Cardboard Children: Dungeon!

By Robert Florence on November 18th, 2012 at 12:28 pm.


Hello youse.

I know this might horrify you, but it’s almost Christmas. I’m getting ready for it right now. My tree is up in my living room, and my house is so garishly lit it looks like a modern console game. Santa Claus is coming, my friends, and we must get prepared.

My Christmas shopping is finished already. I did it in 2006. But I don’t expect any of you to be so well organised. So I’m looking into how best to deal with Christmas here at Cardboard Children. I want to advise you well on the best games to buy this festive season. I’ll probably revisit some I’ve spoken about before, to see how well they are holding up. And do remember that we have Cosmic Encounter and Descent 2nd Edition on our “Some Games” list, meaning they’re pretty much essential buys whatever time of the year it might be.

I’ll let you know when I have a plan in place. I will be proposing a plan to a Mr Jim Rossignol of the website “Rock Paper Shotgun” this very week.

Anyway, this week:

DUNGEON!

Well, this game doesn’t rate very highly on BoardGameGeek, does it? It sits there right now, just after the release of its latest edition, at a 5.92.

“Dungeon!” was first released in 1975, as a game for the family market. It’s a Dungeons & Dragons themed board game for 1-8 players, and sends every player into a dungeon to kill some monsters and return with some treasure. It’s the dungeon crawling game at its most basic. The new edition brings nothing fresh in the way of rules. There are no mechanics lifted from popular Eurogames, and nothing of “modern games design” is in there. It’s the same old dungeon from the mid-seventies, with a new lick of paint and a fantastic new cover.

The game is frighteningly simple. You choose a character class and move your little fella, turn by turn, around the dungeon. When you enter a room you draw a monster card. You roll dice to see if you can kill the monster. If you can’t, it hits you. If you die, you start again with a new character. If you kill it, you draw a treasure card. Once you hit a certain treasure total, you win.

The game is also pretty light on decisions. “Do I go this way or that way? Do I go to the level 2 area or stay on level 1 a while longer? Do I use this spell now or later? Do I want to fight that thing?”

Do I want to fight that thing? That’s pretty cool. When a player fails to defeat a monster, it stays in the room. You place a numbered token in the room, and place the monster card in the corresponding number space at the side of the board. It’s always nice to hear people say “I’m going in. I can take down that Gelatinous Cube.”

It’s particularly nice to hear a child say it.

Look, “Dungeon!” is an important game. It’s important because it represents the kind of games that made us all gamers in the first place. Back before any of us ever used terms like “game mechanic” and “downtime” we were playing games that we loved simply because they were fucking cool. It’s cool to kill a zombie with a sword. It always was cool, and always will be cool. It’s cool to roll some dice and die at the hands of a zombie through no fault of our own. That was always cool. That will always BE cool. You’ll have heard me say this a million times in these columns, but I’ll say it again – it is cool to just roll some bones and see what happens. We can’t ever lose sight of the joy of giving yourself over to that chaos.

If you want to engage children and introduce them to gaming, you can’t overload them with decisions. You need to excite them and give their imagination a little spark. The reason why there are so many dungeon-themed games in our hobby is that DUNGEON CRAWLING IS FUCKING COOL. It always was cool, and always will be. And while five year old children might not understand how to select the best character in Libertalia, or how to fake an advance in a game of Chaos In The Old World, they will understand instinctively that rolling a high number and cleaving a troll in half is as cool as cool gets.

I ask you to ignore the low rating on that strange BoardGameGeek site. I ask you to ignore any reviews you might see that call the game “outdated” or “boring”. If you’re a gamer with kids, you should really have a copy of “Dungeon!” in your living room. Kids love killing things. They love impressing their parents with their ability to decapitate monsters. This simple little thing, with its little cards and cardboard chits, is a whole world of cool at your kids’ fingertips. More than that, it’s a START. It’s a start to something that might lead to them playing the incredible Dungeonquest, or Talisman, or Descent, or Catacombs, or Claustrophobia. It might lead to them reading great fantasy fiction. It might lead to them making great friends who love cool stuff like dungeons and spaceships. It might lead to them aspiring to create stories and movies and games of their own. It might lead them to being good, kind, social, imaginative people who will one day buy a game like “Dungeon!” for their own children. And maybe you’ll all play it together.

“Dungeon!” will be around forever. Cool endures.

And hey – it’s cheap. You can pick it up for about thirteen quid on Amazon right now. You’ll never pay more than about sixteen quid for it. Maybe you should go and buy some cardboard for your children. What do you think?

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23 Comments »

  1. Ich Will says:

    If you have young children and wish to play a board-game with them, may I also suggest you track down a copy of Waldschattenspiel – pure beauty in a game. It’s from the days when games came with a printout in English but it is honestly the best game I have ever played with my son – it’s hide and seek in a forest with dwarves hiding from the light from a candle – it’s so freeform and cool whether you are 5 or 35!

    EDIT: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/08/19/cardboard-children-shadows-in-the-woods/

  2. boe2 says:

    It looks nice, but do kids need to be able to read? Most geeky boardgames are only available in English while they only understand Dutch.

    • Ericston says:

      It seems to have a strong visual language, so they’ll probably make up their own rules when you’re not around to clarify and they’ll have just as much fun. Plus, a good opportunity to learn some English (potential lifesavers like: great axe, cleric and zombie).

      (By accident, your second sentence reminds me of an episode of some animation series I saw when I was young. The protagonists went to America, I think, and the creators apparently felt the need to lampshade the fact there was no language barrier by saying everyone in the world actually/secretly could speak Dutch. I was a little confused for some time after that.

      edit: Anyone know that series?)

    • k8tdog says:

      As long as one person can read English in order to get them started you will be OK. My children were playing this before they could read at all.

  3. -Spooky- says:

    *mhm* Hero Quest / Space Quest / Munchkin Quest. Dungeon is ´75ish? *uhm* I´ve seen a preview on the wizards website a few days ago.

    Dungeon (2012) // Product Website [nonbot linky shizzle]

    • Tancosin says:

      Dude, you couldn’t look more like a spambot if you were one. You shouldn’t leave unlabeled links at the end of your post if you want them to be followed :)

  4. AlwaysRight says:

    I miss ‘stay dicey’…

  5. NathanH says:

    Dungeon is absolutely fantastic for exactly the reasons that Mr Florence gives. My mother bought me this game for Christmas when I was very young, and I remember just playing it with everybody, playing it on my own, whatever, for days and weeks afterwards. It’s a wonderful game that anyone can play and just have fun. I’d say it’s better than games like HeroQuest, partly because the “roll dice, kill stuff, get treasure” element is more fun, and partly because it doesn’t have the Players vs GM aspect. Although it’s ostensibly adversarial, that’s not the main point and it’s a much better family game because it doesn’t have such an Us vs Them attitude. You don’t really try to win this game so much as you try to cause trouble in Level 6, just for the hell of it, and for the +2 sword.

    Simple game, but still fantastic. I’ll have to ask my mother where our old box is, so that Nook the Wizard and Madeline the Paladin can chop up some green slimes again.

  6. Ergonomic Cat says:

    I gave Dungeon (the original) another play a couple years ago, and found it to be just as entertaining as I remember. It’s not sophisticated, but sophistication does not mean good or bad. I’d love a prettier version that didn’t have cards hand written because they were lost.

    Magic Sword!

  7. Taidan says:

    I picked up a copy last week on a whim, not only for some younger relatives, but with half an eye to use as light entertainment for some older friends of mine who have a shallow-but-honest passion for boardgames of the more traditional “family” variety, usually as accompaniment to small dinner parties that can occasionally verge on the almost-but-not-quite raucous.

    I’m hoping that it’ll be slightly more stimulating than MB’s Game of Life, but not quite as time consuming or difficult to explain as Descent. Sadly, there will be some ribbing about the subject matter at hand.

    • k8tdog says:

      You have hit the complexity just about perfect. This was the first game I taught my children to play.

  8. studenteternal says:

    Hrmm, I don’t want to belittle Mr, Rob’s point because I think he raises a good one regarding little gamers and complexity, but I am not sure that Dungeon! is the best game for this either. I can not help but think that something like mice and mystics might not accomplish the same goal of simple game-play with cool and fun theme and imagery in a way that has befitted a bit more from the last 20 years of game design.

    Of course that said I have not actually played Dungeon nor Mice and Mystics, And the last time I ventured into a cardboard dungeon it was in Decent 1st edition. So I may be talking complete drivel.

    Edit: only three tries to get my link formatted correctly, I fail at web.

    • BarneyL says:

      Mice and Mystics does look good but it also costs over three times as much putting it well out of my presents for young relatives price range.
      Another recommended choice is King of Tokyo, younger players may miss some of the tactical choices but they still get to play giant fighting monsters which goes down well.

  9. BathroomCitizen says:

    Damn you Rab, you’re the coolest fella around here.

  10. Xanadu says:

    Thanks Rab. I was wondering what game to get for the family (me, my wife and boys aged 5 and 7) for Christmas, and I think you’ve just answered my query before I asked it.
    Other games good with smallish kids in my experience – King of Tokyo, Forbidden Island and Bohnanza. Any other suggestions?

  11. Baines says:

    I wonder how much the game itself has changed over the years.

    I remember my strategy as a kid was to take the Wizard and do a high risk strategy of bee-lining I think for level 5, because there was a very valuable sapphire there, and the wizard could hope that his spells would get him past the deadly critters.

    I often played a risky strategy in that game, trying to jump ahead to where I had a chance, but no guarantee of winning. Maybe hitting a low level room on two on the way for a chance of a power boost, but not puttering around waiting until you got it. By jumping ahead, at least your fate was your own risk. Waiting around put your fate in the hands of everyone else, because they just might be luckier than you.

  12. ZephaniahGrey says:

    This was my favorite game as a kid, and probably what introduced me to the fantasy genre and pointed me in the direction of D&D. It IS a little complex, but I had little trouble with it at 8. Might depend on the kid though.

  13. the-stax says:

    I just bought this! It was indeed on Amazon for about £13, and I had a voucher handy, so took the plunge!

    Hope the kids like it, if so I’ve got a loft full of Games Workshop stuff ready to ruin their social prospects with when they get older!!

  14. TheXand says:

    This isn’t a real game! >:(

  15. Kefren says:

    Reminds me of ‘Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ – the boardgame. In my cupboard of games as we speak, an old Games Workshop boardgame that I liked because I could use the same dungeon board for games and mechanics that I made up with friends, since the scale matched our Citadel miniatures.

  16. Elusiv3Pastry says:

    Wow, the best games from the 70s/80s are returning; I loved this game! Just the other day I saw a new edition of Survive! in stores, and now this. Thanks for the heads up RPS!

  17. belgand says:

    I feel the need to disagree strongly. When I was a child I received both Dungeon! and Hero Quest on the same birthday. I believe I played Dungeon! once and found it dull, repetitive, and lacking in interesting decisions. Hero Quest, on the other hand, while still very simple, actually had something going on and became one of my favorite games.

    There are other, better dungeon crawls out there that would be more suitable. It seems that far too many people are looking back on this with nostalgia.