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Building A Better Dungeon Crawl
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.
> 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.
Most board game attempts at being either Diablo or an RPG fail to achieve half the fun of either.
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.
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.
Keeping track of scores of cards is exhausting.
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.
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).
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.