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Subject: A Review a Week #23: Come for the theme, stay for the fun rss

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Lance
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Review a Week goodness! After my unprecedented success with my Runewars review, I thought I would dive into something a little more Euro, and also something that had been reviewed to death by others as well. Now I am a firm believer that every voice should be heard, even if it reiterates what has been said already, if only for the fact that it can be presented with a different perspective that maybe not have been fully explored before. Of course, I have not read all the reviews for Dungeon Lords, so I might just be repeating what has been gone over several times, but I write these things for my own enjoyment, and the off chance that they will help someone out there decide whether or not to spend their hard earned cash on a box full of plastic and cardboard. Usual disclaimer applies of course, all of the games in my collection were obtained by me or as a gift to me from a friend or family member. I do not own what is called a "review copy". OK, I did get a playtest copy of Oubliette recently (note to self, need to review it) but that is the only one.

So lately, with the exception of Runewars, my group has been firmly entrenched in the worker placement/resource management mindset, so when I was finally able to get my hands on a copy of Dungeon Lords, we jumped at the chance to digest its inner workings. Like a lot of you, I remember playing the Dungeon Keeper games on the PC back in the day, and while they had their flaws, there was something so wonderfully awesome about being the bad guy. I often wonder why Dungeon Keeper 3 never came out, but then BullFrog games threw all that money into Black and White and that was a pretty awful game - innovative idea but ultimately just not a very good design.

Anyway, I was intrigued by the game the moment I heard of it, and while Vlaada Chvatil has had some games that are perfection (Through the Ages) and others that my group has met with a resounding "meh" (Space Alert) I had high hopes for this baby from the word go.

Overview and Components

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Dungeon Lords is a game for 2-4 players that puts you in charge of your very own dungeon. You get to tunnel through the ground, search for gold, hire monsters, and build traps. Eventually, your little domain will attract the attention of adventurers looking to put an end to you shenanigans. At that time you will need to defend your turf to the best of your ability to make sure that your home is not destroyed.

Dungeon Lords comes in your standard square box that we have all grown to love. The box is your standard Z-Man games sturdiness and the artwork on it is top notch. In fact, you can pretty much say that the artwork throughout the game is pretty amazing all together. I really like how they managed to make the game dark and moody, but the board, cards, and components are still vibrant enough for easy use and recognition.

The actual components are also top notch. You get everything you would expect from a game of this type: wood pieces, thick cardboard counters, glossy cards, highly detailed plastic figures and neat little red cubes. The whole game is just nice to look at and is sure to draw attention wherever you happen to play it. Of special mention are the imp figures that everyone raves about. I am sure you have seen a few pictures of them on the photo galleries here on the ‘Geek. They are cute, pointy, and so much better than a wooden meeple for choosing a spot on the board.



How do you play?

While I won’t go into a full disclosure of the rules here, I will give you a good grasp of the core mechanics and comment on the larger aspects of the gameplay.

Each person gets a board on which they will be building their dungeon. You get three tunnels, three imps, three gold, three minions, and three food. You also get a deck of cards that will allow you to take actions in each portion of the game. To start with, you choose three of these cards at random, and then pick two of those three cards as the ones you will not be able to use in the first round. Now you can get started on the first season of the first year of the game.

Prepare the main board by placing the first two rooms that are available to you to purchase, and then place the first three monsters you are able to recruit into your dungeon on the board as well.Each player now must review their options and then pick the three actions that they will be taking in this round. However, there are a few things that you must consider before you go through with this step.

First, every action only has three “spots” for them to be activated, AND the activation differs slightly depending on whether or not you are the first, second, or third to choose that particular action. For example, if you are the first person to choose food as an action, you get to pay some gold for some food from the village above ground. If you are the second person, you get to get food from the village, but you don’t have to pay gold because they don’t have any to sell, so you steal it from them – this gains you some evilness however, something I will explain in a little bit. Now if you manage to take the last food location, you get food as before, but you also get the gold that the first person paid to buy food in the first place. This is because your minion has gone above ground, killed the villagers holding the last of the food, and stolen said gold. This of course makes you even more evil.

I mentioned “evilness” and this is an important mechanic. Being evil is not necessarily a bad thing, you are an evil overlord after all and you even get bonus points for being the most evil at the end of the game. However, it does come with a price. The overlord who is the most evil will always get the toughest, most pious adventurers stomping around his dungeon during the combat phase of the game. It is also important to mention that if you are really, really evil, you get the mighty paladin to show up at your house, knocking down your door and laying waste to whatever he can find.

At this point the game continues on. The last two actions you make are unavailable to you the next round, so you will need to plan accordingly. You slowly build up your home, hire monsters, build traps, and get ready for the adventurers that are chomping at the bit to barge in and make things miserable for you. You do get to see the upcoming good guys (and girls) so you can try to jockey in the “evil” race to get the ones you want. Also, you can plan your combat strategy depending on who you are going to fight – such as giving up on traps if you are going to fighting rogues (they disarm them) or a big tough troll to match that brawny warrior who is first in line. Once the first year is over, you immediately move onto the combat portion of the game.

Combat is more of a puzzle than a real combat, in fact the game itself includes some combat “puzzles” for beginning players to run through to get a handle on this aspect of the game. I never went through these because I had a good teacher the first time I played, but you should find them useful if you decide to use them. You decide which of your traps and monsters will do battle and you try to knock out your opponents and throw them in your dungeon where they are worth points at the end of the game. Oddly, the act of actually conquering your dungeon wounds the invaders, so even if your defenses suck, most if not all of the jerks ransacking your home will end up in your prison as long as you put up some sort of defense.

You play through two years of the game, with four seasons and a combat phase in each. At the end of the game, you total up your points based on several factors, such as dungeon size, number of captives, and monsters in your employ. You also can get earn bonus points for being the “best” in certain categories. Some sample categories are most monsters, most traps, and the afore mentioned most evil. Total up the points and whoever has the most is the winner of the game.

My opinon

The first time I played Dungeon Lords it really blew me away. There was a lot to like about the game. It ran smoothly, it looked nice, and the basic strategies were very apparent from the get go. I had heard horror stories about people getting massive negative point totals the first time they played but that was not the case with myself. I managed to score 20 points and finished second by a single point.

I have since played it several more times and my base feelings for the game have not changed. It is a very slick game with many things going for it. However, my feelings have shifted away from considering it to be “excellent” and are moving more into the “solid game” category. I thought about the reason why for a few days while I was composing this review and I have come up with a few reasons.

To begin with, the mechanic of the last two actions not being able to be used in the next turn is very cool, but it leads to strategy being almost too basic. Every turn, I find everyone just looking at everyone else’s cards, and then just simply counting backwards from their spot in turn order to determine where and when what actions can be taken. Yes, you all pick in secret and the reveal is done in order, but it really isn’t that big of a deal. If at least one person took the action you want (in a four player game and excluding claiming a room) you are guaranteed to get what you want. If you happen to be one of the last people to pick you can even get a good guess as to where your marker is going to end up – first, second, or third.

Now maybe this is just due to the fact that I have played the game several times, but I had a very firm grasp of this on pretty much the second time I played the game. Now it is a good thing that one of the core mechanics of the game is this approachable, but for me, I like the feeling that I am still not quite mastering aspects of the games I am playing. It gives me something to shoot for. I don’t have that feeling with this one.

Next is the fact that the game really only works with four players. Yes, it does say 2-4, but having tried it with less, the game is simply not as enjoyable. I have too many games that play awesome with two or three players and I would prefer playing those over this. I honestly think this game was designed as a four player game and then after it was done, the rules for playing with less were tacked on. This is all well and good mind you – there are many games I like that are for four players only, Krakow 1325 AD comes to mind – I just wish that the gameplay for fewer players was better. If it was, this would hit the table a lot more.

Finally, player interaction is confined to trying to jocky for the best actions available to you when you play your cards and that is about it. I wish there was some sort of phase of the game where you could send your minions or your imps to sabotage your opponents by destroying a tunnel or bribing one of their monsters to join your side. Maybe you could have access to a spell that would make the adventurers attacking your opponents dungeon more powerful, or you could steal your opponents gold or food. Something! Instead, if one of your opponents is doing much better than you, there is simply very little you can do to stop them. Sure, you could try and mess with their actions a little, but that would be counter productive, since you still need to try and improve your own status. Ultimately, I hate to use the whole “multiplayer-solitaire” argument, since it isn’t exactly true, but it is a description that fits more than it doesn’t.

All those negatives aside however, Dungeon Lords is still a very good game, and the main reason it is good is that it is just fun. It is fun to pick your actions, and it is fun to see your opponents get screwed out of what they want. It is fun to build your dungeon. It is fun to play with your imps while you wait for your turn. The monster cards are pretty and manage to be cute and deadly looking at the same time. Even the little green squares and yellow circles for your food and gold are fun to dink around with.

What I guess I am getting at is that Dungeon Lords is just lot of fun to play, and if I am having a good time at the table with my friends, then I can look past the minor flaws of the game. If you want to get caught up in the little issues here and there, feel free, but if you let the slick mechanics and actually interesting theme immerse you in the experience, then you are going to have a great time with this one.

What it boils down to is this: Dungeon Lords might not be the perfect worker placement/resource management game, but it comes damn close. At the very least, you won't be spending a couple of hours building the same farm all over again.

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Peaceful Gamin'
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Hm, multiplayer solitaire.
Is it just me, or are they sprouting up like mushrooms recently?
Dim Onion, Alter Space, Gace for the Ralaxy, ...
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Peaceful Gamin'
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Your post gave me the idea for this list, thanks!
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David desJardins
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UndeadViking wrote:
Dungeon Lords might not be the perfect worker placement/resource management game, but it comes damn close.


I hope people agree with you, maybe that means publishers won't keep flooding us with the damn things.
 
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Lynette
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DaviddesJ wrote:
UndeadViking wrote:
Dungeon Lords might not be the perfect worker placement/resource management game, but it comes damn close.


I hope people agree with you, maybe that means publishers won't keep flooding us with the damn things.


laugh shake laugh

I think your hope is misplaced. Anything that sells well is going to generate more similar but just a enough different to avoid copyright dispute knock off games.

Tis the way of the market place.

And why we have so many worker placement/resource management games already.
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Todd
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If only all reviews were as useful as yours.
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Lance
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xjohncandyx wrote:
If only all reviews were as useful as yours.


Thank you for the kind compliment! I try to please.
 
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Brian Morgan
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Thanks for a great and helpful review! You have helped me make my decision. Against, unfortunately, but it will still remain very high on my wish list. However, since I do not currently have a gaming group to play with on a regular basis I am looking for games to play with just my wife. So, it was between this and Arkham Horror. Since the 2 player rules don't seem to work as well and player interaction is nil; Arkham here I come.

Thanks again.
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Josko Tosic
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Quote:
Since the 2 player rules don't seem to work as well and player interaction is nil; Arkham here I come.


2 player rules work very well. They even offer an additional touch of tactics. If a constant struggle for better adventurers, actions, resources etc.means zero player interaction, then this is definitely not a game for you. If this game does not produce all kinds of comments, table talk, laughter, then I admit this is not a game for you.
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Stephen Keller
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Just an FYI, I think that the 2 player version gives you a great amount of player interaction. The game plays out in a very cutthroat nature (unlike the solo-ish 4 player game).
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UndeadViking wrote:
I often wonder why Dungeon Keeper 3 never came out, but then BullFrog games threw all that money into Black and White and that was a pretty awful game - innovative idea but ultimately just not a very good design.


I played the original Dungeon Keeper to death, it still is one of my all time favorite games. Just for the record however, Bullfrog didn't put out Black & White. Peter Molyneux, the brain behind Dungeon Keeper, sold Bullfrog to Electronic Arts in 1995.
Two years later he announced he was leaving Bullfrog to start a new company called Lionhead Studios. They're the ones that put out Black & White.

Dungeon Keeper 2 was brought out by Bullfrog in 1999 but it just didn't have the appeal to me that the original had.
As for Dungeon Keeper 3, Electronic Arts did announce they were gonna make it, but it was cancelled a few months later, the gist of it being that they were too busy making crappy games for the Playstation 2 based on franchises like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
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