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Dungeon Degenerates

Dungeon Degenerates

Game Information

Year Published

Dungeon Degenerates: Hand of Doom takes place in the Dark Fantasy Realm of the decaying Eastern Provinces of the Würstreich. Players take escaped criminal adventurers on unsavory missions through four distinct regions, each with their own monsters & encounters. As the players explore the Würstreich, danger levels rise continuously across the map. Players must complete their mission before the Hand of Doom descends on the board, unleashing evil magic on the land.

Dungeon Degenerates is for 1-4 players co-op. Players can form parties or split up throughout the game at will; there is no obligation to stick together. Game play is 1-3 hours based on mission. Dungeon Degenerates has an epic RPG campaign feel in an open world sandbox board game, and you bring your experience & items from previous missions. There are multiple missions & objectives of varying difficulty with multiple ways to approach each mission. Dungeon Degenerates is set in a cohesive & fixed world with multiple distinct regions which feature unique encounters & thematic monsters. Encounters allow multiple interaction choices; you do not have to fight everyone you see. Play features an open experience system allowing for character customization with new skills. You are always in danger - the town is not an artificial safe zone - combat is dangerous. There are various modes of travel - players cooperate to choose their route & pace, or split up & fend for themselves. Dungeon Degenerates features streamlined combat with tactical depth; each player rolls dice only once on their turn, using standard 6-sided dice only. There are over 100 monsters with unique abilities & artwork.

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We can't stop here. This is bat country.
Some context. I'm not a Kickstarter backer, so no, my voice isn't of one who tasted the kool aid. I was a skeptic & got the game at retail. I've played a lot of adventure games and this one has been a singular experience.

For anyone who plays adventure games and wants a system that tells uniquely gonzo & evocative stories rather than the usual generic fantasy stuff, this game is a total treat. The art style is fantastic, the combat system has just enough depth to provide some fun decision making during a fight but streamlined enough to not get too bogged down in round-by-round minutiae, and the chain of missions that you play during a campaign (usually of 3-4 games) offers some satisfying branching that will let you play the game in surprisingly different ways at times. It's actually difficult to review in *too* much detail without spoiling some of the things that can happen.

The rulebook is pretty well laid out but does require a few revisits as you play for the first time, partly because the game is fairly unique in how it implements some of its systems, namely the combat, which condenses attack hits & misses, defense hits & misses, offensive damage and defensive absorption, into a single roll of 5 (sometimes 6) color-coded dice. Between combat you'll be flipping encounter/event cards, decreasing danger levels Pandemic-style to prevent locations from tilting beyond danger level 6 which causes a Doom timer to increase (& other bad things to happen), leveling up towns to give you more cards to buy in them, using your XP to buy skills & abilities from a generous selection that's always available whether you're in town or not, and generally chasing down whatever objective is laid out for your current mission, though you're usually given a few ways to do it or several different objectives to choose from.

Even the first mission gives you several different choices as the jailer offers to let you out if you'll do him a favor and deliver a sensitive "package" to a friend of his. You can turn him down & fight him, then proceed with the "Loot & Pillage" mission which involves what you think it would, or take him up on his offer and go retrieve what turns out to be a Soothsayer's Head. Yep, a severed head, and it's infected. And even if you do choose to go pick this thing up, you can choose to not deliver it to the jailer's colleague at all (which would award you a good amount of gold) but take it to the place where the head itself is begging you to go, if one of your players is MAG(ic) 7 or a Puritan and can understand what the head is saying. Or you can drop it off with some village elders, who'll task you to do something else with it. If you do decide to pick this thing up, you'll have a 50/50 chance of getting infected. This infection will also direct your choices at the end of the mission, since the affected party member will begin to hear the siren call of his/her new master in the Mountains of Madness... which incidentally will only be accessible to you if you have a status effect (fatigued, poisoned, blessed, exalted, any other f'ed up state) because it's a "metaphysical" space. Not status effect...ed? You'll need to score some drugs in the next mission before trying to enter. From there you can kill or follow this master and... either option carries some cool rewards & outcomes so I'll stop spoiling it. :P

So the "adventure" side of this thing carries some serious flavor and variety. The characters also play very differently, ranging from your more typical magey/witchy peoples, to a kid who can dish out crazy amounts of damage in Lycanthrope form at the cost of gradually damaging herself, to a "witch smeller" who brandishes a gun with swappable ammo types and can, depending on her skill loadout, intimidate Heretic enemies or be immune to the Ambush effect if the enemies are witches/heretics, or can brand them with an iron and remove their special abilities, etc, etc, etc.

And while the butterfly effects of decisions in this game can lead to some entertaining & convoluted outcomes, the decisions themselves often aren't too complex & usually pretty binary. It's often a decision between traveling boldly or cautiously, fighting in an assault or guarded stance (which makes the 5 dice mean different things), choosing who gets a kill, whether or not to fast travel, whether or not to rest (and skillup). These are wrapped in so many paths & outcomes, customizable skills, & lots & lots of combat, that their repercussions become more complex & rich over time as your mission evolves and your characters gain more abilities and effects from various loot & consumables.

Speaking of consumables... these offer decisions as well and eshew the tired "health potion" trope. There are purchasable skills such as Gourmet which allow you to eat your kills. If you can keep it down with a CON(stitution) test, you'll get some healing, otherwise you might get some side effects from stuff like goblin flesh. Conversely, there are also food items such as the Luncheon Truncheon which can be eaten as a sausage or wielded as a pretty damned effective weapon or as bait ;)

Overall, I was stunned by how rich, varied, and evocative this game is. It's certainly not for everyone, in the tenor of its adventures, its art style, its sometimes archaic skill check system, RNG events, and so forth. It's also super combat-heavy, with combat encounters happening nearly every turn unless you're sitting in a town or luck out during the danger card flip. But the creators of this thing clearly put a lot of (oftentimes brilliant) design into its mechanisms and gameplay, which I honestly was not expecting until I decided to check it out for myself. I get a real sense of a living, breathing, intricately weird world when playing this, and I haven't experienced that with any other adventure system.

So... if you're an adventure game fan (things like Talisman, Runebound, or the Arkham/Eldritch horror games), take a close look at this one & lurk its forums. It's not getting a ton of buzz because it's independently published and this game's approach to the genre is a bit unique but I'm personally glad that I stumbled across it. Definite keeper for me, to the point where I will probably start getting rid of some of my other adventure games. They are no longer in the same league.
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Anna says it's somewhere between Día de Muertos and "just drugs." Either way, it's 100% uncut square repellent.

It's not merely an "alternative gaming experience"—it's utterly unique. I'm a huge fan of the the "roll some dice, pull a card, have crap happen" family of games and own many of them; DD is in its own category. There's nothing like it, and there won't ever be anything else like it. What you have here is a deeply detailed, living world wedded to a damn fine game engine. I was initially drawn in by the unalloyed vision of the art—which of course made me instantaneously suspicious of the game itself (so many pretty morons stumbling out of Kickstarter these days) but after reading the rules I was cautiously optimistic.

Then I played it.

And I'll never be the same again.

After 3 plays: Finally started our campaign, contracting the Fungal Parasite and delivering the Soothsayer's Head to the warlocks at the Stone Circle—the cat is sick from licking the head clean... Absolutely loving this boardgame-inflected RPG and the small stories it tells. Everyone's champing at the bit for the next play...

...where we murdered fools and did drugs and became Lord Scrott's bitch.


After 5 plays: A party will typically run into more than one monster at a time—you're essentially running into a whole party of monsters! We love laying them out and coming up with the emergent narrative of why they're together and what they're up to. With a good shuffle you'll never see the same party twice, making every encounter feel unique (even if you've murdered that one guy before).

And so far we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the loot deck.

Bottom line: If the art speaks to you and you like this kind of game, GET IT. It's milk for the motherless.
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