Friday, 11 December 2015

Walking in a Dungeon Wonderland

Advent Chest time! Something a little more meaty tonight...

A Meat Locker!

Dungeon Saga Review

Hell, it's about time!

My Always Paints First special rule is both blessing and curse. I've been racing through the contents of Dungeon Saga so that I could field an entirely painted core set for our first Skype match. I managed it last weekend, ever so slightly after the premiere game, although the models I was lacking at that point weren't needed for the first couple of levels.

Now I've got that out of my system, so to speak, it's time to play and review the game. Told you it was leading somewhere!

General Leofa and General Stylus were the heroic forces of light, delving into the darkened strongholds of my own shadowy armies. Let's find out what we played and how we went!

Dungeon Fixtures

Playing over Skype is kind of a crapshoot. As General Leofa pointed out, it's all very well my painting everything, but it's wasted when all you can see is a pixelated mush. My camera (the photo-taking one, not the webcamera) was also missing that evening, so I have no pictures of the game. Hence the random selection of artwork!

We played the first three dungeons of the Dwarf King's Quest campaign. Or, well, really the two training levels and the first proper level - we wanted to break ourselves in gently and learn the rules as we went.

The campaign covers a group of heroes chasing the evil Necromancer Mortibris into an ancient Dwarven hold. They must stop him before he reclaims a powerful magical artefact from its depths - if he obtains it, his powers will become unstoppable!

Journey from the West

Not this one

You start with a very simple corridor traversal, learning melee combat and door bashing courtesy of the Barbarian (Leofa) and Dwarf (Stylus). It's a short game rather stacked in the heroes' favour, but fun for all that.

I learned that the Barbarian is fragile, but that trying to swamp him is playing to his strengths. I also learned that unlike any other dungeon crawler I've played before, the Overlord (that's the bad guy player here) has to be quite selective about what he throws forward into a fight. You don't get to move all your minions, just a select few. Although you've got a deck of cards to get extra moves and powers that generally redresses the balance, you really have to think about where to send your bony underlings.

The boys had no problems stomping down the tunnel, smashing skeleton warriors on the way before kicking in the door.  Easy and satisfying, like the Guardian crossword on a Monday!

Journey to the East

Mission two adds in missile combat and magic. Stylus took command of the Wizard as he has a physical copy of the game himself, and it's handy to have the relevant cards to hand as you play. Leofa's Elf ran point for the hapless pointy hat, trying to keep skeletons off him as he did his stuff.

Wizards in DS are kind of like magical hackers - one of their key functions, on top of blowing things up with spells, is opening magically warded doors. No other team members can do this, in fact. You might say that Wizards are literally key team members. If you were really really funny, anyway.

The dungeon here is more of a dogleg, with magical barriers to get through on the way. Although the weedy Wizard got a little scuffed by the skeletal archers and warriors in the way, the Elf's archery skills were more than enough to clear a path and keep him safe. Score two for the heroes!

Well Met

Now we could finally play the full game. The Wizard and Elf come in from one side, a twin corridor stacked with piles of bones that could turn into skeletons at any point. The Barbarian and Dwarf faced a much more populous hall way, with plenty of opportunities to get overwhelmed on all sides. They'd need to get to a central door, smash it in and then clear whatever was on the other side before getting the Wizard to unlock a final portal. All this against a twelve turn timer limit - tricky!

With the heroes now all united, I also got my full Overlord deck. Previously I'd had a reduced selection, just extra Raise Dead spells and bonus actions. Now I got some dirty tricks to go with it, as well as the occasional option to interrupt the heroes in mid turn!

I decided that delaying the Elf and Wizard would be my best bet. Pretty much every time they moved for the first half of the game, piles of bones sprang to life around them or lurking warriors shambled up to attack. It held them up a bit, although they were both good at switching turn order round to spring each other free or take out tacklers in order to keep going.

In the main hall, the Barbarian and Dwarf tiptoed through the silent ranks of undead, sticking close to the walls. With my attention elsewhere, I couldn't really hope to tie them up long, although I did manage to stick a couple of sly arrows in their backs.

The team united round the chest with more than half their time in hand. The chest had a free healing potion and some nifty magic armour for the Elf inside, and she was needing it by now - covering the Wizard's advance had left her open to a persistent skeleton that kept stabbing her in the back. And the Barbarian scoffed the healing potion, slightly greedily, just in time for me to get the Elf hurt enough to injure her!

The room behind the door was full of zombies, including a tough armoured specimen. Zombies are useless individually, although fairly tough to destroy, but very dangerous in big packs. Luckily the heroes knew what to do - the two fighters rushed in and hacked the rotting bodies apart before I could get them into a good group.

This left the poor old Elf lagging behind, though, and by the time the Wizard had an almost clear path to the door he needed to open, she only had a single wound left! The Overlord only needs to bring down a single hero to win a game, usually. This might seem harsh, but the games are usually too short and the heroes too tough for multiple party kills to be an issue. Even bringing one of the lantern-jawed prizefighters down is quite a challenge, especially with a lame old bunch of bones to do the job!

Anyway, the timer was ticking down, but it looked like the heroes had the game in the bag. There was only the tin-plate zombie left, and although I had loads of skeletons on the board, they were all back in the halls behind the heroes and in no place to stop anyone.

As the Wizard moved into place to break the ward, I knew I'd lost. Until they started grandstanding...

Rather than let the wizard go first and finish his job, Stylus opted to let his Dwarf try and finish the armoured zombie. Not only did he fail, this also gave me the chance to play an Interrupt card. A lurking skeletal archer moved up and shot the elf in the back - already wounded, I just needed one good roll to finish her!

Of course I didn't get it, but it made for a dramatic finish. Shamed and shaken, the heroes quickly opened the door and headed on into the darkness...

Play Verdict

Loved it. Short, sharp and simple, like an urchin with a knife.

It took about ten minutes total of our playtime to explain the rules in enough depth to have a go, which is a huge plus in our middle-aged lives.

The heroes each bring unique skills and play differently, so you really need to talk as a team to make them work effectively. And having different players making choices brings the joy/agony of seeing a cunning plan ruined by someone else's derring do/idiocy. That's one of the core entertainments of a good roleplaying game.

Not that this is a roleplayer, not in more than the very lightest sense, it must be stressed. This is a quick and fun board game. Even the advanced rules don't really do more than add new options and a very simple levelling system. This is no bad thing. Simplicity is a big part of the charm of this game.

And it's still tactically interesting! The synergy of the heroes, for one. The unique feel of the dungeon master's troops for another, only being able to pick a few select minions each turn.  More than ever, that captured the feel of a Necromancer focussing his attention to control undead for me. Er, something I've clearly lusted after a little too often in life.

Some monsters are very tough to kill, almost frustratingly so (more in later levels than these early ones). There's a strong emphasis on having to manouver the heroes through the tight tunnels and round the bad guys, rather than having to kill every last worthless skeleton.

Niggles? Not really. Even though we had a very bad connection that really cut up our game, it was still a great night from my point of view. There was one point we were using WhatsApp to send dice roll results and commands to each other, deprived of sound and picture - and we still had fun!

The timer on the game gives a great sense of threat and urgency. As does the obligation to keep all the heroes alive - although I suspect this might sometimes be an issue. If you get trapped or isolated, there's going to be hard calls on whether to stick together and nurse the wounded or press on before the timer runs out, which could conceivably feel unfair.

That's a hypothetical problem, though. I've detailed my issues with some aspects of the game elsewhere - I don't like the solo/AI rules much and the random dungeon generator needs work. The game component quality is very high, but also a bit rushed in places (missing heads on a model or two, nothing my bits box couldn't handle, and the hilariously un-proofread Adventurer's Companion).

Mantic's PR could also use a little attention, they've upset a lot of applecarts with poor communication during the Kickstarter process, including misleading and some rather slow information regarding delays or changes to the game. They're doing their best to make good on their promises, though, and the internet is full of unforgiving and judgemental trolls. Rather like some of their dungeons.

Ronnie, Mantic's Head Honcho in Dungeon Master mode. Not perhaps the most popular person on some forums right now, even though he's managed to give birth to a really decent game - can't please everyone all the time, I guess. 

The core game, however, is really good. I recommend it heartily, I'd say it's a very worthy successor to Heroquest as an entry level RPG boardgame/wargame, particularly with the excellent miniatures and the scope for writing your own dungeons.

Will we play it again? Yes. In fact, if the broadband isn't playing up, we're actually playing it again right now. That's the magic of the internet, folks, I wrote this days ago and can get on with more important things as my magic internet imps paint it into your screens. Result. Speaking of which,

Overall Score - Result 85 on the Treasure Table (roll as per level 14 Characters)

Nice try, Google, but that's not what I meant.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! I'll accept I was needlessly grandstanding and jeopardising the whole mission - but we NAILED that zombie!