As a follow on to an earlier post I’m delighted to have my first guest writer here today. Harvey O’Brien. A lot of you will know him already, especially if you game in Dublin. He runs with the South Dublin Gamers and UCDGamesoc. I had the pleasure of gaming with him a few years back in his house with some of his gaming group (a great bunch of lads) and got to play a couple of games I’d never tried before. Harvey is a real gentleman and I’m looking forward to saying hi ho at Gaelcon and getting in my gaming revenge early :). Anyhoe, here what he has to say about a game I never really got my head around….
I love this game…
Designed by Vlaada Chvatil
Publisher: Czech Games Edition
Review by Harvey O’Brien, South Dublin Boardgamers and UCDGamesoc
Top of the BGG hotness when it broke at Essen in 2009, Dungeon Lords is Vlaada Chvatil’s fiendishly fun adaptation of the old PC game Dungeon Keeper, in which you play an evil Overlord working hard to keep your traps clean and deadly, your monsters fed and happy, and your minions in good standing while the Ministry of Dungeons looks constantly over your shoulder making sure you cover your expenses. All would be fine except for the annual invasion by pesky human adventurers, drunk on tales of your fabulous wealth (greatly exaggerated) and heinous evil (it’s all a question of perspective, isn’t it?), not to mention whatever noxious concoctions the local barman was serving them as he filled their heads with this nonsense. Worse; there are a couple of burly paladins wandering around that have also begun to hear stories, and might, just might, join the party. It’s up to you to build a better dungeon to defeat the capture the heroes. Of course then there are other Dungeon Lords doing the same thing, and there’s only so many resources to go around. How will your dungeon hold up? Will your monsters stay loyal, or stomp off across the countryside complaining about your management style to anyone they don’t eat?
This last line comes from the rulebook, which is peppered with Chvatil’s goofy sense of humour, and pretty much sums up what’s on offer in Dungeon Lords. It’s a difficult euro-style worker placement game in which you have a limited number of actions per turn and an awful lot of things that need to get done. The game is totally fair, but extremely difficult: you’re not surprised by what’s going to happen because you can see well in advance what’s coming (which heroes are coming to pillage your home, what expenses you’re going to have to cover), but that doesn’t make it easier to get things right. Timing is everything, and every choice matters. Though other players aren’t directly messing with you, if you don’t watch what they’re doing, you’ll end up in very big trouble. A couple of wrong decisions and you’ll be looking at the business end of a serious trouncing. But get it right and you have that extraordinary buzz that comes from knowing you’ve got this down.
Dungeon Lords is a brain burner, and intimidating at first. It’s like a puzzle in many ways, as you try to match your monsters, traps, and tactics to the particular party of adventurers hitting you. Mages cast spells (which you can inspect if you take the appropriate action), Priests heal (but only when you attack with monsters, not traps), Thieves disarm traps (and block damage), and Warriors are just tough and lead the party (tanking particularly when thieves and healers help them out). Paladins do everything all at once. Different monsters have different skills, different kinds of traps work well against different classes. Everything has a cost, in food, gold, or ‘evil’. The more ‘evil’ you are, the more interest you attract from the toughest heroes, and there’s endgame rewards for everything you do well, including becoming Lord of Dark Deeds (evil). There is, as the rules say, no Lord of Sucking Up to the Villagers.
This is a hugely entertaining game that is brilliantly themed in spite of being built on a very smooth euro-game engine. Every choice you make is explained in thematic terms (check out the narrative around how you get food from the village), and you feel a sense of ownership of your tunnels, rooms, monsters, minions, and imps as you build your dungeon. It’s a euro, but it generates a great sense of story, and you’re completely at the centre of it. Every decision counts, and you know when things go wrong, you were maddeningly close to being right. The art by David Cochard is great, and the whole thing has a light, humorous feel that contrasts with the razor sharp gameplay rewards your concentration with a sense of fun. It’s best with four players, which is the max, though it scales rather cleverly for three and two players as well. An expansion adding a fourth ‘season’ to the dungeon year was released, as well as a follow up companion game Dungeon Petz. Recently the card game Boss Monster has taken the core experience and transferred it both to the design of 8-bit computer gaming and to card laying, but Dungeon Lords is a masterpiece of contemporary board game design that stands alone and has proved a reliable favourite in our group for five years now. I lose a lot, but I love it.