Dungeon Academy is a short-form strategy game which has players racing against the clock to make a path through a randomly formed dice dungeon. 1 to 6 players take up the roles of students hoping to pass their final exam at Dungeon Academy and receive their Adventurer's diploma. Thankfully, you won't need to go back to school to understand this game, as the rules are fairly simple to get the hang of (especially with the number of handy visuals the instruction booklet comes with).
Its 10+ Age Rating makes it suitable for older children, but this game would also be a hit with any group of adults looking for some low-stakes competitive fun.
A Whimsical Education
Whether you're returning to the role of a student or are one in your day-to-day life, Dungeon Academy strives to make the idea of an exam fun. First, players randomly assigned a hero from ten possible options - each with their own health stat, mana stat and skill. Each hero fulfils a typical fantasy archetype (except maybe pirate and ninja) and has matching skills that range in how they affect the game.
The 'exam' itself is four rounds of dungeon exploring where players must gather potions and slay monsters to wrack up Glory. In this reviewer's humble opinion, the dungeon is a big draw for this game. It is made up of sixteen dice arranged in a 4x4 grid placed in a cute cardboard frame. The dice are chunky so there is less risk of losing them if you're one to be exuberant with your rolling.
For the first round the sixteen dice are all identical six-sided dice that sport two large monsters, two small monsters and two potions (each set having one thing that affects health or mana). Before the second and fourth rounds, one of these dice is swapped for the Labyrinth Dice and the Boss Dice respectively; each die comes with its own new set of symbols and challenges. There is a variant mode of the game called 'Training' where you don't need to include these dice, which I'd recommend for a first-time game if players are worried about understanding the game. Having the dice randomly set up for each round like this lends the game an amount of replayability, as no two games (or rounds) will be the same.
Each player also gets an 'Adventure Sheet' where they can note down their intended path through the dungeon, as well as keep track of their scores each round. There are 150 of these double-sided sheets (so 300 individual games of play), but the sheet can be very easily replicated by drawing it if you'd prefer not to use them. Aesthetically they are quite organised and have enough room to draw and write whatever is needed for players to keep track of the game. When drawing your preferred path through the dungeon you are allowed to cross out sections of it when you've made a mistake (unless you're playing the 'No Mercy!' variant) and there is certainly enough space on the grid to retrace your path if needed.
Paths are planned while under a time limit, ranging from one minute to thirty seconds depending on the difficulty set at the start of the game, but have no fear - much like being able to bring notes into an open book exam, you get help in the form of loot. The game rewards players for finishing successful paths first with an earlier selection of assist items at the end of each of the first three rounds. After your paths are checked by the students' teacher (a charming, little wizard cutout) you receive one of twenty possible loot options. This loot is random which is another +1 for the game's replayability.
I appreciate game instructions that really try to make it easy for players to understand what they're talking about (whether that be defining key game words or symbols or just by including a lot of pictures - I am a visual learner after all). Dungeon Academy's instructions are great at explaining themselves.
Large sections of text are broken up into easy-to-read bullet points or are naturally sectioned by accompanying visuals. Important information is written in bold font or different coloured text. Gameplay explanations (like level resolution and scoring) come with examples that are highlighted by contrast yellow backgrounds that make them stand out from the white background typical to the rest of the booklet. All of this is done without the booklet seeing too hectic across its 8 (around 26cm diagonal) square pages.
Another cool thing that Dungeon Academy's instructions do is be written in three languages. The versions of the rule booklet come included with the game: one in English, one in French and one in Dutch. These languages are also in the flavour text on the back of the box.
Cursed Cardboard Construction
As mentioned previously, the 4x4 grid of dice that make up the game's dungeon sit in a cardboard frame printed to look like a building and a typical fantasy dungeon. They are super charming and make the game interactive outside of rolling the dice. However, these little constructs are the worst part of setting up the game.
The game's plastic insert implies that it expects the players to slip together the cardboard dungeon at the start of each session. I threw this idea in the bin after one game as putting together that little menace was fiddly enough once. So, the base of my dungeon is held together with a small amount of tape on its underside. It doesn't affect how it looks from the topside, but it's still something I'd count against the game. The repeated construction of the dungeon will eventually wear away at the cardboard and can be a hassle.
Dungeon Academy is a quick romp into a world of slaying monsters and adventuring that fantasy loves to situate itself in - all framed by a fictional test. While the idea of thinking on a time limit might not be for everyone, I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys a game that keeps them on their toes or someone who loves fantasy.