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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Player of Games, #1: Dungeon!

Kill some monsters, grab some treasure. It's that simple.

In 1975, the world was graced with two new arrivals. The new board game Dungeon! and, well, me. Dungeon! is basically to Dungeons & Dragons what The Hobbit is to The Lord of the Rings: a simpler, more accessible romp through the same landscape. The game has gone through several iterations, most recently in 2014, though the one pictured here, and the one we played endlessly at my house, was released in 1981. The playing board is (you guessed it) a dungeon, with corridors and rooms and chambers, all bristling with various unfriendly creatures guarding loot. The initial levels have easier enemies and less lucrative rewards, but as you push deeper you encounter far more challenging nasties and can pull in the good stuff. Part of what makes Dungeon! so replayable is that all of these monsters and treasures are on cards that are shuffled and deployed randomly within their levels, so you're never sure what evil lurks behind that door, or whether the juice will be worth the squeeze.

There's a scalability to the game as well. You can choose to be a weaker Elf or Thief and loiter in the easier neighborhoods, or you can buck up to Superhero or Wizard and go big-game hunting. Of course, the treasure thresholds for victory are lower for the small-fry classes. The gameplay is simple, too: each monster has a numerical rating from 1 to 12, and to defeat it, you have to match or surpass that number by rolling two dice. Win and you get the treasure, lose and something bad happens. The ratings differ for each class, so an Elf might need a 7 to beat a Giant Spider, while the Superhero only has to roll a 4. You get the idea.

There's more to it than that, with traps and secret doors and magic weapons, but the beauty of Dungeon! remains its simplicity. Unlike the cumbersome and sometimes byzantine rules of its big brother D&D, you can figure out Dungeon! and be playing in minutes. And play several games in an hour or two. For those unsure about D&D, consider Dungeon! a lighter alternative. I know for my brother and me, this was in heavy rotation when we only wanted to concern ourselves with two dice at a time.

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