Not only is it the last thing you should say to a date when you bring them home, Welcome to the Dungeon is also a dead simple, and remarkably addictive push-your-luck card game.
First published in Japan as Dungeon of Mandom by Oink Games (who also published the amazing Deep Sea Adventure), Welcome to the Dungeon is Iello’s most recent addition to their ‘Mini Games’ series. Between titles like Love Letter, Deep Sea Adventure, Lost Legacy, Brave Rats, and this, Japan is proving to have a knack for micro game design.
Welcome to the Dungeon is a 2-4 player game played in rounds. In each round, one player will ultimately enter the ‘dungeon’ and either emerge victorious, gaining themselves a point (of the two required to win), or they will die miserably, thereby losing a life (of which you have only two to lose before being eliminated). Whoever gets to two points first, or is the last one left alive, wins.
To begin, one player chooses one of the four included heroes who will eventually face the perilous dungeon the players are about to prepare. Players can choose from:
– The Warrior: the baseline adventurer who’s not great at anything, but doesn’t have any real weaknesses either.
– The Barbarian: a brute who specializes in destroying golems and small monsters, but also has an emergency kill shot if he gets into trouble.
– The Rogue: a crafty heroine whose cloak hides her from the largest monsters, and who is able to add the health of the smallest monsters to her own.
– The Wizard: a kooky old madcap whose spells can wrestle victory from the most unlikely circumstances, but who will crumble if overwhelmed.
Once your hero and their 6 equipment pieces have been set up, the round begins. The players take turns either drawing monster cards, or passing from the round. Once all but one player has passed, that one player will embody the hero and face the dungeon, for better or worse. But the dungeon won’t be a cakewalk. The monster cards seeded to the dungeon are flipped over, one at a time in reverse order, and either get killed by the hero’s remaining equipment, or attack and damage the hero, now a little closer to death.
If you choose to draw a card, you look at it secretly, and choose to either add it to the dungeon as an additional monster to battle, or you may eliminate it by removing one of the hero’s pieces of equipment. Either way, each time a player chooses to draw a card, the dungeon gets harder. Thematically, it bears a lot of resemblance to Donald X. Vaccarino’s Gauntlet of Fools, where players bet that they can “beat the dungeon while hopping on one foot”, except in Welcome to the Dungeon, each time you draw a card, you’re gaining information about which cards are being added (or not added) to the dungeon.
What’s great about this mechanism is the bluffing it allows. A player might eliminate the Warrior’s Dragon Lance by discarding the Dragon itself. Or they might bluff, by eliminating the Dragon Lance, despite having placed the Dragon in the dungeon themselves on a previous turn. As long as someone else continues to play, they could pass next turn, and leave a loose Dragon for someone else to fight. This mysterious element of the dungeon ahead paired with the hero’s decreasing preparedness quickly amplifies the tension in each round. Regardless of who is left to enter the dangerous, monster-infested cavern below, it’s hard not to be excited as the monsters are revealed, chipping away at the hero’s life, waiting with bated breath to see whether the brave soul lives or dies.
I’ve introduced Welcome to the Dungeon to a dozen or so people now, and the response has been very positive. Some have argued, and I would agree, that the game could grow old with only 4 heroes to choose from, although the original, Dungeon of Mandom, had only one. Perhaps Iello has a sequel/expansion in the works? Then again, for the rather modest asking price, and the fact that it is indeed a micro game, it’s hard to hold even this criticism against it. It certainly hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the heck out of it.