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:
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?