Many years ago, during the formative years of my nerdly passions, I was introduced (as many of us were), to Dungeons & Dragons. It seemed like something that I would enjoy. “Seemed,” being the operative word. It just didn’t work out. Actually, most RPG’s don’t really hold a lot of interest to me. My attention span just doesn’t work with all the rigamarole (yeah, RIGAMAROLE) involved with being told a story with description while contriving some sort of a character for the sake of being able to roll odd-shaped dice once every what-seems-like-an-hour.
The essential ideas behind D&D however, felt like they should be fun. Roll dice! Kill things! Get treasure! Awesome, right? If only there was some sort of board-type game that offered all of these great things without all the theatrics and, well, listening. Turns out there was, as the same people that released D&D also released a game called Dungeon! in 1975, which has just been reissued. Finally I’d get to see if my suspicions about a more board-gamer friendly version of the world’s most popular method of imaginary swordplay would pan out.
Once you get Dungeon! open and get all of the tokens and game-pieces emancipated from their cardboard entrapment (there are quite a lot), you can get everything set up and ready to go. There are there are three types of cards: Monster, Treasure, and Spell, with the Monster and Treasure cards being sorted into piles by their levels. The board opens up to reveal a labyrinth of a dungeon (shocking, I know), with stone paths leading to many different rooms and halls. The board is also colored sections, with each color denoting difficulty levels.
Players decide what class and gender of character they wish to be from Rogues, Clerics, Fighters, and Wizards. Rogues are sneaky and have a better chance of opening secret doors, but they aren’t very strong. Clerics are religious types with moderate combat abilities. Fighters, are just that. Same for Wizards, but they can use spells. After everybody has picked their characters, they all start in The Great Hall in the center of the board.
The object of Dungeon! is for the players to collect a predetermined amount of treasure that is dictated by your character-type (example: Fighters need 20 000 gold, Rogues, 10 000). Each player’s turn consists of four steps. The first is Movement, in which a player can move their character up to five spaces. Then, Encounter. Here the player looks to see what is going on in the room they’re in. If the character has stopped in a hall, or in a room that has already been cleared, their turn ends. If the player has entered a room that has not been cleared, they must dry a monster from the Monster cards of the corresponding level of that room (i.e., if the room is level 3, you draw a level 3 card). Each card shows what kind of monster the player is to vanquish, and what they must roll to do so. If that number is rolled, the monster is destroyed! The player then takes a Treasure card of that level.
However, if the player fails to roll that number, then the monster gets to defend itself with a roll of its own. This might lead to anything from nothing occurring to the character, to losing treasure or a turn, to the character being killed (and thus, having to start all over). There is also a chance a player may draw a Trap card which generally cause the player to either lose a turn or move directly to another part of the board. Along the way players may collect special Treasure cards (Magic Swords, Crystal Balls, and others), which give a player special abilities that they can use for advantages in combat or in movement. Once a player’s treasure cards add up to the necessary amount, victory is theirs!
If you’re thinking that this all sounds all-so-very simple, you’re right; it is. But that’s where Dungeon!’s success lies. The mechanics are very simple and intuitive. Instead of listening to someone go into detail about how everything looks and feels and what’s going on and what is attacking you, it’s all right in front of you. You can see it for yourself. Move your guy. Roll the dice. Pile up the spoils. Or die. You know, whichever way that turns out. The board and the cards are all adorned with interesting and enjoyable artwork. About the only thing that seemed mildly out of place was the set of dice. They’re just your standard set of dice. I was expecting something a little more detailed or interesting, but when the worst thing you can find about a game is that the dice aren’t ornate enough, then you’re in a pretty good spot.
That is not to say that Dungeon! is completely without fault. While definitely fun, I fear that it lacks a high amount of replay value. That is to say, I don’t see myself getting into any huge sessions with this. It could get repetitive if played too often and it does seem a little light on strategy. I did find it interesting that there was a one player variant in which you basically play the game and set a time limit for yourself to acquire the treasure you need to escape, but by the end of it I found it a little tedious. Suffice to say, like most games, it is definitely better played with others. All-in-all, I enjoyed my time in Dungeon!. It pretty much delivered what I was looking for and is something that I would play again. If nothing else, it would definitely fill the void if you’ve got a Baldur’s Gate itch and the power is out. Don’t pretend like it doesn’t happen.
tl;dr – It might not be as engrossing as some gamers like their experience to be, but for someone like me who doesn’t have a whole lot of patience or attention (oh look! an eagle!) span, it really is something that is worth checking out.