Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I love the old TSR products, in a way I feel like I was raised on them. I’ll be the first to admit that they certainly had their problems, but when I saw a mint condition copy of the board game Dungeon available on ebay I had to go for it. Dungeon came out in 1975 and is clearly influenced by the D&D product line that was thriving at the time. Built to be a more family friendly game (perhaps to counter all those negative devil worshipping connections to D&D in the media of the 80’s) the rules are simple and play is supposed to be quick and easy. It’s pretty standard fare; players take on the roll of an elf, hero, wizard, or superhero and fight their way through a dungeon, looting as they go. The first player to make it back to the dungeon entrance with the required amount of gold is the winner. Go!

For starters, I thought it was very weird that not all of the characters are equal. Both the elf and hero need 10,000 gold to win the game, while the superhero needs 20,000 and the wizard requires 30,000. The wizard seems like he is the best because of all the neat spells that they have, but a player finds out pretty quickly that the wizard is way more trouble than he is worth. He runs out of spells rather quickly. The superhero is a pretty good fighter and realistically the only one who has a consistent chance of defeating the higher level monsters, but even he struggles with the tougher beasts. I think it would be better if the characters were all balanced with one another, it seems like a cop out to just make some character more powerful than others and just have them get more treasure.

The dungeon layout is color coded and broken into six levels, with each level containing tougher monsters (and better treasure). I like the way the board looks a bunch, it just sort of oozes 1980’s TSR. Which to me is a good thing. The game also has about a thousand small cardboard squares that serve as markers, monsters, treasures, and everything but the player pieces. Those are represented by colored pawns. It would be nice to have something classier, but I’ve always been a substance over style type of guy and I would gladly take them when paired with solid game mechanics.

There are also secret doors on the board that make moving around significantly easier for the characters. The only ability that the elf has is a better chance of finding secret doors, which seems crappy but is actually probably the best in the game. The only problem is actually seeing the secret doors on the board. They are miniscule little lines, it took us several minutes to locate a single one on the board. Perhaps children have better eyesight. Or maybe I should play with some elves.

The game turn is pretty simple, but unfortunately also repetitive. Players move up to five spaces each turn, if they end in a chamber they flip over a monster card for that level and fight whatever is lurking there. Combat is decided by rolling 2d6. Each monster lists all the player classes on it (elf, superhero, etc..) followed by a number. That number is what the player needs to roll to defeat the monster. Very simple. If the player wins they get a level appropriate treasure card and move on. If they lose, something bad happens, most likely the monster gets a treasure from the player. The problem is that when the player loses they just keep trying every turn to beat the monster, and eventually they will. Earning the treasure card and getting back whatever they lost. It’s just sort of boring.

One other aspect of the game that also did not sit too well with me was the ending. It is very anti climactic. All that a player needs to do for victory is get back to the start with the right amount of gold. There should be some sort of final battle, or at least a better story line than finding some money. Isn't there a lich that needs to be dispelled or a beholder terrifying a kingdom and only a rare treasure can defeat it? The game contains the letter of old TSR, but rarely the spirit.

The replay value of Dungeon doesn’t seem to be very good, I feel like I get it after having only played it once. And even worse, I don't care to know much more. Maybe I would like this game more if I was 9 years old and playing it with my parents. Actually, I think I would love it if that was the case. But those days are long gone.


Dan said...

This seems like a simpler version of the "Dungeons and Dragons" board game that game out in the 90s, which itself was a response to the moderate success of Hero Quest.

Ahh, Hero Quest, now THAT takes me back...any game that has such awesome miniatures is going to be worth buying no matter how much it stinks...and it wasn't that bad. I still have the Warlock figurine.

Fran said...

Hero Quest was a cool game. I like the idea of a board game that continues and carries over from session to session. Of course that is really the reason that one plays RPG's, but sometimes it's not to just be a bit more casual in gaming.

Yes, Dungeons! is indeed simple. Probably too much so.