“I could make it through four rooms of that dungeon, no sweat.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, I could make it through five rooms of that dungeon.”
“Pshaw. I could make it through five rooms of that dungeon without my torch.”
“Okay, you go ahead then. Welcome to the Dungeon.”
At a glance: Welcome to the Dungeon is for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about half an hour to play. It retails for $14.99. I’ve played it with younger kids and I think 7 or 8 is probably fine, but younger than that may have a little trouble understanding the concept. The monsters and heroes are cartoony and not too scary for younger kids.
- 13 Monster cards
- 4 Player Aid cards
- 8 Success cards
- 4 Adventurer tiles
- 24 Equipment tiles (6 per hero)
The Adventurer and Equipment tiles are small, rectangular cardboard punchouts, identical on each side, with an illustration and a small description at the bottom. The Adventurer and Equipment are color-coded so you can tell which equipment goes which with hero. The illustrations, by Paul Mafayon, are nicely done.
The Monster cards are fairly simple: a large illustration of the monster, a strength number at the top left, and some icons at the top right showing what equipment can defeat the monster. Success cards are just cards with a big gold scroll on them. The Player Aid cards show how many of each monster there is in the deck, along with their strengths and the equipment needed to defeat each one. The back side of the Player Aid cards show the same information but the background is dark red instead of white, indicating that the player has lost once.
How to Play
You can download the rules as a PDF here.
The object of the game is to survive two trips into the dungeon, or be the last player remaining after everyone else has lost twice in the dungeon.
The game is played in a series of rounds, during which players try to out-brag each other–and the last player to pass will take a trip into the dungeon.
To set up, give each player a Player Aid card. Then choose one of the Adventurers and set it on the table, along with all of its Equipment tiles. Shuffle the Monster cards and set them near the tiles.
Each round has two phases: the bidding phase, and the dungeon phase.
During the bidding phase, you have to decide whether to draw a card from the Monster deck (in which case you’re bragging about surviving) or pass (chicken out for this dungeon). If you draw a card, you look at it secretly and then either add it to the dungeon stack, or else set it aside, face-down, and remove one of the Adventurer’s equipment tiles. If you pass, you will skip your turn for the rest of this round, and join back in after the dungeon phase is over. If there aren’t any more Monster cards in the deck on your turn, you must pass.
If you are the last player to pass, the bidding phase ends and you must enter the dungeon as the Adventurer with whatever equipment you have left. Add up your hit points, and then reveal monsters one at a time from the dungeon stack. If you have the right equipment to defeat the monster, it doesn’t hurt you. Otherwise, you lose HP equal to the monster’s strength. Get through the whole dungeon stack, and you succeed. Run out of hit points, and you die.
You take a Success card if you succeed, and you flip your Player Aid over to the dark red side if you fail. Succeed twice, and you win the game. Fail twice, and you’re eliminated.
If nobody has won the game, then the last player to enter the dungeon picks the next Adventurer and the next round starts.
In the past year I’ve been seeing more games coming from Japan as US game publishers sign distribution deals with them. Oink Games is one in particular that I’ve heard good things about, and it’s the original publisher of Welcome to the Dungeon. Japanese games tend to pack gameplay into a small package, so I was pleased that Iello’s version is still a pretty small box.
The theme is fun once you figure out how it ties to the mechanics–while the rulebook explains how to play, I don’t think it spells out what’s going on when you draw monster cards, and I had to explain that further to my kids and the other people I’ve taught the game to. Once you get that explanation, though, it makes sense. You have to imagine that everyone is the current Adventurer–we’re all Rogues, for instance, and we all have the same pieces of equipment. As we start bragging, we one-up each other about the number of monsters we can face or the amount of equipment we can leave behind. And then, at some point, people start bowing out, and one Rogue is left to live up to the dare.
It’s a clever game that involves some bluffing, some memory, and risk assessment. You want to make the dungeon seem hard so that other players will drop out while it’s still easy enough for you to survive… or you want to make it seem easy enough to survive but actually make it deadly so that somebody else winds up dying. The problem is, of course, that sometimes taking a turn to add that last card means that everyone else passes and you’re hoisted by your own vorpal dagger, so to speak.
Each of the Adventurers has a different mix of equipment, able to vanquish some enemies but not all of them. If you draw a monster that the current Adventurer can’t defeat, do you put it into the dungeon, hoping you’ll survive that hit, or do you remove it, but also take away a piece of equipment? If so, which one?
The game goes pretty quickly, so even if you’re eliminated from the game, chances are somebody is going to win pretty soon. (And, hey, it’s your own fault for bragging too much.)
The theme is actually a lot like Gauntlet of Fools, a game by Donald Vaccarino published a few years ago (see my review here). But while that one was fun in the bragging and then fell a little flat in the actual dungeon crawl portion, Welcome to the Dungeon is a lot of fun in both phases. Even if you’re not the one in the dungeon, you’ll know some of the cards that are in there and it’s fun to see whether the Adventurer will survive. (Of course, you’re rooting for the other players to fail.) I feel like this is the game Gauntlet of Fools was trying to be.
Welcome to the Dungeon was a big hit at Gen Con, and it’s easy to see why. It’s easy to learn, looks beautiful, and combines quick play with tough choices. With the right players, it can be incredibly funny. Pick up a copy at your local game store or order one online.
Disclosure: Iello Games provided a review copy.