There is no question that the roll and write genre is on fire right now. I’ve lost track of how many roll and writes have passed through BGQ reviewer’s hands this year, but it’s easily the most of any year. Yet if the game is clever, fun, and gives us something new, there is always room for another!
Which brings us to today’s review of Dungeon Academy from The OP. Dungeon Academy tasks players with quickly finding a way through a maze of dice, defeating monsters along the way. Is this the next roll and write that people will be clamoring to add to their collection? Let’s find out.
Each player in Dungeon Academy starts with a unique character and a specific amount of health and mana. At the start of the round, the dice are placed in the dungeon box and shaken. On a count of go, the lid is lifted and each player is tasked with finding a way in and out of the dungeon.
Players do so by drawing a line on their player sheet matching the path through the dungeon on the dice. If a player crosses a health or mana potion, they will gain a matching token. If they cross over a monster, they must spend matching health or mana (big monsters require two health/mana). Once a player is finished, they grab the topmost exit card.
Players then check their work to make sure they didn’t make a mistake and run out of health or mana. If all was good, they then can score one of the 4 categories at the bottom of their player sheet. These earn points for monsters killed of a specific color or size.
Finally, players draft one loot card in the order in which they finished the dungeon. The dice are then randomized for the next round (with a special die being swapped in during rounds 2 and 4).
After 4 rounds, the player with the most points wins.
Dungeon Academy reminds me of a lot of the old roll and write game Boggle. Yet instead of tracing a path of letters to form a word, players are finding a path through the dungeon. While I was never a big fan of Boggle, I think the mechanic adapts really nicely for Dungeon Academy as the game definitely requires a good amount of mental juggling. Learning to play is fairly simple, and the 16 dice can really inject a lot of variety into each round.
This is further enhanced by the two special dice that get added in. These do a really good job of stopping the rounds from being too repetitive. And this is all added on to the unique characters players can start with (10 in all) and the 20 loot cards. Overall I thought that game designer Julian Allain did a nice job of giving Dungeon Academy some solid replay value.
One of the interesting things about Dungeon Academy is that, despite the light rules, there are actually some tough decisions to be made during the quick rounds. Since this is a real-time game, you are going to want to trace your path as quickly as possible. That’s because you want to be the first to grab the loot cards as some are clearly better than others. Yet speeding too quickly can allow for mistakes or sub-optimal moves. Dying in the dungeon will mean loss of points, and not choosing a good path could mean that even though you score, it might only be 1-2 points.
Then there is your health and mana to consider. Interestingly, they don’t regenerate between rounds. So while round 1 is simple, from then on you have to make sure you not only have enough life and mana to finish the round but also to have some to work with at the start of the round. There is no guarantee that health/mana potions will be rolled or abundant enough.
The biggest knock against Dungeon Academy is that some people are going to be turned off by the real-time nature of the game. You really do have to process a lot of options quickly because not only is the game head-to-head, its also timed. While the game isn’t as frantic as something like Paramedics: Clear!, it definitely is going to put players under pressure to finish quickly.
Dungeon Academy does a nice job innovating in a genre that’s chock full of roll a die, write a number. It’s nice to see designers taking a popular style and trying something different. We had a lot of fun with this one and appreciated the amount of replay value considering it’s a light, 20-minute roll and write. While the real-time nature is probably going to turn away some people, if you are good with head-to-head action, Dungeon Academy is worth checking out.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A fun little roll and write game that works well as a family game or a filler game for your gaming group.
• Some may be turned off by the real-time gameplay
• Items definitely aren’t all equal.