Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dungeon Game Review - Dungeon Plungin'

I don't review free games. If you can download it, print it and play it, I don't bother to review it. There are a few reasons for this:

1) I write Drake's Flames to get free games. If a game is already free, I don't need to write about it to get a copy, do I? I'm basically a game mercenary. Or game whore - that's probably more appropriate.

2) I tend to think that most free games are worth what you pay for them. If a game was really worth anything, it would be for sale. If a game is free on the ol' Interweb, I tend to think that's because it's not good enough to ask money for it.

3) I don't usually have time. Print n' play games are a freaking beating. Yeah, you get it for free - but then you have to print it, glue it together, mount it, and otherwise spend countless hours on it just so you can get out of paying for a game. Who has time for that? Not me, I'll tell you that.

So after I reviewed Warhammer Quest and a reader asked me to review Dungeon Plungin', my first gut reaction was a big fat, 'oh, hell no.' I'm supposed to download this game, print out like a hundred full-color pages, spend hours gluing pieces together, and then write about it, to boot? No, I don't guess I will.

But as you can see (because you're reading the review right now), I changed my mind. I looked at the rules, and asked around, and then noticed that a friend of mine was one of the testers. He said it was worth a try, so I figured what the heck, I could give it a shot.

I'm incredibly glad I did. I recently started sorting my games to choose my top 50 and sell or trade off the rest, and this one is definitely a keeper. It helps that I couldn't sell it if I wanted to, but if it was a collector's item and I could get huge bank notes for it by selling the different pieces in separate bids like some sort of scalper eBay scab, I would still keep it. It's wicked fun.

Before I was able to find out how fun Dungeon Plungin' is, though, I had to put it together - and this is where I started paying for my free game. First I had to print out the rules (40 or so pages), plus another 50 or so pages of color tiles and miniatures. The rules aren't even laid out that well - it just looks like they were built in Microsoft Word. And the tiles all need to be mounted on something. And the miniatures have to be glued together and cut out. This is a lot of work. And by 'a lot of work', I mean it took me three weeks to get enough assembled to play the first scenario, and I still haven't assembled half of the skeletons, or any of the squirrels (yes, there really are squirrels. Ducks, too).

(It might not take you three weeks to put together this set. You might have some free time, and you might also not be quite as anal retentive about game pieces as I am. But if I'm going to play a dungeon game, I want it to be pretty. Plus I'm a grownup, and don't have eight hours a day to spend with a can of spray mount and a sheet of foamcore. I have a job, and a family, and a fairly busy company on the side, and I write this site, and I pick up freelance work now and then, and on occasion, I even like to sleep a little.)

Once I built the tiles and miniatures to play, I had to make characters. This turned out to be pretty easy, actually, and the character creation rules are not only ridiculously simple, but they're really flexible. I made a warrior priest, a shadow thief, a fire mage and a pit fighter in about 45 minutes, and they're each more-or-less thematic - the warrior priest can heal and swing a sledge hammer, the shadow thief has spells that let him detect traps, the pit fighter swings two weapons, and the fire mage... burns things. The only drawback is that the miniatures you get don't include a two-fisted gladiator or a holy brawler with a warhammer, so my warrior priest uses the miniature that has a battle axe and my two-fisted pit fighter has a shield. I could have used a few more hero figures.

So with characters, miniatures, tiles and rules all ready to go, I finally got to play the sample dungeon. It's fairly straight-forward - you open a door, find out what's beyond the door, find out if there are monsters, and if there are, you kill them and take their stuff. Basically, it's a lot like D&D, only you don't need someone to describe the sounds of rats scurrying and battle cries and all that other stuff that is uncomfortably similar to playing dress-up and talking like characters from bad fiction.

Now, a word of warning to those who don't like dice - just about everything in Dungeon Plungin' is predicated on a die roll. You roll to see if the door is locked, then you roll to see if it's trapped. You roll to see what's beyond the door. You roll to see how many monsters there are. You roll for each monster to figure out where it's at. You roll to see if there are chests in the room. You even roll to see which direction the monsters are looking, to see if you can sneak in and stab them in the kidneys before they know you're there. Almost all these rolls make you check a table, and I'm not going to lie - this is the opposite of streamlined. Like if we compare Dungeon Plungin' to Warhammer Quest, and we're talking about how you figure out where stuff is at, Warhammer Quest would be a lear jet, and Dungeon Plungin' is a boxy antique Land Rover.

Happily, when it comes to beating things to death, Dungeon Plungin' actually improves on Warhammer Quest. All that rolling means that your opponents might all be scattered across the room, or they might be clustered right by the door. You'll have to use a little tactical planning to maximize your ability to kill the monsters in a hurry, because while my pit fighter is one bad-ass, weapon swinging, mean motor scooter, he's a target waiting to happen. So I need to get him in position to deal out some pain, and then get my warrior priest up there to block for him so that the monsters don't rip out his spleen. Then my fire mage needs to chuck a few fireballs, and if there's anyone left standing (hopefully all alone in a corner somewhere), my shadow thief can run in and poke their eyes out.

All this bloodshed is facilitated by a couple quick rolls - you roll your attack score, count the 5s and 6s, and do that much pain. The defender rolls his defense score, counts the 5s and 6s, and blocks that much damage. Most monsters only have one life, so they're going to drop pretty quick, especially if you can roll a lot of dice (like my pit fighter). But since the defenders only have to tie you, they can get by with fewer dice, so it's sometimes a little tricky to make sure you drop the right guys before the other ones start carving on you like a chainsaw ice sculpture.

Magic also works really well. Spells have difficulties, and you have to roll your magic dice to beat the difficulty to cast the spell. Succeed, and you can drop flaming pain all over your opponents. Fail, and you can stand there looking like a bad David Copperfield impersonator. And there are lots of spells to choose from (though I would have liked a few more).

The beginning of a dungeon can seem a little simple sometimes, because your heroes are going to act before the monsters, and every monster seems to have a double major in falling down and crying. But the boss monsters make up for this by being really brutal, and even better, you're not exactly sure how much damage you have to do to kill them. You just keep swinging and hoping you can bring them down, and if they're tough, that could take a few turns. And in the meantime, the big bad bogeys are slapping you around their dungeon like a ping pong ball. I breezed through the dungeon (mostly - my shadow thief did get poisoned once, but luckily I bought an antidote, and the fire mage had a piece of roof tile fall on his head like a giant stone anvil, but the priest healed him back up again). And then the troll killed three of my guys before I managed to bury him and his minions, so I finished the quest by the skin of my teeth.

Speaking of minions, there are a ton of really fun miniatures to build for Dungeon Plungin'. There are goblins, orcs, skeletons, zombies, wraiths, demons, dire bunnies and flying monkeys. But there aren't any kobolds, or rat men, or owl-headed bears or minotaurs, and frankly, I wanted more. Sure, I can play the four adventures you can get off the Oversoul Games site with just the figures I have now, but I'm also going to need more adventures, and I want more monsters to go with them.

So this is where the real beauty of the free downloadable game comes into play - if there's something you want, you can make it. I've already drawn my pit fighter, shadow thief and warrior priest (I resurrected them after the troll killed them. You can do that). I've started drawing a stone elemental and fire drake, and I'm working on an elf archer and some evil knights. When I finish the four quests that I downloaded, I'm going to make my own, and I'm going to use figures I make to go with them. I'm going to write more spells for my fire mage to learn, and invent some weapons for my pit fighter to swing. And then I'm going to go to the Oversoul Games forums and show them off, and ask for input, and see if all my ideas totally suck, and then use them anyway.

The astute reader may have noticed that I did not describe how I played Dungeon Plungin' with anyone else (I'm pretty sure some relatively stupid readers have noticed the same thing, and now they think they're astute). This is because I played it solo. You can play with up to four people, but since dungeon creation is random and monsters are ruled by laws that determine how they react to you, you don't actually need a referee or bad guy player or dungeon dude or whatever else - you can do it all by yourself. And that's awesome, because it can be a tough sell to persuade a room full of buddies to quit playing with their pre-painted plastic and fold-out battle mats and try a game whose rules I currently store in a three-ring binder.

I may have to reconsider my stance on free games, to be honest. There's no way Dungeon Plungin' is the only free game that's this much fun. I had a good time building my set, and even more fun playing it, and I'm thoroughly grateful to the reader who asked me to check it out. Yes, there are lots of tables, and yes, the rules are poorly edited and horrifyingly unattractive. But the game is a blast, and I can tell you right now I'll be playing it again - just as soon as I finish assembling all the miniatures for the next quest.


Neat, fun art
Solid rules that let players apply some basic tactics and effective teamwork
Easy and flexible character creation
Effective combat rules

Block out a few weeks to build everything
Rules are not very well organized or laid out
Art style is very cartoony, which might turn off some potential fans (but I love it)

You can't buy Dungeon Plungin', but you can go right here and download it:

1 comment:

JS said...

Thanks for the review. I wanted to see if this game was going to be worth the time and toner investment. I'm going to go for it, now.

BTW, Alger up there seems like a real stand-up guy.