Okay, I will show some mercy this week and tell you about a game that isn't very expensive and is tiny in size. Board games often suffer from being TOO DEAR and TOO BLOOMIN' BIG, so it's nice to be able to recommend something that is neither. It's a game that uses cards to tell the story of a band of adventurers raiding a dungeon. It is called, therefore, ADVENTURER BAND STORY. No, sorry. Actually it's DUNGEON RAIDERS.
It's a horrible, generic name isn't it? Like calling Monopoly “Property Purchasers” or Cluedo “Domestic Murderers”. But a boring name does not make a boring game, as anybody who has played Trains will tell you.
Dungeon Raiders comes in a little box, and it won't set you back any more than 20 quid. I've seen it on sale for 15 quid. I've also seen it for 12 quid. And I bought it myself for 6 quid, on sale. What a cheapskate!
So, yeah, Dungeon Raiders works for 3-5 players and it says that 8-year-olds can play, but they need to be 8-year-olds who enjoy getting killed.
Each player takes an adventurer card. The Knight starts with a sword, the Wizard starts with crystal balls. The characters are pretty much differentiated by starting equipment and starting health. Aside from that, everyone has the same amount of power cards in their hand, numbered from 1-5.
You then lay out a dungeon. There are five dungeon areas, so you make five decks of five cards. These cards are shuffled so that some are face down and some are face up. This means you get to see a little bit of what will be coming at you, but not the whole picture. Cards show things like monsters, traps and treasure rooms. Depending on which power card you play, these cards will affect you differently.
So, when players are all ready to enter the dungeon, you start encountering cards from each deck. You reveal the card if it needs to be revealed (remember, some are face up) and then you choose a card from your hand to play face down on the table. Once you play one of your cards, you don't get it back until the dungeon area is complete. So if you play out your big 5, you've lost it for the rest of that round. All players reveal their cards and resolve the room. Very, very simple stuff.
A treasure room will pay out its highest total to whoever played the highest value card, usually. If there's a tie the treasure is split, with the remainder being left behind. Occasionally there is a payout for the person who played the second highest card too. The winner is the surviving player with the most money, so these rooms are meat and drink for a keen adventurer.
The trap cards are far more interesting. These cards give each player a little bit of control over what happens to the team. Let's look at the Magnet Trap... When you face this bad boy, it's going to suck coins from the player with the most treasure. If you play a high card against this, it will suck more coins. So, if you have a leader way out in front, you can play a big 5 to hurt him badly with this one. The Spike Trap is even more vicious. This card asks the players to play high cards to avoid being spiked. If the lowest card played is a 3, everyone loses 1 life. If the lowest card played is a 2, everyone loses 2. And if the lowest is a 1, everyone loses half their lives.
See, this is where a dirty player can really put the screw-job on the rest of the team. If you are way behind in cash, pockets almost empty, your best hope is to kill the other players. A spike trap works nicely for you, because it gives you the power to hammer the other players hard – but there's also the delicious fact that you take the spike too. Do you risk it?
You see how this is shaping up? Everyone flying towards death to get ahead in the game? Nice, right?
Now, let's talk about the monsters. Monsters call for teamwork. Monsters have strength totals, and the players need to play cards that, when combined, will equal or exceed the strength of the monster. If the players' attack fails, the monster will attack the player who played the lowest card. So there's a little bit of auction-style bluff and counter-bluff here. Do you go in high, burning a big card to protect yourself? Or do you risk a sneaky low-ball, in the hope that the other players will slay the beast, leaving you with big cards still in the pocket?
Vault cards will hand out items to the players. The Vault is like a shop. Those swords and crystal balls I mentioned earlier? You can “buy” them from this card by playing the appropriate card from your hand. These special item cards are big game-changers. A torch will let you look at all the face down cards in the dungeon area. A sword can only be used in a Monster room, but it functions like an extra “5” card. The crystal ball lets you play your card after all the other players have revealed theirs – this is a massive play if you time it right.
At the end of all the dungeon areas there is a boss monster with a high strength total and some special abilities. This random boss might ban players from using swords (nightmare), it might steal money (nightmare), or turn any player it attacks into stone (absolute nightmare). Once the boss is out of the way, the person with the lowest health – haha! - collapses and dies. HA HA HA. The remaining players compare their cash totals and Mr or Mrs Richie Rich Fancypants wins the game.
Now, listen – this game is a little cracker. It plays in about 20 minutes to half an hour, and is completely vicious. Players will be eliminated. I can almost guarantee that. Enemies will be created, because whenever you hit a trap or a monster, someone is going to come out feeling victimised. It's the kind of game that rewards taking big risks and flying close to the edge of death – pulling everyone down to low health is a completely viable tactic if you think you'll be the one popping the big numbers at the crucial time.
And it's inexpensive. And it's small.
And a big special shout-out to the artwork. I mean – I mean – it has a zombie Michael Jackson whose hair is, on closer inspection, on fire.
That's really tasteless, isn't it?