Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Vlaada Chvatil


No. of Players:
2 - 4



G@mebox author Doug Adams writes about the game :

Are you ready for heroic deeds that win you fame, wealth, and the hearts of beautiful maidens? Well, then go play another game!

These words greet us on the back of the box for Dungeon Lords, the latest game from Vlaada Chvatil. In the past three years, Vlaada has produced three amazing games that sit firmly amongst my favorites. Through The Ages, Galaxy Trucker, and Space Alert - all very different games, and all superb. Dungeon Lords has just turned up, and it has got some pressure on it. How does it stack up?

At the moment, it stacks up very well indeed, but it's not a light game. In a way, this is a similar game to Through The Ages. Mechanically, it's quite straightforward, but there is a lot of game to explore. Vlaada has again provided a game with lots of levers to pull and buttons to press, and again there is a lot to talk about. There is a bit of everything in Dungeon Lords, reading your opponents, blind bidding, bluffing, resource management, construction, .. and that's just half the game. The other half is a tactical combat puzzle that you have to solve quickly, or see the stuff you've built up in the other half systematically destroyed!

You may be expecting Dungeon Lords to be a traditional "dungeon bash" type game. You know the kind ... grab a character, say a warrior or a cleric. Arm yourself with the +3 Sword of Smiting, go have a great time below ground slaying beasties, and emerge a few hours later with great gobs of treasure and the new improved +4 Blessed Sword of Smiting.

Dungeon Lords isn't like that. Instead, you are an aspiring dungeon master, only 150 years old, and wanting to obtain a permit for running a little plot of evil to call your own. The Ministry of Dungeons has given you a couple of years to plan and fit out your dungeon, then they'll return with clipboard and checklist to assess your efforts. While you are establishing your dungeon, bunches of "heroes" are in town getting drunk and planning their next bash. Guess what, you're the target.

Dungeon Lords is played over two years. Each year consists of four seasons of applied dungeon contruction and management. At the end of each year, your dungeon will be attacked by a party of three adventurers. Highest score after that second attack will win the game.

[Inside the box]
I tend to get a little blase these days when opening a new game for the first time, but Dungeon Lords made my jaw hit the floor. This is a superbly presented package, inside and out. David Cochard and Filip Murmak get the credits for the illustration and graphic design, and they've done an amazing job. You can spend an hour perusing the game box and various game boards, drinking in the visual detail. From the cute, sniggering monsters on the game box to grandpa imp telling tall tales to the young-un in the Imp Room, it is brilliantly done.

The game box for Dungeon Lords is the standard 11 inch square Euro box, a departure from the rectagular CGE boxes of the past. It's quite heavy too, thanks to the cornucopia of bits inside. There are seven game boards, four sheets of cardboard tiles, bags of plastic (imps and damage cubes), wooden pieces, decks of cards, and a rulebook.

The rulebook is 24 pages long and appears quite daunting when you first flip through it. Although the rules appear dense, it follows on from the CGE games of the past and steps through the game in a very clear and concise fashion. The rules are very well written. The book includes a combat tutorial, a one page introduction, and the last two pages are a reference sheet. The rules text is broken up by very funny comments from two characters - a demon and an imp. They flip between jokes and reinforcing important rules points. This style of presentation has been used before in Chvatil's games, to great effect. Here, they are an excellent device to prevent the rules from becoming too dense. If you stripped out the comments and extras, you're left with around twelve pages of rules to absorb.

[Player dungeon board]

There are seven game boards included in the game. Four of these are player boards that each dungeon lord wannabe uses as his dungeon. The boards are two sided - the front side is the actual game play board. The dungeon consists of a 4 by 5 grid where the lord places his tunnel and room tiles, as the dungeon is constructed. There are also handy spaces for storing the various bits that make up a nice, healthy dungeon. We have rooms for food, gold, imps, monsters, heroes that have been captured, and so on. There is even room for the heroes as they begin their advance on your dungeon, as well as the orders cards that you need to play every season. Not an inch of space has been wasted, but it doesn't look too crowded. Excellent piece of design.

[2-3 player game board]

But that is only the front of the player boards. The boards can be folded in half, and on the reverse side we have two different features. One half is for games of Dungeon Lords not featuring four players - you use these boards as dummy players, and store their bits here. The other half are game tutorials, each one simulating a different attack by heroes on a dungeon. They can be used as examples of play when teaching the game. New players are encouraged to set up the pieces and work through some sample combats so they can see what's coming for them when the game commences in anger. Great idea.

[Central game board]

Four boards down, three to go! The next board in the game is the central board. This is used to store most of the extra game bits. It is also used to record the outcome of the orders the players have issued for the current season. It is extremely colourful with the same gorgeous, detailed art. Along the right hand side of this board is the "Evilmeter", which ranks just how dark each of our dark lords are!

The next game board is the progress board, which tracks where the game play is up to. You simply advance a pawn along it, and use the handy icons as visual reminders about what happens when. It is also two sided, with one side showing the four build seasons of a year, while the reverse side tracks the four combat rounds that take place at the end of each year. Again, it's very attractive, detailed, and well designed. Every step of the game is present on this board, both the four seasons and combat.

[Combat board and distant lands]

The last game board is called Distant Lands - it's simply a holding area for any game components not currently in use, such as monsters, traps, card and so on.

It may seem like we have a lot of game boards (and we do), and it does take a large investment in table space. But when you set up the game and get ready to play, you realise not one game component is sitting on the table. Apart from your hand of orders cards, everything has a storage space. Marvellous.

Dungeon Lords has a lot stuff to punch out. I know gamers who love punching games, and Dungeon Lords will have them at elevated levels of punching pleasure. Be careful though, it doesn't punch as cleanly as it should, and I tore a few tiles in my haste to get up and running.

[Punch Boards]

We get 24 monster tiles - these are the guys and gals who are recruited to defend your dungeon. From lowly imps, through trolls, ghosts, slime, golems until we reach the lofty dragon, vampires and witches. The art on the tiles is great - you just want to give those furry, goofy trolls a hug. Even the green slime looks cute.

Opposing the monsters are the hero tiles. These come in four classes - thieves, warriors, wizards and priests. There are also a couple of terrible paladins, who do a lot of stern stuff sternly, apparently. Heroes are rated in strength using several visual cues - a glyph icon, the tone of the tile, a strength factor, and how well the hero is dressed! From barefoot novice priests to experienced wizards with long, flowing beards. In constrast to the monsters, these heroes have a more faceless, generic look. I assume because these are the anonymous invaders, they've been deliberately presented this way. You bond with your critters, not the heroes. I like it.

There are around 40 tunnel tiles to punch out. These are cross shaped tiles that are fitted into your dungeon grid when you construct new tunnels. They are flipped over to a "sunlight" side when conquered by the heroes. You also get several room tiles that replace a tunnel tile when built.

The remaining tiles are a few troll counters that you can recruit, events that are set up on the progress board, and 20 mysterious tiles that there are absolutely no rules for. I'm not sure what's going on here, but I assume from the contents on the back of the box, these are "Item Tiles" - perhaps an expansion that was included for reasons of economy, with no rules yet? From the look of them, they appear to help the heroes, not the players!

[Trap cards]

The game comes with 94 cards that are broken down into four different types. 24 of these are the traps that a lord can obtain to install into his dungeon. Traps are the first line of defence in a dungeon, hurting those pesky heroes before they close with your pets ... I mean monsters. 18 of the cards are combat cards, that give any invading wizard heroes a spell to cast. You can commit resources in the game to spy on the heroes in town to see what they are up to (a peek at the card). Nine of the cards are special events that can come into play during the seasonal rounds of the full game. Finally, the 40 remaining cards are the four sets of player orders cards and scoring summary aids.

[Orders cards]

Finally, we get lots of bits to play with. Each player gets a set of three wooden "minions" used to mark various game tracks during play. They are vaguely imp shaped. There are 30 food tokens which look like green pizza boxes, and 30 gold coins - standard yellow wooden disks. Lastly, there are about 40 plastic pink/orange imps - these are custom sculpts for the game and look great. If you thought the astronauts from Galaxy Trucker were cute, check these guys out.

So, slap the evil smiley face on the start player disk, and let's begin playing!

Game Play - Overview
Dungeon Lords is a resource management game. You spend two years building and running a dungeon, only to have it attacked at the end of each year. The Demon in the rules summarises the game very well ... "Build, fight, build, fight, score ... that's it".

What this means is the game will be played over two years. Each year is four seasons long, and during each season you get to work on your dungeon. Working on your dungeon means mundane stuff - getting food and income, recruiting a workforce, maintaining your evil reputation, adding tunnels and rooms to your dungeon, and so on. But... no matter how hard you try to keep a low profile, heroes in town hear about you. Sure enough, a party of slightly drunk adventurers will invade your dungeon at the end of each year and smash up bits of it, rendering it worthless. As well as the day to day minutiae of dungeon running, you also have to defend it from the two inevitable invasions.

At the end of the second year the official from the Ministery of Dungeons come by and score your efforts.

Game Play - Four Seasons of Building
Lets look at the game play in a little more detail. This is not a difficult game to play, and the rules are terrific, but there is a bit to explain. When first teaching or learning this game, allow 30 minutes to go through the rules.

During the Building part of the game, players take four turns (or seasons) to work on their dungeon. What this means is they pick up their hand of orders cards, and assign 3 of them secretly face down on their dungeon boards. These orders represent sending your three minions out to do your dark bidding for this season.

[Closeup of the progress board]

Players have eight different orders they can issue. These are: Get Food, Improve Reputation, Mine Gold, Dig Tunnels, Buy Traps, Hire Imps, Hire Monsters, and Build Rooms. When placing orders, two of them will be unavailable to you. The two that are locked out are usually the second and third orders you played on the previous season - this is quite nasty.

Once orders are placed, they are revealed and resolved one by one. Each order has a matching track on the main game board - a minion of a player playing a matching order is placed here. There are only three spaces on each track, so there is a real chance a player may miss out. The helpful imp and demon in the rules are quick to point out you can see what orders are unavailable to others and assess your chances of getting in on the tracks. There is also a bit of polite jostling on these tracks, as each position on the eight tracks is slightly different. For example, the first space of the Recruit Imps track allows you to recruit 1 imp for a food. The second space is two imps for two food, while the final space is two imps for a food and a gold. This pattern is repeated across all eight tracks and 24 spaces - there is a definite timing and bluffing element as you try to land your minions on the best spaces for your needs. You issue the order, but are never quite sure how it will be carried out - dark lords don't care about that stuff!

This is where the main player interaction is to be found in Dungeon Lords, in the order selection. Here is a sample of the thought processes you should be taking when thinking about your orders. You scan the other player's dungeons, see their unavailable orders, assess their on-board situation, and try to second guess their upcoming orders. How evil are they? Do they need to fix that? Do they need food, gold, monsters, etc? What is more important to them? What order would they like back next turn, and what two orders can they do without? Can I use this information to hit the generally desired second positon on one of the eight main board tracks? Player position is vital in this phase, as minions go out in player turn order - you need to factor this into your decision making.

But that is only half the problem, because as you are reading their intentions, they are reading yours! It becauses a I know that you know that I know what you know dilemma... and they know you know! Some players will give up on this and simply slap down their orders, but deep thinkers will really bog the game down here as they ponder the variables.

After all the orders are revealed, and minions deployed onto the main board, the orders are resolved. The eight different tracks are worked through in sequence, and the good dungeon stuff handed out. The general rule is first in gets the first choice, but monsters and rooms work in reverse (last in gets first option). As monsters and rooms are the two most important places to send your minions, this creates some genuine agony. You want to be third there to get first pick, but you don't want to be fourth and get no pick! Go too early and you may end up first, which isn't much better. It feels like blind bidding, but you can make good guestimates of your opponent's intentions.

[Central game board during orders]

Lets take a quick look at what is handed out, and how it is used.

Food - this is picked up from the village. The first dungeon lord pays for his food, but then it's simply taken from the villagers and reputation suffers. Reputation is tracked on the "Evilmeter", and the more evil you are, the more powerful heroes you will attract. The village is almost the only place to get food, and food is needed for a variety of things. This is a popular spot for minions to visit.

Improve Reputation - you minions head into the village to spread the word - you're not such a bad dude. You get to reduce your ranking on the Evilmeter, and perhaps spy on the heroes to see what tactics they're plotting. You get to peek at one of the upcoming combat cards used in the end of year battle. Handy.

Tunneling - you minion sets your imps to work extending the dungeon by 2, 3 or 4 tunnels. The more you build the more imps you require to do the work. Tunnels are important, as you mine gold in them, and they get converted to rooms.

Mine Gold - gold is required for all sorts of things, and you send your imps into your tunnels to dig some out.

Recruit Imps - the more imps you have, the more mining and tunneling options you have. Imps also do stuff in rooms to produce output for you. We love imps. Notice how you only get more imps after resolving the rooms you need imps for?

Buy Traps - always worth purchasing. These are used to damage the heroes when they attack your dungeon. Traps either cost gold, or you can get one free if you land on the second space.

Hire Monsters - everything is important, but this is really important. Monsters defend your dungeon against the heroes, so you want to recruit early and often. Monsters come at a cost - you have to pay the recruitment cost on the monster tile. This payment is typically food or advancing your evil reputation, but the demon consumes another monster!

[A player dungeon board]

Build Rooms - this is the nasty bit. There is room for three minions on the Build Rooms track, but only two rooms are available each season. Someone will probably miss out as rooms are one of the main sources of victory points. Like Hire Monsters, rooms are resolved in reverse order, so first in gets last pick. A lot of the rooms have location restrictions on them, meaning they can only be built in certain areas of the dungeon. A common rookie mistake is to commit to building a room and realising you can't place it. Player three on the build room track silently chuckles, as that build room option will fall through to them.

End of the Season
Players pick up their minions that carried out orders at the end of the resolution. A subtle point is orders are optional. If you see a minion that ended up on an undesired space, you can simply pull him back and not carry out the order. These minions are placed on their orders card on the player's dungeon board. Why is this important? Well, players now return one of their played orders cards to their hand, available for the next turn, while the other two cards go to the unavailable spaces. The unavailable cards from this season returning to the hand. The played card returned is usually the first card played in the phase, that is the card that probably earned you the least amount of "stuff". However, this first card can be replaced by an order card with a minion on it - i.e. a minion who didn't carry out his orders this turn and returned from the main board to the dungeon board. I know it sounds confusing, but it's a clever rule. You can forego an order to get that order card back and try for a better result next turn.

After the orders are resolved, a few simple steps finish off the current season. First, any player that has built a production room gets a return from it. This is where your imp work force shines again - you send unemployed imps to the room to get a return, such as gold, food, traps, or even print the local Pravda - nothing like media bias to improve your reputation!

Then we have an event - there are three of these a year and you see them coming a season ahead. Taxes are a levy imposed by the ministry for every two tunnels or rooms in your dungeon. You have to pay gold or take a damage counter and place it in your Dead Letter office. This is essentially the Begging Card from Agricola - minus 3 points at the end of the game. Pay Day simply means you have to pay the recruitment cost of your monsters again, or they leave you. If you don't keep them happy and fed, they move out and rampage the countryside, earning you a point on the Evilmeter. The third event is a special event - you flip a card up off the event deck, but only in the full game.

[Attracting heroes to a dungeon]

The very last step of the season is the heroes are assigned to your dungeon. Everyone gets a hero, and you can't avoid it. The strongest hero goes to the most evil player, the weakest to the least evil player. If you have become too evil and reached the Paladin threshold on the Evilmeter, the Paladin comes to visit you. He's basically a serial pest who will be all over your dungeon like honey on crumpets. He can do everything and you usually don't want him in your dungeon. Well... perhaps you do, if the timing is right.

Game Play - Your dungeon is invaded by pesky heroes
At the end of each year, up in town, the heroes get smashed on mead and ale. In between drunken songs and grabbing at wenches, they vow to come and visit your dungeon to do a little B & E followed by a little P & P (pillage and plunder). You can't avoid it, but with good tactics you can tune your game play to get the three heroes you want.

What does this mean? Well, you see what heroes are up in town each season, and you know you'll get one of them. The most evil player will pick up the strongest hero, and so on. You can try to manipulate the Evilmeter so you pick up a hero that's suited to your dungeon - a hero you can quickly capture before he creates too much havoc. For example, if you have a nice collection of traps, you don't want a lot of thieves in the party of heroes coming for you. Thieves love disarming traps.

Managing your Evil rating with respect to the other players is one of the critical things in Dungeon Lords. It's quite easy to get carried away and pay for it later. For example, an wannabe Lord, let's call him "Doug", in his first game happily recruited a vampire and a witch during his first year. "Doug" was a happy lord, and gurgled contentedly to himself. But... then had to feed them. A pillage or two in town sent him over the edge and he attracted the Paladin to his dungeon. Of course, being uber-Evil he had the strongest heroes as well. Carnage ensued and "Doug" had no dungeon left after the first year... but he did capture the Paladin! Meanwhile, dark lord "Janet" wasn't so evil, had the weaker heroes, and finished them off in two rounds of combat, and kept her dungeon fresh and smelling sweetly of fungus. Evil is fun, but being the least evil has benefits too.

Combat takes place over four rounds, each round consisting of several steps. Players work through these steps at the same time, but on their own player board, battling their own set of invading heroes. Resolving combat could almost be considered a separate "mini-game" to the building component of Dungeon Lords. Here players get to make tactical decisions, trying to defeating the invading heroes as quickly as possible. The steps are worked through in order - planning, battle, conquering. It should be noted that nobody dies in these combats - heroes are captured, traps go off, and monsters are knocked out. Warm and fuzzy.

The heroes invade your dungeon and try to conquer tunnels and rooms. Each round, they target the tunnel or room closest to the dungeon entrance. If any survive, they succeed in conquering it, and that dungeon piece will be flipped over to a "sunlight" side. It is considered destroyed... useless to you for the rest of the game.

Combat - Planning
The planning step to combat sees players pick up their trap and monster cards and commit some of them to the current round of battle. If the battle is currently taking place in a tunnel, you can put forwards at most one trap and one monster. The tweak here is ghosts aren't considered monsters, and you can toss any number of these into battle on top of your monster. If the battle is in a room, you can send in two monsters, any number of ghosts and one trap into battle. The traps in rooms are more elaborate, and cost a gold to install. Committing resources to defence is totally voluntary - you can just let the heroes rampage through if you like. However, if your dungeon is totally conquered, the heroes begin releasing their previously captured colleagues from prison, costing you precious victory points.

After planning, everyone flips over their cards, and the combat card for the round is revealed. The combat card is important, as it lists the amount of fatigue the heroes will gain at the end of the round of combat, as well as what spell any invading wizards are casting this round. Canny dungeon lords will have peeked at this card back in the build phase using the improve reputation track, and will have used the fatigue knowledge to plan their assault on the heroes this round.

Combat - Traps
Next, the any traps set in the dungeons go off. They are one shot opportunities to damage the heroes, then they are discarded - so it isn't good to waste them. Traps list the amount of damage done to the invading party, as well as who gets hurt. Traps hand out damage based on the position of heroes in the party - it may be the doughty warriors leading who take damage, or someone else. Some traps damage all members. Any thieves in the party reduce damage by the amount of icons listed on their counter. Players have to set their traps carefully - do you take out the thieves quickly so other traps are more effective in later rounds, or go for the wizard now to avoid that spell you know is coming up.

Combat - Spells
If the combat card listed a "fast spell", it's fired off now. Spells are only cast if there is a wizard or paladin in the party, and only if they possess sufficient magical prowess to fire the listed spell. The smart dungeon lord will have peeked at the combat card earlier, sees what's coming, and hopefully dealt with the threat. How? Well, possibly manipulating the Evilmeter to avoid wizards and paladins, or if that fell through, set appropriate traps to make sure the wizard is captured early avoiding the spell being cast. You do have options, and it can make ... head ... hurt. Some of the spells are amusing - especially the Fireball.

Combat - Monsters
The dungeon lord now releases his monsters previously selected this round. Monsters deal out damage to the heroes, and again the lord must use tactics to maximise the effect. Each monster has different attack options and abilities. Some, such as the goblin, can use both abilities, while most of the other monsters you only have the choice of one or the other. For example, Trolls just thump the first hero in line for three damage, but if you feed your troll some food, he'll do four damage. Slime drops from the dungeon ceiling and damages everybody, or grabs their feet and prevents them conquering the tile this turn. Monsters usually hit once per year and then get knocked out, but some can return and fight again. The mechanical Golem does this - attack, attack, attack - very powerful. Vampires also have this ability - they can do a large attack and leave, or a lesser attack and keep returning. There are many tactical options for your monsters, which you use in combination with your traps, to defeat the heroes as quickly as possible.

Combat - More Spells and Healing
The combat card for this round may have listed a "slow spell" - these are exactly like the fast spells described above, but they take place after the monsters attack. This means you have two chances to get rid of the invading spell casters before these slow but annoying spells can take effect.

Any surviving priests in the invading party can now heal their fellow party members, but only if an monster attacked them this turn. This is a subtle point that can be overlooked. Trap damage and damage from a previous round do not get healed. Dungeon lords can prevent this happening by capturing the priests through wise trap and monster selection.

Combat - Conquering
The final step of a combat round is conquering the dungeon tile. This costs the heroes some fatigue, in the form of extra damage. This is listed on the round's combat card, and represents the heroes efforts in attacking the dungeon. This fatigue may eliminate a character, or even with a bit of clever planning, finish off the entire party. If you've peeked at the combat cards during the year, try to remember the fatigue costs you've seen and plan for it! If any members of the party survive this fatigue hit, they automatically conquer that tile in your dungeon. It's flipped white side up and will not score for you at the end of the game. The Ministry of Dungeons will still tax you for it though!

Losing a tile means you become less evil. Your Evilmeter rating is reduced by one. Other aspects of combat can cause your Evilmeter rating to increase, such as ignoring the soothing Words of Peace spell. This can attact the goody-goody paladin immediately to your dungeon. Paladins can do it all - cast spells, disarm traps, heal and fight. They are also tough to defeat. Still, if another player has a damaged paladin on their dungeon, you can pull a trick or two to become more evil. This attracts the paladin to your dungeon, where he can be finished off by you! Paladins that get captured are worth a nice bunch of victory points - sometimes you want them dropping by!

Combat can last up to four rounds, but may end sooner if you can eliminate the heroes. Don't get too cosy though, as someone else may get beaten up by the Paladin, who them may roam over to your dungeon for the rest of the combat. Combat certainly gets easier to manage as you become more experienced with the game. You have four seasons, which are 12 orders, to tune your dungeon to meet the coming invasion. Tuning means hiring the right monsters to match your traps, constructing tunnels and rooms in such a way that tunnels are taken out before point scoring rooms, and managing your Evilmeter to get the heroes you want to your dungeon.

Second Year
Dungeon Lords is played over two years, so a second round of building and combat takes place. Most of the rules are the same, but the ante is raised. The heroes are a little tougher, and the paladin is a lot tougher. However, the dungeon lords get some extra muscle in the shape of better monsters such as demons and dragons. You get a better selection of traps, and your production rooms can be used twice per season, providing you have the imppower to work them. Trolls are handy here - as well as being as thick as they are tall, they are heavy hitters in battle and will also do the work of an imp for you. While basic game play is the same, it's uncanny how the game feels like it's escalating and getting tougher. You have more monsters, traps, rooms ... it all adds up to more options and deeper game play. The game feels very nicely paced.

[A dungeon board]

End of the game - scoring your dungeon
After two years, the game ends and scores are tallied. You are rewarded with points for unconquered rooms, monsters you've managed to hang on to, and captured adventurers. If you've managed to capture a paladin, they are worth a huge five points. You lose points for conquered tiles, or cubes you've accumulated in your dead letter office because you couldn't pay your taxes. There is also a whiff of Puerto Rico in Dungeon Lords - some of the rooms you build may pay out bonus points, such as the Trophy Room or Cafe! Finally, the game awards titles worth three points for various aspects of the game, such as owning the most imps or having the fewest conquered tiles in their dungeon. If your final score is positive, you have defeated the game and are presented your dungeon lord licence. The highest score wins the game ... and for your first few games as you grapple with the game system, that hardly seems relevant!

Modes of Play - Basic and Full Game
There are two ways to play Dungeon Lords, basic and advanced. The rules advise to play the basic game first, before adding in the full game rules. The full game rules aren't that complex, but they do make the game more difficult. They add in special events to the game, which do things like have your imps leave, food rot, witches to be dismissed, and so on. Not really good, and it does make it tougher on the players.

You get to choose what orders are inaccessible at the beginning of the game, which is nice when you know what you're doing and have a strategy planned. The rule I like is that the Hire Monster order comes at an increased cost if you play it as your first order. This is nice... as recruiting monsters tends to be very popular, and if you rush into it, you have to have the finances to back it up. This rule takes some pressure off this very popular order, as the financial burden makes playing it over and over again less attractive.

Playing with 2 or 3 Players
Dungeon Lords is designed to be a four player game, but CGE have made an effort to support the game with two or three players. One or two of the non player dungeon boards are folded over to reveal a mini holding area for the orders cards. The idea of the non-player rules is to get some dummy minions out onto the dungeon board to get in the way of the players. The three player rules here are quite simple as the dummy cards are simply dealt out, and the three minions are placed on the dungeon board on the indicated tracks. However, the two player rules sees each player actually choosing one of the minion locations - it adds a bit of tactical depth to the two player game as you can try to work things to your advantage or to your opponent's disadvantage via your dummy minion placement. It shouldn't be too difficult to extend this to create a workable solitaire variant.

Dungeon Lords is quite a complex game. The rules are excellent, but require a couple of close read throughs to get up to speed. If you are teaching new players, allow 30 minutes to go through the rules, and the combat tutorials. It is strongly recommended you do the tutorials, or be prepared for a new player revolt when their dungeon is smashed up at the end of the first year.

Once learnt though, the game is quite easy to play. There is a lot of game to explore here, and I can easily see this game getting around fifteen plays before it begins to feel solved. There is a lot of variety built into this design through the way the traps, heroes, monsters and rooms appear. I like the fact that we have the pieces for an expansion already included in the game.

Dungeon Lords is very resource tight, which is the sign of a good design. You will always have a crisis to manage - a shortage of food, gold, imps, monsters, traps ... and so on. You always want more, which is impossible as you only have 24 orders to issue during the game. Do the best with meagre opportunities.

Are then any problems with Dungeon Lords? Well, it's certainly not a game for casual gamers, or even fans of the one hour sessions. The box claims it's a 90 minute game, but I can see that blowing out to over 120 minutes easily. I can see paralysis creeping in when it comes to working through the orders and combat steps. To be fair, you should take your time selecting your orders, as it's critical and you have a lot of information to process when choosing them. Jumpy "fast" gamers may get frustrated by the ponderers taking their time. The game takes a good chunk of table space, so consider that. Some control freak gamers may get annoyed at some of the chaotic elements in the game - such as the "blind" bidding of orders, the random event in the full game, or the spells they didn't care to examine during combat. If chaos is a problem, examine the spells during the seasons, take a bit of time to assess your orders, and don't play with random events!

There may be a perception that player interaction is low. Well, it is, and it isn't. Player don't do stuff directly to other players, rather they try to read their opponent's intentions and try manipulate their pieces around that information. Pretty thematic dungeon lordy stuff. You should be constantly scanning the other dungeon boards to monitor their gold, imps, food, dungeon, orders, etc ... this should give you a good read on where they are at, and you can use that information to plan your orders. Of course it can backfire. This extends to the relative positions on the Evilmeter, which you should be paying very close attention to. You can also apply this to combat as well - you can juggle your resources to try and attract a damaged paladin to your dungeon where he can be quickly captured. It's tricky, but nice if you can get it to come off.

Dungeon Lords is a game of medium to heavy complexity, that will take 90-120 minutes to complete. It's really a game of two distinct halves. Firstly, you manage resources and construct a dungeon that will score points, that you can defend. Secondly, you solve a tactical combat puzzle as you defend your dungeon against an attack. It does feel strange to spend an hour constructing your dungeon, only to see bits of it ransacked by the game systems! Bravo for Vlaada Chvatil for doing something a little different.

So, does it stack up to Through The Ages, Space Alert and Galaxy Trucker? For me, no. It misses out on the "let's play again" factor of Through The Ages, and the breezy fun of the other two games. Dungeon Lords is a deap, meaty game I'll happily play, but I can already see it won't be played a lot.

Superbly produced game. Excellent for the heavier game fan.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany