Deeper Underground – Dungeon! review

Dungeon COVER

In the years since it was first released, Dungeons & Dragons has spawned countless spin-off games that attempt to entice non-role players into the fold. They act as gateways into the harder stuff, trying their damnedest to start them on the path to sitting around the table for months on end conducting unending campaigns. Some of these are excellent, including the splendid Adventure Series comprising of Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt. Some are less impressive, especially the dross that was shifted out by TSR in the eighties…

Now we have a new(ish) entry into the fold as Wizards of the Coast have recently released Dungeon!, the original version of which was designed by David R. Megarry and first game out way back in the seventies. This is a slightly refined version of the seventies edition, as you’d expect, but what’s the story in the game?

Simply put, we’re looking at a quick playing and extremely simplified dungeon crawl that is based in the D&D Universe. There’s no levelling up, no extensive combat rules… everything has been done to keep Dungeon! as a simple, accessible experience. Between one and eight players get to explore the (frankly huge) board, wandering about and attempting to smash up monsters of increasing power. The further you venture from the middle of the board’s safe zone, the harder monsters will be to defeat. They’re selected by checking the colour of the room or chamber you enter and flipping a card of the same hue, then it’s time to roll some dice…

Depending on which of the four types of character you selected at the start of the game – either Fighter, Cleric, Rogue or Wizard – you’ll have to check the card for the number that is shown beneath your symbol. Roll equal to or higher than that number on two dice and you’ll have defeated the enemy and will be allowed to grab a treasure of equal level (so, beat a level three monster, take a level three treasure). Fail to do so and the beast hits back, meaning you roll again. Most numbers will see you lose your hard earned treasures, but a twelve means you’ve been killed and will have to start all over again.

Once a monster has been beaten in a room (or three in a larger chamber), tokens are placed there to show that they have been cleared out – nothing else will spawn there. It’s a simple concept but one that works well, forcing all players to move deeper and deeper into the dungeon to take on stronger opponents that could well offer much more loot. Each hero class requires a certain amount of gold pieces that, when reached, will let them race back to the centre of the board. Manage to do this and you win. Nice and simple.

But is it a little too simple? Well, perhaps, especially if you’re an experienced gamer but really Dungeon! isn’t aimed at people like you. This is much more for a younger audience, one that may not be too sure about what the whole D&D thing is all about but still want to play along with the grown ups. It’s the kind of game that should be selling by the boxful if only because you need to be getting it in the hands of those kids. Wouldn’t you rather sit at the table of Christmas Day and play this instead of Buckaroo or Monopoly?

A sprawling thing of beauty.

A sprawling thing of beauty.

Of course you would. Dungeon! is a great way of getting people, younger ones especially, into the kind of games that we love. Sure, at its heart it’s essentially a roll and move, but there’s enough added complexity to make sure that you won’t switch off after five minutes of play. It may not end up hitting your table too often, but if you want something sitting in your collection that will keep a wider audience happy, there’s not many better choices out there. It helps that the game is nicely presented; the board is bright and easy to navigate, and everything you need to know about how to play is printed right on the end. The many tokens and chits that come in the box are a bit small and the cards somewhat flimsy, but that’s not much of a surprise when you see the pricepoint that Wizards have aimed at. Thankfully the game is good enough to make up for this slight lack of production quality, so why wouldn’t you give it a shot?

Dungeon! is a Wizards of the Coast production, originally released back in 1971 and reissued in 2012. Designed by David R. Megarry and with rules included for one to eight players, games will take at the very most around an hour. If you’d like a copy for yourself, you can pick one up for the very reasonable price of £16.99. And it’s so much more entertaining than Operation…

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One response to “Deeper Underground – Dungeon! review

  1. Pingback: LMDG Enters the Dungeon!

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