DungeonQuest Review

As I mentioned, I did get the new Fantasy Flight edition of DungeonQuest, and people have been asking me what I think of it. “Dave,” they say, “what do you think of the new Fantasy Flight version of DungeonQuest?” So I’m going to tell you.

DungeonQuest is a terrible game. It’s almost completely random. There’s no strategy you can decide on, and no way to implement it if there were. There’s player elimination, sometimes right off the bat (in one game we played, Matt nearly got killed on turn two.) Some of the characters have lousy ability scores, and if you happen to draw a card that tests that score and fail, the results can be devastating, through no fault of your own. The task presented to you is insanely difficult, bordering on the impossible, especially given the timed aspect of the game and the little control you have over your fate. Usually a person can win through a perversion of the rules that goes against the spirit of the game. The new combat system gives your enemies the opportunity to hit you much harder, and very few chances to escape them. DungeonQuest is, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish, and short.

I love it.

I know, it makes no sense. On paper this is a game I should run, not walk, away from. I have hate hate hated games that were far less random, pointless, and unforgiving as this one. Apart from length, DungeonQuest shares a lot of qualities with other 80s dorm room staple games, games which the intervening years of maturity and innovation have not been kind to. It can be played solo, which is usually a big warning sign for me. There is every reason for me to toss this sucker aside.

But the thing is, it’s hilarious. Every time I play, we have a good time. Even as players are watching their characters get shredded by a Giant Centipede they “found” while searching a room (“I wonder what’s under this stone? OH DEAR GOD MY LEGS”) they are laughing. Although folks breathe a sigh of relief when a card reveals the current room to be empty (nothing happening is almost always better than the alternative), there’s also a bit of disappointment that there isn’t some crazy-ass peril ready to decapitate them for no reason. Despite the alleged competition for treasure, the game becomes almost pseudo-cooperative, the players against the dungeon, with the sense of a shared victory if any of them get out of this insane deathtrap.

The play of the new version is nearly identical to the old version, with a few changes. Dungeon tiles show on them which can be searched, and the “Catacombs” expansion has been integrated into the game (which is a mixed thing, as I am not a big fan of the Catacombs, since they essentially push the board aside in favor of just a bunch of cards.) The heroes are much more interesting, with some nifty special abilities, and the “Runes” are an improvement over the four rings, with a wide variety of these one-time-use life-savers to choose from.

The biggest change is the combat system, which shares a lot of DNA with the one from Fantasy Flight’s Middle-Earth Quest. Instead of the old rock-paper-scissors method from the previous version, there’s now an extended stone-papyrus-shears system that also includes special attacks, counterattacks, and deathblows. It’s one of the few places in the game where you get even a moderate control of your fate and get to turn on the ol’ noggin for a few moments, and as such seems very much out of place. There’s nothing wrong with the combat system; it works fine. It just seems awkwardly bolted onto a game with cards that just flat out kill you.

I’ve now played it several times, with two players and the full complement of four, and each time has been fun. The Dungeon has been survived twice, both times the cowardly way — grabbing some small treasure and leaving, thereby winning by being the only surviving player. It’s claimed far more lives. I’m not sure what the record so far for shortest death is, but I think the most amusing one was when Matt got trapped between two dead-ends (with a corridor between them; he drew a total of three tiles that game) and searched until he found a monster that killed him.

DungeonQuest is not for everyone, obviously. If you demand perfect information, full control over all aspects of a game, and multiple strategies, just walk on by. If you hate chaos, randomness, player elimination, and frustrated goals, I’m sure there’s a box elsewhere with wooden cubes in it that you can turn into victory points. This is a game that has variants in the back of the rules, most of which are designed to make the game even harder.

But if you want to have a good time watching your friends (and self) get killed in numerous ways (and yes, the random nature of the game means it’s never the same horrible slaughterhouse twice, and there’s always a new way to meet your maker) and get a genuine thrill when you finally do relieve that damn dragon of some treasure and breathe outside air again, I highly recommend it.

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2 Responses to DungeonQuest Review

  1. Curtis says:

    Sufficient carnage can make randomness a lot more bearable. Michelle and I have a DTP game called “Safe Return Doubtful” about Arctic exploration, which is barely even a game – you have minimal control over your fate – but somehow the near-inevitability of that fate being horrible elevates the game.

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