Crawling – Dungeon Heroes (p)review

It’s hard finding decent games that cater specifically for two players in a quick timeframe. There’s Agricola: All Creatures Big And Small, of course, as well as the splendid but currently out-of-print Balloon Cup. Lost Cities is pretty good, and there’s also Summoner Wars (even though you can officially play that with more than two people). Now, if you’re looking for another one to add to the list, may I suggest the upcoming release from Crash Games, Dungeon Heroes?

It’s the traditional dungeon crawl turned into a half hour game of strategy, memory and tile placing. One player is handles the glorious heroes, all of whom have a different ability that should help them in their quest to grab three treasures from the dungeon. The Warrior is the only hero allowed to take on monsters, killing them by moving into their space on the board. The Wizard, though squishy, is very useful, allowing you to flip and reveal tiles. The Cleric has healing powers (which you’ll definitely need) and the Rogue may disarm traps. Meanwhile, their opponent is the Dungeon Lord, owner of our arena, who has only one thing on their mind; the destruction of the heroes. So far, so normal.

The game is split into two phases – Passive and Aggressive. Passive play sees the heroes take their first tentative steps into the dungeon while tiles are placed face down all around them by the bad guy.  The heroes, represented by dice that show their current health level, are very much at an advantage during this part of the game – with less stuff on the board, they can move about relatively freely. However, moving onto a tile reveals it immediately, so they must be careful not to unleash a monster or trigger a trap.

The Dungeon Lord is allowed to place four tiles per turn, and it’s here where it becomes evident that a good memory is required. Sadly, mine is filled with holes and so when I’m on the side of evil it doesn’t often go well… Thankfully, once all 36 tiles are placed, things take a turn for the nasty.

It’s now that the Aggressive Phase kicks in and the tide turns in favour of evil! Any monster tiles that have been revealed previously are now replaced by tokens that are allowed to wander the dungeon looking for a dinner of tasty hero. Here the power is definitely with the Lord as the heroes are now desperately trying to get the three treasures they need before they get wiped out by the wandering hordes. That is, of course, assuming that the evil player can remember where they’ve placed their monster tiles…

Other stuff they can use include slide tiles – very useful when a hero steps onto them as they force a sideways movement, hopefully into the jaws of a particularly strong beastie or a nasty cloud of poison gas. The previously mentioned traps can also be incredibly useful to destroy the good guys, assuming you can force the characters into them – easier said than done.

Swiftly enough, a winner will be declared and you’ll probably have enough time for a reverse match-up before your lunch hour is finished. Early plays of Dungeon Heroes will see you fumbling about a bit no matter what side you choose to use, but it quickly becomes clear that there’s a deeper game beneath what initially appears to be a light surface. If you’re the Dungeon Lord, huddling all your monsters around the heroes early in the game may well see you with not enough forces to successfully take them down later on. With the Heroes, leaving it too late could see you swamped with monsters and no chance of victory. I like the fact that the two different phases give specific advantages to one of the players – there’s a palpable switch once all the tiles have been played, a slight element of desperation for the heroes and a growing feeling of power for the Dungeon Lord. More impressively, it doesn’t feel unbalanced (which could well happen in a game such as this) – unless you play spectacularly poorly, both sides will be in with a chance until the very end.

One final point to remember: the game isn’t actually out yet. This is all based on a prototype provided by the folks at Crash Games, so if you want a copy you’ll have to head on down to Kickstarter. Be sure to check it out from October 16th!

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