Capsule Review: Deck Box Dungeons

Caveat: I’m a designer and publisher reviewing other people’s games that I admire.

Deck Box Dungeons is a dungeon crawler board game in a card box (about the size of two Bicycle deck boxes back to back). Inside are 44 cards, 5 standard dice, 13 specialty dice representing monsters, 5 small fantasy themed meeples, and a 14-page rules book. A separate app serves as a random dungeon generator. It’s a 1-2 player game (2 characters total); 3-4 players by combining 2 copies.

The Good …

Designing characters is engaging: lay an item card, a character card, and an ability card side by side, with matching edges determining combat and skill scores. Treasure points, health, and ability energy are tracked with cards sliding beneath those.

The combat rules are nicely done, balancing hero choices and special powers against more limited actions for monsters but stronger dice ratings.

Small fantasy meeples represent the heroes, while the specialty dice represent the monsters, some faces identifying a ranged attacker and others a melee attacker, as well as their health. These dice are rolled at the start of each new encounter, to randomize their type and health. Dice color and attack type is keyed to individual monster cards, to determine that monster’s combat abilities.

Combat itself uses standard dice, with each representing a chance to hit, and to defend when hit in turn. The more dice you roll and the higher your combat modifier, the more chances one or more hit.

Like an arcade game, as you hit, your power rises, allowing you to activate special powers on your chosen ability card. Likewise as you kill a monster, you receive its random treasure score immediately, allowing you to buy magic items and potions even in the middle of combat.

The dungeon map tile cards are identified by number and letter, so the app can indicate which to place next for a random dungeon layout. Given the limited number of map cards, and that there’s an encounter or event each card, the map doesn’t wander beyond manageable size.

The app itself is easy to grasp yet flavorful, randomizing the dungeon and encounters, but actual movement and combat remain on the table. And the game is expandable with user-generated missions available online.

The Bad …

The rule book is unclear in places, with wasted space that could have been used for examples. One of the oddest issues is monster dice placement, with no instruction for which die is placed first, but a very specific staggered diagram for which space they go in. On many map tiles that diagram simply doesn’t fit, calling for tedious adjustment.

A few non-combat encounters (traps) allow no roll to avoid, which can kill a wounded character anticlimactically, especially given the overall scarcity of healing options during play. Character skills other than combat abilities seem seldom used.

The fantasy meeples are nearly indecipherable silhouettes, unlike like those pictured on the Kickstarter page.

The deck box itself thin material, easily crushable, not in keeping with the quality of the game components.

& the Augury

I’ve had considerable fun with Deck Box Dungeons, both solo and with my spouse, and I predict it’ll see more play here in the future.

Players coming to it as a dungeon crawl adventure should be aware, however, that it has a solo game’s difficulty. The wrong pair of characters, equipment, and abilities guarantees fatality, and even the best mix has a good chance of death. Strategy is critical: which character spawns the next tile, who follows up, and when to use powered abilities.

(As for monster dice placement, online FAQ says choice of which comes next is left to the player, which makes that detailed diagram for placement even odder. I’d suggest ignoring it. Just put the toughest monster on the center space, place the rest adjacent to it with archers toward the back and melee units up front—which is in keeping with their actions during combat.)

Some people think the game slightly too pricey, though that perception likely involves the box. I think the components and game play well worth the price.

A Bit About Dobie

Some of you know my Chihuahua, Dobie. He came to live with us back in 2006. I had just turned 50, with the typical mid-life crisis, bought a big-ass motorcycle and a tiny little dog.

Our family has had dogs ever since our daughters were little: they’re great for companionship, life lessons, and developing allergy resistance when you’re young.

But Dobie was the first dog specifically for me—my responsibility to feed, water, litter train, clean up after, and generally keep happy and healthy. Together, we worked out 21 tricks: sit, stay, come, lie down, back up, crawl, speak, hush, shake hands, wave, spin, roll over, play dead, prairie dog, get it, stand, walk (hind legs), twirl (hind legs), up, down, kisses.

He’s now middle aged. A few weeks ago he developed a luxated patella, so most of those tricks are over with. Lately he’s been off his food. Most of yesterday and last night he spent vomiting. The family and I just got back from the vet, and Dobie has a bit of a heart murmur and a whole lot of renal failure.

I had to ask. The vet said with special diet and care, about a year to a year-and-a-half . . .

Shakespeare wrote: “This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, / To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” Yeah, I get it. Life’s transience is what makes things so precious. That’s still not how I’d make a world.

But it’s what we’ve got. So for the next year or two, or however long, my family and I will take special care to make sure Dobie’s life continues to be good and full of love. He doesn’t know. I wish I didn’t. But for what time remains, under the cloud of that knowledge, I’ll bask in the light of his personality.

And if you’ll forgive just a bit of maudlin sentimentality, of all the tricks we worked out together, I’m especially glad that as his health declines and others go away, “kisses” is the one to remain.

The “Dream” Team, Elder Sign: Omens

Nearly five years later, I’m still playing this app, trying out new themed combinations of investigators.

Currently I’m working a two-person team related by their “Other Worlds” abilities: Luke Robinson, Lucid Dreamer; and Gloria Goldberg, Psychic Sensitivity. Which probably explains my calling this themed pairing the “Dream” Team.

Gloria’s ability gives her an automatic red die and yellow die whenever she’s in an Other World. That’s a huge benefit, especially given that most Other Worlds pay out one or two Elder Signs needed to win the game.

A hidden benefit of visiting an Other World just before the clock strikes each turn is that when solved, it avoids any possibility of getting saddled with a new Midnight-penalty location before you can react.

Luke’s ability to spend 4 trophies to open an Other World means that he keeps Gloria well supplied with Other Worlds to visit.

Against the first four Great Old Ones they’re a killer combination, with Gloria not only quickly racking  up Elder Signs, but also scoring enough trophies to buy an extra one or two from the Souvenir Shop. And it’s easy to score high by gaining Elder Signs beyond what you actually need. Just save back a two- or three-sign Other World to finish when you’re one point away from winning.

The team is not without its weaknesses, however:

1. Gloria’s ability is crippled at sea in the Cthulhu mission, since Other Worlds can’t appear there. (On the other hand, she regains it in the climactic R’lyeh battle, which means you can concentrate on adventures without Common and Unique items.)

2. In some missions you maybe don’t want to rack up Elder Signs so quickly, preferring more time to gather equipment.

3. Both characters have low Stamina, which makes some encounters too deadly to choose. That hurts in the desert of the Dark Pharoah mission. And I’m sure it’s going to make the Arctic a challenge in the Ithaqua mission I’m currently tackling. Then again, I once won that mission with Wendy Adams solo. So here’s hoping!

If you haven’t read my about my earlier themed teams over the years, just do an Elder Signs search with the text box upper right on this page. And please let me know what team-ups or strategies you like best!

 

Elder Sign: Omens – Team “Changelings”

Yes, this is yet another post about the Elder Sign: Omens app, a game I’ve been playing for about four and a half years now, mainly because so many character combinations are possible.

Immunity Deal
My previous post described four themed teams I’ve used in 2018, and one new theme idea. I’m happy to report that the fourth team, “Immunity Deal,” finally managed to beat Ithaqua, the mission rated as Insane difficulty. One character died early on, but the other three amassed enough supplies to survive Alaska long enough to collect enough equipment to face the ancient one and overcome him, with gear to spare.

Of course, it helped that the Elder Signs all fell my way, with a couple gifted as unusual bonuses (instead of sending the team’s horses over a cliff near the end and leaving the team to starve, as usual).

Changelings
Last night I assembled the new team, with one difference in the previously imagined roster, under a new name: Team Changelings.

Included are Harvey Walters, who changes terror glyphs to lore; Michael McGlen, who changes terror to peril; Wilson Richards, who changes the yellow glyph to whatever he wants; and Wendy Adams, who changes terror to whatever she wants.

Of the four, Wendy is the most versatile, but she’s a fragile little thing and she starts with only one token—a clue—compared to everyone else’s two tokens and more robust sanity and/or stamina.

On their first foray, the team spanked Yig so fast the ancient one barely had a chance to accumulate any doom at all. (The secret is, of course, to send the best team member for the specific mini adventure—Harvey to lore-heavy ones, for example.) I suspect this team will give team “I’ve Got Your Back” (see my previous post) a run for their money. After the repeated disappointments of team “Immunity Deal” this is a welcome change—very enjoyable!