Well. This isn’t your best showing. The Dungeon Lords are coming to see your pets, but your pens are knee-deep in manure, your Snakitty has escaped, and your Cthulie has somehow mutated an extra eye. You’d like to purchase the Direburnny to add to your shop, but your only available employees (good-for-nothing cousins you only hired because they were related to you) are laid up in the hospital (no doubt perfectly healthy, but enjoying the free meals and attention). Life is hard for a Pet Shop owner…
Maybe you should have avoided nepotistic hiring practices… Or maybe you’re playing Dungeon Petz.
Dungeons Pets is a worker-placement game designed by Vlaada Chvatil and published by Czech Games Edition and Z-Man Games. In it, 2 to 4 players take on the roles of industrious Imps opening monstrous pet shops, rearing and showing the pets for eventual sale to Dungeon Lords. Using a limited amount of employees, you have to attend your pets needs, do your shopping, present your pets to prospective customers, among other tasks, all in the hope of raising the perfect pet to fit the needs of a Dungeon Lord to get rich selling it.
Now this is the point where, normally, I’d describe some of the basic rules of the game, or go over what happens in a turn. I’m not going to try to do that with Dungeon Pets. The truth is, despite whimsical art and a theme that seems fairly light, maybe even kid-friendly, this is a complicated game. I think any attempt at summarizing the rules on my part would either: (a) make it sound more confusing and complicated than simply reading through the (admittedly quite lengthy) rulebook; or, (b) push me way, way over the type of word count I aim for in these reviews. Suffice to say, a turn consists of placing your workers on specific areas of the board to achieve desired tasks, such as purchasing new pets, food, or pens; earning more money; then playing cards to meet your pets various needs, such as hunger or a desire to play; then showing off your pets in exhibitions to try to gain extra reputation as a pet shop; and finally trying to sell the pets to make some money for the next round and earn even more reputation. At the end of the game, the player whose shop has the highest reputation wins.
If some of that sounds lengthy or complicated… Well, it’s because it is. A game is only 5 (4 players) or 6 (2 or 3 players) long, and is still likely to take an hour and a half or more. It’s also worth noting that the rulebook is a good, text-packed 20 pages long. While it’s helpful for explaining everything in details – including a 3 page appendix that goes over all of the various customers, exhibits, artifacts, and pets in detail – it’s a heavy enough read to be discouraging to people looking for something light and quick to pick up. I think you’re going to need at least two or three playthroughs of the whole game before you’ll feel comfortable enough with it to not double check every other decision in the rulebook, let alone try to teach it to somewhere else.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Dungeon Petz being so heavy is that, looking at it, you wouldn’t expect it. The theme of the game seems quirky and lighthearted: raise pets (albeit monstrous ones) to sell. The artwork also seems to suggest a comical game. David Cochard’s illustrations – especially the pictures of the 18 unique and original pets – are just silly. In full disclosure, even though I’m not a big fan of worker-placement games to begin with, I bought this one knowing nothing about it just because the name and the boxart grabbed me so. Who wouldn’t want to raise a one-eyed, one-horned, hair-covered vegetarian monster named Trollie?
As I said, I’m not typically a fan of worker-placement games and this one seemed more… work than most. There’s only so often you can choose between going shopping or cleaning the manure out of your pet pens before the tasks start to seem more like chores than a game. Combined with the fact that the humour found in the theme and through the joke-filled rulebook doesn’t actually seem to appear in the play of the game itself, the jump from admiring the cute monsters to working through another round of decided which chores you can and can’t spare an imp to do seems particularly jarring.
In all, Dungeon Petz is a very heavy worker-placement game. It is rules-intensive and does not lend itself to quick learning or quick play. That being said, if you enjoy that kind of game, this is a good one. The rules are detailed enough to avoid any situations where things get blurred, and the high need for constant decision making and prioritizing makes it a strategist’s dream. Don’t let the artwork or the cute theme fool you, though. Like the dreaded pets you sell, it might seem cute and cuddly on the surface, but it’s dangerous under the skin.