Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Designer: Jakob Bonds
Players: 1 – 4
Play Time: 90 mins
Before you read on, know that this game is unforgiving and ball breaking hard. Playing by the original rules without variation almost guarantees your character will die. In DungeonQuest, you play one of six adventurers attempting to get to the dragon’s hoard in the center of Dragonfire Dungeon and get out before nightfall. As nightfall comes the dungeon very well may seal you in forever and leave you at the mercy of Kalladra, the dragon who owns said hoard. This sounds simple enough but the first thing you learn in this game is that it excels at killing player characters. I used to think that Arkham Horror was the most brutal and difficult cooperative board game, until we had our go with DungeonQuest. It took eight full games with our friends for someone to actually survive Dragonfire Dungeon by getting to the loot and escaping. While this may not sound enjoyable, there is a sick sort of pleasure you get as you continue to throw yourself in the game. It becomes becomes an obsession… an unhealthy competition between you and the game.
DungeonQuest was one of the roughly 3 new games that were released or being sold early at Gencon this year by Fantasy Flight. For days I scoped this game out. Lurking around the demo tables, picking up the box and reading it, until eventually I took a risk and just purchased it. It was a gamble considering that if I could have just mustered the patience, I would have been able to demo it first. There was just something that screamed to me when looking at this game though. All of the cards, the random dungeon tiles, and THE ADVENTURE! It called out to my inner geek that clamored to loot and plunder a dragon’s dungeon without the time needed to create and nurture a character. I was too weak to resist it’s siren’s call and soon found myself unwrapping it in our hotel room for our very first game. By the end of the first turn, Josh Sabol’s character was dead and the rest of us were either hurt or very very scared…
The materials and card stock of the game are up to the typical Fantasy Flight standards. Everything has that thick textured feel to it that make it feel durable and able to stand up to many games. The set up of the game itself is fairly quick despite the daunting amount of cards and tokens. There are six large sized character cards, a dungeon exploration deck, crypt exploration deck, dead adventurer deck, a search deck, trap deck, treasure deck, door deck, and catacombs deck. There is also a community combat card deck and 4 different unique power cards for each of the six player characters and the five different monsters you may encounter in the dungeon. There are also different types of tokens for stuff like your damage, monsters, and determination. Finally, there are 6 different plastic unpainted mini’s that represent the player characters and over 100 dungeon tiles.
After picking characters, placing the different decks on the game board, and separating the tokens, players then decide who goes first and take turns picking which corner of the board their adventurer starts at. There is no real advantage to which corner you start at as the board starts completely blank. The marker that is used to keep track of time in the dungeon is then advanced one spot. Whenever it is the first players turn, you advance the marker again until it gets towards the end. The spaces at the end will have some numbers on it that indicate a number or range of numbers the first player will want to roll above at the start of a new round. If you roll equal to or less than that number, the game immediately ends and anybody still stuck in the dungeon is trapped and killed by the dragon Kalladra immediately.
During your turn you get one space of movement. As soon as you move in to a blank space, you draw a dungeon tile at random from the available tiles. There is always a little arrow on the tile that must point towards the space you entered from. If you drew a tile, you follow the instructions for that specific tile. If you’re not moving in to a blank space, you still follow the instructions for that tile. The back of the rulebook has the descriptions, but after a few games, you really won’t need it. A tile may require you to draw from the dungeon exploration deck, make certain attribute checks, or just let you continue on to draw another tile. Since the board always starts out blank and tiles are drawn randomly, this means the dungeon should never really look the same in each game session. There is one particular tile, the bottomless pit, that will kill you outright if you fail an attribute check. This is what happened to Josh Sabol on our very first game on his first turn.
You can also delve into a network of tunnels underneath the dungeon called the catacombs. If you happen to get a tile or draw a card that allows you to go down there, you place a marker on the board that indicates the direction you wish to travel and then start drawing from the catacombs deck at the beginning of each of your turns. You then do whatever the card says and keep it in a pile in front of you. If you draw a card that allows you to exit, you count the amount of cards that you have in front of you and move your marker that many spaces in your indicated direction. You then roll a six sided die and shift the marker that many spaces your choice of either right or left. You then pop up in the dungeon in that space and shuffle the catacomb cards back in to the deck. If you pop up in a blank space, you draw a tile and do what it indicates. If you come up in an actual tile, you just do what you would normally do if you had drawn it yourself. Running around in the catacombs has it’s ups and downs. On one hand you can traverse the dungeon rather quickly without fear of drawing a dangerous dungeon tile and may draw one of the most valuable treasures in the game. On the other hand, as with most cases in this game, drawing from any of the decks is a dangerous proposition and will most of the time lead to death or injury.
Most of the tiles are fairly harmless and just require you to draw from the dungeon exploration deck. Any number of things can happen from from the room being empty, a monster popping out, or the ability to draw from one of the other decks (crypt, dead adventurer, or trap). Most of the time, drawing from any of the decks, with the exception of the treasure deck, is a bad call. However, we found ourselves taunting the other players to man up, take a chance, be a true adventurer and draw from the decks no matter what the cost. Sometimes we would get treasure or coins for our bravery, but most of the time it only lead to woe. Monsters would pop out of nowhere or skeletons would spring to life leading to combat.
If there is anything I can lodge a valid complaint about it wouldn’t be the fact that you die a lot, it would have to be the randomness of the combat. At the start of combat, the player to the left of you draws a monster token that matches the specific one being fought that lists it’s hit points. They then get to play combat cards for that monster. There are only five different monsters that you can fight in the dungeon and each have four unique power cards like the adventurers. Both the adventurer and the monster draw a power card at random from the four and then draw four cards from the combat deck. From then on it becomes a guessing game of paper, scissors, rock. There are three different type of combat cards: melee, ranged, and magic. Each card has a specific value ranging from one to five in the top left hand corner and some have a counter attack symbol in the right hand corner. Players pick a card from their hand and then lay it face down in front of them. When both players have selected their cards, they flip it over and whomever has the highest number wins. Sounds simple enough… and boring. There is a twist to it though. It is possible for the player with the lower amount to do a counter attack if their counter attack symbol matches the type of attack the other player put down. If it matches, that player can then continue to add cards with a matching counter attack symbol until their total either matches or exceeds the other players total. Ranged will counter melee, melee counters magic, and magic counters ranged. Counter attacks cannot be counter attacked.
After players are done playing cards, the winner then takes all of the cards they played and put them in the loser’s damage stack. Each card counts as one point of damage, so you can see why you might want to play a low value card in hopes to counter attack. The loser than puts the card(s) they played in the combat stack. In the case of a tie, all cards go to the combat stack. The combat stack serves as a way to play what’s called a deathblow. If a player wins a combat round, and there is a matching attack type in the combat stack, then they can pull those cards and add them to the damage. Say there are 3 melee attack cards in the combat stack and you successfully win a combat round with a melee attack, you get to pull those cards from the stack and add them to the opponents damage stack.
While all of this makes combat interesting, both you and your opponent are still drawing cards back up to five from the same combat deck at the end of each round. Having one special power card for your specific character per combat doesn’t make the combat seem any more unique. It feels the same no matter which character or even monster you play. Luckily, combat isn’t very common in most games and the monsters usually do not have a lot of hit points. Well, except those damn demons.
So if you manage to fight your way through killer dungeon tiles, deadly cards, and dangerous monsters to the dragon’s hoard, you will be rewarded with untold fortune… maybe. When you start your turn in the treasure room you have to actually draw a dragon card to see if Kelladra is sleeping. The dragon deck consists of 8 cards, seven sleeping cards and one dragon rage card. As you draw cards, the deck does not get reshuffled until all adventurers are out of the room. This means your chances of waking the dragon slowly increase the longer you stay in the room and the more adventurers that are looting. If the dragon is sleeping, you can draw two treasure cards and continue to loot the hoard on your next turn. If the dragon is awake, all players in the room immediately discard all treasure, roll two six sided dice, and take that much damage. Everybody then has to move into an adjacent and unoccupied square. For most adventurers, this will kill them on a high roll.
So, lets say you somehow managed to make it to Kelladra’s lair and swipe some treasure. That, my friend, is only half the battle. You now need to trek back through the entire dungeon to get back to one of the corners of the board. This means either taking the same path you traversed to get to the center, or creating a new path of randomly drawn tiles to make it out. All of this needs to be done before the time marker gets to the end and the first player rolls a low number. There have been a handful of games where a few of us have made it to the hoard only to have died mere squares away from the exit.
You have to wonder after reading all of this, “Why did he give the game an A-“? While the combat knocked down my grade a little bit, it was still entertaining and had a bit of strategy built in. Besides that, the game is solid and enjoyable. Even when one of us is losing or dead, we were still having a good time and it only drove us to want to play the game more. We found ourselves feeling tangible dread with each tile pulled, with each card drawn. The fact that players actually get to control the monsters and fight other players also gives a sort of smug satisfaction when you take them out of the game. It has a way of making you to fight both the game and the other players. It causes players to cheer in unison when someone makes it out of the dungeon or passes an otherwise impossible attribute check. While there are single player rules, I could not possibly fathom playing this on my own. It would cause me to miss the actual emotion that this board game draws out of it’s players. An almost palpable rage against a piece of cardboard and cards.
There are few board games that I know of that can do this.