colby Dauch’s Summoner Wars universe, it’s kind of halfway between co-op and confrontation with players becoming mighty(ish) heroes who explore a randomly generated dungeon in order to take down one of four Big Bads.
You kick off by choosing one of eight characters, each of whom begin with some standard powers as well as a small deck of extra abilities. Dealing a couple out before you start, you choose one then discard the other – there’ll also be the opportunity later in the game to trade in cards to get your hands on more powers, bolstering your character as you progress. Once selections have been made, it’s off to the dungeon…
All players begin in the entry hall and have a range of actions that can be performed, up to a maximum of two per turn. Should you choose to move, you pull the top tile from a pre-prepared stack – this pile is sorted out before the game starts and is a random selection of regular and special rooms. If a regular one appears, the active player rolls a single dice and checks if any cards will be put on the tile; these will either be monster to beat up, traps to disarm or gear to grab and will go on the room depending on what number comes up. Special tiles have instructions that need to be followed printed on them every time you enter the room and can cause some… interesting situations.
Should you come up against a monster, you’ll indulge in a little combat which is heavily reliant on dice. The enemy rolls first and will normally get a few hits on you. Your roll follows and dice can be spent either cancelling out the hits, getting in some damage yourself, or a combination of both. It’s an interesting little system that I think works quite well, but that’s not everything. Should a fellow dungeoneer be on the same tile as you, they can choose to assist you… or hamper your efforts.
This is where Dungeon Run gets interesting. As I mentioned previously, it’s not a co-op game in the traditional sense – at any time, you can choose to be nasty and screw your opposition over, either affecting your side of a fight or even straight out attacking you. This is more important at the end of the game as once the Boss for the dungeon has been defeated, the player who dealt the killing blow recieves the Summoning Stone, essentially becoming the new target. Manage to get back to the entry hall with the Stone in your clutches and you’ll be declared the winner – and that’s it. You could make your way all the way through, get the hell beaten out of you one room away from the exit and still lose, but that’s the way the game goes.
Production quality throughout is excellent. You get eight plastic minis to represent your heroes, room tiles are nice and thick, cards are great quality. I personally like the artwork (which is splashed all over the place, cards, rulebook, everywhere!) but then I like how Summoner Wars looks too – your mileage may vary. The rules are clear and concise too; all available actions have also been condensed down onto little cards that mean you’ll barely look back at the book.
One (minor) down side, I’d like to have seen miniatures for the the baddies, but perhaps that kind of thing will come with expansions (and you just know they’re coming – Plaid Hat Games aren’t exactly shy about expanding Summoner Wars, so why wouldn’t they do the same with Dungeon Run?). Having them appear on cards is fine, plus it keeps the cost down, but there’s nothing like moving little dudes around a map.
Also on the (slightly) negative side, despite the rules saying it can be played from one to six, I’d say it’s only really good with three or four. Two players feels like an exercise in frustration and there’s just not enough in the box to spread between five and six. The solo experience is pretty good and functions as a kind of score-attack extravaganza, but the game really works best as a group experience.
I’ve found in playing Dungeon Run that you need a certain kind of person sitting around the table with you. As I said earlier, you need to be someone who doesn’t mind their game being predominantly ruled by the dice. Though some rolls can be mitigated or boosted by using equipment that you might pick up throughout your quest, most of the time it’s all down to the decisions you make with the numbers you roll and if you roll poorly, you’ll be pretty much boned.
You also need someone who will be happy to throw themselves into the experience. In order to get the most from it, you’ve got to be a bit of a swine from the get go. Yes, it’s nice to help each other out when someone’s in need, but don’t be afraid to get in there and start mixing things up a bit. After all, at the end of the game there’s only going to be one winner so you should do all you can in order to make sure you come out top. When you’re running through the dungeon everyone else will be doing what they can to cut you to pieces – it’s only right to get your attacks in first.
Last of all, your fellow players need to have a good attitude. If you know someone who is going to moan because people are picking on them, put Dungeon Run away and play something like Forbidden Island instead – this game NEEDS confrontation to work properly, so if that’s not your bag this won’t work for you.
Treat this like something hardcore like Descent and you won’t enjoy this at all. It’s light. It’s throwaway in the extreme. But it’s fun. If you don’t take it too seriously and just have a laugh, Dungeon Run will be a nice little addition to your collection. It’s an arcade game transferred to your table, but to me that’s no bad thing. Perhaps I should start putting 20p in a box every time I play – that might pay for the expansion when it comes out…
Dungeon Run, designed by the enigmatic Mr Bistro, was originally released in 2011 and is available through Plaid Hat Games for around £35/$50. Cheers to the folks at Plaid Hat for sending a copy over for us to play!