Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dungeon Roll Review

Dungeon Roll is a push your luck dungeon crawling dice game.  It got it's start as a Kickstarter back in February, and was probably one of the best run Kickstarters I've seen.  The people running the campaign were incredibly open and honest.  The stretch goals were interesting and fun.  The entire campaign just nailed this feeling of helping make something big.  Plus at a $15 price point it was a great impulse buy.

Best of all, Dungeon Roll released with no delays, and no major quality issues.  Two things that Kickstarters tend to be known for.

Dungeon Roll was designed by Chris Darden and was published by Tasty Minstrel Games in 2013.  It supports 1 to 4 players, and plays in about 15 to 30 minutes depending on the number of players.  Players will roll up a party of Companions, then delve into a dungeon generated level by level using dice.  Whoever earned the most Experience Points after 3 delves is the winner.

Rule Summary

To set up the game, each player gets a Hero.  The game comes with 8 of them, which I tend to shuffle and then deal off the bottom of the deck.  The Hero has a passive special ability, usually one which allows certain Companions to substitute for other Companions.  The Hero also has an active ability, which can be used once per delve, three times total during the course of the game.  After you have earned 5 Experience Points, the Hero levels up, and their abilities become more powerful.  You do not have to spend these 5 Experience Points to level up.  It just happens.

Your selection of heroes.

Each player should also get a reference card, and all the Experience Point tokens should be put out accessible to all players.  If you got the Kickstarter edition of the game, you also have a Graveyard and Dragon's Lair card to set out as holding pins for their respective dice.  Leave all the Treasure tokens inside the box, conveniently shaped like a treasure chest, and set aside all the other components.

On their turn, a player rolls all 7 Party Dice.  This will form their party of Companions for the duration of the delve.  The faces of the Party Die are Fighter, Mage, Priest, Thief, Champion and Scroll.

The Level Die is set to 1, and the player to the left of the active player rolls the Dungeon Dice to generate the levels.  They roll a number of Dungeon Dice equal to the level.  So at level 1, they only roll 1 die.  If there are not enough Dungeon Dice, they just roll as many as they can.  The faces of the Dungeon Die are Goblin, Ooze, Skeleton, Treasure, Potion and Dragon.

At any time, players may use Scrolls.  Scrolls allow the player to reroll any number of Party or Dungeon dice.  Scrolls used are set aside in the Graveyard.

The active player must defeat all the monster in the dungeon.  Every Companion can defeat one monster.  However each Companion has a specialty.  Fighters can defeat all Goblins, Mages all Oozes, and Priest all Skeletons.  Champions are special heroes, and can defeat all of any one monster type.  They are basically wild cards.  Heroes used to defeat monsters are set aside in the Graveyard.

The Party Dice are paired with the Dungeon Dice are are more
effective against.  The Champion is effective against everything

Once all the monsters have been defeated, you may loot the room.  You will encounter Treasure Chest and Potions.  Any companion may open one Treasure Chest.  However Thieves and Champions may open all the chest.  For each chest you open, you may take one Treasure token from the box without looking.  Any party die, even a Scroll, may be used to quaff all the potions.  Each Potion brings back one Party Die from the graveyard, with any face you want.  Companions used to open Treasure Chest or drink Potions are put in the Graveyard.

The top heroes will defeat
the dragon.  The bottom
heroes won't sadly.
Treasure tokens can be used at any time, and have a broad array of abilities.  Many substitute for a certain type of Companion.  Others are just worth points at the end of the game.  Some manipulate the Dragon, and there is even a Town Portal which gets you out of the Dungeon at any time, no questions asked.

The last thing you will encounter in the dungeon are Dragons.  Each time a Dragon is rolled on the Dungeon Die, it is set aside.  Once there are three Dragon dice set aside, you will encounter the Dragon at the end of the level.  So you will fight monsters, loot the level, and then must face the Dragon.  To defeat the Dragon, you must use 3 different types of Companions.  For example a Fighter, Priest and a Mage.  Two Champions and a Priest would not work.  Once used, these 3 Companions go to the Graveyard.  But when you defeat a Dragon, you get a bonus Experience Point, and a Treasure.

At the end of each level, players must decide whether to go to the next level, or go back to town.  If they return to town, they get Experience Points equal to the level of the dungeon they left on.  If they choose to go deeper, they take their remaining party members in, and hope for the best.  At the end of 3 delves, you add up all the Experience Points you have earned, in addition to any Experience Points your treasure is worth.  Most treasures are only worth 1 XP at the end, but a few are worth 2 XP.  Whoever has the most XP is the winner.

Timelapse of play

How accessible is the game to new players?

Some of the best
reference cards ever
As you can see, Dungeon Roll has a very simple ruleset.  Dice get rolled, and they cancel each other out.  But despite that, Dungeon Roll has fantastic reference material.  The reference card for each player lists what all the faces of the dice do, and the back is a complete reference for the treasures you'll find.  Then on the back of the manual there is a turn sequence reference.  The heroes say on their cards what they do.  There is pretty much nothing else you could possibly need.

What could have been done better?

The only thing that stands out as being unfriendly to new players is the subject material.  Anyone who's ever played an RPG would know that Mages are universally good again Oozes, which are typically vulnerable to magic and resistant to physical attacks.  But if you've never played RPGs in a fantasy setting before?  None of this is going to make sense to you.  It's all completely arbitrary why Mages are good against Oozes.

The only thing I can think of which would address this problem is more flavor text in the manual to explain it.  Because there really isn't any.  Anything at all to describe why certain monsters are vulnerable to certain Companions.  Or how only by combining their strengths can Companions defeat a Dragon.  As it stands, you really need to go into this game steeped in RPG tropes to intuitively understand it.  It doesn't really foster them on its own.

How does the new player versus experienced player match up go?

First off, this is a push your luck game.  So generally new players can go up against experienced players quite well.  Their first game they may blunder through the dungeon, opening every chest and using every potion with little thought towards hitting the end.  But that tends to be first round behavior, as they learn the mechanics.  After that they quickly catch up.

There is a small degree of min-maxing that experienced players can do.  Usually as relates to measured use of items, and comboing items with their hero ability.  But new players will likely become as good as "experienced" players after 2 or 3 plays, if that.

What could have been done better?

It really depends what perspective you want to take, when determining what "better" is for this game.  It's a game with a rather low skill ceiling, and scores tend to end up pretty close to one another.  As such, it's a fantastic gateway game.  There won't be any hurt feelings, and there won't be any bitterness after it's over.  And there are plenty of people who are looking for just that.

What are the feelings the game evokes and why?

For me the game does do a good job of encapsulating the feel of a dungeon crawling RPG in a 15 minute dice game.  It's the little touches, like how the Companions are strong against different types of monsters, and the dragon lurking on the next level.  You can feel it in how the difficulty escalates as you go deeper, but after each delve you feel like you've "leveled up" somehow, either literally through your hero, or with items.  It does manage to scratch that itch quickly and effectively if you allow yourself to be immersed in it.

What could have been done to make the game more enjoyable?

Dungeon Roll desperately needs better player interaction.  The person rolling the dungeon dice doesn't have much to do.  Rolling the dice makes them feel involved, but the illusion quickly passes as they realize they have no decisions to make.  Sutakku was a push your luck game that had much more player interaction with it's challenge cards.

I also do not get much of a "push your luck" feeling from Dungeon Roll .  The risk reward ratio is just not there.  You very quickly realize you may be burning through 2 or 3 items, just to get one level deeper, a net loss of points.  There is usually a point about 4 to 6 levels deep where it is completely reasonable to quit, with very little ambiguity.  Once again, I felt Sutakku handled risk/reward ratio much better.  Pushing your luck in that game could result in enormous bonuses.

I'm not sure the bold will ever win in Dungeon Roll however.  A disappointment in a push your luck game.  Everyone wants to see someone roll against all odds and win.  Sadly in Dungeon Roll, even if they do roll one more time and win...all they got was one extra point.  And they likely put themselves behind in points by spending items to pull it off.

Long term strategy, short term tactics, both or neither?

There is some long term strategy involved in how you manage your delves.  Generally you want to try to get to 5 Experience Points on the first delve so you can level your hero.  You may also stockpile your items so that you can have an amazing 3rd delve, or save them for points.

On a single delve, there are occasionally fun things you can do.  It's rarely a good idea to spend more than a single item per level if it helps you proceed.  But there are some fun things you can do when you combine an item with a character's special ability.  There is also some thought that goes into timing your hero's special ability, and deciding if you want to bother opening a single chest or not.

Overall though, it is still a very light game, and most strategies tend to work out in the end.  Items trade for levels roughly evenly, and it's going to be the slightly luckier that win every time.

Are the dilemmas the player is presented with of sufficient quality?

There are a few interesting decision points in Dungeon Roll.  On your first delve you will be torn between treasure for future delves, and delving deeper in order to level up.  On your second delve you tend to be balancing item use and collection, and may be hunting dragons.  Your third delve is usually just blatant min maxing for points.  In some ways it is both the most exciting delve, because you will be at your most powerful item and ability wise.  However it is also the most boring since it's so easy to math out the best options.

Now could be a good time to use the meat item to turn all the Dungeon Dice to
their Dragon facing.  You could then use your heroes to defeat the Dragon and cash
out earning a bonus item and XP.
In general, it's somewhat obvious, and sometimes even arbitrary what the best move is.  As I already said, you want to use your items sparingly since they are worth a point each at least.  So you break even using 1 item to go down 1 level.  You generally want to somehow get at least 2 xp when you spend an item.  Say for example if it lets you defeat a dragon, which nets you 1 bonus experience, 1 item.

It's also usually obvious when you should stop because you are running out of heroes.  The dice tend to work out such that you'll likely be facing at least 2 types of monsters, and likely a dragon too, around level 5.  So unless you've been very lucky, you tend to be looking at needing most likely 3 heroes, possibly as many as 6, and you only have a single die left.  And the reward for chancing it is a measly one point.  Where as failure results in being out 5 points.

For those that Kickstarted, you get 2 extra dungeon dice which in some ways spoils some of the decision making.  Because if you get lucky and make it past level 6, and have some dragons in the bank, things get easy.  Which weights the reward side up slightly.  With the extra 2 dice, there are almost always enough to roll a full hand, reducing the reward, and raising the risk.  And it's already lopsided enough.

What could have improved the dilemmas?

The risk/reward ratio could have been improved.  I've seen people suggest different weighting of items as points.  I've also seen suggestions that you make the xp you earn from delving rise exponentially to better reward going deeper.  But the manual also includes "achievements" for some reason.  They confer absolutely no benefits or points.  Just bragging rights I suppose.  But if you used them to award bonus xp or items, it would make the dilemmas slightly more interesting.  It would slightly weight up the reward end of the risk/reward ratio.

Another thing I'd like to see is treasure tokens which could be used against other players.  Interactivity would go up leaps and bounds, and the math of risk/reward would be substantially mixed up.  Suddenly it could be very worth it to open this single chest, if it offers you the chance to ruin an opponent later on.

Physical component design and limitations?

I absolutely love the quality of the components in Dungeon Roll.  The dice are of the highest quality.  Well formed, and with no paint or shaping errors as can happen in games with custom dice.  The tokens were also of good quality, and punched easily and cleanly.  Something I haven't been so lucky with in other Kickstarter games.  I also really love the hook of reaching into the box, which is shaped like a treasure chest, in order to draw my treasure tokens.  And as I already said, the reference material is flawless.

What could have been better?

I only have one small nitpick with Dungeon Roll's components.  Everything is sized to fit a bit too snuggly inside the box.  If the manual and cards fall flat on the bottom, you pretty much have to pick the box up and dump everything out to retrieve them.  There is no room to get your fingers in and pull them back out.  There, that is my only nitpick with the components.

Long term prospects?

As a push your luck game, I really don't get the thrill from this game that I do others.  Sutakku I consider in nearly all ways better.  The risk/reward ratio is better.  It plays quicker.  It has higher player interaction.

As a quick dungeon themed game with a light RPG feel, I enjoy it.  It reminds me a lot of Catacombs in that it's a unorthodox take on the dungeon crawling genre, which doesn't take hours to play.  You get a fun sense of progression, and you end the game with a stack of tokens in front of you representing your haul from the depths.  And in that way it's somewhat satisfying.

But I still can't shake the feeling that it's a game of missed opportunities.  It's almost there.  It has a great hook, and I enjoy the basic gameplay concept.  But it just feels like it got rushed out the door, and could have used a little more development.  Something to bring the risk/reward ratio into a better balance, and something to increase the player interaction.


  1. I think your review is spot on. The game is totally worth it, but the risk and reward decisions don't really offer a lot of press your luck type scenarios. One idea I like is giving a player 3 options to re-roll all party dice, or all dungeon dice.

    One thing I suggest for storage is getting 2 small containers or baggies for experience and treasure tokens. Also, storing the cards vertically, but on their side, at the front or the back of the box makes everything much more accessible. Does that make sense? The cards are sideways, but flat against the back of the box, not the bottom.

  2. Yeah, that is about how I've stored it as well. I leave the treasure tokens loose in the box. But I keep the XP tokens bagged, and I keep the cards and manuals propped up against the dice so they don't fall flat.

  3. Easy ways to increase the fun of this game:
    1. Every time you defeat the monsters on a level you get 1 loot. Since both players get this the points are balanced. It also feels more satisfying to get something for killing all those creatures. This only really nets players 1 additional xp per level, but still feels fun.
    2. Potions rolled either return 1 party from the graveyard (per potion, and as they were) or they allow you to change 1 party into another type of your choice. You can only quaf after defeating monsters. Quafing does not send a party to the graveyard.
    3. Opening chests does not send a character to the graveyard. However, you can only open 1 chest per active party member.
    4. Chests and potions can only be used by active party members and each "survivor" can only do one or the other. Champions/Thieves can open any number of chests, as long as they are active.

    Using these rules the games will go a little longer and the scores will get a little higher but it all balances out anyway.