A group of plucky adventurers set out to explore a dark, gruesome dungeon to eradicate the evil which lies within However, there is one thing they were not prepared for…YOU! In Dungeon Lords, you are tasked with protecting your evil establishment from those pesky do-gooding adventurers, out to spoil your fun.
In a beautifully designed and crafted board game by Czech Games Edition, Dungeon Lords gives each player the opportunity to build and protect their dungeon in a bid to be crowned champion, by proving to your fellow players that you are the master, or ‘Lord’ if you will, of dungeon keeping.
Although this game is stated as 2-4 player, it really is best to play this game with four players. I’ll elaborate on why this is later in the review, but if you have a group of four to play this game with, you’ll soon see why this game is up there with the best four player games around.
In terms of the gameplay, there are two different ‘stages’ of play, each with its own mechanic. The first stage will be an opportunity to prepare your dungeon for an attack. The second stage will be combat, where a number of adventurers will then proceed to attack your dungeon. Your objective during this stage is to defeat the adventurers, whilst minimising the damage they inflict to your humble abode.
However, the ultimate objective in Dungeon Lords is to score the most points, which are accrued by not only defeating adventurers, but for other titles and achievements, tallied up at the end of the game.
The components in Dungeon Lords are of a very high quality. There are mostly thick and durable wooden tokens, along with red coloured cubes and Imps, which are made from moulded plastic. The cards are also very well made, as unlike other games where the cards begin to become marked from the first play-through, I have found that these cards have survived numerous games, without becoming marked in any way.
The artwork has been lovingly designed to fully immerse you into the experience, and the rule book is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with humorous and inventive wordplay to keep you entertained as you get to grips with the nuts and bolts of the gameplay.
Also included are some practice rounds which are a nice touch, allowing you to understand the mechanics for each stage, before delving deeper into the rules.
Sounds great! How does this work exactly?
I’m glad you asked.
During the first stage, you will have four rounds to send your three Minions off to gather resources for you, to help you fend off the adventurers. This is facilitated by each player secretly placing down three cards per round, which correspond to the actions/resources on the board. Each player then reveals a card in turn order (beginning with their first chosen card), and players allocate their Minion to the board immediately as each card is revealed. Once each player’s three minions have been assigned to the board, then the resource gathering begins, according to the order of the actions on the game board.
The eight actions you’ll have to choose from are: obtaining food, improving your reputation, building tunnels to expand your dungeon, mining your existing tunnels for gold, breeding your Imps, obtaining traps, hiring monsters and obtaining rooms. You will also need to bear in mind that the latter two of your cards/actions chosen for this round will then be ‘locked’ for the next round, so choose wisely!
The catch here is that there are only three spaces for each action on the board, so depending on the order of you and your opponent’s cards, one player may end up missing out an action altogether! Each space also has a different outcome, for example on the action to obtain food, the first player to reveal his card will pay one gold for two food. The second will gain an ‘evil’ on the evil-o-meter to get two food (more on this in a moment), the third will gain two evil to get two food and one gold, and the fourth player to choose this will get nothing. If competition from other players prevented you from taking one of your actions which would normally be locked in the next round, you can choose to include this next time, in place of your first card.
Now to address an important aspect of the game which I touched on above. On the game board, you will notice an ‘evil-o-meter’. Actions you take throughout the game, will influence where you wind up on this meter. Aside from bonus points for being most evil at the end of the game, your position here will determine the strength of the adventurers who will attack you.
You’ll be assigned one adventurer at a time following each round of resource gathering, after which point, the combat begins. The daring among you might find themselves high enough that they trigger the Paladin to come into play; an extremely tough super-adventurer who’ll come knocking down your door like an over eager double-glazing salesman. However, if you defeat him he’s worth bonus points at the end of the game, along with well-earned bragging rights.
Whether you’ve gathered plentiful resources during the previous four rounds, or been royally stitched up by your fellow dungeon keepers, it’s now time to fend off the adventurers who have turned up to plunder your domicile of all its evilly-goodness. It’s now up to each player alone to devise a plan so cunning, you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel. In layman’s terms, defeat the adventurers before they mess with your stuff. Your plan will need to take into account the position and the abilities of the adventurers. You will defeat them using a combination of monsters and traps (obtained during the resource-gathering stage).
There are four types of adventurers, each with a different ability. The order they utilise their abilities is dictated by the order at the top of the board:
- Thieves - Ability to disarm traps.
- Wizards - Ability to cast spells (dictated by a ‘combat card’ for each round of combat).
- Priests - Ability to heal damage.
- Warriors - Ability to push to the front.
There will be four rounds of combat (much like the previous stage). After each round, if there are still adventurers remaining, they will conquer one of your dungeon tiles/tunnels. Fatigue (essentially damage) will also be assigned to one or more of the remaining adventurers after each round, the amount of which is dictated by the symbol on the aforementioned combat card. This is usually hidden, unless you’re lucky enough to land on the space enabling you to take a peek at the card. You may then enjoy pulling some ominous faces, to confuse and worry any opponents who have not seen the card.
After combat, there will be a further four rounds of resource-gathering, only this time with stronger monsters, more traps, and tougher adventurers. This is then followed by another four rounds of combat.
The scores are then tallied up according to various factors including adventurers defeated, unconquered dungeon tiles/tunnels as well as individual titles for things like most number of monsters, most evil, most rooms, and so on. These are all listed on a card given to each player before the game starts, so that you can plan accordingly.
Final Thoughts on Dungeon Lords
Dungeon Lords is an impeccably designed, well-structured game which blends competitive as well as solo-play elements, for an opportunity to immerse yourself into a fun, but challenging experience as an evil dungeon keeper.
The game flows very well, and is a lot of fun to play. Once you and your fellow players have got your head around the rules, the game can be played within a reasonable amount of time (around 90 minutes) and bridges the gap between gateway board games, and the more intricate strategic board games around.
Whilst the game can be played with less than four players, I find this over-complicates matters, since participants will also need to act as ‘dummy’ players during the resource-gathering stage, in order to retain the balance and competition for spaces on the board. Whilst it is nice to have an option to play the game with less participants, this game truly shines as a four-player experience.
The rules of Dungeon Lords may initially appear daunting at first glance, but in my experience, most players with at least some familiarity of entry-level strategy games, will have this game figured out after the first play-through. Whilst not strictly being a pick-up-and-play type of game, the rule book does a fantastic job of conveying the rules of gameplay, and is well worth sparing the time to read. The training scenarios are an added bonus for newcomers.
The two different stages of resource-gathering and combat, help bring variety to the gameplay, and Czech Games Edition have done an extremely good job of linking these two mechanics together. The combat stage requires each player to solve their own puzzle, which can either be incredibly satisfying, or may lead to a comedy of errors resulting in your fellow dungeon keepers revelling in your despair.
Invariably, players will make the odd mistake, either by accident or through missing resources due to other players’ actions, but I often find this is a reminder of the competitive nature of the game, which may otherwise become forgotten if every player was able to succeed without hindrance. The results are also more likely to be humorous than they are frustrating. My advice is not to be put off by your mistakes, as it’s part and parcel of the game, and you’ll be cackling away like the evil overlord you are, when the shoe is on the other foot (assuming they have a dungeon branch of Clarks).
Thanks to some impressive design and variation of gameplay mechanics, I’ve no doubt that Dungeon Lords be a big hit for those looking for a strategy game that offers friendly competition, as well as individual puzzle solving. This is a firm favourite among my friends and I, and one we find ourselves repeatedly coming back to, provided we have exactly four players!