Review! Dungeon Saga: Dwarf Kings Quest from Mantic Games.
When I first heard of Dungeon Saga last year through a crowdfunding campaign, I didn’t think much of it. From my cursory glances, it looked like it was trying to replicate the feel of classics such as Hero Quest or Warhammer Quest. It has single pose miniatures, thick card floor tiles and pre-set character classes to play as and against.
So what makes this different?
I still have my old, but still playable, Warhammer Quest set so why would I want to buy into another game of the same type when I haven’t played the one I own in years? Read on and find out.
Right, where to begin? The start I guess!
The first thing I noticed when opening the set was the gorgeous, stylised box. It was made to look like a hefty tome, with a rounded spine, and sides printed to look like the pages of a book. It wouldn’t sit out of place on your bookshelf.
Opening the magnetised lid reveals all the goodies packed tightly in this relatively small container (a little larger than A4).
· an 8 page quick start guide
· a 24 page rulebook
· a 32 page Quest book
· 26 pre-assembled, coloured plastic miniatures
· 33 double sided, thick card Room and Corridor tiles + clear plastic clips to hold them all together
· Plastic dungeon doors and furniture
· Pre-set character cards, counters , tokens and spell / ability / item cards
· Dice and measurement sticks (pieces of decorated card of two different lengths)
First thoughts? “Nice, I don’t have to put the figures together”.
Normally the assembly is one of my favourite parts of a miniatures game but when I checked out all the cool looking cards and tiles, I just wanted to get into playing.
The figures themselves vary in quality. Most are pretty cool with nice details, others (like the bog standard skeleton figures) are bland and quite thin. Some of the miniatures also needed re-posing. A couple of weapons were bent out of shape or limbs bending at weird angles… an unfortunate result of travel. Good news is that re-posing is as easy as dipping I figure in hot water for a few second and bending the part. As the figure cools, the plastic sets.
So with the interesting bits inspected, I thought it was time to see how the game plays.
My mate and I sat down, un-punched everything the Quick Start guide said we’d need and jumped straight in.
This is where I was really impressed. The game has an excellent tutorial system. The Quick Start guide gives you everything you need to know to get started. It doesn’t overload you with small special rules or abilities and gives both the heroes and overlord (bad guy) just enough to wrap their brains around.
The first introductory quest gives the hero player control of the two melee classes and explains just one action: Fight. It teaches the players how to move and hit stuff. The overlord is given the ability to resurrect basic melee minions and taught how to use the overlord command cards (cards to mix up play and give the heroes something to think about).
Movement is simple, as is combat. Each Hero is able to move the distance stated on their character card and perform 1 action (fight). Combat is resolved by rolling the amount of dice stated on the character card and comparing them to the opponent’s rolled dice. If the attacker rolls higher than the defender’s defence AND the defender rolled dice, a hit is caused.
The overlord has a cheat-sheet which gives you all the stats for the minions (instead of a character card).
He’s an example of combat. Say the Dwarf hero bops a skeleton on the head. The Dwarf rolls four dice to the skellies two dice (dwarf is obviously a better fighter). The skeleton has an armour rating of two.
So the dwarf has to roll higher than two’s with his four dice. – in this example he’ll roll a 4,5,2,6. The skeleton rolls to defend and rolls a 3,4.
Now here, the dwarfs roll of two is discarded, it wasn’t higher than the skellies armour. Next we compare the two dice rolls, start from the highest dice and counting down. The dwarfs’ highest was a 6, the skellies was a 4. 6 beats 4 = 1 hit. The dwarfs’ next highest was a 5, the skellies was a 3. 5 beat 3 = 1 hit. The last dwarf dice was a 4, the skelly cannot defend that one as it didn’t have enough dice = 1 hit. 3 hits in total which means a re-dead skeleton.
This combat system is continued through the rest of the game, so shooting and spell casting use the same mechanic. Consistency is good!
That’s the heroes for you. Now the overlord mechanics:
Each quest will advise what the heroes starting equipment is, what the map looks like, minion placement etc. as well as how many actions the overlord can take. In the 4 or 5 quests I played through for this review, the actions ranged from 3 per turn to just 1. This makes thing quite challenging for the overlord as it add a layer of resource management into the mix.
The overlord also has a deck of cards which they can draw from once per turn. These cards grant different abilities to the overlord like giving them 1 or 2 extra actions this turn, preventing a hero from taking any action for the next turn etc.
Other than those main points, it’s a game of alternating actions. The heroes need to complete a specific task before the overlord takes out a hero or enough turns have gone by for the overlord to draw all the cards in his command deck.
Right, back to playing the game.
After the first intro quest, the second gives the hero player control of the ranged classes; a wizard and an archer. This also introduces spell casting, shooting and explains line of sight.
With the first two baby quests down, the third mashes the two together as a final intro test. The heroes control all 4 classes and the overlord is given a much larger dungeon to map out with many more minions to control than previously.
Each quest in the aptly named ‘Quest Book’ links from one to another to give players an overarching story and explain why the players are doing what they’re doing. There’s an intro story to get everyone in the right mood / mindset as well as an “Aftermath” story to bookend the quest.
Now, take this advice: If you are picking up this game and want to play as the overlord, for the benefit of all players, you MUST read the story sections aloud and create voices for the quoted text. I feel the game just wouldn’t be as engrossing without this roleplaying element. Yes, it is difficult trying to voice a serious, no nonsense, female elf if you have a relatively deep male voice of your own, but it is soooo worth it if you even attempt it.
The quests we played were varied in their execution, mechanics and objectives. Each advancing quest gave all players new toys to try out and strategies to employ. The only negative I can think of is that there aren’t enough quests in the main game, maybe a dozen or so. Perhaps I’m being too greedy here… the 4 -5 quests we played through (including intro’s) ran for approximately 4 hrs. I can only assume as the adventure moves on, the dungeons become larger with more minions and what not, creating lengthier game sessions.
I guess there isn’t much else to say about Dungeon Saga. Other minor points:
· The thick card tiles are sturdy and printed well with a lot of detail
· The plastic clips that hold the tiles together aren’t super tight which is both good and bad. Good in that the titles will last a lot longer as the clips don’t tear at the card tiles, bad in that moving the dungeon about can shift rooms annoyingly.
· Tiles in the Quest book don’t all look identical to the physical tiles (spent a few minutes searching for a tile that didn’t exist and just used a tile of the same shape instead).
· As the overlord player, it may have been better to include a couple more minion types. Currently with the main game there are only 7 different minions. There ARE boss monsters and evil hero dudes, but they are quest specific. I assume more minions will appear in future expansion.
· The game can be started and played without rules studying!
So I’ll conclude.
Dungeon Saga is a fantastic dungeon crawler. It works with as little as two players and scales up to five (I had two more people join in the last couple of adventures during the review, for a total of four players, and it worked a treat). The more players you have the better. Playing as the overlord I noticed a large amount of communication between heroes as they assessed the current situation and attempted to coordinate their actions. One of the heroes wasn’t even a fan of tabletop games and was able to get into the spirit, pick up the rules quickly and enjoy the game just as much as the others.
If you have a regular gaming group, then this is definitely one for the collection.
Dungeon Saga: The Dwarf Kings Quest Website and Online Store.
The game is available for ~$105 AUD.