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Go to the Space Alert page
Go to the Dungeon Lords page
Go to the Sentinels of the Multiverse page
Go to the RoboRally page
Go to the Mage Knight Board Game page
Go to the Tichu page
Go to the Empires of the Void page
Go to the Hanabi page
Go to the Mage Knight Board Game page
58 out of 67 gamers thought this was helpful

Mage Knight took awhile to learn. Both the rulebook and the walkthrough are quite lengthy and detailed. There are a lot of rules and a lot of exceptions to rules.

The good news is all of these rules serve a purpose and all of them make the game more thematic. The result is one of the most masterful pieces of game design I have ever played.

The game also takes awhile to play. A solo game can take 2 hours and adding more players adds to the length of the game. Setting the game up and putting it away can also take quite some time.

Yet I cannot recommend a game highly enough. It is my favorite solo game. It provides a rich and engaging experience. It is highly thematic and offers a great challenge. There is some luck in your card draw and some dice rolling (for mana), but it is very much a game of skill. You must learn how to win. Even after you learn how to win, it is still a challenge to do so and is never a guarantee.

Each game feels very different and offers distinctly different challenges. Additionally, there are several different scenarios to play (and even more in the expansion) adding to the variety and replayability of the game.

There is no game I would rather play solo. This masterpiece is worth your time.

Go to the Hanabi page


74 out of 113 gamers thought this was helpful

Hanabi does everything right.

It has a simple ruleset that can be taught in 2 minutes. While easy to learn, it can be difficult to master. It scales well for different player counts. While I find it easier with 2, it is still able to be won with higher player counts.

Each game provides new and varied challenges. The luck of the draw is enough to make each game different from the last and some games slightly more challenging than others but there is still a large amount of skill that goes into winning the game.

I cannot recommend the game highly enough.

Go to the City of Iron page

City of Iron

135 out of 148 gamers thought this was helpful

City of Iron has a lot of elements that, initially, feel very familiar: a track of cards that you can purchase, various goods that you are trying to get the majority of, cards depicting characters that give you various different actions. However, what struck me most about City of Iron upon playing it for the first time is that it feels unlike any other game I have played. Sure, at its core it’s just a set collection game where whoever gets the most victory points wins, but it’s much more than that.

The first thing you can’t help but notice about the game is its theme. I’m not going to claim to be an expert on steampunk, but I can tell you this: This game is cool. The various goods you are collecting are not boring things like Wood, Stone, Clay, and Grain. You get to collect Glow Moss, Bottled Demons, and Srikas.

Where the theme really comes out is in the Character Decks. This is also the aspect of the game that is most unique. Each player has two decks: Citizen and Military. Everybody starts with the same two cards in each of these decks (four cards total). However, after the first round of play (and every round thereafter) you have the option to purchase additional cards from your private store. Everybody has the same cards available to them (with a few exceptions, which I’ll get to) which leaves everyone to choose their own strategy. You can go all-out military and attack neutral towns (another source of resources and income) or you can focus more on exploration and acquiring new lands which gives you more space to build more buildings or you can go somewhere in between. These are all viable options.

What makes these decks different than other “deck building” games is that you do not shuffle them. The order in which you use cards is the order in which they are discarded. Therefore, in order to get a card back that you just used, you have to make it all the way through your deck. You could use actions to draw cards, and sometimes you will have to, but this wastes valuable time. By exploring new lands, building districts onto your city, or building certain buildings, you can generate free card draws at the end of each round. The other thing to consider is that, unlike in many “deck building” games where you can trash cards in order to thin out your deck, once a card enters your deck in City of Iron, it stay there. This leads to a lot of difficult decisions. Buying cards puts them straight into your hand, which makes them available for immediate use. Therefore, it’s often tempting to buy an extra card or two to use either for their ability or to power another card. However, doing so can easily clog up your deck. For example, buying the Scientist is a good way to obtain 2 Science quickly, but it may get in the way when you are trying to get your Explorer back from the bottom of your deck so you can explore another land. Players also have the option of playing the game using their Race’s special powers. Some of these include additional Citizen and Military cards that are available for purchase or even in the players starting decks. These help give a different feel to each player and can assist in playing different strategies.

I would be remiss if I did not mention how spectacular the artwork in this game is. Even in just a prototype stage, with not all of the artwork complete, this game is visually stunning. Each of the different building cards has colorful and vibrant artwork. The Citizen and Military decks with (I believe) have artwork unique to each of the different races. The board itself deserves to be framed and hung on a wall of your gameroom. All of this adds to the overall appeal and helps reinforce the theme.

I have not even begun to explain all the different facets of the game, but I am probably not the best person to do so. Instead, I will finish by giving my thoughts on the general feel of the game. It is best to go into a game of City of Iron with somewhat of a plan. Do you want to explore new lands? Do you want to conquer towns? As I said earlier, any of these are viable options for any player, but they require many actions over the course of several rounds to carry out. However, this is also a game reactions. You could plan to stock up on cheap goods (such as Turnips and Srikas) early, but if none of them come out in the first round, you are going to have to make adjustments. Similarly, you need to adjust to the play of your opponents. Oftentimes, it is necessary to get in their way, or your opponents will get in your way. In either case, you must divert from your original plans. For example, perhaps you hold the lead in Srikas as a scoring round approaches. However, one Srika pasture shows up in the final round before scoring. If you take it, you will ensure that you hold the lead, however, if your opponent takes it, they will steal the lead from you. This is not a situation you could have forseen at the beginning of the game, you must react as the situation presents itself.
The game offers a deep, satisfying experience with tough choices coming each and every turn. However, given how deep the game is, it can play in a relatively short amount of time. The rulebook states that it takes about 30 minutes per person, however, once players get used to the various cards and rules, games can go much quicker. My 2 player games have taken about 45 minutes and 4 players games only take about 1.5 hours (with 3 players games being about halfway between those numbers). Additionally, the games scales well for all numbers of players. My SO and I are always on the lookout for games like this that play well with 2 players but accommodate more than 2. This game has quickly moved up her list of favorite games to play with only 2 players.

By this point, I’ve rambled enough. Hopefully something in the paragraphs above has gotten my point across. In case I didn’t, here it is: Do yourself a favor and get a copy of City of Iron.

Disclaimer: I was a playtester for this game. I do not know Ryan personally and have no affiliation with Red Raven Games. I have played 15 games so far ranging from 2-4 players.

Go to the Empires of the Void page
34 out of 35 gamers thought this was helpful

For years, people have looked to the game Twilight Imperium as the standard in 4x or Space/Sci-Fi/Galaxy Ruling games. It is a massive game that allows you to fine-tune all the minute details of your empire. However, the price you pay for such a massive and detailed game is that it takes the better part of a day to complete one game.

So, naturally, people have begun searching for games that give them a similar feel, but in far less time. Designers have answered the call offering several such games in the last few years. Empires of the Void by Ryan Laukat is one such game.

Game Summary

In Empires of the Void, each player takes control of a different alien race, each with their own unique special ability and backstory. Starting from their home planet, they aim to take control of neighboring planets through either force or diplomacy. Taking a planet by force is easier, and gives you some benefits (increased income and resources) but if you try diplomacy, albeit more difficult, you can also gain the special ability of that planet (this can be anything from the ability to build a different kind of ship to making diplomacy an easier option).

As the game progresses, players will be increasing their powers and income by controlling more planets, as well as discovering new technologies. As the size of their empires and their fleets increase, they are bound to run into each other. Combat is handled through a simple dice-rolling mechanic where certain ships fire faster than others and each ship has a certain number they need to roll in order to score a hit.

The winner is the player who scores the most victory points. Victory points are awarded at 3 scoring rounds. Players are awarded points for certain technologies, for controlling planets, and for having a majority of influence in the Galactic Council (which comes from befriending planets rather than conquering them).


So does Empires of the Void succeed in being Twilight Imperium Lite? I guess the answer to that question depends on what you are looking to get out of a 4x game. It doesn’t offer much in the way of exploration as all of the planets are revealed at the beginning of the game. There is plenty of expansion as you increase your empire from one planet to several. There is plenty of exploitation as you take control of planets to gain various advantages. There is plenty of extermination as you jostle with the other players for control of key planets.

Empires of the Void usually takes about 2-3 hours to play and, in that shortened timeframe, offers a very fulfilling and enjoyable experience. What being said, there are a few small issues with it:

1. The rulebook is not very well written. It does not address several common situations that come up in games. However, the designer has uploaded an updated rulebook that addresses these issues.

2. There is a lot of dice-rolling, which means that sometimes, no matter how well you plan and prepare, you can lose because of bad luck. This issue is being addressed in a possible expansion that is currently in beta-testing.

3. The tech-tree is not clearly laid out and difficult to keep track of. Each of the technologies comes as a small rectangular cardboard chit. There is no clear map of which technologies are prerequisites for others and it can be difficult to tell which are available for you to build at any given time. I believe this is also being addressed in the expansion.

However, don’t let those issues steer you away from what is actually a very solid and well designed game.

Though the rulebook is not very well laid out, the rules are actually quite simple and easy for new gamers to pick up.

The artwork is gorgeous (it is actually what drew my attention to this game in the first place) and the components are all very sturdy cardboard.

One your first few turns, it feels like you can’t accomplish much, but by the end of the game, you can be conquering several planets per turn. This gives you the feel that your empire and your power are, in fact, growing as you progress through the game.

The mechanic of choosing between diplomacy and force is something that I think is fairly unique and really gives this game a different feel than any other game I have played.

Will an expansion make this game better? More than likely, but it’s a great game as it is and one I highly recommend.

Go to the Galaxy Trucker page

Galaxy Trucker

84 out of 91 gamers thought this was helpful

In Galaxy Trucker, you play the role of a trucker who is being paid to haul a literal pile of junk across the galaxy. However, you’ve come up with the brilliant idea that rather than throwing all the junk into your “truck” and carrying it across the galaxy, it would be much easier and more cost-effective to just build a ship out of the junkpile and fly that instead.

In the first phase of the game, there is a large pile of tiles in the middle of the playing area, all turned facedown. Someone shouts go and everyone madly scrambles to bring a tile back to their player board, flip it over, decide whether to use it or throw it back, and repeat. It can be a lot of fun to steal the perfect tile right out from underneath your opponent’s nose (of course, they might return the favor next round). Players are trying to fit as many lasers, engines, shields, batteries, cabins, and cargo holds onto their ship as possible, but they only have a limited amount of space and they have to make sure everything properly connects. When someone finishes building their ship, they flip over a timer and the remaining players only have a limited time to finish building their ships.

Now that the ships are built, it’s time to fly them across the galaxy, but that is no simple task. Along the way there are abandoned ships and stations, smugglers, meteors, pirates, slavers, combat zones, and a great deal more. They come in the form of cards that are chosen randomly from a deck. In round 1 there are 8 cards, in round 2 there are 12, in round 3 there are 16 and the difficulty of the cards increases with each round as well. Most of the cards will reward you with goods and money if you manage to defeat them, but if you fail, odds are you will lose a tile from your ship. It gets worse, if the tile you lose is the only tile connect a section of your ship to the main part of your ship, you lose that entire section. Once you make it through the cards, you land and score points for the order you landed in as well as any cargo you may have accumulated along the way.

Now you get to do it all over again with a slightly larger ship. And then again in round 3 with an even larger ship. However, since the junkpile that you are building your ships from is the same size every round, but everyone is building a bigger ship each time, you quickly learn that you’re going to have to settle for less quality components in the later rounds. Once all three rounds are completed, the player with the most money wins.

One aspect of this game that is different from many Euro-games is that there is almost more skill involved than strategy. When building a ship, it helps to be able to look at all the tiles that have been flipped over, both by you and your opponents, and be able to see which tiles will best fit your ship. You could strategize all you want, but if you aren’t quick and able to see that the tile you need is sitting in front of your neighbor, you strategy will do you no good.

Verdict: Because there is a fair amount of skill in this game, veteran players will almost certainly do better than most novice players. However, even if you aren’t able to build as “good” of a ship as your neighbor, it’s still a lot of fun to go through the process and watch as the cards wreak havoc on everyone. Who knows, maybe the more skilled player will lose half his ship when a large meteor strikes him from the side and you will swoop in to steal the victory from him.

Pros: Gameplay is extremely fun for new and old players alike. The game is humorous and the rulebook is well-written and funny.

Cons: There is a learning curve, but after a couple games, everyone should stand a fighting chance.

Go to the Space Alert page

Space Alert

392 out of 403 gamers thought this was helpful

In Space Alert, you play as crew members of a Sitting Duck class spaceship that is sent through hyperspace to scan a sector of space for ten minutes and then jump back through hyperspace and report their findings. Sounds easy, right?

In your 10 minutes, you will be bombarded with threats, both from outside your ship and inside. The only way to keep these threats from quickly dismantling your ship is to work together. The key to this game is communication. All the crew members must quickly and clearly communicate what they intend to do and when they intend to do it so that they can make sure all the threats are taken care of.

So how do these threats appear? Here’s what makes this game unique. The game comes with a CD that has 8 mission tracks. You choose one of the tracks and hit play. The recording will then tell you when and where threats appear. You draw the threats from the appropriate deck and prepare for chaos.

Each crew members is given 12 spaces to play action cards. These spaces correspond to the 12 turns of the game, but the game doesn’t progress in turns like a normal game does. Everyone is scrambling to put down action cards as quickly as they can to take care of new threats as they appear. Each turn you can either move to an adjacent room or complete an action in the room you are in (anything from firing a laser to powering shields to launching rockets).

After 10 minutes, the recording ends and you’re done. Now you just have to figure out what happened. In the resolution round, you go through each turn step by step to see what the threats did and what the crew members did in response to the threats. Sometimes you thought you took care of a threat, but it turns out it still had one hit point left. Sometimes you thought that you knocked out that intruder, but it turns out it moved to a different room and you were fighting thin air. Sometimes you thought you fired a laser at a threat, but there was no power.

This game is fun, funny, and, above all, challenging.

Pros: Quick playtime, fun and funny theme, challenging gameplay, encourages teamwork and collaboration, plenty of replayability

Cons: Lots of rules to learn, theme is not for everyone, real-time gameplay can be overwhelming for some

Verdict: Space Alert is not an easy game. There are a lot of rules to learn and remember. Players must learn to coordinate their action quickly and efficiently. It is fast paced and can be overwhelming for your first several plays. However, for gamers looking for a unique, challenging, and, above all, fun experience, this game is for you. Space Alert offers a challenge that few other games can.

Go to the King of Tokyo page

King of Tokyo

71 out of 80 gamers thought this was helpful

In King of Tokyo, players each choose a monster and the battle for Tokyo begins. On a player’s turn, they roll 6 dice. They can choose any dice they would like to keep and then have two opportunities to reroll the remaining dice. The dice are custom dice that have 6 different faces.

3 of the faces have the numbers 1, 2, and 3 on them. If players roll at least 3 of a kind of a given number, they get that many victory points (i.e. if you roll three 2’s, you score 2 points). Additionally, if you roll more than 3 of a number, you score an additional point for each extra die (i.e. if you roll four 2’s, you score 3 points, if you roll five 2’s, you score 4 points).

One of the faces has a lightning bolt symbol. When players roll this, they collect one energy cube per lightning bolt symbol. Energy cubes are used to buy cards that give players special abilities. Another face shows a claw symbol. This side is used for attacking other monsters. If a player is in Tokyo, they attack all players not in Tokyo. If a player is not in Tokyo, they attack the monster who is in Tokyo. When the monster in Tokyo is attacked, he can choose to yield Tokyo to the monster who attacked him. The final face is a heart symbol. This is used to heal the damage from attacks. Each player starts with 10 hearts, which they quickly start losing. A player cannot heal if they are in Tokyo.

When a player enters Tokyo, they gain a victory point. If a player remains in Tokyo for an entire round, they gain 2 victory points at the beginning of their turn. The winner is the first player to 20 victory points or the last monster standing.

Sounds simple, right? Well that’s cause it is. The mechanics of this game are really easy to teach and learn, so what makes it worthwhile? While aside from the quick playtime and the ease in bringing this game to the table, the simple answer is: the cards. The cards help add flavor to the game both from a thematic point of view and a mechanical perspective. The cards could simply say something like “Roll and Extra Die each turn” or “All other players lose 5 VP” and this would add enough variety to keep the game interesting after multiple plays. However, the developers went above and beyond and added thematic text and graphics to the cards. The graphics are well done and add to the B-movie feeling of the game.

Pros: Quick playtime, easy to learn and teach, fun for all ages and experience levels, great artwork and theme, cards add variety and replayability

Cons: High cost for a short game, very confrontational, players can be eliminated

Verdict: King of Tokyo is a game that is easy to get wrapped up in without taking it too seriously. Even though you’re just rolling dice and buying cards, it’s easy to feel like you’re duking it out with big bad monsters. For those who aren’t fans of confrontation or player elimination, this may not be your first choice, but if those things don’t bother you, this is a solid choice for gamers of all backgrounds. The cards are really what make this game shine as they add both flavor and variety that makes each game fresh and help add to the “just one more game” feeling. This is a game you will be playing a lot more than just one more game of.

Go to the Dungeon Lords page

Dungeon Lords

90 out of 99 gamers thought this was helpful

While Dungeon Lords has generally received positive reviews I do not believe that it has received the recognition it truly deserves. While this is purely my opinion, I will strive to justly and thoroughly back it up in this review.

Vlaada Chvatil has created many excellent and well-received games and has acquired a significant fanbase, yet even among those who can be considered his fans, this game seems to be considered second tier. Games like Through the Ages, Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, and, most recently, Mage Knight are all highly regarded and, more importantly, highly recommended.

Dungeon Lords, on the other hand, seems to be recommended less often. Though it shares many of the same characteristics as these other games – well-integrated and fun theme, great artwork and production values, innovative mechanics, steep learning curve, and fairly unforgiving system – it seems like this game has missed the mark in many people’s estimations.

The following review seeks to address both the complaints that some players have with the game as well as to highlight what the game does extremely well because, make no mistake, this game is a masterpiece.


For those who are a fan of well-integrated themes in board games, you would be hard-pressed to find a better example than this. Every single rule has a thematic explanation that is clearly (and humorously) explained in the rulebook. Additionally, these thematic explanations make the fairly large amount of rules easier to remember.

Based on the Dungeon Keeper PC game, players take on the role of a Dungeon Lord who is preparing his dungeon to defend against an imminent attack from a party of do-good adventurers. Simply put, it is a reverse Dungeons & Dragons. This could quickly turn off two groups of people – those who don’t like fantasy themes and those who don’t like RPGs. For those who dislike fantasy themes, this game may not work for you. Though if you can look past it, you will find a great game. For those who don’t like RPGs, fear not. While this game shares some thematic characteristics with many RPGs, it is far different from a mechanical point of view.

Dungeon Lords takes the fantasy world and puts a new twist on it, putting you in the place of the Dungeon Lord. It also introduces a significant amount of humor that adds to the overall enjoyment of the game.


I could go into depth about how the mechanics work, but that has been done in many other reviews. I will touch on several of them later on however. I would, instead, like to comment on the mechanics as a whole.

One of my favorite elements of Vlaada’s games is his use of innovative mechanics. However, he is no one-trick pony. As with many of his other games, Dungeon Lords introduces several new mechanics or new spins on familiar mechanics without making those mechanics the focus of the game. Because of how well-integrated the theme is, you do not really think of the game in terms of mechanics and how you can manipulate the mechanics to achieve your goal. Instead, you are immersed in the gameplay and simply try to be the best Dungeon Lord you can be.


One of the great parts of this game and what, in my opinion, sets it apart from Vlaada’s other designs is the incredible sense of tightness. This tightness shows itself in a number of different areas.

Actions: Each turn you are only allowed 3 actions, and you will almost certainly want 4 or 5. Additionally, two of the actions that you choose will be unavailable to you on the next turn. This forces players not only to carefully consider what actions to choose on each turn, but also to plan ahead at least one turn (if not more). Some reviews have considered the relatively small amount of choices to be a flaw. However, once you grasp the importance of each of these choices, you may see that it adds to the game rather than detracting from it.

The order of actions is also important. This is perhaps my favorite part of the game. A player must carefully consider his opponents. You must look at their needs, what is available to them, and where they fall in turn order. Each player will always have two actions unavailable to them. They will also, more than likely, have a few glaring needs. The order in which a player places their action cards could have a number of far-reaching effects. You could prevent another player from using that action entirely (if two other players also choose that action before the 4th player). You could force another player to pay a cost they are unwilling to, unable to, or are upset about paying. Maybe you force them to pay evil for food which bumps them up on the Evilometer so they get a nastier adventurer (or even a Paladin). You could buy the monster your opponent had their eye on. You could buy the only monster that your opponent could afford which leaves them with a wasted action. The far reaching consequences of nearly every action you take make this portion of the game a tremendous battle of minds as you try to outwit your opponents.

There is a second way in which the actions are limited. There are only 8 actions to choose from. These 8 actions are perfectly intertwined so that you would be hard-pressed to play a game where you didn’t use all 8 of them, but it is also difficult to imagine there being any additional choices. Digging tunnels is essential for both mining gold and building rooms. Mining Gold is essential for buying rooms and traps. Buying food and monsters can cost evil, so it’s essential that you have an action to offset it and make you less evil. The 8 actions and the costs associated with each are one of several areas where Vlaada exhibits not only his mastery of game design but also his brilliant mathematical skill.

Monsters and Rooms: In each year, there are only 12 monsters and 8 rooms. These are the same in every single game; only the order in which they appear is different. I have seen some people hope for additional monsters in an expansion (and that may well happen), but I think that it’s perfect the way it is. Each of the monsters has a perfect balance of cost vs. effectiveness. Additionally, I have a tough time imagining a monster that is significantly different from those already included. Each monster has a very unique skill set, and each different attack has a number of instances where it is the perfect attack. The rooms are similar in that they cover every need you could possibly want from a room (within reason).

In addition, I find it essential that you are able to “card count” the monsters and rooms. What I mean is this: If you are hoping to get a Dragon in the second year, you know there will only be two of them. Therefore, if they both show up on the first turn, you know you need to get one right away or you will be out of luck. If only one shows up in the first three turns and you didn’t get it, you better make sure you have your Hire Monster action available on the last turn.

This tightness in the monsters and rooms adds to the tremendously fun mind game you play with your opponents as you choose your 3 actions each turn. Do you know your opponent has their sights set on getting a Vampire? The order in which you put down your Hire Monster action could have a devastating effect on whether or not they are able to get their Vampire.

The Evilometer

This element of the game is the one I see most overlooked by newcomers to the game. Everyone seems to understand that if you get too evil you will be graced by a visit from the Paladin. However, the power and fun of the Evilometer go way beyond the Paladin. In the last 3 turns of each round, you will be assigned an adventurer based on your position on the Evilometer.

The adventurers you are assigned significantly impact how effective your traps and monsters will be during combat. Sure, you were excited when you got that Poisoned Meal trap, but what good is it against a party of 3 thieves?

There are primarily 3 ways that you can maneuver on the Evilometer. Buying food (with the exception of the first space), hiring certain monsters, and improving your reputation. However, these 3 actions will be used by some or all players on nearly every turn. You constantly have to be considering whether a player is looking to move up or down the Evilometer. It is not always the best idea to be the nicest. Sometimes, it even pays to be the most evil.

This adds still another layer to the mind game that you play with your opponents as you choose your actions. If you are looking to get the second easiest adventurer, then you need to remain at the second lowest position on the Evilometer. Is the nicest player going to get more evil this turn? Is the player right above you on the Evilometer going to use an action to move down?

Some of these decisions are not made during the Choosing Actions phase but rather immediately afterwards. Do you want to hire a vampire knowing that it will make you the most evil? What if it’s the only monster you can afford? Don’t forget that you’ll have to pay for it again at Pay Day. That may bump you up to Paladin level, if you don’t use an action to improve your reputation. Each and every decision you make has the potential to have far-reaching consequences.


Once you’re done playing 4 turns’ worth of mind games, you have to worry about combat. Combat (with a few exceptions) is a solitary activity. You have spent 4 turns battling with your opponents to bring the best stuff into your dungeon, and now you are going to use it to do some serious damage to the pesky little adventurers that have made their way into your dungeon.

Combat is, at its roots, a brilliantly designed math puzzle with a number of variables. If you are able, you can choose to fight in a room or a tunnel, which affects the number of traps and monsters you can use. Then you have to choose which traps and monsters to use each turn. Finally, there are the Spell cards. If you were lucky, you got a chance to look at one or two of the Spell cards when you used the Improve Reputation action, otherwise you’ll be going into it blind. The Spell cards themselves have two variables to consider – the spell itself and the amount of fatigue. You must take all of these factors into account to determine how to efficiently and effectively demolish your unique party of adventurers.

Some reviews have knocked this system of combat claiming it is anything from a mini-game that just doesn’t fit to a nuisance to a flaw. Here is the way I look at it. When you are going into battle, there are two things that are important – strength and skill. If you are weak (you have few or no monsters or traps), it doesn’t matter how skillful you are; you are going to lose. If you are overwhelmingly strong (you have a large amount of traps and monsters), you can probably win no matter your level of skill. However, more than likely you will be somewhere in the middle. You will have an adequate amount of strength. Therefore, it is up to your skill (in this case it is mathematical skill) to determine how you will fare in Combat. While this may not work for some players, I find it a far more satisfying means of combat then the more common dice-rolling methods.

The Un-Tightness

I know what you’re thinking, I just raved about how incredibly tight this game is. Am I now going to tell you that it isn’t? Well…not exactly. The truth is that if the entire game was tight with no amounts of randomness, it would get dull after a rather small number of plays. Luckily, there are a few elements that keep things fresh from game to game.

The order in which monsters and rooms appear: Monsters and rooms are shuffled, and 3 and 2 (respectively) are turned face up each turn. Completely random. Therefore, while you know what the possible options will be, you do not know when they will show up (except for the last turn). This prevents anyone from planning too far ahead, and forces you to make adjustments to your plan each turn as you see what options you are presented with. Did both demons show up on the first turn? Better get one now or you’ll miss out. Did the trap-making room show up this turn? Well you better make sure you dig tunnels so that you have a good place to put it.

Spell cards: As touched on above, Spell cards throw two variables into Combat – the spell itself, and the amount of fatigue. Therefore, you cannot have your entire combat planned out ahead of time. Rather, you must make adjustments as each Spell card is turned up.

Special Event cards: Here is where each game can become drastically different. Maybe you just get Rats, and you lose some food. That’s not the end of the world. But what if you get Earthquake? Your dungeon just got drastically smaller. Sure there are only 9 different cards, but since you only use 2 each game, they make each game feel very different.

Summary and Closing Thoughts

So what makes Dungeon Lords a masterpiece? It’s more than just a fun new take on the fantasy adventure. It’s more than just a new way of doing worker placement or resource management. I find it funny that some people complain about the level of player interaction in some of Vlaada’s designs (this one included) because that is precisely what makes this game amazing. Vlaada has whittled this game down and made it incredibly tight and mathematically perfect so that what you are left with is your opponents. Each game is made fun, exciting, engaging, and different by your opponents. You may only have 8 turns, but those 8 turns are each an enormously fun mind game where you try desperately to outwit your opponents as they are trying desperately to do the exact same thing. It’s like Chess, Go, or Poker, but far less abstract.

That said, there are a few things to be aware of heading into this game. It is best played with 4 players. It is clear that that is how the game was meant to be played. Additionally, it is helpful if all 4 players have some familiarity with the game. The game has a steep learning curve, so newcomers are at a severe disadvantage. Not only that, but if a newcomer doesn’t fully grasp how the game works, it can negatively affect the other players. For example, if, when choosing your orders, you see that your opponent has a certain need (e.g. food or gold), you would account for that and play your cards accordingly. However, a newcomer who doesn’t fully understand the game may fail to identify the need that you have identified and, therefore, may play different actions entirely. While this may seem like a small thing, if it happens many times over the course of a game, it can throw everything off and have an impact on your enjoyment. My best experiences with Dungeon Lords have come with 3 other players who are not only familiar with the game, but also with each other’s playing styles. When you know your opponents, it makes the mind game even more fun.

So there you have it. Dungeon Lords is a masterfully crafted, mathematically brilliant, thematically engaging, battle of minds, but, most importantly, it’s just plain fun.

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