Dungeons & Death

March 18th, 2020

There comes a time in a boardgamer’s life when they must take a step back, reassess, and realise that none of their friends want to play their dumb games, because they have a life and self respect, so the boardgamer must go ahead and buy a game that has a solo mode.
On a completely unrelated note, here’s a short review of Dungeon Brawler from Hypercube Games, a cooperative dungeon crawl card game that features a solo mode!

Kickstarter pledges getting delivered are one of my favourite pastimes these days, especially since I seldom get to play the damned things anymore, but I did manage to get both this and Counter Strike (more on that at a later date) to the table over the past month or so.

Dungeon Brawler strives to simulate a classic dungeon crawl adventure where a party of four adventurers strive to cleave, smash, and zap their way through a series of monsters, rooms, and traps, in order to reach the final boss and beat their ass.
I’ve played this game four times now (three of which I actually managed to the rules right), and I’ve yet to beat the boss’ ass, but I ain’t quitting!

The game does a great job of abstracting many things with its four-sectioned gameplay tableau. There’s the party and their movement which is covered by the top left, “continues” covered by the bottom left, the dungeon rooms and their denizens on the top right, and the loot in said rooms on the bottom right.
Rounds progress by having each card from position one to position eight activate and perform some basic actions: heroes can move and attack, monsters act based on their printed actions, depending on where they sit in the queue.

This is not a difficult concept to get once you’ve gone through it a couple times, and there’s a lot of strategy that can be discussed, debated, or shouted between players (or at yourself, if you’re soloing, and boy, did I ever!) before the first card even does anything.
Based on the total amount of damage players (or hired swords, i.e. NPC companions) can deal in a turn, you can discern which monsters will still be alive by the time their turns come around, so you can manoeuvre those that have damage to the back (along with the Clerics, as is well known), and prepare the more hardy members to take the brunt of the hits.

Damage to players is dealt to their hands of cards, via discards, and there is just one card drawn per round, so managing your hand size via monster effect rewards and other spells and abilities is probably one of the most important aspects of the game. Especially since only the hero that deals the death blow to a monster gains the rewards for it.

There’s another important concept to understand in order to effectively navigate the game and its dungeon: scoring cards.
Before being effectively discarded, the cards you play pass through a state of limbo, called “scoring”, which ends at the very end of a round. Scored cards are used to purchase loot from the loot row (an abstract concept, since you actively “buy” loot as if from a vendor, but go with it). This becomes relevant when each monster you defeat is scored and then discarded to your deck’s pile, which then gets reshuffled and drawn from, so these “trophies” can end up clogging your hand.

Understanding what to score, how many cards you will score in total by the end of the turn, and the fact that there are color restrictions to purchasing loot are things you only get to figure out later on in the game. Hopefully you can do so fast, otherwise you’ll wake up one turn holding a bunch of bloodied corpses that you can do nothing.

The bulk of the game revolves around players using their cards and innate abilities (that vary for each of the two representatives of the four classes available in the box) to do damage, chopping down the beasts ahead, hopefully being able to purchase some better gear, and pushing on towards the end where one out of four random bosses lies in wait.

There’s a lot of replayability to be had since the dungeon deck is fairly hefty and various cards can alter the game’s state fairly dramatically and have radically different impacts depending on when you come across them. Stumbling into food early on will not be as helpful as discovering it when you’re down to the bottom third of the deck, when you’re broken, beaten, and braying for a bite.

The quality of the game is on par with the cost of it ($20 + shipping), and I think I might have to slap some sleeves on the cards to circumvent the heavy shuffling that happens each game. They’re all fairly basic finish-wise so they might see scoffing and wear sooner rather than later. Incidentally, someone also made a TTS version which you can find here if you’d like to give it a try.

I’ve played the game with a two player count as well as solo thus far. Any missing players up to the count of four are replaced by NPCs that have an internal AI-style set of actions that the human players decide how to employ. On the one hand, they’re useful since they can fell monsters in one blow, but on the other the heroes don’t get the rewards for monsters destroyed by NPCs. The happy hired sods are also useful for cycling the loot row on account of they use loot cards as weapons which then get placed at the bottom of the loot deck and replaced.

All in all, in spite of what seems like either really harsh difficulty or just me being really really (really!) stupid about it, this is a fairly light and enjoyable game that may take up to 45 minutes to an hour to run through successfully. I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never even seen the damn boss pop!

Just make sure you spend some time understanding the rules, card scoring, and new monsters being drawn for the deck and you should be good to go!

Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!

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Tags: Grizzly Gripes, Boardgames, Kickstarter