Full disclosure: A review copy of Dungeon Academy was provided by The OP.
As started last week, basically, we’re deep into Gen Con stuff now, and we’re probably not leaving until Essen. Imagine me whispering “this is my life now”, because, essentially, it is. I’m lightly grounded until my reviews are done, and by that, I mean until Astral Chain and Link’s Awakening come out and I start blowing off board games to play a lot more video games again. Either way, one of the games I was really stoked about checking out at Gen Con was Dungeon Academy, a roll-and-write being published by The OP. Let’s dig right into it.
In Dungeon Academy, you’re ready to get your diploma and become a full-fledged adventurer at one of the most prestigious schools in the land. However, before you can do that, you really must pass your final exam. This one’s tougher than most, however; you must enter the school’s dungeon and emerge victorious! To make matters worse, your classmates will be going into them as well from different sides. You don’t know much about the dungeons, but you’ve heard they shift and slide and are never the same way twice. Will you be able to exit the dungeons and graduate on time? Or will you end up more flunking than spelunking?
So the first thing you need to do is construct the Dungeon itself:
I’ll leave you to that. You can set the dice inside, for now, but you’ll need to randomize them later by dumping them into the roof, shaking them around, and then putting them into the dungeon proper:
You can set aside the Labyrinth and the Boss dice for now; you’ll add them back in via a variant if you want.
Give each player a sheet:
Also give them some writing implement. Pens are solid. Give each player a Hero Card (if there aren’t 6 players, you can give each player two and let them choose one):
Give your Hero their Energy and Mana (red is Energy; blue is Mana), displayed on the side of their card.
Shuffle the Loot Cards and set them aside:
Place the Exit Cards in a stack, so that 1 is on top:
You can set aside the Teacher for now:
Randomize the dice and put them into the dungeon, put the roof on top, and you should be ready to start!
To start the game, choose your difficulty; that determines how much time you have during each round:
- Easy: 60 seconds
- Medium: 45 seconds
- Hard: 30 seconds
Set up a timer (or you can use the app if you want). Now, you’ll do the following every round:
Set Up the Dungeon
Like the beginning, put all the dice in the roof. Shake them up a bit and then put the floor on top of the roof so that you can fit all the dice into the 4×4 space of the floor. Flip it over and keep it covered.
In Rounds 2 and 4, you may, before doing this, replace one die with the Labyrinth Die (adds corridors and places you can’t get through) and one die with the Boss Die (adds strong monsters or chests or mandatory keys).
Now, again put the Exit Cards in a pile with 1 on top.
Run the Dungeon
When you’re ready, have one player remove the roof. All players are now attacking the dungeon, from their perspective. To do that, draw a path between rooms, following these rules:
- Your path must start in an exterior room. I usually draw the line going from outside that room’s wall into that room.
- Your path must finish in an exterior room. I usually put an arrow on the end; this way I can also tell what direction I’m moving in.
- You may never enter the same room more than once.
- You may only exit rooms horizontally or vertically. No diagonal movement.
Once you’ve made it through the dungeon to your satisfaction, take the top Exit Card; that’s your placement. If the timer runs out, the round ends as well.
Starting with the player with Exit Card 1 (and then moving in increasing order), players walk through their dungeon starting at the start and finishing up at the arrow. When this happens, you may lose Health (1 for small red monsters; 2 for big red monsters) or Mana (1 for small blue monsters; 2 for big blue monsters) or you may gain Health (1 for red potions) or Mana (1 for blue potions). When you lose a point to a monster, just put one of those points on the corresponding spot on your sheet; any additional ones lost to that monster go to the supply. This lets you track how many monsters you have defeated. This all happens immediately; you cannot save potions for later or queue up monsters to fight.
The Labyrinth Die and Boss Die may add additional circumstances to the board; make sure to check those when you’re evaluating a level. For instance, the Labyrinth Die makes it impossible to enter some rooms from certain directions sometimes, and the Boss Die can add a Key that you must get before you can leave. Either way, check to see if you succeeded or failed the level.
If you failed the level by doing any of the following things:
- You didn’t make it to the exit.
- You violated one of the above rules.
- Your Health / Mana dropped below 0.
The following things happen:
- You score 0.
- You cannot achieve any Quests.
- You do not get any loot.
- You fully recover your Health and Mana. So that’s nice, at least.
If you exit the level in time and with your life and energy above 0, you have succeeded and are eligible to earn Glory! That’s just points.
- Earn 1 Glory for every monster you defeated.
- Check to see if your Loot or Hero Cards give you additional Glory; if so, indicate them in the space on your sheet.
- Choose one of the four quests (Slay Red Monsters, Slay Blue Monsters, Slay Small Monsters, Slay Big Monsters) and earn 1 Glory for each monster you defeated corresponding to that quest’s requirements. Each Quest may only be completed once.
Then, record your health and mana on your sheet. You know, just in case.
The player who exited the Dungeon first draws a Loot Card for every player. The players who successfully exited the Dungeon (starting with the player holding Exit Card 1 and going in increasing order) take a Loot Card. You must take one, even if you don’t want it or it’s a rubber duck.
At the end of the fourth level, you skip this step, but use the Exit Cards to resolve endgame ties.
Move to the Next Level
Discard all tokens on your sheet. Unless specifically told otherwise, you do not gain Health or Mana between levels. No rests!
If you have completed Level 1, exchange one die for the Labyrinth Die. That will remain in play until the end of the game.
If you have completed Level 3, exchange one die for the Boss Die. That will be in play for the final round.
Then, follow these steps again!
End of Game
After four rounds, the game ends. The player with the most Glory wins! If there’s a tie, the tied player with the lowest-numbered Exit Card wins!
- Training: Don’t use the Labyrinth or Boss Die. Useful for your first game, playing with younger players, or just if you want to flex on yourself.
- No Mercy!: You cannot correct, change, or cross out any mistakes. Good luck with that one.
- Solo: The rules are the same, but you always draw 2 and keep 1 Loot Card, provided you complete the level. At the end of the game, your score is compared to the Hero Scale:
- 0 – 10: Young Squire
- 11 – 20: Hero Apprentice
- 21 – 30: Local Hero
- 31 – 40: World-Class Hero
- 41 – 50: Living Legend
- 51+: Demigod
Player Count Differences
There aren’t really any, though the quality of the Loot increases as the player count increases (since you draw more cards). That said, general randomness suggests that you’re more likely to get a mediocre one (expectation, roughly random chances of success, other Probability Words). That’s generally kind of fine. Like a lot of these games, it’s got sort of a multiplayer solitaire-vibe to it. I may generally recommend against 5 / 6 players, just because it introduces some weird structure issues into the game, since the dungeon only has four sides. If I’m sitting next to someone trying to solve the same problem as me, there’s some incentive for me to copy their board, which isn’t great. 2 – 4 players, though, totally fine. I think I’d be down for 6 if it were mirrored or something for the extra two players; I just think that no two players should have exactly the same configuration.
- Keep an eye on your health and mana. The best thing that you can do is manage those consistently enough that you can hit somewhere in the 3 – 5 monster range every level, consistently. That’s a good number and that will keep you fairly competitive.
- If you have the Key, the Chest, or the Purse, focus on getting those first. Those are either required (like the Key) or absolutely free points, so if you get nothing else, getting those will be a good way to boost your score. Naturally, don’t go after those if you’ll die trying; having the Getaway Boots (which let you leave from anywhere) might not be the worst option, though. Then you can just pop out as soon as you have them.
- Remember that you can go to 0; you can’t go below 0. A lot of players are afraid to hit 0, fearing (incorrectly) that doing so will cause them to fail the level. It’s not true! Going below 0 is what causes you to fail the level; you have one more Health and one more Mana than you think.
- You should be regularly using your player power to your advantage. I mean, I know that’s obviousish but it’s still worth mentioning. The Ranger should be regularly trying to finish first; that’s a free 4 points! The Pirate should always try to hit their special room. Everyone gets some benefit from their ability; make sure you’re maximizing yours.
- It’s okay to miss a monster here or there if you’re trying to be the fastest one. This goes double for the Ranger. Just make sure you don’t miss too many of them or skip too many that are relevant for the quest you might want to choose. Skip some, but focus on getting some monsters picked off, too, if you want to end up winning.
- Taking on the Boss is a great idea if you have the energy for it. It heals you up once you finish the Boss, so, it’s essentially just a net positive if you can actually complete it.
- Don’t overthink it. Sometimes it’s best to just sort of let your path be your guide. Just make sure you’re tracking your stats decently well, or you’ll end up dead, which is bad.
- If you can’t do much else, focus on finding a quick path that lets you heal up. Usually we roll some potions; might just be worth running in the dungeon to get those and heal yourself, if possible. Some levels are all potions! That’s usually great, but you don’t score much.
- If you absolutely can’t go on, it might be better to take the 0 and the full heal rather than 1 – 2 points. I gotta be real with you; that probably won’t win you the game unless you manage to swerve right into the Dragon on the next level (which is worth a ton of points), but it’s better than trying to crawl through the rest of the game and only doing a room or two. You gotta really get in there and engage with the gmae; it’s more fun that way.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art style is super fun! It’s very bright and colorful and pleasant, and the icons are solid.
- The cast is very diverse. That’s always worth specifically calling out, and it rules. I love that.
- It’s a pretty unique spin on the roll-and-write genre, as far as I’ve seen. I really like path-building games and real-time games, and this is a really nice application of both things with a solid theme, as well. I could imagine a longer-form version of this working out in the Roll Player universe, to be honest; if you had more depth to the fighting mechanics, maybe? Either way, I really like how light and pleasant it is, also.
- Plays quickly. It really is a 20-minute game.
- It seems pretty easy to build expansions for it. There are even already spots in the insert for more dice, just saying.
- I like using perspective as a way to differentiate between player states.
- I was pleasantly surprised at how the game solves its own health management problem. I thought I was going to die after Level 1, and turns out I healed up a lot on subsequent levels! I appreciate that it doesn’t always work like that, but I like that there’s a lot of ways to keep your character in the game.
- I wish there were more unique dice. Fingers crossed for an expansion or an update in the near future. I could see a lot of ways that this could change, if the Labyrinth / Boss Dice are any indication of potential options. You could even make the dungeons thematic and have a different set of dice for each level! That would be super cool. Also, the insert would lead me to believe more content is planned, at minimum.
- Wow, the dungeon assembly was more complicated than I expected. I like to think I’m good at things and it still took me 10 minutes. It’s a nice production, but, geez.
- The tokens don’t really fit on the cards. They’re either a bit large or the cards are a bit small. Just me being nitpicky.
- Yeah, not super excited about this at 5 – 6 players. Like I said, I appreciate that the perspective is what makes the game different for different players. Sure, you could still copy my route by translating it, but I think it’s just an interesting approach (rather than changing player boards or something). With 5 or 6 players, multiple players have the same perspective, so I feel like that’s not quite as interesting to me.
- Players looking for a lot of player interaction won’t really find it here. There are ways you could make it more interactive, such as having players choose room types or something if certain symbols come up, but I’m honestly hoping to see more modular enhancements and options in the (hopefully likely) sequel or expansions. I think it’s a really interesting system, but it is still very much a roll-and-write, and they’re not typically known for player interaction. This isn’t always true, but it’s certainly true here.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I’m pretty solidly sold on Dungeon Academy! I have a soft spot for roll-and-write games in general, so, this was always probably going to end up going pretty well, but add in path-building, one of my other favorite mechanics, and you’ve gone from me being interested to me being enthusiastic. That said, the game is more than just something I’m interested in; I think it’s got a solid set of mechanics for a quick casual roll-and-write game. This isn’t Steamrollers or something that’s going to require a ton of thought; this is more tactical, and I really like that along with the randomized boards. I think the place where it falls a bit short for me, right now, is that it feels still pretty basic? Like, I’ve finished playing it and I may show it to a few friends, but I think it might need some depth via expansions to really become the kind of game that I want to actively stay in my collection. That’s not to say I don’t like it; far from it, I quite enjoy it. I’m just noticing that this is erring towards the lighter edge of my collection, and I’d love to see some expansions that make it a bit deeper or more complex. Or maybe I just need to use a shorter timer; who can say? Either way, if you’re looking for a quick and casual roll-and-write, you enjoy path-building, or you want to have some sort of elaborate dice holder as part of a game, Dungeon Academy might be right up your alley! I’ve certainly enjoyed playing it.