The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Dungeon Lords

Dungeon Lords‘ hype and buzz means that my thoughts are a month behind. You can pick a random review and find detailed mechanics descriptions, so I don’t need to discuss those. So far I’ve only played two “intro” games (which are slightly easier than the full games), but that covers 90% of the rules. (The advanced game adds some random events and a more painful payment structure).

  • The order selection mechanism works. You choose 3 orders out of the possible 6, but the fact that  each spot gives slightly different benefits means that usually the order matters; but sometimes it doesn’t.  A tough choice. Most people usually agonize for a minute or two, then make a choice. A good use of time, since it’s simultaneous.
  • Resolving orders doesn’t take long.
  • I enjoyed the dungeon crawl sub-game of planning against the adventurers.
  • I’m worried about replayability.

The last one is really just a thought … Dungeon Lords feels like a game that should have a 3rd year. The first year you get started … dig a few tunnels, get some imps and monsters and traps,  meet and kill the neighbors. The second year you play with the big boys. Now, technically speaking there is plenty of replayability. A game where you have the payday first (so you can buy some monsters for half a year and only pay them once) versus last (all monsters will require a double salary) are different. You only use four out of nine spell cards each round (and the last one or two are not likely to hit, especially in year one). Add in the random events (in the full game), you get a lot of variety. But you’ll see the same 16 rooms and 24 monsters each game.

Dungeon Lords (in the rule book) says its a gamers’ game. Long and complicated. But it feels abbreviated. Cut short. Four sets of orders (a good decision). Resolving the orders (a few mini-decisions … which monster to get, which trap to keep in the second year, should I skip an action which unexpectedly costs me a gold? or to keep your evil in check). Then the adventurers hit … set up the first wave of monsters/traps, resolve. These decisions are complicated, but since you don’t necessarily have all the information you need so you just do the best with what you know. Honestly, while I didn’t make great decisions, its somewhat random. If you didn’t get to peak at the deck, you just have to pray that the round you placed your demon isn’t the round the adventurers turn the opposing monsters into sheep. (Knowing the deck well let you make risk reducing plays, but seems less fun).

Resolving the disasters are fun (like Galaxy Trucker), but overall the dungeon crawling half of each year doesn’t give much scope for decision making. So you have two halves of the game:

  • The “somewhat boring, make tough decisions” orders phase, and
  • The “fun book-keeping, not many decisions” dungeon phase.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both games. At least 3 of the spells made me laugh. But I wanted a) more decisions and b) more building/chrome. I’m looking forward to the expansion (using the item tiles that don’t have rules) and an actual expansion (say, a 3rd year?) would be welcome. Something to give the game more teeth.

Which isn’t to say that this is an easy game. One mistake can cripple you, end of lesson. A 3rd year would exacerbate the situation, so I see why the game limits you to two years. (If you could still use conquered tunnels/rooms for mining and special abilities, just losing the VPs, that would help, but probably not enough).

So, I enjoyed Dungeon Lords. I can easily see getting ten games in (possibly in a month or two). I wish it dug deeper, though.


Written by taogaming

November 28, 2009 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Reviews

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7 Responses

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  1. See, after 2.5 games, I still feel there’s a lot more to explore. I think I do well with the order selections and the battles (in my last game, I only lost one tile). But I rarely pay enough attention to the scoring, so that’s a big part of the game I still need to incorporate. Plus, there seems to be so many different ways you can go: evil or angelic, lots of tunnels/rooms or just a few, efficiency or gobs of monsters, imps, gold, and food. I don’t see replayability as a big problem.

    That said, this doesn’t strike me as the kind of game you want to play every week. It’s pretty intense and a bit long. Once a month sounds about right, so I have even fewer concerns about replayability.

    Larry Levy

    November 28, 2009 at 10:09 pm

  2. I was skeptical after the first game, but after two more I’m liking it more. It’s definitely a resource management game with the twist that the problems you’re solving with some of the resources are very complicated.

    Also, the “advanced” rules make it more interesting.

    Sean McCarthy

    November 29, 2009 at 4:24 am

  3. Yes, I definitely need to play the advanced game. Dungeon Lords is a tough game for a mixed group.

    The resource management feels a bit odd, because the order resolution aspect (different costs/payouts for 1st/2nd/3rd) put in a probabilistic spin. When every resource counts, not knowing if your order will cost 0, 1, or 2 gold (as in the trap space) adds a huge dollop of uncertainty. Are you really managing your resources if a simultaneous selection determining your costs? (It’s not directly random, but I suspect some randomness in deciding or modeling your results works fine).

    You do manage resources, but it doesn’t feel like a “resource managment” game. I’m not exactly sure what it’s like.


    November 29, 2009 at 10:39 am

    • Advanced game feels important to me, and not any more complicated. One gold cost to play a monster first, where it will come back to your hand for next turn, is important to balance, as the monster action is strong and important. Choice of 2 of 3 actions to start on your unavailable space allows you to prevent being randomly screwed at the start.

      The random events that make it harder could be left out on the first play just fine, they mostly are there for replayability and challenge, but the other stuff seems good and simple.


      November 29, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  4. Surely there must be other games which feature resource management with uncertainty.

    I’m not saying it actually feels like this, but it might be comparable to Puerto Rico. In that game, you make decisions based on your assumptions of how your opponents will act (and how your actions will force them to act). It’s not simultaneous, of course, so a better example might be Race to the Galaxy. Your position on the resource tracks in DL doesn’t always matter, so in those cases, it comes down more to managing when you play your cards (and which one you play in the first position). But when your position on the tracks is important, I think Race is a good comparison.

    Larry Levy

    November 29, 2009 at 1:07 pm

  5. After one play I liked it. I definitely felt like I was focusing too much on the adventurers and not as much on the points, but I think thats part of whats cool about it. There is some skill involved in going after what you really need to go after.

    Killing the adventurers is like feeding your family in Agricola. You have to do it, but you have to do it while ALSO doing a variety of other things.

    To me Dungeon Lords is kindof like Adel Verpflichtet, with more resources, more complicated scoring, and more chrome. Much of it is about outguessing your opponents in the role selection. But then also how you manage your resources becomes a bigger issue as well.

    I think it will have at least a decent amount of replayability. I’ve played Adel V like 20 times, and this has more stuff in there to make it replayable than Adel V. There really is a ton of player interaction in the role selection.
    I am also thinking that 4 players is probably best, followed by 2. In 4 players there is no random role selection. In 2 the neutral selection is done by players and is tactical. In 3 you have a random neutral role selection, which served to screw certain players a couple times in our game. I also found it undesirable how when the neutral player selects rooms, then the first player to play one knows they get a room, and for free.

    Regarding the ‘needs a third year’ suggestion, I disagree. It is already long enough, and the rooms are already of enough importance. I feel like a third year would be like a third scoring in Amun Re. You’ve already done it twice, and youre already up to a 90 minute play time. People who made mistakes have already been screwed over and might be out of it. Why drag that on? I think two years is definitely correct.


    November 29, 2009 at 1:41 pm

  6. […] still not sure how many paths to victory there are, but it’s enough. My fourth play of Dungeon Lords, by contrast, was fine but I’m mentally putting this into the “experience game” […]

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