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.