Dungeon Crawler Game Review

The Basics:

  • Variable number of players (1 player solitaire or up to 6 for multi-player)
  • For ages 13 and up (little geeks will need help)
  • Variable play time

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading & Writing
  • Memorization & Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Hard
  • Adult – Moderate

Theme & Narrative:

  • You lead a group of adventures into the dark unknown where either glory or death await…possibly both. OK, both.

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

A Quick Note: This review only covers the Solitaire version of the game. Dungeon Crawler supports a total of four different formats of play. These are Solitaire (covered in this review), Competitive (2-players), Co-operative (2-4 players), and Multi-player (3 -6 players). The game play will differ slightly but the core of the game is covered here.

In Dungeon Crawler, quests and dangers await a group of adventurers you control. You get to select the equipment, magic, skills, and tactics used by the adventures, making certain that whatever evil with nasty teeth and a penchant for flesh they encounter will get a good butt kicking. But the fun doesn’t stop there. You also get to fill the dungeon with the nasty creatures, traps, events, and treacherous terrain. What quests the adventurers attempt to complete is also up to you to decide, but choose wisely. Selecting a quest that cannot be completed is folly, but you don’t want to make it too easy on yourself either. In the end, success or failure is based on your ability to plan ahead, manage the dangers of the dungeon, and act decisively without hesitation. Succeed and glory and honor are yours! Fail and all you need to do is simply reshuffle the deck and play again.

This game is comprised of three different decks of cards and a number of tokens used for tracking values in the game. This is an expandable card game (previously released as a collectible card game) which means the player is able to purchase more decks which provides a richer and more customization experience, but only if they want to. What is covered here is the Dungeon Crawler Starter Pack which has a total of 140 non-randomized cards. The cards are durable and very colorful as well as providing a good deal of game information without being overwhelming information heavy. The artwork for each card is unique, contributes to telling the story, and provides a visible representation of  what the card represents. The tokens are small, circular cardboard and have two different sides making them useful in a number of situations as the game calls for them. Taken as a whole, the Dungeon Crawler Start Pack offers you a great deal of value for your Solitaire game and provides a good deal of customization right out of the box.

A quick word on the included rules of the game. You might have read in other reviews that the rules in the Dungeon Crawler Starter Pack were unorganized, riddled with errors, and were in general “not helpful”. This is true to a point but should no longer be a limiting factor for anyone who might be on the fence about the game. The publishers of Dungeon Crawler have gone to great length to update and revise their rules making them easier to follow and clearer in their game description and how-to-play. The rules, along with an excellent introduction and starter’s guide, can all be read and downloaded in PDF format from the Dungeon Crawler web site. This review discusses the game at a higher level and I highly encourage anyone interested in the game to first read the Dungeon Crawler Introduction, as it does a fantastic job of introducing a number of the core concepts and setting you on the path of learning the game quickly.

To set up the game, you must first determine what the story of the game will be. The cards used will create and unfold the story as you play. It is therefore helpful (and fun) to be familiar with the playing cards. However, if you do not want to create an adventure of your own making, there are pre-designed adventures you can use created by the Dungeon Crawler publishers and the fast growing fan community. Regardless of your approach, you will be building a Dungeon Deck and a Crawler Deck. In addition, you will be choosing which adventures to take into he dark depths and their quests to complete.

Before you create any decks, however, you must first determine the level of difficulty you want to make the game. The difficulty of the game will be influenced by the number of cards that will be used in the game, the game length, and the number of quests to be completed. A quick game only requires the completion of 1 Quest, a standard game requires 2 Quests, and a difficult game requires all 3 quests to be completed. Dungeon Crawler provides a quick reference table which is recreated below. For the sake of this review, the Beginner/Starter deck will be referenced.

  • Beginner/Starter: (4 adventurers,  65/65 deck size,  max 4 point encounter limit)
  • Standard: (4 adventurers,  80/80 deck size, max 5 point encounter limit)
  • Elite: (3 adventurers,  60/60 deck size, max 5 point encounter limit)
  • Champion:  (4 adventurers,  70/70 deck size, max 6 point encounter limit)
  • Master: (4 adventurers,  60/60 deck size,  max 6 point encounter limit)
  • Delver: (4 adventurers, 100/100 deck size, max 6 point encounter limit)

The first deck you will want to build is the Dungeon Deck. This deck contains the creatures, events, terrain, and traps the adventures will encounter. This deck is also the “meat” of the adventure you want to experience,  for it contains not only the scene but the players of the story about to unfold. With a deck size limit of 65 cards, you have a lot of options and will want to fill your dungeon with challenges but also memorable encounters. There are a large number of creatures and nasty encounters provided in the Dungeon Crawler Start Pack that are available for you to use.

Your next step is to select the Quests available for this game. Now that you know what cards are in the Dungeon Deck, you can choose Quests that are meaningful to the plot line establish by the Dungeon Deck, but more importantly, are obtainable. For example, there is a Dungeon Deck card titled “The Damsel”. This is a trap card (insert Star Wars reference here) that makes for an excellent encounter. There is also a Quest card titled “Rescue the Damsel” that requires you to complete the win condition of “The Damsel” trap card. This is just one example of the many ways you can have the cards interact with each other in the game and create very interesting adventures. Regardless of the number of Quests needed to complete the win condition, 3 Quests are always selected.

It follows that if you have a Quest, you need adventurers. You will now select the adventurers you will want to bring with you. Included in the Dungeon Crawler Starter Pack is a warrior, a thief, a scout (like a ranger), an air elementalist (like a mage), and a cleric. You are only able to bring four of adventurers with you, so choose wisely. They all have different strengths and weakness and should compliment each other wherever possible.

The second deck you will build is the Crawler Deck. This deck contains the equipment, magic, skills, and tactics you think the adventurers will need to complete 1, 2, or all 3 Quests you selected. Think of this as going to the General Store before going down into the dungeon. This is where you outfit your adventurers with everything they will need. Like the Dungeon cards, there are a large number of Crawler cards provided in the Dungeon Crawler Start Pack allowing you to well provision your adventurers.

Now, place your four adventurer cards in a row, going left to right, in front of you. This is your adventurer’s marching order wherein the “lead” adventurer is the card furthest to your left, followed by the next adventurer going to the right and so on. Marching order counts! By default, your “lead” Adventurer will always take the most damage. It is therefore highly suggested you put your strongest adventurer card first followed by the next strongest and so on. Shuffle the Dungeon and Crawler decks. These will be placed to the left of the adventurer cards. Shuffle and place the Dungeon Deck the furthest away from you and the Crawler Deck closer to you. Place the three Quests you selected to the right of the adventurer cards in any order you choose. Finally, place the tokens close by to be easily reached for and used as the game requires. Draw five cards from the Crawler deck and you are now ready to play the game.

The game itself is played in rounds with several steps in each round to be completed in sequential order. These steps are listed below followed by a summary of what each step requires.

  1. Build the Encounter
  2. Respond
  3. Combat
  4. End Encounter

Build the Encounter

To build the Encounter, you draw one Dungeon Crawler card at a time and play it in front and above your adventurer cards. These cards represent what the adventures see when they kick down a door or round dark corners. Each Dungeon card has a value and these values are added together to create the encounter. The size of each encounter is dependent on the game difficulty. For the Beginner/Start, the encounter maximum value is 4. You therefore reveal cards until you have a total of 4 points visible or you “bust” with a card that makes the total points over the maximum. If this happens, the card that made the total go over the maximum is placed face up on the Dungeon Deck and will be part of the next encounter by default.

Respond

The player now takes a good hard look at the dangers before him and what equipment he has available to the adventurers. Strategy and tactics come into strong play at this point. The player should play any cards that will be helpful to the encounter but what they can play is limited to what the adventurers can equip. Each adventure provides a certain number of equipment, magic, skill, and tactic points. Any cards played must not exceed this value. The player will also be determining the stamina and the attack power of the encounter and must decide if they will go on the defensive, offensive, or both.

Combat

Adventurers always attack first and always win ties. The goal is to meet or exceed the encounters total defenses. This is made more difficulty with the addition of character range coming into play making some melee attacks useless. The player must use their equipment, tactics, magic, and skills to overcome the defenses and reduce the overall strength of the encounter before it retaliates. Failure to do so means certain death.

Once damage and effects are determined and cards removed, everything that made up the encounter that still remains attacks back. Any adventurers not used in combat can now actively defend. The goal, again, is to meet or exceed the value generated by the encounter. If the player does, no damage is dealt to their adventures. Failure to do so, however, and one, some, or all the adventures might take damage.

End Encounter

This last step provides the player an opportunity to drop any cards they might not want or no longer need, draw new Crawler cards, remove any additional cards from play that comprised the encounter or effects of the encounter that are not permanent, remove various status tokens, and check to see if they can still afford to pay the necessary cost to maintain any permanent cards.

After the End Encounter step, the next round starts and the sequence begins again with the first step. After several rounds of play, your play area might look something like the following:

After a couple of rounds, your play area will look something like this.

The game victory condition is based on how many Quests you must successfully complete and claim. There are several conditions that will cause the game to end and the player to loose. If all the adventurers are lost or the player is unable to draw a Crawler card, the game is immediately lost. Of course, if at any time the player feels the game is going so badly that it is no longer worth going on, they are welcome to simply stop the game, reshuffle the Dungeon and Crawler decks, and start again.

This concludes the summary of the game, and believe me when I say “I barely scratched the surface”. This game has incredible depth and quality.

Predictions

My boys and I love a good fantasy game. Drop the words “dragon” or “magic”, and my boys come running. I have attempted to play role playing games with my sons in the past with mixed success. The RPG game systems that are available today are not what I would consider “kid friendly” in regards to their rules and play. This is to be expected, however, as RPG’s are traditionally comprised of text, tables, and numbers. That’s a lot for a little geek to take in and do anything with. Heck, it can be a lot for an adult to deal with, too!

I have had great success with pick-a-path books with my little geeks; specifically, the Fighting Fantasy books at bed time or during the afternoon on the weekends. My boys love hearing the story and getting a chance to make choices. It’s a great way to discuss risk vs. reward and hone their tactical and strategical skills, too. Now that my oldest little geek is reading, he and I take turns while my other little geeks listen intently. When a monster rears its ugly head we read what our choices are, discuss the pros and cons (if there are any) and then debate (if need be) what we should do next.

What is missing, of course, is the visual element. I can describe a dragon until the cows come home, but a picture really is worth a thousand words. I get more “ohs!” and “ahs!” from a single image of a dragon or a skeleton warrior than a I do when I describe it. That’s why when I came across Dungeon Crawler and read that I could create my own adventures using visual representations of the events and characters with cards, I knew it was going to be a winner. I was, admittedly, disenchanted at first with the rules. They were complicated and I found myself constantly referring back to them. But when the new version of the rules were published for Dungeon Crawler , all of the pieces came together and I was suddenly presented with a highly customizable and expandable adventure game with easy rules, dynamic game play, and limitless replay value with a growing fan community. I was overjoyed.

I know my boys are going to love this game. I plan to play the Solitaire format and lead them through the game in the same way we read the Fighting Fantasy books. There will be much to discuss and a great deal more to think about, but I believe the value will be greatly increased because of this. So, after describing the game to my boys for the first time and showing them the cards, they had the following to say:

“This game looks awesome! Can I play the dwarf warrior?” – Liam, age 6

“I want to fight the dragon and the zombie!” – Nyhus, age 3

Good, they are as excited and eager as I am! I cannot imagine a better group of geeks to play with and go exploring deep cavernous dungeons.

Final Word

I am a huge fan of role playing games (RPG) for the same reason I am a huge fan of Dungeon Crawler. Both RPGs and Dungeon Crawler provide me a wonderful story, a mental challenge, excitement, and a medium in which I can customize and personalize my own game experience. Dungeon Crawler delivers on so many fronts it is hard to champion any one specific portion of it without quickly backtracking and gushing about another aspect of the game. Admittedly, I and my little geeks, have fallen head over heels for this game as my little geeks and I love playing, discussing the monsters, building adventures, and adjusting them over and over again until we get the best experience possible. It provides so much for so little, I am constantly amazed at how well it all works out.

My little geeks and I play the game as a campaign. We keep track of the adventures and their obtained treasure, discuss previous crawls through the dungeon, and continue to change things to make the story go forward. One of the the game pieces that does not seem to change it the creature character, Greenknee the Goblin Necromancer. For some reason or another, my little geeks have latched onto this villain with both hands and demand that he always be part of the story. Greenknee has become something of a nemesis that my little geeks must always find, fight, and defeat even if they have already completed their quests. Greenknee has won a number of times, but he has also lost, too. I tend to add voices and sounds to our games, and as such, Greenknee has become a living character I act out for my little geeks, much to their pleasure.

My two little geeks strategize their next move as the creatures of the dungeon charge forward!

Dungeon Crawler gives you the ability to design your own adventure and play it the way you want to with near limitless replay value. Plus, the different game formats provide the right experience for the right player, be it highly competitive, cooperative, or solo, Dungeon Crawler has it all. With near limitless replay value, Dungeon Crawler not only provides long lasting value, but a great deal of entertainment and flexibility. This is what keeps a fantasy dungeon exploration game fun and exciting. It continues to surprise us and keeps us returning back to the adventure. Dungeon Crawler delivers a true adventure experience in spades.

But this wonderful experience comes at a cost. There is a lot to learn to play the game well. You will be referring to the documentation a good deal when you first start playing the game. In fact, I spent more time with my nose in the rules than looking at the cards when I first started playing. This will make the game seem slow and ponderous at first, but you will begin to learn how the cards interact and how the game flows. It only took me a few practice games before everything started to make real sense and, before I knew it, I was creating adventures of my own and having a blast. Dungeon Crawler will challenge you, but the rewards are great and the fun unlimited.

I would not recommend this game to the occasional player or the hardcore CCG player. The game is too demanding for the individual who only plays games once a Blue Moon and the CCG elements is no longer there since the publishers have swiveled the game to become an expandable card game versus a collectible one. On this point, I must applaud them. I have never liked the idea of “blind buys” or the need to continue to buy into the game to keep up with other players. With the new direction being expandable, I can purchase what I want, knowing full well what I am getting. That’s value.

I must also praise the game designers for designing their game with different play formats as part of the overall concept instead of just tacking it on. By doing so, they make Dungeon Crawler a game that provides different levels of experience that will grow with the player and adjust itself to the player’s time and needs, seamlessly. This makes the game all the more accessable and player friendly. It also allowed me to take a game that was designed for older players and play it very well with my 6 and 3 year old. I doubt very much the game designers and publishers thought that such a thing was possible, but I now do it at least once per weekend. Fighting Greenknee has become something of a ritual.

If you have read this far, you know my thoughts on this game. Dungeon Crawler is not for everyone one, but what game is? If you are looking for a game that allows you to play it in a style that is most comfortable for you, is as challenging as you want it to be, is as flexable as the day is long, and will continue to provide enjoyment over and over again, do check this game out.

And if you see Greenknee, kick him in the butt for my little geeks and me. Tell him, “Father Geek sends his regards, goblin scum!”

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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10 Responses to Dungeon Crawler Game Review

  1. Cyrus says:

    If you are interested and are looking for something entertaining to do at the office or home when you should be doing something else other than being on the computer, take a look at DC Adventures, a comic strip based off the world in which Dungeon Crawler is set. Great illustrations and great story!

  2. Cyrus says:

    Need a second opinion about this game? Read the review by MultiPlaying!

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