If your idea of a good time is a sack full of unrelated stolen items and a locked door, do I have good news for you.
I'm primarily a solo gamer nowadays having had our group break up, and I've always loved games like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and the like - games that rely on lateral thinking and let me use my brains to unpick a story. And I'm a text adventure/point 'n click junkie from wayyyyyy back, devouring Infocom and modern text adventures to this day, and regularly replaying old LucasArts and Sierra classics like Day of the Tentacle and Gabriel Knight. It's no exaggeration to say that I've been chasing this particular dragon in a tactile, boardgame format for a long time.
Kosmos' EXIT series was OK, but ultimately it relied on obtuse escape room bullshit that swung wildly between "clever" and "to hell with this nonsense", and although I liked some of its fourth-wall breaking stuff it always came down to feeling like a arbitrary box of brain teasers, with no real narrative. (Arguably, the DECKSCAPE series does the escape room thing better, if only because it's entirely card-based and is geared more towards everyone being useful even if they're not apt at these sorts of games.)
T.I.M.E. Stories - in its better scenarios - was more in tune with what I was looking for, but ultimately the time factor and having to replay entire sections was just too punitive.
7th Continent came thiiiiiiiiis close to being great, but I found it too long and too wrapped up in its survival mechanics to really let me feel free to explore and discover the story.
So, I'm kind of the target audience for an Adventure Game Game. I took a fifteen dollar flyer on The Dungeon and... it's... kind of perfect for me?
It's still, like the EXIT series, at its core a card- and booklet-based game, but now instead of random math and geometry puzzles there's an actual narrative to go along with it. Like any true adventure game, the focus is on A) picking up anything that isn't nailed down in what can only be described as a massive campaign of petty theft, B) if it is nailed down, stealing a hammer to remove the nails, and C) combining said loot to solve puzzles to access previously locked areas.
I was skeptical at first that this would be any different than an escape room game, but the difference here is made by a paragraph booklet (a mechanic I still maintain is terrific at delivering guided agency and narrative cohesion when done well, and if you don't believe me then I've got several copies of Legacy of Dragonholt and Ambush! I'll gladly cram down your throat). Sure, you can have a free app read you the text instead of looking it up, but come on now. Don't be that person. Pick up the booklet, flip to the graf like you know you want to, and read it aloud even if you're playing alone. It's the right thing to do.
First off, it enables a choose-your-own-adventure type of pathing, where decisions can be made that allow for multiple solutions to a particular problem or goal. And there's real, honest-to-God thinking required that rewards the occasional leap in logic; I held on to one item for the longest time, convinced it would pay off in the end, and was delighted when I found that thanks to a narrative decision I made partly out of spite it afforded me a path to a card that helped me in the finale. This is real adventure game stuff, folks.
Second, it affords room narratively for things like NPCs, backtracking, red herrings, the game responding to decisions you've made, and the satisfaction of finally having the spark of inspiration solve a location puzzle that's been gnawing at you since you first encountered it. Even better, because there's an actual story and characters you play as, it encourages light role-playing. In one instance, one of my characters had gotten herself afflicted with "autophobia", meaning she couldn't explore a location or interact with something unless she was in a room with another character. The opportunity presented itself to have her open the next location, which by the rules she could have done, but it didn't feel right given her condition. I had the other character open it, and boy did I end up regretting it mechanically, but story-wise it felt right, and that made the whole thing worth it.
Oh, and there's stuff you won't see, which is great.
You heard me right. Someone - I want to say Warren Spector, designer of my favorite computer game of all time, Deus Ex - once said that in order to build a truly weighty, convincing game world you need to build stuff the player will never see, because it's that locking off of content that gives a decision weight and consequence. I couldn't agree more, and after I'd finished The Dungeon I had about a dozen unrevealed cards - and many more unread paragraphs that I'd not encountered despite "winning" the game. Even if I don't replay the game - and I probably won't, as I did a decent job with the win and was satisfied with the ending I got - it gives me faith in the system design and makes me want to play the next in the series even more. Especially as the game is remarkably bug-free, something hard to accomplish with paragraph games.
It's not particularly difficult - I burned through the whole game in about 3 hours, which is right about where a boardgame interpretation like this should land before attention wanes - but it did everything I hoped it would do. You can't really "lose" the game, but you can feel terrible about yourself for the ending you get. And I suspect each game in the series is basically a one-and-done, but I'm willing to plunk down 15 or 20 bucks for a well-told, engaging story.
Another plus: although this is a fantasy setting in this installment, it's not tired orcs-n-elves nonsense, as the focus is squarely on your party (solo players run two characters, but it's not a hardship in the least, believe me) trying to escape a dungeon for reasons that are more surprising than you'd think. As someone who would rather shove a yardstick through my eye than kill another goblin, I appreciated that the game didn't bother to shoehorn in any fight mechanics, stats, or other RPG bait.
This is truly the first boardgame I've played that really does feel like a straight up Adventure Game, with all the baggage that carries with it. It took me back to the days of Sam n' Max Hit the Road, Monkey Island, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. It's relaxing, low-stress, and fun, in a way that escape room games typically aren't. I've got the next in the series, MONOCHROME, INC. which looks like it's about corporate espionage, so I'm hoping for a similar experience there, though I've seen some kvetching about the movement mechanic so far. Do I care?
Hells, no. I've got a sack full of items to combine, a door I can't open, all the time in the world, and I'm in heaven.