#534 – Adventure Games: The Dungeon [Spoiler-Free]

Box

Base price: $20.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: ~90 minutes per session. Game can be played over three sessions.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of The Dungeon was provided by KOSMOS.

Alright, let’s try another Adventure Game! This week we’ve got The Dungeon, the companion game to last week’s Monochrome, Inc.. KOSMOS has pushed out two of these games so far, mostly to approach cooperative games from the narrative side, as opposed to the EXIT series’s puzzle side. It’s an interesting swing, going okay so far, but I’m interested to see what’s going to happen next. For now, though, let’s dive deep into The Dungeon!

In The Dungeon, you’ve been, well, thrown into a dungeon. That’s about all there is to say about that. You remember who you are, but that’s about it. Everything else is a blur. Maybe you hit your head on the floor? Who can say. Anyways, you need to get out of the dungeon, so team up with your allies (or by yourself; it’s a soloable game) and get out there. Will you be able to escape?

Contents

Setup

First off, set up the A room card:

Room Cards

Unlike Monochrome Inc., this game isn’t built out linearly, so, leave some space all around it for additional rooms. It’s a castle, not a skyscraper, you know?

Set out the Adventure Cards:

Adventure Cards

And the Mission / Ending Cards:

Mission and Ending Cards

Then give each player a character card and a character:

Characters

And some health to boot:

Health Cards

  • 2 players: 6 Health
  • 3 players: 4 Health
  • 4 players: 3 Health

Now, don’t look at the Adventure Book yet, but have it ready:

Adventure Book

You should be all ready to start!

Gameplay

So, just like last week, I should ask if you remember old computer-adventure games. I still don’t, since I only played a few and repressed all of King’s Quest IV (except for the excellent title: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow). This is similar to those, which is unhelpful if you don’t get the reference, but alas; that’s the nature of things. You’ve been cast into this dungeon and your memories are all scrambled, probably due to being hit on the head or something very nonmagical. Now, you need to get out before it’s too late. You have three chapters to escape the dungeon with your lives; are you up to the task?

The game consists of series of turns, each with two steps

  1. Move Character
  2. Take One Action

(Anytime) Exchange Adventure Cards

Let’s go through both.

Exchange Adventure Cards

Any time during your turn, you may exchange Adventure Cards with any player in the same room as you. This cannot happen during your action, so you can’t do any cool flips or sleight-of-hand. But you can basically run to your friend, give them something, and then run and do something else.

Move Character

Now, move your character to a new location. You may either use the elevator(s) to move freely between levels depicted on their cards, or you may move to another location on the level you’re already on. Just be careful; as mentioned, the elevator is considered part of the level it’s currently on, so make sure you don’t drag unwilling participants somewhere dangerous.

You do have to move somewhere, either onto or off of the elevator or somewhere else in the level.

Take One Action

Now, take one action. You must do any of these:

  • Explore a location: Do this by reading the entry for that location’s number in your adventure book. Not much more to say about it than that.
  • Combine two adventure cards: Every adventure card is a two-digit number. To advance, sometimes you’ll need to combine them to become something more interesting, magical, mysterious, or none of those things. Simply smoosh the numbers together in numeric order (30 + 11 -> 1130) and then read that entry in the Adventure Book. If one doesn’t exist, that’s not a valid combination of items, and your turn ends as a resounding bummer.
  • Combine an adventure card with a location: Use an item on a location by reading a combination of those entries. Do you have a dope sword (61)? Do you want to use it to fight the giant lizard monster that’s taken residence on location 112? Then look for entry 61112 in your Adventure Book. As with combining Adventure Cards, if there’s no entry, your turn ends.

Health

Be careful! Some things may take away your health, causing you to lose cards. Flip them over when you take damage. If you lose all your health, return one of your Health Cards to the box and flip the other ones back to full. If you lose your last Health Card, well, someone else loses a Health Card instead. Imagine them diving in front of the … magic? Sword? Potion? I don’t know.

Game End

As with Monochrome, Inc., there are three chapters in The Dungeon. Similarly, you can end the game and come back to it by just taking a picture of your state and putting everything in the box to be reassembled later.

The game ends once you’ve completed Chapter 3! Check your Ending Card, tally your score, and see how you did!

Player Count Differences

The major difference is just health changes. Any one player can take permanent damage more easily since each player has a lower overall health threshold. I think at higher player counts, it’s better to spread out rather than concentrate all in one room (since, unfortunately, some effects might affect all players in a room at once). The one issue I have is again that there’s not much for more players to do that one player can’t necessarily do, though it’s nice to have multiple players so that the various character-specific events have better odds of activating if those characters are actually in play. Beyond that, there’s not really a big difference between the player counts, as far as I can come up with. I’d probably still play it at lower player counts though; there’s less downtime between my turns, and, well, I’m a tiny bit selfish? It would be nice to have more players so that I’m not reading the Adventure Book as often.

Strategy

  • It may help to take notes. There are a number of things that upon first inspection don’t say or do anything particularly useful. These are likely things that will be useful if you come back later with new options. Additionally, characters may tell you things (or you may read things on Adventure Cards / in entries) that aren’t easily repeated; keeping track of valuable information will help you potentially avoid disaster.
  • Make sure you’re observant of context clues. Read everything you get to read carefully; there’s a lot of useful information there! Especially if you want to avoid, say, sticking your hand into a pile of centipedes. In the game. Thankfully. I wouldn’t say every trap is something you’re told might happen in advance, but there are a number of circumstances where you could have intuited that something bad might have happened if you were to do the thing that you ended up choosing to do. So don’t do it?
  • Health kind of matters. I wouldn’t say go out of your way to stay healthy, but your overall health is going to affect your end-of-game score, a bit, so it may be worth healing up if you’re in bad shape. At the very least, try to avoid permanently losing health slots? That’s going to make it so that you can never get back to full health, which is a huge bummer.
  • You can’t undo some decisions; choose wisely. If you want to see the results of the road not taken, well, there’s a good reason why this is a replayable game. But in either case, it’s likely worth being particular about the choices you’re going to make, especially if they seem like they’re going to matter.
  • It may not be a good idea to check everything. Yeah, so, just like every old computer adventure game, checking everything is a good way to get bitten by a piranha or drowned by a mermaid or something. The game’s usually kind of a jerk! So try to remember that you’re not particularly helped by losing health, and sticking your hand in every hole you can find in a dungeon is a pretty good way to really test that survival instinct. Thankfully, you can find some hints as to what is and isn’t dangerous, but that will only get you so far.
  • Try to get money. Why? Well, you’ll have to play the game and find out. That said, having coins is generally a useful thing both in the game and real life, so, go out and get paid?

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • This one does a great job adding a lot of discoverable items throughout the game. I felt like I was actually going through a dungeon and finding stuff, like coins and gems and mysterious potions and trying to do all sorts of fun things with them. It was all the fun of King’s Quest without the horrifying nightmares I had after playing it as a kid or that one extremely dumb quest where you needed to have grabbed a second stick in the first five minutes of the game. Oh, Sierra. Anyways, I think they did a good job making the entire game feel dynamic and rich as you tried to escape the titular dungeon.
  • I’m still a big fan of how the items and the locations can be used in conjunction with each other. Again, the thing that’s nice about the games is that even though they are obviously static, they do a good job through items and their interactions
  • Stronger branching storyline really drives this one forward. I feel like there’s a pretty significant chunk of the story that we never even got to see, which is exciting. I feel like that gives players something interesting, even if the game only hints at it. Like I said in Strategy, some of your choices matter a great deal, and the fact that they can matter is super interesting.
  • It’s also replayable! And this is the kind of game that I would want to actually replay, given that the storyline branched so aggressively. As I mentioned in my last review, you can also save your state, which makes the game easy to pause if you’re playing a longer version of it than we ended up doing.
  • I think this one does a better job with its puzzling than Monochrome, Inc. did. There were a few puzzles that were genuinely challenging! We had to do some mental legwork to actually get through them, which delighted me, as you might guess. I hope that they get more puzzley over time if they end up continuing with this series.

Mehs

  • The concept of “turns” isn’t super helpful at lower player counts, I feel. Especially in this one, I felt like we mostly ended up with a shared inventory and we just kind of … did things. I think at higher player counts it’s helpful so that one person doesn’t dominate, but more often than not we’d just kind of do whatever and figure it out once we did it. Honestly, that’s kind of my preferred way to play these games.
  • It’s just, dissatisfying when you look up an entry and nothing is there. This is the same problem I had with Monochrome, Inc., so I kind of hope that the app lets you address it more easily.
  • Often the “best person” for the particular task at hand is pretty arbitrary. Sometimes the game asks you to choose who will perform a specific task. Sometimes it makes sense who the “right answer” is, and sometimes it does not. Very reminiscent oof an old-time computer game, but also very frustrating. As you do.

Cons

  • I am hoping that there will be some method for avoiding reading tons of additional information from other sections of the book in future games. I mentioned this is my previous review, but I got a lot of spoilery information from just trying to find the various things trying to put items together. It would be nice if it were harder to read entries that aren’t related to your current entry, but that’s definitely not the case right now.
  • There’s a lot of text to read through if you’re not using the audiobook from the app, but that’s … not available, yet. This kind of hurt after a while. It’s just hard to read text out loud to another player for a long period of time. Same problem with Legacy of Dragonholt; I want to read stuff, but I tend to read faster than I talk, so I end up skimming the book and paraphrasing, which is fine. I think the game would take longer if you end up using the audiobook as well, so your mileage may vary on this idea’s utility.

Overall: 7.75 / 10

Overall, I’m a fan of The Dungeon! I think I prefer it to Monochrome, honestly, but that goes back to what I was saying earlier about plot and story progression. Since The Dungeon is more couched in tropes that I think are more familiar than Monochrome. To that end, I think the story feels less disjointed than Monochrome specifically because it’s easier for me to draw story paths between the various plot points that we’re given. Doesn’t mean that I didn’t like Monochrome; just means that it was less easy for me to notice potential plot problems before they arose and then I ended up burning myself stupidly in acid. In that game, not this one. Watch out for the acid. There’s a fun fact for you. There’s still a lot of text, granted, though weirdly the optimal character matchups for certain events is even more random-feeling than in Monochrome, where I at least felt there were skill-based matchups. But who knows. It shares the same common positives and negatives of the other Adventure Game; it’s replayable, it’s got a lot of cool choices and combinations, but I think the narrative does a better job branching than Monochrome did, so I’d argue this might be one that I’m interested in replaying. Either way, if you like adventure and narratives and you’re down to play a longer-form adventure, The Dungeon awaits! I enjoyed it quite a bit; would definitely recommend trying it.

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