“The adventurer’s sudoku!” – Vaughn Reynolds
Table of Contents:
I don’t recall how I first came across this game, but boy am I glad I did!
Backing the Kickstarter was a no brainer. $5 per dungeon pad! Each pad comes with 50 pages, and after playing through 6 floors with my 5yo son, it’s clear one pad could last you hours and hours of game play!
I backed this for two main reasons in order of importance:
1. Magnificent cleanliness of design. I love minimalism in design. Love love love.
2. A refreshingly new take on dungeon crawls and associated game mechanics.
Part 1: A brief history of dungeon crawls I’ve enjoyed
I started playing “dungeon crawlers” with MUDs (multi-user dungeons), Dungeons & Dragons “red box”, and Hero Quest back in the early 90s.
What I loved about MUDs was the purely text-driven nature of them. Your imagination filled in the visuals, like reading a book, but you were a master of your own destiny!
Released in 1989, Hero Quest was AMAZING because you played on a set board, but the placement of furniture, doors, treasures, and monsters were instance-based, meaning it was different each time you played! The “limited” board was nice because each time you played it took the same amount of space on a table.
This was also the first game where I had access to a wide array of miniatures. They were so much fun because they had the types of monsters grouped by plastic color, which made for a great visual experience even without painting them.
I’m distraught I never kept my copy… but they currently go for ~$200 on eBay 🙄 so I won’t be revisiting that nostalgia directly.
In late 2020, Hasbro did a big re-release on their HasbroPulse crowdfunding platform, but it was just a cash-grab. It was $99 just to get the base game 😠. The original, from Milton Bradley, released in 1989 retailed for $30. With inflation that price would be roughly $64 in 2020… which would have still “felt” high but made more sense for the product you’re getting. They replaced the cardboard and colorful furniture with all grey plastic models.
That’s why it pays to keep your games in good condition friends!
The next fun discovery in dungeon crawling for me was the original Warhammer Quest adventure board game!
While writing this and looking up images, I discovered that Warhammer Quest was actually the successor to Hero Quest! So it makes sense that I remember playing this and loving the new depth it added.
The primary difference was that the board was no longer static. Instead it had dungeon tiles which represented corridors and rooms. You had a deck of cards you shuffled and put face-down. Each new area would be drawn from the deck and you place the appropriate tile on the board where you are exploring. A very clever design solution!
The upside was the unique feel of every dungeon every single time you played. The downside was not knowing the space the game would take up, so make sure you have a wide and tall table space setup!
Another major new game feature was the roleplaying element of the game. Many modern tabletop gamers think Pandemic: Legacy is what introduced “legacy” mechanisms to a tabletop board game, but Warhammer Quest did this back in the mid 90s!
The game came with a pad of character sheets. Each player would choose a pre-designed character, but when you adventured you found gold, items, took damage and found new creatures and rooms!
After you completed a dungeon, you had the opportunity to travel back to town. When you did this you could level up, visit a shop to buy new gear, and unique locations.
BUT beware of the Hazard Chart you had to roll on each time you journeyed home! You could get struck by lightning! If you did, it melted your armor or roasted your clothes! Dangit!
And as frustrating as it was when it happened (which wasn’t often) it definitely made the game more exciting. Who doesn’t love a gamble roll of the dice?
And the last, but not least, dungeon crawl experience I’d like to mention is Kingdom of Loathing. I don’t recall the year I got into KoL, but in writing this I went and checked and YES, my character is still there.
Meet LordNikodemus, the level 10 Disco Bandit aka “Vibe Robber”. If I recall correctly, the only thing I chose was my login name, but those sweet titles are all generated by the game. It was fun to play and as you can see I stopped in the thick of things, I was at 30 of 103 hit points! Zoinks!
Part 2: Why I love Paper Apps™ Dungeon
The moment I saw this on Kickstarter I knew I wanted to play it. I wasn’t sure how “fun” it would be, but the ideas behind it were magnificently interesting.
So this morning I thought it would be fun to dive in with my 5yo son. He rolled, I wrote 💖.
As we entered dungeon “000-007-596” (our dungeon’s seed number… I know, not a sexy dungeon name, but I suggested to the designer that there be a space to write in your own dungeon name).
The rules are refreshingly simple. You start at 10 HP and 0 coins. You have a starting place (smile face icon) and you are attempting to get to the stairs with at least 1 HP. If you end up going to 0 HP or lower, no worries! You mark a death tally at the end and start fresh with 10 HP and 0 coins on the next floor!
I think this is a critical element to have in the game. Games that are punishing just don’t make sense to me.
The only rules clarification I needed was to ask the designer was if when you enter a Teleport space (the spiral shape) you continue in the same direction (i.e. if you are going North, do you continue going North when you exit unless there is a wall there) and the answer is yes. When you exit a Teleport space you continue going in the same direction you were upon entering.
There is a spot to name and draw your character. He decided we’d be named “Dinosaur” and that we’d look, “like a triceratops person”. (I was instantly reminded of one of my favorite characters, Triceracop, from Kung Fury.)
Our Adventuring Gear:
- 2 Adventure Companions (optional)
- 1d6 in your favorite color
- 1 favorite drafting pencil
We even found a shop in the few floors we made it through. Thankfully we had 26 coins when we arrived. Whew. We decided to have a nice snack to get some buffer HP and a “Break on Through” to get us out of a pinch!
We survived to Floor 6 and decided to take a break for now! That’s when I was inspired to write this blog post! It was a lot of fun, a great bonding experience with my son, and a good challenge. We were down to 3 HP at one point!
I highly recommend this game to anyone who likes dungeon crawlers/adventures, likes sudoku, or likes roll & writes!
Learn more at: https://www.gladden.design/
Follow their Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/gladden.design/
Part 3: That time I tried to make a dungeon crawler
I even started on a little dungeon crawl design of my own back in 2019 based on a 52-card deck and a couple d6.
I had entered it into a contest but ultimately life prevented me from seeing it through. You can learn more about Escape Area 51 here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2364359/wip-escape-area-51-2020-two-player-print-and-play.