You roll your shoulders. Things had not gone well. Your thief went down with a goblin arrow to the leg. Your mage used up all of her spells on the last group of oozes to swarm around you. And now… Another roar. The ground shakes. It is coming.
You look to either side of you. The champion next to you nods. The fighter unlimbers his sword. They are ready, as are you. The Dragon is coming… and you are waiting.
Maybe you make a career delving depths and fighting monsters… Or maybe you’re playing Dungeon Roll.
Dungeon Roll is a dice rolling game designed by Chris Darden and published by Tasty Minstrel Games. It balances some press-your-luck mechanics (deciding how deep to go in the dungeon) with a little bit of hand management (deciding what dice to use when and how), all with a heavy sprinkling of fantasy theme. In it, players take the roll of heroes, leading a party of adventurers (rolled dice) into a dragon’s lair. They go as deep as they can before either returning to the surface with their treasure, or dying. Painfully. Possibly by being eaten by a dragon.
Ok, so the rulebook says they just “flee the dungeon,” but we all know what that’s code for, right? Dragon chow.
The game itself is pretty simple. Each players turn is one delve into the dungeon. They start by forming a party by rolling the seven white party dice. Each face is a different class or special item that is part of their party. Then, starting at level one (the game provides a ten-sided die to count how deep in the dungeon you’ve gone), another player rolls black monster dice for them: one die for level one, two dice for level two, etc. Using the party dice, the players have to deal with whatever comes up on the monster dice, but each party die can only be used once per delve. You have to be a bit strategic about what dice you’re using where, though. A cleric can only counter one goblin, for instance, but can counter any number of skeletons that come up in a roll. Ideally you want to defeat multiple monsters with as few party dice as possible. After you’ve dealt with all the monsters rolled for that level, you can decide to stop your delve and gain experience equal to your current level of dungeon, or go down one level to face fresh monsters. After every player has made 3 delves, whoever has the most experience points wins.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. One face of the monster dice has an icon for the dragon. If any dragons are rolled, they are set aside while the party deals with the level they’re on, and don’t get returned to the monster dice. If a total of three dragon dice get rolled in one delve, the dragon has been awakened, and the player has to defeat it in addition to everything else that has been rolled for that level. The dragon awards extra experience and treasure if it’s defeated, but it takes three different party dice (so it can’t be three fighters, or a thief and two clerics) to beat it. And, naturally, if the player ever finds it impossible to beat all the monsters of a given level, they
get eaten have to flee, and gain no experience. You’re facing a constant tension, then, between going a bit further to get more treasure and experience, and playing it safe and taking what you’ve got.
Dungeon Roll adds some strategy that other press-your-luck dice rolling games lack through the inclusion of treasure and hero cards. Treasure – won by unlocking treasure chests rolled on the monster dice or by defeating dragons – is worth extra points if unused at the end of the game. In a pinch, though, you can also use the treasure in various ways to help. Is the sacrifice of the points worth keeping you alive for another roll? Maybe, maybe not, it’s a choice you have to make. The hero cards are even more fun. At the start of the game, each player is assigned one of eight unique hero cards. Each hero grants the players one Specialty and one Ultimate Ability. You can use the Specialty as often as it’s appropriate in a delve; you can use the Ultimate Ability once a delve. The Hero cards even level up, getting more powerful abilities after you hit 5 experience points. Picking the perfect time for the Hero card abilities adds a bit more critical thinking to the otherwise simple “do I or don’t I keep going” challenge of the game.
The unique abilities do lead to some problems with Dungeon Roll. First, the wording of the abilities of the heroes is… minimal. Many of them are pretty straight forward, but some seem a bit trickier to understand. You can find clarification online pretty easily, but the need to look up that clarification in the first place is a point against Dungeon Roll. The variable powers of the Hero cards can also seem a bit unbalanced. In my opinion, some cards are simply better than others.
The other problem with Dungeon Roll comes from the somewhat isolating experience of it. Sure, the game supports up to 4 players (more than that and the treasure reserve starts to be strained), but it really only plays one person at a time. When its your turn to delve, you’re making decisions, rolling dice, fighting monsters, and everyone else is… Watching? Waiting for their turn? Talking to each other and not paying attention anyways? Ok, so one other player can roll the monster dice for you (and what a thrill that is), but besides that, you’re playing by yourself. If you’re ok with that – a game where you play for a bit and then socialize until your next turn – than that’s great. It’s not really a group experience though.
Maybe that makes sense, though. Maybe Dungeon Roll is meant to be enjoyed most as a challenge to yourself, independent of what your rivals do. After all, when your back is to the wall, when your Cleric is spent and your Thief is missing, when you hear the dragon coming, what do you have but yourself? Well yourself, and maybe a Vorpal Sword or an Ultimate Ability up your sleeve…