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Subject: Dungeon Lords is practically everything I ever wanted out of a board game. rss

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Anthony Maurasse
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A long time ago, I used to think James Ernest was the most brilliant designer. My favorite card game was Falling, my favorite board game was Kill Doctor Lucky. I used to hang onto his articles and think he was one of the only actually creative designer in the industry. Of course, this was before I played Cities and Knights of Catan (I never actually have played Settlers in my life, thank God) and discovered Euros, so most of my experience was with crap like Arkham Horror and Monsters Across America and our terrible childhood games.

Then I played Dominion and that all changed. By this point I was familiar with the Euro concept from Puerto Rico and Catan and a few others, but Dominion so perfectly allowed you to construct something and use it at the same time that it doesn't even seem like the game that it is-- exactly the same as every other Euro. Think about this: every Euro game is about constructing something while also using it. In Catan, those are settlements that generate the resources to expand. In Agricola, it's the farm whose plots you are farming to score. In Dominion, it's the deck you are building with the money contained within.


In comes Galaxy Trucker. It's a Euro-- you're building ships and using them, the game has very forgiving elimination mechanics, and it's about achieving a score more than knocking out the other players. However, at the same time, it's got the "unrestricted" feel of Ameritrash games, like how Arkham has 10,000 Encounter Cards, it's got the absolute frantic nature of the games you played as a child, like Loopin' Louie or Fireball Island, and it's got the "these game mechanics were designed purely to exhibit my ideas" design of a James Ernest game. Constructing ships doesn't lose the flavor at any point, and you can't imagine any possible other way they could have done it. Of course, prior to playing Galaxy Trucker, if somebody told you to make a board game where you construct spaceships, playing Pipe Dreams in real time against the other players isn't exactly what comes to mind.


On top of that, it takes everything I ever hated or said I hated about about other games and turns me into a filthy liar. "Fantasy Flight Games have too many components" - Screw it, we're going to include a million spaceship parts and awesome little markers that tell you what's inside. "Encounter Cards are lazy design" - You want encounters? Enjoy this Adventure Deck. "Turn Phases with everybody involve is usually a sign of bloat" - Screw you, we're dividing this game into phases. However, the difference is, in Galaxy Trucker the tiny components are simple and clear, with the ship parts being gun/engine/cabin/other and the little things being a plethora of astronauts, batteries, and cargo. The encounter cards aren't paragraphs of tiny text containing all the game's flavor, they're easy to read symbols and the game already oozes theme. The phases aren't an 8-stage simultaneous flowchart, they're no more than 2 and they make sense to be divided as quasi-setup and quasi-resolution phases.


So, that's how Galaxy Trucker became my favorite game without my knowing it. Oh, but Space Alert wasn't so subtle. Space Alert took the construction part of Galaxy Trucker and turned it upside-down. Instead of making a ship, you're making a plan and it's more intense than anything you've ever done. I never knew how much I wanted my games to be hard, and not fall asleep and check the manual hard like Twilight Imperium. Playing Space Alert changed the way I play Galaxy Trucker, looking back. Space Alert takes a stress-relief activity (board games) and injects it with OH GOD OH GOD and then turns it all into laughter. During the process, it seems more stressful than your everyday life, almost, but the whole thing has a candy-coated, inhuman antagonist that brings you down to earth. Competitive games get bad when they get stressful (with a couple exceptions) because the other players become the antagonists. Another important thing is that losing is hilarious because of the theme and the quality of the writing. If Space Alert were about piloting the Enterprise and it wasn't made clear how impossible the game is intended to be, then it probably wouldn't be as fun as the real Space Alert.


Also, Space Alert's resolution phase, while lacking interaction, never ceases to keep players totally interested in the game. In the 'Gric, when scoring, nobody cares at the end of the game. In Monopoly, when counting up money, nobody cares. In Catan, during the 3 seconds it takes to figure out who won, nobody cares. In Space Alert, everybody is glued to the screen that is playing back the degree of failure. I'd chide Space Alert for its lack of interaction during the resolution phase (only through the Tripping mechanic, which I actually keep a secret from my trainees), but it's totally forgiveable after 10 minutes of DEAR GOD WHAT'S HAPPENING FIRE THE GUNS POWER TO THE SHIELDS.


Space Alert is the best Co-op board game you will ever play. Training takes a little bit, but that's not due to bad design. The game is intuitive, so anybody can learn it and play it. The game is difficult enough to keep all players interested and allow them to grow. The game has enough variety to not get boring after the 50th playthrough while you're trying to tackle mission 8 with all yellows. I haven't met anybody who doesn't absolutely adore the game in its entirety. It's a labor of love and it shows. Most of all, though, it's fun, which other games seem to forget to do during the whole process.


So, that said, Dungeon Lords does that. It does all that.

It has the best of encounters and game-changing events that keep the experience dynamic.
It has the best of meticulously building something and planning your moves in advance.
It has the best of pressuring the other players and absolutely hammering them with counter-moves and counter-plots.
It has the best of last-minute changes that totally ruin your plans.
It has the best of resolution rounds that masquerade as hilarious action rounds.
It has the best of stressing the players under a universal antagonist.
It has the best of creating something, using it, and really seeing the results instantly.
It has the best of scaling to keep the game interesting at all player numbers.
It has the best of intuitive mechanics and jumping right in.
It has the best of making every counter count and not deluging players with excess bits.
It has the best of retaining the theme the entire way.
It even has an option to ramp up the player interactivity if you were under the mistaken notion that it was lacking.


In Dungeon Lords, you and one to three other people all construct dungeons which which adventurers queue up to invade over the course of two ingame years. During those two years, you will threaten the other players, swear profusely when you screw up horribly or see some terrifying thing arrive, impede the other players in ways that would get you kicked out of a 1-on-1 Carcassone tournament, create a broken but breathing machine, use said machine to futilely attempt to ward off a group of powergaming assholes, and cry in anguish when they trash the place up anyhow.

It's really intuitive.
It's really engaging.
It's really interactive.
It's really unique.
It's really fun.


A++ would buy again.
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brad poon
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For a Dungeon Lords review there's surprisingly very little commentary about Dungeon Lords.

Great read though
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Anthony Maurasse
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I thought very hard about that after the fact, but Dungeon Lords is basically the next evolution of Vlaada's ideas. With the exception of Bunny Bunny Moose Moose, they all follow a very similar structure and execution.

This is why it seems valid when people claim that one is a better version of another, seemingly unrelated game. You wouldn't hear people claim that Android is a better Arkham Horror, but it's not unreasonable to say that Dungeon Lords is a more refined Galaxy Trucker.

That, and there are many reviews which go into detail about the specific mechanics and other bits already.
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David desJardins
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Broken Loose wrote:
You wouldn't hear people claim that Android is a better Arkham Horror, but it's not unreasonable to say that Dungeon Lords is a more refined Galaxy Trucker.


Wow, I think Dungeon Lords is totally different from Galaxy Trucker, in just about every way I can imagine. DL is all about blind bidding and guessing what other players are going to do and manipulating your choices so it comes out well. There's none of any of that in GT.
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Chris Ferejohn
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Quote:
but Dungeon Lords is basically the next evolution of Vlaada's ideas


I'd say it's the next iteration rather than evolution. I like both games, but I'm not convinced that swapping out sand timers for worker placement is an 'advance' rather than a 'change'.
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Chris Ferejohn
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Broken Loose wrote:
You wouldn't hear people claim that Android is a better Arkham Horror, but it's not unreasonable to say that Dungeon Lords is a more refined Galaxy Trucker.


Wow, I think Dungeon Lords is totally different from Galaxy Trucker, in just about every way I can imagine. DL is all about blind bidding and guessing what other players are going to do and manipulating your choices so it comes out well. There's none of any of that in GT.


On a very high level both games are about building something then trying to keep it somewhat intact while the game pounds away at it, kind of like a tower-defense game. Once you start looking at the mechanics, I agree they are quite different.
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Dan
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I am so with you about GT and SA, but I thought DL was a step back in terms of bold design. Great read though! Thanks!
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Anthony Maurasse
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cferejohn wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
Broken Loose wrote:
You wouldn't hear people claim that Android is a better Arkham Horror, but it's not unreasonable to say that Dungeon Lords is a more refined Galaxy Trucker.


Wow, I think Dungeon Lords is totally different from Galaxy Trucker, in just about every way I can imagine. DL is all about blind bidding and guessing what other players are going to do and manipulating your choices so it comes out well. There's none of any of that in GT.


On a very high level both games are about building something then trying to keep it somewhat intact while the game pounds away at it, kind of like a tower-defense game. Once you start looking at the mechanics, I agree they are quite different.


This is exactly what I wanted to say but clearer and shorter.
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David desJardins
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cferejohn wrote:
On a very high level both games are about building something then trying to keep it somewhat intact while the game pounds away at it, kind of like a tower-defense game. Once you start looking at the mechanics, I agree they are quite different.


I would think that for most people the "mechanics" are what determine whether they will like a game or not.

I think there's low correlation between whether people like Galaxy Trucker and whether they like Dungeon Lords. That's all.
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Miguel
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I was disappointed with Dungeon Lords. The theme is supposedly about building up a dungeon and then watching as the adventurers come to trash it, but you spend 90% of your time going through a worker placement exercise which doesn't feel particularly related to dungeon building and then spend only 10% of your time puzzling through the resolution. For me, the theme falls apart due to how long the whole thing takes and how disconnected the mechanics are from the theme. I really enjoy Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert, probably due to the balance achieved between the phases (and that both phases of each game feel like they last no longer than they should).
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Tim Kelly
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DaviddesJ wrote:

I would think that for most people the "mechanics" are what determine whether they will like a game or not.

I think there's low correlation between whether people like Galaxy Trucker and whether they like Dungeon Lords. That's all.

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Yep!
TK
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Железный комиссар
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Vlaada's games feel like they have a "signature" in their personality (same goes for many designers), but when you get down to it they appeal to widely divergent styles within the broader gaming community. If you take Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, and Dungeon Lords, it's easy to see the Vlaada imprint but it's also easy to see how different they are. I'm with David: liking one is a poor indicator that you will like another.
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Eric Henson
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It combines the awesome of Space Alert and Galaxy Truckers? Good lord, man, you just said the magic words! Now where's my credit card... ninja
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