No. of Players:
G@mebox author Doug Adams writes about the game :
Are you ready for heroic deeds that win you fame, wealth, and the hearts of beautiful maidens? Well, then go play another game!
At the moment, it stacks up very well indeed, but it's not a light game. In a way, this is a similar game to Through The Ages. Mechanically, it's quite straightforward, but there is a lot of game to explore. Vlaada has again provided a game with lots of levers to pull and buttons to press, and again there is a lot to talk about. There is a bit of everything in Dungeon Lords, reading your opponents, blind bidding, bluffing, resource management, construction, .. and that's just half the game. The other half is a tactical combat puzzle that you have to solve quickly, or see the stuff you've built up in the other half systematically destroyed!
You may be expecting Dungeon Lords to be a traditional "dungeon bash" type game. You know the kind ... grab a character, say a warrior or a cleric. Arm yourself with the +3 Sword of Smiting, go have a great time below ground slaying beasties, and emerge a few hours later with great gobs of treasure and the new improved +4 Blessed Sword of Smiting.
Dungeon Lords isn't like that. Instead, you are an aspiring dungeon master, only 150 years old, and wanting to obtain a permit for running a little plot of evil to call your own. The Ministry of Dungeons has given you a couple of years to plan and fit out your dungeon, then they'll return with clipboard and checklist to assess your efforts. While you are establishing your dungeon, bunches of "heroes" are in town getting drunk and planning their next bash. Guess what, you're the target.
Dungeon Lords is played over two years. Each year consists of four seasons of applied dungeon contruction and management. At the end of each year, your dungeon will be attacked by a party of three adventurers. Highest score after that second attack will win the game.
I tend to get a little blase these days when opening a new game for the first time, but Dungeon Lords made my jaw hit the floor. This is a superbly presented package, inside and out. David Cochard and Filip Murmak get the credits for the illustration and graphic design, and they've done an amazing job. You can spend an hour perusing the game box and various game boards, drinking in the visual detail. From the cute, sniggering monsters on the game box to grandpa imp telling tall tales to the young-un in the Imp Room, it is brilliantly done.
The game box for Dungeon Lords is the standard 11 inch square Euro box, a departure from the rectagular CGE boxes of the past. It's quite heavy too, thanks to the cornucopia of bits inside. There are seven game boards, four sheets of cardboard tiles, bags of plastic (imps and damage cubes), wooden pieces, decks of cards, and a rulebook.
The rulebook is 24 pages long and appears quite daunting when you first flip through it. Although the rules appear dense, it follows on from the CGE games of the past and steps through the game in a very clear and concise fashion. The rules are very well written. The book includes a combat tutorial, a one page introduction, and the last two pages are a reference sheet. The rules text is broken up by very funny comments from two characters - a demon and an imp. They flip between jokes and reinforcing important rules points. This style of presentation has been used before in Chvatil's games, to great effect. Here, they are an excellent device to prevent the rules from becoming too dense. If you stripped out the comments and extras, you're left with around twelve pages of rules to absorb.
There are seven game boards included in the game. Four of these are player boards that each dungeon lord wannabe uses as his dungeon. The boards are two sided - the front side is the actual game play board. The dungeon consists of a 4 by 5 grid where the lord places his tunnel and room tiles, as the dungeon is constructed. There are also handy spaces for storing the various bits that make up a nice, healthy dungeon. We have rooms for food, gold, imps, monsters, heroes that have been captured, and so on. There is even room for the heroes as they begin their advance on your dungeon, as well as the orders cards that you need to play every season. Not an inch of space has been wasted, but it doesn't look too crowded. Excellent piece of design.
But that is only the front of the player boards. The boards can be folded in half, and on the reverse side we have two different features. One half is for games of Dungeon Lords not featuring four players - you use these boards as dummy players, and store their bits here. The other half are game tutorials, each one simulating a different attack by heroes on a dungeon. They can be used as examples of play when teaching the game. New players are encouraged to set up the pieces and work through some sample combats so they can see what's coming for them when the game commences in anger. Great idea.
Four boards down, three to go! The next board in the game is the central board. This is used to store most of the extra game bits. It is also used to record the outcome of the orders the players have issued for the current season. It is extremely colourful with the same gorgeous, detailed art. Along the right hand side of this board is the "Evilmeter", which ranks just how dark each of our dark lords are!
The next game board is the progress board, which tracks where the game play is up to. You simply advance a pawn along it, and use the handy icons as visual reminders about what happens when. It is also two sided, with one side showing the four build seasons of a year, while the reverse side tracks the four combat rounds that take place at the end of each year. Again, it's very attractive, detailed, and well designed. Every step of the game is present on this board, both the four seasons and combat.
The last game board is called Distant Lands - it's simply a holding area for any game components not currently in use, such as monsters, traps, card and so on.
It may seem like we have a lot of game boards (and we do), and it does take a large investment in table space. But when you set up the game and get ready to play, you realise not one game component is sitting on the table. Apart from your hand of orders cards, everything has a storage space. Marvellous.
Dungeon Lords has a lot stuff to punch out. I know gamers who love punching games, and Dungeon Lords will have them at elevated levels of punching pleasure. Be careful though, it doesn't punch as cleanly as it should, and I tore a few tiles in my haste to get up and running.
We get 24 monster tiles - these are the guys and gals who are recruited to defend your dungeon. From lowly imps, through trolls, ghosts, slime, golems until we reach the lofty dragon, vampires and witches. The art on the tiles is great - you just want to give those furry, goofy trolls a hug. Even the green slime looks cute.
Opposing the monsters are the hero tiles. These come in four classes - thieves, warriors, wizards and priests. There are also a couple of terrible paladins, who do a lot of stern stuff sternly, apparently. Heroes are rated in strength using several visual cues - a glyph icon, the tone of the tile, a strength factor, and how well the hero is dressed! From barefoot novice priests to experienced wizards with long, flowing beards. In constrast to the monsters, these heroes have a more faceless, generic look. I assume because these are the anonymous invaders, they've been deliberately presented this way. You bond with your critters, not the heroes. I like it.
There are around 40 tunnel tiles to punch out. These are cross shaped tiles that are fitted into your dungeon grid when you construct new tunnels. They are flipped over to a "sunlight" side when conquered by the heroes. You also get several room tiles that replace a tunnel tile when built.
The remaining tiles are a few troll counters that you can recruit, events that are set up on the progress board, and 20 mysterious tiles that there are absolutely no rules for. I'm not sure what's going on here, but I assume from the contents on the back of the box, these are "Item Tiles" - perhaps an expansion that was included for reasons of economy, with no rules yet? From the look of them, they appear to help the heroes, not the players!
The game comes with 94 cards that are broken down into four different types. 24 of these are the traps that a lord can obtain to install into his dungeon. Traps are the first line of defence in a dungeon, hurting those pesky heroes before they close with your pets ... I mean monsters. 18 of the cards are combat cards, that give any invading wizard heroes a spell to cast. You can commit resources in the game to spy on the heroes in town to see what they are up to (a peek at the card). Nine of the cards are special events that can come into play during the seasonal rounds of the full game. Finally, the 40 remaining cards are the four sets of player orders cards and scoring summary aids.
Finally, we get lots of bits to play with. Each player gets a set of three wooden "minions" used to mark various game tracks during play. They are vaguely imp shaped. There are 30 food tokens which look like green pizza boxes, and 30 gold coins - standard yellow wooden disks. Lastly, there are about 40 plastic pink/orange imps - these are custom sculpts for the game and look great. If you thought the astronauts from Galaxy Trucker were cute, check these guys out.
So, slap the evil smiley face on the start player disk, and let's begin playing!
Game Play - Overview
What this means is the game will be played over two years. Each year is four seasons long, and during each season you get to work on your dungeon. Working on your dungeon means mundane stuff - getting food and income, recruiting a workforce, maintaining your evil reputation, adding tunnels and rooms to your dungeon, and so on. But... no matter how hard you try to keep a low profile, heroes in town hear about you. Sure enough, a party of slightly drunk adventurers will invade your dungeon at the end of each year and smash up bits of it, rendering it worthless. As well as the day to day minutiae of dungeon running, you also have to defend it from the two inevitable invasions.
At the end of the second year the official from the Ministery of Dungeons come by and score your efforts.
Game Play - Four Seasons of Building
During the Building part of the game, players take four turns (or seasons) to work on their dungeon. What this means is they pick up their hand of orders cards, and assign 3 of them secretly face down on their dungeon boards. These orders represent sending your three minions out to do your dark bidding for this season.
Players have eight different orders they can issue. These are: Get Food, Improve Reputation, Mine Gold, Dig Tunnels, Buy Traps, Hire Imps, Hire Monsters, and Build Rooms. When placing orders, two of them will be unavailable to you. The two that are locked out are usually the second and third orders you played on the previous season - this is quite nasty.
Once orders are placed, they are revealed and resolved one by one. Each order has a matching track on the main game board - a minion of a player playing a matching order is placed here. There are only three spaces on each track, so there is a real chance a player may miss out. The helpful imp and demon in the rules are quick to point out you can see what orders are unavailable to others and assess your chances of getting in on the tracks. There is also a bit of polite jostling on these tracks, as each position on the eight tracks is slightly different. For example, the first space of the Recruit Imps track allows you to recruit 1 imp for a food. The second space is two imps for two food, while the final space is two imps for a food and a gold. This pattern is repeated across all eight tracks and 24 spaces - there is a definite timing and bluffing element as you try to land your minions on the best spaces for your needs. You issue the order, but are never quite sure how it will be carried out - dark lords don't care about that stuff!
This is where the main player interaction is to be found in Dungeon Lords, in the order selection. Here is a sample of the thought processes you should be taking when thinking about your orders. You scan the other player's dungeons, see their unavailable orders, assess their on-board situation, and try to second guess their upcoming orders. How evil are they? Do they need to fix that? Do they need food, gold, monsters, etc? What is more important to them? What order would they like back next turn, and what two orders can they do without? Can I use this information to hit the generally desired second positon on one of the eight main board tracks? Player position is vital in this phase, as minions go out in player turn order - you need to factor this into your decision making.
But that is only half the problem, because as you are reading their intentions, they are reading yours! It becauses a I know that you know that I know what you know dilemma... and they know you know! Some players will give up on this and simply slap down their orders, but deep thinkers will really bog the game down here as they ponder the variables.
After all the orders are revealed, and minions deployed onto the main board, the orders are resolved. The eight different tracks are worked through in sequence, and the good dungeon stuff handed out. The general rule is first in gets the first choice, but monsters and rooms work in reverse (last in gets first option). As monsters and rooms are the two most important places to send your minions, this creates some genuine agony. You want to be third there to get first pick, but you don't want to be fourth and get no pick! Go too early and you may end up first, which isn't much better. It feels like blind bidding, but you can make good guestimates of your opponent's intentions.
Lets take a quick look at what is handed out, and how it is used.
Food - this is picked up from the village. The first dungeon lord pays for his food, but then it's simply taken from the villagers and reputation suffers. Reputation is tracked on the "Evilmeter", and the more evil you are, the more powerful heroes you will attract. The village is almost the only place to get food, and food is needed for a variety of things. This is a popular spot for minions to visit.
Improve Reputation - you minions head into the village to spread the word - you're not such a bad dude. You get to reduce your ranking on the Evilmeter, and perhaps spy on the heroes to see what tactics they're plotting. You get to peek at one of the upcoming combat cards used in the end of year battle. Handy.
Tunneling - you minion sets your imps to work extending the dungeon by 2, 3 or 4 tunnels. The more you build the more imps you require to do the work. Tunnels are important, as you mine gold in them, and they get converted to rooms.
Mine Gold - gold is required for all sorts of things, and you send your imps into your tunnels to dig some out.
Recruit Imps - the more imps you have, the more mining and tunneling options you have. Imps also do stuff in rooms to produce output for you. We love imps. Notice how you only get more imps after resolving the rooms you need imps for?
Buy Traps - always worth purchasing. These are used to damage the heroes when they attack your dungeon. Traps either cost gold, or you can get one free if you land on the second space.
Hire Monsters - everything is important, but this is really important. Monsters defend your dungeon against the heroes, so you want to recruit early and often. Monsters come at a cost - you have to pay the recruitment cost on the monster tile. This payment is typically food or advancing your evil reputation, but the demon consumes another monster!
Build Rooms - this is the nasty bit. There is room for three minions on the Build Rooms track, but only two rooms are available each season. Someone will probably miss out as rooms are one of the main sources of victory points. Like Hire Monsters, rooms are resolved in reverse order, so first in gets last pick. A lot of the rooms have location restrictions on them, meaning they can only be built in certain areas of the dungeon. A common rookie mistake is to commit to building a room and realising you can't place it. Player three on the build room track silently chuckles, as that build room option will fall through to them.
End of the Season
After the orders are resolved, a few simple steps finish off the current season. First, any player that has built a production room gets a return from it. This is where your imp work force shines again - you send unemployed imps to the room to get a return, such as gold, food, traps, or even print the local Pravda - nothing like media bias to improve your reputation!
The very last step of the season is the heroes are assigned to your dungeon. Everyone gets a hero, and you can't avoid it. The strongest hero goes to the most evil player, the weakest to the least evil player. If you have become too evil and reached the Paladin threshold on the Evilmeter, the Paladin comes to visit you. He's basically a serial pest who will be all over your dungeon like honey on crumpets. He can do everything and you usually don't want him in your dungeon. Well... perhaps you do, if the timing is right.
Game Play - Your dungeon is invaded by pesky heroes
What does this mean? Well, you see what heroes are up in town each season, and you know you'll get one of them. The most evil player will pick up the strongest hero, and so on. You can try to manipulate the Evilmeter so you pick up a hero that's suited to your dungeon - a hero you can quickly capture before he creates too much havoc. For example, if you have a nice collection of traps, you don't want a lot of thieves in the party of heroes coming for you. Thieves love disarming traps.
Managing your Evil rating with respect to the other players is one of the critical things in Dungeon Lords. It's quite easy to get carried away and pay for it later. For example, an wannabe Lord, let's call him "Doug", in his first game happily recruited a vampire and a witch during his first year. "Doug" was a happy lord, and gurgled contentedly to himself. But... then had to feed them. A pillage or two in town sent him over the edge and he attracted the Paladin to his dungeon. Of course, being uber-Evil he had the strongest heroes as well. Carnage ensued and "Doug" had no dungeon left after the first year... but he did capture the Paladin! Meanwhile, dark lord "Janet" wasn't so evil, had the weaker heroes, and finished them off in two rounds of combat, and kept her dungeon fresh and smelling sweetly of fungus. Evil is fun, but being the least evil has benefits too.
Combat takes place over four rounds, each round consisting of several steps. Players work through these steps at the same time, but on their own player board, battling their own set of invading heroes. Resolving combat could almost be considered a separate "mini-game" to the building component of Dungeon Lords. Here players get to make tactical decisions, trying to defeating the invading heroes as quickly as possible. The steps are worked through in order - planning, battle, conquering. It should be noted that nobody dies in these combats - heroes are captured, traps go off, and monsters are knocked out. Warm and fuzzy.
The heroes invade your dungeon and try to conquer tunnels and rooms. Each round, they target the tunnel or room closest to the dungeon entrance. If any survive, they succeed in conquering it, and that dungeon piece will be flipped over to a "sunlight" side. It is considered destroyed... useless to you for the rest of the game.
Combat - Planning
After planning, everyone flips over their cards, and the combat card for the round is revealed. The combat card is important, as it lists the amount of fatigue the heroes will gain at the end of the round of combat, as well as what spell any invading wizards are casting this round. Canny dungeon lords will have peeked at this card back in the build phase using the improve reputation track, and will have used the fatigue knowledge to plan their assault on the heroes this round.
Combat - Traps
Combat - Spells
Combat - Monsters
Combat - More Spells and Healing
Any surviving priests in the invading party can now heal their fellow party members, but only if an monster attacked them this turn. This is a subtle point that can be overlooked. Trap damage and damage from a previous round do not get healed. Dungeon lords can prevent this happening by capturing the priests through wise trap and monster selection.
Combat - Conquering
Losing a tile means you become less evil. Your Evilmeter rating is reduced by one. Other aspects of combat can cause your Evilmeter rating to increase, such as ignoring the soothing Words of Peace spell. This can attact the goody-goody paladin immediately to your dungeon. Paladins can do it all - cast spells, disarm traps, heal and fight. They are also tough to defeat. Still, if another player has a damaged paladin on their dungeon, you can pull a trick or two to become more evil. This attracts the paladin to your dungeon, where he can be finished off by you! Paladins that get captured are worth a nice bunch of victory points - sometimes you want them dropping by!
Combat can last up to four rounds, but may end sooner if you can eliminate the heroes. Don't get too cosy though, as someone else may get beaten up by the Paladin, who them may roam over to your dungeon for the rest of the combat. Combat certainly gets easier to manage as you become more experienced with the game. You have four seasons, which are 12 orders, to tune your dungeon to meet the coming invasion. Tuning means hiring the right monsters to match your traps, constructing tunnels and rooms in such a way that tunnels are taken out before point scoring rooms, and managing your Evilmeter to get the heroes you want to your dungeon.
End of the game - scoring your dungeon
Modes of Play - Basic and Full Game
You get to choose what orders are inaccessible at the beginning of the game, which is nice when you know what you're doing and have a strategy planned. The rule I like is that the Hire Monster order comes at an increased cost if you play it as your first order. This is nice... as recruiting monsters tends to be very popular, and if you rush into it, you have to have the finances to back it up. This rule takes some pressure off this very popular order, as the financial burden makes playing it over and over again less attractive.
Playing with 2 or 3 Players
Dungeon Lords is quite a complex game. The rules are excellent, but require a couple of close read throughs to get up to speed. If you are teaching new players, allow 30 minutes to go through the rules, and the combat tutorials. It is strongly recommended you do the tutorials, or be prepared for a new player revolt when their dungeon is smashed up at the end of the first year.
Once learnt though, the game is quite easy to play. There is a lot of game to explore here, and I can easily see this game getting around fifteen plays before it begins to feel solved. There is a lot of variety built into this design through the way the traps, heroes, monsters and rooms appear. I like the fact that we have the pieces for an expansion already included in the game.
Dungeon Lords is very resource tight, which is the sign of a good design. You will always have a crisis to manage - a shortage of food, gold, imps, monsters, traps ... and so on. You always want more, which is impossible as you only have 24 orders to issue during the game. Do the best with meagre opportunities.
Are then any problems with Dungeon Lords? Well, it's certainly not a game for casual gamers, or even fans of the one hour sessions. The box claims it's a 90 minute game, but I can see that blowing out to over 120 minutes easily. I can see paralysis creeping in when it comes to working through the orders and combat steps. To be fair, you should take your time selecting your orders, as it's critical and you have a lot of information to process when choosing them. Jumpy "fast" gamers may get frustrated by the ponderers taking their time. The game takes a good chunk of table space, so consider that. Some control freak gamers may get annoyed at some of the chaotic elements in the game - such as the "blind" bidding of orders, the random event in the full game, or the spells they didn't care to examine during combat. If chaos is a problem, examine the spells during the seasons, take a bit of time to assess your orders, and don't play with random events!
There may be a perception that player interaction is low. Well, it is, and it isn't. Player don't do stuff directly to other players, rather they try to read their opponent's intentions and try manipulate their pieces around that information. Pretty thematic dungeon lordy stuff. You should be constantly scanning the other dungeon boards to monitor their gold, imps, food, dungeon, orders, etc ... this should give you a good read on where they are at, and you can use that information to plan your orders. Of course it can backfire. This extends to the relative positions on the Evilmeter, which you should be paying very close attention to. You can also apply this to combat as well - you can juggle your resources to try and attract a damaged paladin to your dungeon where he can be quickly captured. It's tricky, but nice if you can get it to come off.
Dungeon Lords is a game of medium to heavy complexity, that will take 90-120 minutes to complete. It's really a game of two distinct halves. Firstly, you manage resources and construct a dungeon that will score points, that you can defend. Secondly, you solve a tactical combat puzzle as you defend your dungeon against an attack. It does feel strange to spend an hour constructing your dungeon, only to see bits of it ransacked by the game systems! Bravo for Vlaada Chvatil for doing something a little different.
So, does it stack up to Through The Ages, Space Alert and Galaxy Trucker? For me, no. It misses out on the "let's play again" factor of Through The Ages, and the breezy fun of the other two games. Dungeon Lords is a deap, meaty game I'll happily play, but I can already see it won't be played a lot.
Superbly produced game. Excellent for the heavier game fan.
Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany