There’s Always Time for ‘5-Minute Dungeon’

5-Minute Dungeon cover
Pick your character and make your way through the dungeon, working together to defeat monsters and overcome obstacles so you can face the final boss. Oh, and did I mention? You’ve got 5 minutes to do it.

What Is 5-Minute Dungeon?

5-Minute Dungeon is a real-time cooperative game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about—you guessed it—5 minutes to play. (Each round takes about 5 minutes, but you can play multiple rounds.) It retails for $19.99 and is available in stores and online from Amazon or directly from Spin Master. I think the age rating is about right; there are fantasy monsters and enemies but they’re presented in a kid-friendly way.

5-Minute Dungeon components
5-Minute Dungeon components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

5-Minute Dungeon Components

5-Minute Dungeon was originally published by Wiggles 3D through Kickstarter—Gerry Tolbert wrote about it at the time—and now Spin Master has licensed it for a retail edition. My review is based on the Spin Master edition, which has a different box and does not include the Kickstarter bonuses.

  • 250 cards:
    • 40 Door cards
    • 10 Challenge cards
    • 5 Hero decks (40 cards each)
  • 5 Hero mats
  • 5 Boss mats

The components are fairly simple: a bunch of cards, and a few mats that hold each deck and include some additional information. You’ll also need a five-minute timer of some sort—I highly recommend using the free app (iOS and Android) because it comes with five different voices: epic, spiteful, fearful, dramatic, and Scottish. It’s quite entertaining.

5-Minute Dungeon cards
Examples of some of the door cards you may encounter. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

It’s worth taking the time to admire the artwork on the cards—the illustrations are really well done, with a cartoony style, and there is a whole lot of humor in it. You’ll face some things that you might expect in a dungeon, like a spiked wall or a zombie, but there are also a lot of very silly things, like the Very Long Loading Screen or a guy named Steve. When you’re in the middle of playing the game, though, you’ll barely be looking at the names and the artwork—the most relevant info is at the bottom, where it says what type of card it is and what symbols you need to defeat it. (I will note that the only card I spotted that’s not exactly kid-appropriate is the “Two Guys One Bow” card, though it’s primarily the title that’s iffy and your kids likely won’t get it anyway.)

5-Minute Dungeon cards
The five primary action cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The iconography is pretty easy to read: there are five different icons, each in a different color, and they’re easily distinguished from each other. Special cards have a black border, with instructions on the card.

5-Minute Dungeon yellow hero board
The yellow hero board has a Paladin on one side and a Valkyrie on the other. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The hero mats are double-sided, with male and female characters on each board. The characters are a similar class but aren’t exactly the same, and have different powers. For instance, the purple hero board has a male thief and a female ninja. There are a few overlapping powers between boards, but each board does have at least one power that isn’t shared at all.

5-Minute Dungeon box insert
The 5-Minute Dungeon box insert holds everything in place nicely. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Everything fits nicely into the plastic insert, which holds the decks at a slight angle and then has room for all the boards on top. The card backs make up the 5-shaped dragon when they’re arranged in the right order, which is a cute touch. The box does have a weird hourglass shape and the box could have been slightly smaller, but there’s not too much wasted space. One feature I particularly liked about the Spin Master edition is the new cover art. Instead of just the various character images, it actually shows two adults and two kids dressed as the characters entering the dungeon: it’s great to see what looks like parents enjoying an adventure with their kids.

How to Play 5-Minute Dungeon

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to survive up to five dungeons before time runs out.

5-Minute Dungeon boss mats
Bosses range from the Baby Barbarian to the Dungeon Master. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Set up the dungeon by choosing one of the five bosses (from Baby Barbarian to Dungeon Master) and setting that boss mat near the center of the table. The mat shows how many door cards to shuffle together to form the deck. In addition, add two challenge cards per player—those are the door cards with the skulls on the back. Shuffle the dungeon deck and place it on the boss mat.

Pick a hero mat and choose which side you’d like to use. Take the matching deck of cards and shuffle them up, placing them on the draw area of the mat. (In a 2-player game, each player will take two decks of cards and shuffle them together.)

5-Minute Dungeon door cards
The icons show what it takes to defeat the card. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gameplay

Your hand size is based on the number of players—3 cards for 4 or 5 players, up to 5 cards for a 2-player game. You draw that many cards to begin, and if you ever drop below that, you draw back up from your own deck. (Note that it’s a minimum hand size, not a maximum hand size.)

Start the timer, and flip over the top card from the dungeon deck.

All players play simultaneously, playing cards to the center of the table to try to match the icons shown on the card. Door cards can be monsters, people, or obstacles—there are some special cards that may allow you to defeat a particular type of card. As soon as the team has played enough cards to match all the icons, the cards are all swept to the side and a new door card is flipped over.

Each hero has a special ability that can be used by discarding three cards (to their player mat).

5-Minute Dungeon challenge cards
Challenge cards include mini-bosses and events. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Challenge cards have different effects—some are mini-bosses that require more symbols to defeat, and some are event cards that can wreak some havoc.

5-Minute Dungeon win
We defeated the Baby Barbarian! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Game End

If you get through the whole deck of cards, then you must defeat the boss by playing enough cards to match the symbols shown on the boss mat. Defeat the boss before your timer is up, and you win! If you run out of time (or everyone runs out of cards) before then, you lose.

You can play through multiple dungeons, of course, gathering up all the cards in between dungeons, but you get 5 minutes for each one. To win the whole game, you should go through all five dungeons. Clean up is fairly easy if you flip all the cards over, since all the card backs are different.

5-Minute Dungeon aftermath
The aftermath of a 5-minute dungeon run. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Hero Powers

Each of the hero decks has a little more strength in the icon of its color, but they also have different special cards available to them. Here’s a look at just a few of the special cards each hero has, along with their special power (triggered by discarding 3 cards).

5-Minute Dungeon yellow
The yellow hero is the Paladin/Valkyrie. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Valkyrie/Paladin

The yellow player is the Valkyrie/Paladin, and has more shield cards, including some double shields. The deck also includes the powerful Divine Shield, which pauses time and lets everyone draw a card. There are also some healing cards as well—one that lets a player draw cards from their discard pile, and Heal, which puts the player’s entire discard pile back onto their draw pile. The yellow deck also has a Holy Hand Grenade, which can defeat any single card.

The Valkyrie’s power is Inspire: make everyone else draw 2 cards. The Paladin’s power is Smite: defeat a monster.

5-Minute Dungeon red hero cards
The red hero is the Gladiator/Barbarian. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gladiator/Barbarian

The red player is the fighter—lots of swords, including several cards that have swords paired with another icon. The Enrage card lets two players draw three cards each, and Mighty Leap lets the Gladiator/Barbarian get past those tricky obstacles that you can’t just smash with your swords.

The Gladiator’s power is Intimidate: defeat a person. The Barbarian’s power is Slay: defeat a monster.

5-Minute Dungeon blue hero
The blue hero is the Wizard/Sorceress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Sorceress/Wizard

The blue player is the mage, with lots of extra scrolls. The Fireball lets you instantly defeat a monster, and the Magic Bomb counts as one of each symbol—great for challenges that require several different symbols, but a waste on those that need a lot of the same thing. The blue deck also has a special card that lets you cancel an event.

The Sorceress’s power is Teleport: defeat an obstacle. The Wizard’s power is Stop Time: pause the timer until somebody plays a card.

5-Minute Dungeon green hero cards
The green hero is the Ranger/Huntress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Huntress/Ranger

The green player is the huntress/ranger, with extra arrows. The deck also includes a lot of wild cards, making it very flexible. The Healing Herbs action lets a player draw cards from their discard pile.

The Huntress’s power is Animal Companion: choose another player to draw 4 cards. The Ranger’s power is Trick Shot: defeat a person.

5-Minute Dungeon purple player
The purple hero is the Thief/Ninja. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Ninja/Thief

The purple player is the sneaky one, with lots of jump cards, which are often particularly useful for obstacles. The Donation card lets you give your entire hand to another player (so you can draw more cards), and Steal lets you take somebody else’s hand so they can draw more cards.

The Ninja’s power is Vault: defeat an obstacle. The Thief’s power is Pickpocket: draw 5 cards.

5-Minute Dungeon Gameplay Video

Here’s a video of our fight against Boss #1, the Baby Barbarian:

Why You Should Play 5-Minute Dungeon

5-Minute Dungeon is hilarious and frantic, a fun spoof on dungeon crawls that plays with role-playing tropes in a perfect serving size. I love real-time games, and this one definitely keeps you on your toes. It’s a lot of fun to slap down cards when the door cards are revealed, and then just sweep everything off to the side while you charge into the next room.

There are a number of things that make the game a challenge, aside from the short time limit. Since everyone is playing simultaneously, sometimes players will play the same symbol, duplicating effort and wasting cards. You’re not allowed to pick cards back up again, so you have to decide between playing quickly or waiting to see what others play before you put a card down. If a player has a special card that will let them defeat an obstacle but then somebody plays one or two symbols towards defeating an obstacle, it’s probably not worth using the special card. Speedy communication is required to avoid wasting cards.

Another challenge is running out of cards before you run out of dungeon. If you have a player who is spending a lot of cards for powers or just happens to have more cards to match symbols—or because of the aforementioned wasting of cards—they may use up all of their cards and have nothing left to do. There are a few cards that can restore cards from the discard pile, but not from the cards spent on door cards, which are swept away. So there’s a chance a player can get back into the game, but if you run out of cards chances are you won’t have a whole lot left to do. It’s not a huge deal, since the entire game is about 5 minutes and so you won’t be sitting out for long, but it can make you feel totally useless for those couple minutes.

The game balances fairly nicely with player count, though I do think it’s slightly easier with 5 players—the first time I played with 5 players, we were actually able to plow through all five bosses without losing once. But maybe we got lucky, because I have since lost a few more games. When you have fewer players, you have fewer challenge cards in the deck, but everyone has a larger hand size—that means you can trigger your power but still hang onto a few special cards if you have them. With 4 or 5 players, your hand size is only 3 cards, which means you have to discard your entire hand to use your special power—is it worth it?

5-Minute Dungeon play
There’s no time to make a neat discard pile—just sweep everything to the side. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Since each character has more of their color, if you’re playing with fewer than 5 players you will always feel like you’re short in one color. I like the way that feels thematically appropriate: if you don’t bring a mage, then you’ll have more trouble with anything that requires scrolls. Knowing how to use our special cards and powers to get around those limitations is key to the game. You’ll also notice that the various bosses require different symbols to defeat, so some characters are going to be more useful than others depending on the situation.

I like the double-sided hero boards and the ability to choose between player powers, and you want to have a mix of powers in your team. I do think the “defeat a ____” powers aren’t quite as interesting, even if they are useful, because they’re not unique to one hero. There are two heroes each who can defeat monsters, people, and obstacles; the red hero can only choose between defeating monsters or people and doesn’t have a unique special power. I would have liked to see powers that weren’t replicated by card abilities. I also found that a lot of players forgot about using their powers. That may come with experience, knowing when the best time is to use them.

Overall, though, I’ve had a blast with 5-Minute Dungeon, both with kids and adults. I even played it with my 4-year-old (without the timer) just to let her match icons as we made our way leisurely through the deck—call it the 15-Minute Dungeon Variant. The app does a great job with the variety of voices, and the artwork and humor in the game is stellar. If you like real-time games and you want a good laugh, check out 5-Minute Dungeon!

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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