Cardboard Children – Dungeon Saga

Hello youse.

When it comes to board games and Christmas (look, shut up, it IS nearly Christmas) I always think about good old HEROQUEST. “Fire of ROFF!” and all that. So I thought it might be good to check out a brand new board game from Mantic that tries to recapture that old HeroQuest feel, right down to the plastic furniture.

READ ON!

DUNGEON SAGA: THE DWARF KING’S QUEST

Okay, first of all – let’s talk about Dungeon Crawl games. Here we go, I’m gonna say it. THAT’S ENOUGH NOW. We have too many. Not just too many Dungeon Crawl games, but too many GOOD ones! There’s Descent, Super Dungeon Explore, Arcadia Quest, Claustrophobia, Dungeonquest – and those are just off the top of my head, and just the ones that are IN PRINT. There’s also the ol’ masterpiece Warhammer Quest, HeroQuest, Hybrid… We have TOO MANY now. I bet I’m forgetting some important ones.

What Dungeon Saga: Dwarf King’s Quest tries to do is strip back the dungeon crawl to those old-school basics we all loved back in the day. There’s one player as the evil Overlord, setting up the map as the players explore their way through it, and the heroes have to bash, kill and search until they find the way to victory. The game looks, as you’d expect from Mantic, very beautiful indeed and it’s excellent to see all those little plastic doors and chests and tables and bookcases. Cardboard counters just don’t compare. They just don’t.

(I want to give a quick shout-out to the box this game comes in. It looks like a big book, and when I unpacked the box, my mate said to me “Oof, it’s like a big book.” And I’m not really sure why it’s so cool that it looks like a big book – but it is. It’s cool. It’s like a big book, that box, and that’s cool. I like it a lot.)

Old-school. A barbarian. An elf. A dwarf. A wizard. There’s something classic about that set-up that is difficult to hate, right? I think I love it because players know almost instantly how they should be playing the game. The spellcaster and the elf hanging back, attacking from range. The barbarian up front with the dwarf, with the barbarian hitting hard and the dwarf soaking up the hits. It’s natural and right and I’m glad a game trying to capture that old-school simplicity went this route.

The enemies are typical too – zombies and skeletons on the whole, with four boss monsters that fall into typical fantasy/undead character classes. The wee bookcases look right. The wee chests look right. The tiles (although a little bit thinner than I would like) are well illustrated and look just right.

How does it play?

Well, the heroes all take a turn and then the bad guy takes a turn. In the heroes’ turn, they can move and then attack or cast a spell. When the baddie takes a turn, he uses commands to order as many enemies as the scenario will allow. He also has a deck of cards that lets him do additional stuff, and occasionally boosts the number of commands he can make.

So far, so simple. You’ll notice that the turns don’t even contain any of the basic complexities of games like Descent, where characters can move-attack-then move again.

The heart of the game is in the combat rules, and while there is nothing groundbreaking here, there’s a lot to like. Each character and enemy has a combat skill value, telling you how many dice to roll. These dice are then modified by the situation. If a model is outnumbered (engaged with more than one other model) it loses a die. If a model is injured it loses another die. Once modifiers are taken into account, the dice are rolled for both attacker and defender. Any dice that don’t beat the opponent’s armour value are dismissed. And then attacking and defending dice are paired off, with the higher dice scoring hits.

It’s a fast, fine way of conducting combat, and you’ll find that the whole outnumbered thing becomes a major part of play. What you’ll miss, though, is the stuff that modern dungeon crawl games often have – things like surges in Descent, that activate special abilities through die rolls. In fact, there’s no real feel of critical hits in this game. And that’s a pity. But hey – old-school is as old-school does, and this combat is nice.

Ranged combat is much the same as melee, except for a nice clean line of sight system and the fact that characters can duck behind bookshelves and stuff. Did I mention that I really really love that plastic furniture?

THE CAMPAIGN, SUCH AS IT IS

There are a set of scenarios for you to play through, and you can easily just pluck out a couple of favourites and bang your way through those. If you want to do the campaign thing, though, you’re really only going to be getting a linear story told through those same scenarios. The set-up is that the good guys have, essentially, 15 attempts to get through all the scenarios in the book, which allows for a number of retries. I don’t really think Dungeon Saga is designed to be a great campaign game. It feels very much like a board game to be pulled out when players fancy knocking their way through some skeletons.

In fact, I’m going to say that this is a perfect game for someone to just create their own maps and adventures. The system is so basic (not in a bad way) that it’s going to be easy to fling a few skeletons and zombies into a board set-up of your own imagining and just have at it.

SUMMING UP

Dungeon Saga really does nothing special. It does nothing special at all. But weirdly, that’s why I kinda liked it. This could be a game you bought 20 years ago. It lacks so many of the features of modern board games. But because of this it feels like a real nostalgia kick. A flashback to a simpler time.

This isn’t the best Dungeon Crawl game out there. Not by a mile. But it’s a lovely production, with very solid rules and a set of fun scenarios. It feels beautifully traditional. It’s pitched at a family-friendly level. And isn’t that the kind of thing that makes a great Christmas gift?

23 Comments

  1. JFS says:

    Well, I guess bashing in skellington heads is what the whole Christmas thing is all about!

  2. El_MUERkO says:

    I kickstarted the shit out of this, not arrived yet :(

    • zarosio says:

      I kickstarted as well and still waiting (Im in Australia).
      Looks pretty good though cant wait.

      I also have some of their figures in the form of a goblin army and would recommend it to anyone who plays warhammer etc as the basic rules are free if you want to have a go with existing figures (it is much faster and simpler than warhammer fantasy) also their big army bundles are very reasonably priced.

      • magogjack says:

        How reasonable priced ? How about the orc army bundle that has 56 models for 85 dollars/ 50 pounds.

        Oh god I sound like a commerical.

      • captainparty says:

        Kings of War is the dullest fantasy wargame I’ve ever played. The miniatures are reasonably priced for a reason, they’re mostly terrible (Zombies and Ghouls are the only real exception)

        • Bull0 says:

          I’ve got a big army of their skeletons and they’re brilliant. It’s certainly hit and miss between the different ranges though. Their hard plastic sci-fi terrain is the best on the market. Can’t speak for the quality of their game rules though, but I know a lot of former warhammer fantasy battle players that have switched over to KoW for their mass battle rules now that warhammer has gone all age of sigmar

  3. magogjack says:

    Great to see Mantic getting some love in CC. Would be great to read Rab doing Dreadball or maybe even some of the smaller skrimish games like Infinity. I get it if thats a little to outside what he wants to do with this article but its worth a try!

  4. Havalynii says:

    No. Not now. Between Rab and the Shut Up crew, I’m still working my way through the Imperial Assault campaign with my kids, as well as playing Armada, and the occasional Mage Wars bought (while decked out in our bathrobes, natch), all while the D&D starter set gazes accusingly down at us from our bookshelf with a neglected copy of Space cadets mockingly testifying to my childish susceptibility to influence. NOT RIGHT NOW, RAB, DO YOU HEAR ME?!

    Besides, I just ordered the third edition of Fury of Dracula.

  5. thekelvingreen says:

    There have been some problems with the quality control of some components, but aside from some wonky miniatures I seem to have avoided any major issues. The game looks good and I’m keen to give it a try; there seems to be functional solo and random dungeon mechanics so I’m going to combine those for my first try.

  6. Ergates_Antius says:

    Rab – some in play photos would always be nice in your reviews. Helps create a feel for the game.

  7. captainparty says:

    I got mine through on Kickstarter, for Mantic, the models are decent and for a boardgame they’re definitely up there in quality. As a stand alone box its fine.

    Where it falls down is in the extras from Kickstarter that were promised. The Adventurers Companion (the promised Kickstarter exclusive hardback version) was missing the proimised Dungeon Journal additional content. This was supplied as a separate book full of more quest (although missing about 20 of those promised). The Companion was also not proofread, every rules reference says “See Page xxx”, every single one. They’re on almost every single page of this $30 hardback. These is missing art, placeholder text left in and race descriptions copied and pasted from totally different races with no changes made. The basic game is great and I’m happy enough with it, the add ons that turn it in to a campaign game really let it down, as does their handling of it, they knew the book was like that and didn’t mention it until people started to complain.

  8. screamingabdab says:

    Can someone recommend a great dungeon crawler that can be played solo?

    My mates aren’t into this sort of thing and I have such fond memories of spending untold hours on Sunday afternoons as a kid playing Advanced Heroquest Solo, that I’d like to find something new to try and re-create those days.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Dungeon Saga does have solo rules; there are reports that they are a bit half-hearted, but I haven’t tried them yet.

    • ReijMan says:

      Mage-Knight

      • thekelvingreen says:

        I have heard that it is excellent, but Mage Knight is more of a wilderness crawl though, isn’t it?

        • Immobile Piper says:

          Technically you’re crawling through the world, killing things, looting and XP’ing in the process.

          But I’d agree that it doesn’t really give me the dungeon crawl vibes. It’s a bit too open for that, I suppose. Great solo though.

    • jomurph86 says:

      Shadows of Brimstone is directly inspired by Warhammer Quest. As it’s a cooperative game, it does solo VERY well.

    • jiffster says:

      For a pure coop/solo dungeon crawl I heartily recommend castle ravenloft and the other d&d adventure games. The newer temple of elemental evil has the better campaign rules.

  9. Steed says:

    Sounds perfect for a drinking board game evening, simple enough that the powers of homebrew won’t disrupt the flow. The question is, can one wait until christmas?

  10. jiffster says:

    I have the Kickstarter and the base game is excellent. It very simple and quick compared to things like decent it flows much better. If you are looking for a great ‘starter’ dungeon crawl you can pick up and play this is the one.
    There are a few problems with the advanced rules in the adventures companion but there is definitely the working of a great campaign system there.

  11. malkav11 says:

    It’s worth noting that there are advanced rules – the basic HeroQuest style described in this review is probably fine on a certain level but it is quite basic and not what drew me to the game during the Kickstarter.

    Also I continue to maintain that Dungeonquest is not a dungeon crawl game. Yes, that’s the theme, but it’s not about fighting your way through dungeons and getting loot and powering up your character, which is the archetypal game flow of the proper dungeon crawl. In Dungeonquest combat is to be avoided as much as possible because it’s entirely detrimental, the loot is purely for score and not for actual use, and there is no powering up (heck, in the basic game back in the day there wasn’t even a difference between characters – dunno if that’s still true in FFG’s edition). It’s hugely disappointing if you’re going in expecting those dungeon crawl staples. What it actually is is a brutal game of pushing your luck where it’s quite possible for everyone to lose. That’s an entire other category of game. And one that I personally enjoy far less.