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Building A Better Dungeon Crawl

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29 Jul 2019 00:00 #300203 by san il defanso
Most games in this genre make an attempt to recreate...

I should really like dungeon crawl board games. I like D&D, I like fighting monsters, and I love collecting sweet, sweet loot. But in spite of all those predelictions, I have played few dungeon crawling board games that I have loved. As I've become more involved both in D&D and in playing classic computer RPGs, I've wondered why most dungeon crawling board games have left me cold.

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29 Jul 2019 12:45 - 29 Jul 2019 15:27 #300204 by eclectic_lee
Claustrophobia is the quintessential old school, combat dungeon crawler; it captures the dread sense of survival really well. Descent and Imperial Assault are stalwarts of the genre which add good cooperateive, situational play. As you stated, any discussion of dungeon crawlers must include Gloomhaven; its Euro-inspired design shows in the tactical game play plus it excels at campaign gaming. All of these lack some of what you mentioned in your article, though. So regarding your ideas for improvement, here are some worthy candidates:

> Shadows of Brimstone handles player development well in a Cthulhu-inspired wild west theme. I can think of no other game that offers such unique and strange player enhancements.

> Legends Untold looks like a promising system, but I haven't tested it out yet. The hype is that's it's "as deep as an rpg, as fast as a card game".

> 7th Continent, which might be considered more as an adventure-style game, does exploration and item accrual really well. It's an ambitious choose-your-own-adventure style of game play.

> Mage Knight is a cross between a Euro and a crawl, and it's still my favorite of the bunch. It prioritizes optimization to play well, yet still feels like an immersive dungeon crawl experience.
Last edit: 29 Jul 2019 15:27 by eclectic_lee.
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29 Jul 2019 13:16 #300207 by Michael Barnes
Dungeonquest remains the perfect and only essential dungeon crawl board game.
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29 Jul 2019 13:36 #300210 by Vysetron
Dungeonquest understands what makes dungeon crawling fun on a base level and delivers on exactly that with nothing to get in the way. Violence, loot, exploring, and so very many ways to die.

Most board game attempts at being either Diablo or an RPG fail to achieve half the fun of either.

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29 Jul 2019 14:24 #300216 by Shellhead
Great topic, San. Addressing your points:

1. Yes, this. These campaign dungeon crawl boardgames totally miss the point, imo. If you can commit to a campaign, you might as well play a real rpg. Otherwise, the campaign format ends up turning an otherwise decent boardgame into a hassle to set up and take down, without ultimately adding to the entertainment value.

2. Any satisfactory character generation system is probably going to add too much time to your single-session boardgame, and the resulting characters will still likely conform to various generic dungeoncrawl stereotypes, like brawny fighter or fireball-throwing wizard.

3. It's possible to de-emphasize combat by adding in traps, as long as they are quick to resolve. Puzzle challenges might be possible, and that was one experimental aspect of Mansions of Madness that didn't quite work. Their puzzles were too easy for most players and nearly impossible for the other players. But adding in social alternatives to combat just won't work in your single-session dungeon crawl boardgame. Either you need a DM player role who isn't playing for the win (and therefore not really playing a boardgame), or more likely an additional non-combat resolution system for the game. It's still not going to feel even remotely like role-playing in an rpg and is basically missing an essential difference in format.

4. Loot combos sound like a good idea, but I don't think that's something that most people are missing when they play a dungeon crawl boardgame.

As far as positive suggestions for dungeon crawl games to play, I only have two:

1. Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower is a pretty solid dungeon crawl boardgame. There is an eight-session campaign, but you can easily play any one of the eight as a standalone adventure in roughly two hours. All the loot consists of single-use items, but there is a decent mechanic that allows for leveling up skills even within a single session.

2. Asteroid is an extremely out-of-print 1980 boardgame from Game Designers Workshop (original publisher of the Traveller rpg) that does a pretty decent dungeon crawl that happens to be in a science-fiction setting. There is exploration, breaking down doors, ranged and melee combat, and even a few cool pieces of loot and a computer hacking mechanic.

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29 Jul 2019 15:40 - 29 Jul 2019 17:33 #300218 by Jackwraith
Great piece, Nate.

My issue with dungeon crawls is one that you cite: no one wants to play a campaign. I think Descent 2nd Ed. was a great idea, but I couldn't get people to commit because I'm hanging around a bunch of board gamers, not RPGers. That's part of why I'm content with The Others as the lone dungeon crawl in the house. If people want to play consecutive scenarios, that's an option, but they're all perfectly fine as one-offs, as well. Meanwhile, there's a good selection of villains, each of whom change the game tactics, a lot of loot, and a huge variety of characters and team compositions.

I haven't played Gloomhaven, either, although I'd like to try.
Last edit: 29 Jul 2019 17:33 by Jackwraith.
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29 Jul 2019 17:17 #300227 by Space Ghost
I don't think campaigns are necessarily bad...I think that we have overcomplicated it. Just like Dungeonquest captures all that we need in most dungeon crawls, I think that Heroquest captures what we need in a campaign. Mostly growth through loot...and you keep track of stuff on a piece of paper (the store is just on the box insert).

Keeping track of scores of cards is exhausting.
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29 Jul 2019 18:58 #300235 by mtagge
A topic after my heart, and quite a complicated one. First of all I would ditch the term dungeon crawler and instead term it a high adventure. I think Runebound 3E has more in common with Castle Ravenloft than not. And what about Heroes of Terrinoth where the opening scenario has the adventure move from tavern to town to forest? I think what I refer to as "dungeon crawler" is more about having a single character you control that builds in power throughout the adventure/campaign, be it from items or skills.

As for embrace the single session I'm torn. I have Warhammer Question ACG and Heroes of Terrinoth. The main difference is the campaign in WQACG versus the single session in HoT. My family just loves WQACG and it is entirely because of the campaign even though HoT comes with much more content and customization out of the box with it's characcter/class system. Same thing with Imperial Assault, I can play skirmish (both 1v1 and XvAPP now with the new raid released) or campaign (again 4v1 and 4vAPP). We prefer the commitment of the campaign.

The Embrace loot combos bit is where I think you hit a home run. We've been doing Runebound 3E every Sat/Sun (because the kids demand it) and the difficulty for many of the scenarios is very high. In order to win you have to create a build that feels like cheating. Playing coop, we passed skills to one character that could use might for every check regardless of type, could take any check in place of another party member, and we funneled bonus might items to them. It was a blast! Another time one character had a innate skill that when he receives a trophy he can move his mystic value immediately, we got a party skill that let us give trophies to any party member instead of the acting, and another character could take adventure actions at a cost of 1 instead of 2 (a character gets three actions total). We had that character take three combat actions in a single turn. Again a blast! Same thing happened with Warhammer Quest ACG versus Heroes of Terrinoth. When the Elf gets the trap kit we find ways to manipulate the battle to abuse that. HoT doesn't have items and so it lacks that feel, every ability you have at the start of the session you have at the end, bleech. A big part of the game is upgrading the skill to match the item you picked up. In HoT each class has to choose one of two upgrade paths, however since each scenario is single shot there is usually a correct answer if you want to win (swarm adventure? pick the multi-target class! big boss at the end? single target! DUH!!!) which leaves me feeling unfulfilled (of course in the two low difficulty scenarios pick whatever you want). Who cares if we abuse the system and start nuking things, we are having a blast and everyone has an equal opportunity to do so.

Honestly, given your article I think you want Runebound 3E with co-op.
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29 Jul 2019 19:01 #300237 by mtagge

Space Ghost wrote: I don't think campaigns are necessarily bad...I think that we have overcomplicated it. Just like Dungeonquest captures all that we need in most dungeon crawls, I think that Heroquest captures what we need in a campaign. Mostly growth through loot...and you keep track of stuff on a piece of paper (the store is just on the box insert).

Keeping track of scores of cards is exhausting.

Shadows over Brimstone had this problem bad. Too much bookkeeping. However making everything cards would add significant bloat to a game that already took up an entire car trunk (my friend had a smaller car).

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29 Jul 2019 20:56 #300241 by hotseatgames
I would much rather have a board game be single session, zero to hero, than a campaign. I see the benefits of campaigns, and have even made them, but my group isn't built for them.

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29 Jul 2019 21:03 #300242 by san il defanso
A lot of these suggestions would probably be better served in individual games. Like, a game that focuses all on loot combos, or a campaign where character customization is the big selling point.

We sometimes rail against abstraction, but that's another big strength of board games. That's why I think my favorite idea here is the game where you build a character as part of the game, then advance them through highly abstracted adventurers. Roll Player came close, but it left out the adventure part entirely. Trust me, every roleplayer knows what it's like to make a character and never use them. We don't need a game that does it for us.
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30 Jul 2019 05:59 - 30 Jul 2019 06:01 #300254 by Sevej
I like campaigns in my dungeon crawl. It's not a must, but I had great experience with Descent 2nd edition. As someone said, a campaign isn't a necessarily a bad thing. A 45 minute game, with 3 missions campaign would work great. Something like random prologue, middle & climax.

I agree with the above not to make it Diablo, or RPG, or traditional computer dungeon crawler. I think board game's best strength is turn-based, puzzle like crawl, so Gloomhaven is a step in the right direction.

I don't find board game is a great medium for exploration, so I'm fine with map being revealed with some hidden elements, just to make the game smoother.

Character customization is a must, but I think most crawlers are too complex. Something like Zombicide is great. Descent is good, but at the end game you just have way too much skills.

I don't think it's necessary to move out from combat. I really have not found anything, outside combat, in a dungeon crawler, that isn't just a series of test. I like to keep it simple, with combat. Make it puzzly combat so it's not all straightforward.

What I'd like to see, is a fully co op dungeon crawler, with enemy spawns containing multiple enemy stereotypes, and have them solve action as a group instead of single figures. Monster group made of 2 fighters with 1 archer? Automatically block 2 frontliners and have 1 fighter go directly to backliner. Something like that.
Last edit: 30 Jul 2019 06:01 by Sevej.

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29 Aug 2019 11:23 #301212 by KarlB
A few upcoming games I know of that address some of your ideas.

Altar Quest appears to be very focused on the single session experience. In fact that's why I decided not to get it because I'm more interested in character/loot progression. But it looks like a fine game.

While not a traditional dungeon crawler I've heard Etherfields has systems for talking your way out of encounters with NPCs

Sanctum from CGE appears to be all about the loot and very inspired by Diablo. I didn't get to play it at Gen Con but I was a little concerned that there didn't appear to be much of a dungeon experience going on with what I could see on the table.
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29 Aug 2019 23:28 #301234 by jason10mm
As much as i want to love a big chunky dungeon crawler I think the better implementations are games like Clank or Thunderstone where the dungeon crawling is abstracted a bit to focus more on loot or the actual loot grab element. That FFG cyberpunk push your luck card game by Donald X was similar.

Keep the rules simple, dont get bogged down in movement, line of sight, and how many actions you can take. Focus on the fighting, the looting, or the level progression. Trying to do too much is probably the downfall of most of these games.
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30 Aug 2019 07:33 #301238 by Erik Twice
One of my problems with "dungeon crawls" is that they are one of those incestuous genres where games just do the same thing over and over with little tweaks without addressing the main problem I have with the game, which is that they are games of combat in which combat is boring. Seriously, fighting 5 goblins is very boring and has very few decisions in every game of the genre I've ever played.

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