Welcome to the Dungeon Review

andysmAndrew:  Originally released by Oink Games (purveyors of fine games in tiny boxes) as Dungeon of Mandom in Japan, Welcome to Dungeon is a recent release by IELLO.  This small box game (though slightly larger than a typical Oink title) is designed to play 2-4 players in under 30 minutes.

jessmJess:  Really, 30 minutes?  That seems like a lot, actually.

andysmAndrew:  Yeah, it can be played in half that time, if people are decisive.

So come with us as we check out this neat little game that manages to combine push-your-luck, bluffing, and just a little bit of take-that into a very tight package!

Seriously, it’s a small box. Not as small as most Oink Games, but IELLO managed to avoid cramming too much dead space into this one, and we love them for it!

andysmAndrew:  I love a good dungeon crawl.  Delving into the dark unknown, squaring off against monsters, looking for treasure…I really like the idea of a fearless adventurer, decked out in her gear, setting herself against the oncoming darkness.

jessmJess:  But what if I told you we were leaving the torches behind this time?

andysmAndrew:  …Why would we do that?

jessmJess:  What’s wrong?  Unwilling to test your courage in the dark?  Chicken?

andysmAndrew:  Dire chicken, if anything.  I’ll draw.

Each round of Welcome to the Dungeon is played over two phases.  In the first phase, one brave hero (chosen from 4 unique characters) will approach the unexplored dungeon.  Each player, in turn, will decide to either draw a dungeon card or pass.  If you pass, you’re out for the whole rest of the round – no card drawing or dungeon exploring for you, no risk of danger…or chance at glory.

If you want to stay in, though, you must draw.   Once drawn, each dungeon card (which depict monsters of various strengths, eager to eviscerate) is either added to the dungeon to increase the danger, or set aside.

However, each time a player draws but does not add a monster to the dungeon, a single piece of the hero’s equipment must be sacrificed.  Don’t like the look of that stone golem?  Well, you can avoid adding it to the dungeon, but now you have to decide what gear to sacrifice – the grail, which automatically destroys even-numbered monsters?  Maybe the shield, which brings 3 bonus hit points?  Or will you set aside the Dragon Spear, and pray it is not you who faces the dragon?

Decked out with gear, this Warrior is a match for anything the dungeon has to throw at him...but that will change as you start stripping him of his equipment.
Decked out with gear (represented by nice, chunky tiles), this Warrior is a match for anything the dungeon has to throw at him…but that will change as you start stripping him of his equipment.

Or maybe, just maybe, you know the dragon is in there.  Maybe you put it there yourself.  And the card you are secretly omitting from the dungeon at the cost of the fabled Dragon Spear is not some unbeatable monstrosity, but rather a lowly goblin.  Why would you do that?

jessmJess:  Yeah, seriously, what kind of a monster sends a hero into a dungeon, knowing that there are unbeatable demons and dragons and stuff in there?

andysmAndrew:  Because only one player will actually go in there, to face the amassed monsters.  And maybe I don’t plan on being that player…why, do you suddenly want to bail?

jessmJess:  Hah!  Unlikely!  I laugh in the face of danger!  I did it just now, in case you didn’t notice!

The Rogue plays very differently than the warrior, though she is no less dangerous.
The Rogue plays very differently than the warrior, though she is no less dangerous.

That’s right; only one player actually takes control of the hero and tests the dangers of the dungeon.  The rest will sit back and watch as the single hero, with whatever gear she has left, flips through the Dungeon deck one monster at a time, hoping to make it through before running out of Hit Points.

If she succeeds, then she gains a Success card; 2 of those will win you the game.  If she fails, though, she suffers a defeat, and 2 of those put you out of the game permanently.

What Welcome to the Dungeon is, and what it may not seem to be at first, is a bluffing game.  Each card you add to the dungeon gives you a little piece of information about what the hero will face in there.  Each card you omit comes at the cost of a precious piece of gear.  So each player is deciding, draw by draw, how dangerous they want to make the dungeon.  What cards you are adding or omitting are secret, but what gear you are sacrificing is not, giving players some clue as to your strategy…or what you want them to think of your strategy.

Because at any time, you can pass, removing yourself from the round.  Whatever horrors you have tucked into the dungeon are for another player to face.  And any gear you have removed from the hero remains unavailable.  It is easy to cripple the hero, stack the dungeon, and sit back and laugh while your opponents flounder in its depths.

Except for one thing.  If everyone passes but you, you must go in.  So if you tip your hand too soon, revealing your intention to scuttle the hero’s chances, then everyone else may just pass on their turns, leaving you to face the challenge you yourself have built.

A small taste of the monsters which may await you.  That dragon will ruin anyone's day, but don't underestimate the weaker, more prolific foes
A small taste of the monsters which may await you. That dragon will ruin anyone’s day, but don’t underestimate the weaker, more prolific foes.  Of course, if you have the Dragon Spear or the Cloak of Invisibility, that Dragon doesn’t stand a chance.

jessmJess:  So, really, it’s a game of chicken.  How far can you push the dungeon deck before you bail?  Can you intimidate the other players out of the running before they do too much damage?  What if you pass too soon, leaving the dungeon weak and the hero strong?

andysmAndrew:  It adds great tension on those last few card draws, as players who haven’t bailed all hang on to see who will blink first, showing themselves to be gutless cowards.

jessmJess:  Right.  But sometimes, blinking is the best thing you can do.  Pass.

andysmAndrew:  …Ah, dang it.

jessmJess:  Ah, don’t be such a dire chicken.  I’m sure those vampires will be nice to you.

One of the things that makes Welcome to the Dungeon really cool is the four different heroes to choose from.  Each hero has unique equipment, meaning that the strategy for the Barbarian, who is great at breaking golems and surviving critical injuries, is very different than the strategy for the Wizard, who can polymorph his foes and has a unique victory condition.

The art throughout the game is quality, and the tiles for each hero’s gear are really nice and solid.  My only complaint, components-wise, is that they should have included some counters to keep track of life totals, but the omission is minimal and easily fixed.

Four heroes, each with a unique set of gear, lead to some excellent, if light, replay value.
Four heroes, each with a unique set of gear, lead to some excellent, if light, replay value.

Welcome to the Dungeon is a solid little filler game.  It has a unique combination of gameplay elements, bringing together bluffing and luck-driven gameplay with just the right amount of ‘take that’ potential.  We like it because it’s fast, light, and portable, and, despite the presence of player elimination (which we really dislike), it is quick enough to never overstay its welcome.

We actually found that it works better at 2 players than at 4, with 3 being a reasonable middle ground; that’s pretty rare for a bluffing game.  However, it scales well no matter what.

If Welcome to the Dungeon sounds like your kind of crawl, you can grab it here!


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