Back in 1975, a company called TSR published a board game called Dungeon! This was two years before the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set was released and Dungeon! built on the mechanics found in the recently released OD&D game — battling monsters by rolling dice, earning treasure and exploring an underground maze fraught with danger.
The game went away for a bit, but was reprinted in the early ’80s. The reprinted game remained largely the same, although the box art was different and the board was actually a board now (instead of a map); there were few other changes. The board art was finally updated in the late ’80s and for an entire generation of geeks, Dungeon! was the game they cut their teeth on before graduating to the D&D RPG.
Later this month, you’ll finally be able to share Dungeon! with your kids.
While the new version mimics the layout of the previous versions down to the last stone placement, the art is completely new and gorgeous. If you’ve played before, the gameplay is very similar to previous versions.
The board is broken out into nine sections of varying difficulties. In the center, where players begin, is level one and all rooms offer the most basic monsters and treasures. As the players progress through the dungeon, they will visit level two next and then, turning to the outside edges, levels 3, 4, and 5 (on both edges) before turning back in to level six.
To begin play, setup simply consists of laying out monster and treasure cards, separated by levels. Players then choose their hero. There are eight options; two each of human fighters, elf wizards, dwarf clerics, and halfling rogues. Each hero is best suited for a specific range of levels in the dungeon. The rogue and cleric aren’t as strong, so they should spend more time at the lower range of levels (and have a lower win condition to match), while the fighter and the wizard should set off for the higher levels.
On each turn, players can complete four actions. First, they can move up to five spaces. Second, upon entering an uncleared room or chamber, the player will encounter a monster. Monsters are leveled to match the level of the dungeon, so you’ll never have to fight a giant worm in level one.
Each monster card has a number that for each hero type, as well as numbers for the wizard’s spells (more on that in a moment). In the third action, combat, the player rolls two dice and if he rolls the number, or better, specified for his class on the monster card, the monster is defeated. If the player rolls low and misses, the monster strikes back. The player again rolls two dice, representing the monster attack, and, depending on the roll, a number of results are possible.
Rolling lower than five is a miss and six or seven stuns the player, causing her to drop a random treasure card. Eight to ten is a little worse; the player is wounded and must drop a treasure, back up a space and pick up a Lose a Turn token. One higher, at eleven, is seriously wounded, half of all treasure cards must be discarded, and the hero is returned to the Great Hall at the center of the board. Finally, roll two sixes and the hero is killed. All treasure cards are lost, a new hero must be chosen, and play begins for that player all over again.
In the fourth action, if the monster was defeated, a player loots the room and picks from the treasure deck that corresponds with the room’s level.
There are a number of additional rules and conditions in the game too. Wizards can cast one of three spells, but they are limited to the number of times they can be cast. Fireballs and Lightning Bolts can be cast from outside a room, sparing the wizard from a monster’s counter-attack. The Teleport spell allows the wizard to move from a chamber to one higher (or lower) level from where he is at that point. Spells can also be regenerated by returning to the Great Hall and losing a turn.
In the treasure decks, there are some special cards that allow players to find secret doors (without having to roll for them) and others that also grant special powers. Additionally, there is a magic sword which gives a bonus to any player that carries it, except for the wizard.
To win the game, heroes must collect treasure totaling a certain value. Clerics and rogues only need 10,000 gold pieces of value, while the stronger fighter who can delve deeper into the dungeon and win greater treasure needs 20,000 and the all-powerful wizard needs 30,000.
The components of this version of Dungeon! are pretty nice. The board is high quality with very good artwork. The cards, like the original, remain small at just 1.5″ x 2″ and there are a lot of them – 165 in all. There’s an awful lot of cardboard too, 8 standees for the heroes, some magic sword tokens, number tokens for keeping track of undefeated monsters, Lose a Turn markers and more than a hundred tokens for marking cleared rooms and chambers.
It’s all very good, especially for the price, but I’m not a fan of the hero standees and will likely replace them with minis. Additionally, I will likely add enough dice so that each player can have his or her own. The two that come with the game just aren’t enough.
The game moves very quickly. Even with all of the rooms in the dungeon to be explored, a game can be completed in as little as 30 minutes, especially with two players. The game can accommodate up to eight, which could be pretty blood thirsty as heroes rush to clear rooms, and there is a single player variant, but I haven’t played either of these ways yet. It seems to play best with four.
It’s far from deep strategy, but it is still fun. Playing it is like stepping into a time machine and traveling back to D&D’s roots. It is an RPG stripped down to bare mechanics and this is where Dungeon! really finds its niche.
One of the questions we get asked over and over is how to get younger kids into RPGs. Dungeon! is a great gateway for younger players. The game is for ages eight and up, but, like most games, subtract one or two and that’s the right age for your kids to play. Give your young ones Dungeon! and some dice and the next thing you know, they’ll be rolling up characters and exploring on their own!
Dungeon! releases October 16 and will retail for $19.99. Check your friendly local game store for availability.
Check out the gallery of photos from the game’s unboxing: