Guestwriter: Thessaly Tracey
I play tabletop RPGs. I play with friends around a big table every single week, so I have a lot of love for, and familiarity with, the concept of characters crawling around in dungeons and slaying monsters in order to take their treasure. I also play boardgames every Sunday night. In the last five years I have played hundreds of different boardgames with my friends on Sunday evenings after a good potluck dinner. Some of those games have become treasured favorites, getting pulled off the shelf and brought to the table at least once every few Sundays, and others tend to gather dust, not because they were completely awful, but because they just didn’t stand out in any way, whether in theme or in play mechanics. Many of those games that sit on the shelf month after month, without anyone exclaiming “Hey, we haven’t played this in a while.” have had dungeon crawl themes in one way or another. As I stated previously, we are already crawling through dungeons in our imaginations every week, so for a dungeon themed game to see much replay it needs to have some aspect of it that makes it unique and different. Red Dragon Inn, for instance, turns the theme of dungeoneering on its head by keeping all of the actual action in the tavern, with the adventurers competing to see who can drink the longest.
Which brings us to the game Dungeon Fighter. I was unquestionably drawn to the humorous art on the box cover, with its stereotypical ponce elven archer, addled looking wizard, and grunty looking barbarian with a He-Man haircut sending orcs and goblins and trolls fleeing in every direction, wearing targets painted on their chests no less. I can be a sucker for that kind of tongue in cheek lighthearted silliness. The game’s components measure up to the box art, they are beautifully painted and sturdily crafted. Even the interior of the box, and other parts not actually used in gameplay are attractive and alluring.
The characters for the game are humorous and fun, and more than once I found myself thinking they would make good player characters for an actual tabletop RPG. They are a bit oddball no doubt; Lady Mary looks like Princess Peach in her big pink ball gown, but don’t underestimate her, as she hides a big bloody battleax behind the folds of that dress. Marielle the mermaid is pictured in a wheelbarrow ( for how else would she be able to get around?), and is combing her long beautiful hair with a farmers pitchfork, and StinkerJell the fairy,… well she would be a good Tunnels and Trolls character without a doubt.
The layout cards for the variable dungeon set ups are also beautiful, and provide enough detail to visualize things in the player’s imaginations. There is a sturdily constructed tower that serves as a holder for the monsters that will be encountered during any given round of play, and provides a nice visual accent that contributes to the atmospherics of the fantasy setting. The monsters are printed on cards with illustrations and remind me a little of the kinds of monsters that await you when you kick open the door in a game of “Munchkin”, though the art on the Dungeon Fighter cards has more depth and is less haphazardly “bad”, while still retaining the humorous aspects. In our most recent playthrough we made it to the fourth level, with every encounter being a nailbiter, only to be killed in the end by our selected boss monster, which was “11 rabid kittens”. Each dungeon level ends with a shop, where new weapons, magic items, amulets and potions can be obtained which might help you to survive encounters on the subsequent levels. Choosing carefully is important, as some items require complex methods of rolling the dice which can make employing them successfully extremely difficult.
This brings us to the actual mechanics of gameplay, which is where this game really establishes its unique qualities. Certain monsters and most magic items require unique methods of rolling the dice onto the gameboard, which is appropriately shaped as a large archery target. For any attack on the part of the players to work, they must first roll a six sided die ONTO the target styled board. This is not as simple as it sounds, since in all cases that die must strike the table once first before rolling or bouncing onto the actual gameboard. In addition, most monsters fought and items used require further complications with regard to how that die is rolled. For instance, if the group finds itself in combat with a “Lovecraftian Creature” ( who looks like a skinny guy with no arms and an octopus for a head) each of an attacking players dice rolls must be made with ANOTHER player holding his or her wrist! This may not sound that complicated, but trust me, you need some actual dexterity and luck to make this work.
Some items or monsters might require the die to be bankshotted off another surface before landing on the target to do its damage, or rolled off of the forehead instead of out of the hand, or rolled while the player is seated on the floor as opposed to in a chair at the table! In all cases the die still has to strike the table first, sometimes more than once before bouncing onto the gameboard. This dynamic initially proved really frustrating for our youngest player, who likes a game he has a good shot of winning on any given playthrough.
Dungeon Fighter is NOT a game you are likely to win on your first play through. We have played five rounds now, and have yet to actually win the game. ( I think I have failed to mention up until now that Dungeon Fighter, much like a good tabletop RPG is a co-operative game, players band together to compete against the monsters in the dungeon, sharing items or splitting up dice in order to play to the parties’ as opposed to individual character strengths). In the first two playthroughs we were not able to complete even the second level of the four level dungeons. However, we have improved as a group with every play, so that on our most recent foray as Dungeon Fighters we made it all the way to the boss monster of the fourth level before the aforementioned rabid kittens killed us. And we all felt that victory was within grasp, but one player failed at two consecutive rolls that he had already succeeded at a number of times fighting earlier monsters.
This game sets itself apart from other dungeon themed board and card games with its very unique play mechanics. I have never seem another game with a resolution system even remotely similar to this one. It is a resolution system that requires manual dexterity, and a sense of humor to master. ( try not laughing when you are having to roll dice off of your elbow) But good co-operative strategy and a little bit of chance are also requirements for success. It has a high degree of replayability, as you can’t help but want to try and beat a game that is clearly not impossible, but is nonetheless quite challenging and difficult. A number of expansion sets are available for the game as well, so there seems to be plenty of opportunity to vary things up a little if you are so inclined. My group is currently focused on beating the standard set, though once we achieve success at this goal, we will surely want to give the expansion sets a try. In short, I highly recommend Dungeon Fighter for any group that enjoys board gaming together. The rules are simple enough to make it possible to dive right in without having to study a complex system of rules, while being varied and challenging enough to keep players coming back for more.