As a former Dungeons and Dragons player, I naturally gravitate to dungeon crawlers. It’s one of the few things I miss from my days of playing RPGs; descending into the depths, slinging some dice, and killing some monsters. While there aren’t any shortages of massively produced, minis filled dungeon crawlers (Middara, Gloomhaven), there aren’t too many small footprint, portable ones. And that’s where Deck Box Dungeons comes in. Publisher Ariah Studios has attempted to bring a dungeon crawler experience that should appeal to the gamer on the go. Did they succeed? Let’s find out.
Deck Box Dungeons is a game that’s really easy to sit down and start playing once you know the rules (more on that later). First though, every player needs to build their character. Players choose a character to use, a weapon, and a skill card. There are a nice variety of each, and any can be mixed and matched.
To play the game, players will need to first fire up the free app. The app handles the quest rules, randomly generating a map, and the contents of each new room (monsters, traps, challenges, etc…)
On a player’s turn, they get two actions. Usually these are moving your speed, attacking, or interacting with something in the dungeon. Combat, either ranged or melee, is handled via standard 6-sided dice. A player rolls a number of them based on their weapon value, adds any bonuses, and every natural or modified 6 is a hit. Monsters then roll a d6 and add their defense bonus, any 6 will cancel out a hit (but not a hit that was a natural 6).
Every hit also generates energy for the hero. Energy is used to activate character skills. When a monster is killed, its die is rolled and the player gets that much treasure, which can be used to buy one-time use loot.
After all players have taken a turn, any monsters will activate. They move and attack based on the rules on their monster card. Their attacks work the same way, except that their natural 6s aren’t automatic hits.
Play continues in this manner until either all the heroes are dead, or the players have accomplished the quest goals.
For such small and unassuming packaging, Deck Box Dungeons sure packs in a lot of game play. I was pleasantly surprised with not only the diverse character creation, but the variety in the quests as well.
While creating a character is quick, there are many options for players to choose from. It’s easy to make the standard fantasy tropes (meat shield, ranged fighter, sneaky guy, etc…), but players can also go off in a new direction. Want a chain sword wielding healer? A berserker mage with a frost staff? Go for it. The weapons and skill cards line up with the hero stats and modify each other. It’s a really clever system that we thoroughly enjoyed.
For the game play, the simple move and attack is the bread and butter of this game. Many rooms are populated with hordes of baddies for the heroes to kill. Yet the app also does a good job of throwing in challenge rooms as well, either forcing players to perform combat with some kind of handicap, or make skill checks instead of fighting bad guys. This was a nice touch and easily helped prevent the game from getting stale.
Speaking of combat, while the dice system works well, I’ve never been a big fan of the “roll for defense” genre. I’ve found it can bog things down too much (I roll for attack, hit, now you roll for its defense, repeat), and much preferred a more streamlined system of just trying to hit a target number. Still, most of my fellow players had no issues with it, so maybe I’m just finicky.
Yet as much as I’ve been enjoying Deck Box Dungeons, and I have been, I do have to say that the rulebook is a bit of a hot mess. To the designers’ credit, he’s regularly responding to questions and updating the online rulebook. Yet the book that comes with the game might as well be tossed in the bin, as it’s already out of date. However even the updated, online rulebook needs work. Ariah Studios really needs to have this one either blind playtested or sent to a professional rulebook editor, because there are still questions we had to use are best judgment on.
Finally, I know some people still abhor digital apps integrated with their board games (crazy, right?), but I found that the app for Deck Box Dungeons does its job without getting the way. While it definitely feels a bit barebones (especially compared to other gaming apps), it still is able to randomize the rooms and populate them for you with only a few taps here and there. There are several quests in the app, all which have a nice diverse feeling to them and seems to be regularly updated with patches and new content.
Deck Box Dungeons was the dungeon crawler I never knew I wanted or needed, but I’m glad I stumbled across it (crawled across it?). It’s actually a really good dungeon crawl experience in a tight, portable package. It’s perfect for the gamer on the go, as it easily fits into a bag or coat pocket. Even its table presence isn’t that bad, so it would make a great to bring to your local brewpub.
Personally, I’m looking forward to future expansions as more monster variety would be a welcome change. Despite the issue with the rulebook, overall Deck Box Dungeons has carved out a place for itself in an extremely crowded genre and should be on the shelf of any fans of the dungeon crawler experience.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A clever take on the dungeon crawl genre that’s perfect for the gamer on the go.
• Rulebook is a mess
• Not a big fan of “roll for defense”