Game Length: 90 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 4 players who don’t mind learning, and aren’t afraid to lose it all
Dungeon Lords is a game designed by Vlaada Chvátil, renowned for designing unique and complex games with innovative ideas. The rules of Dungeon Lords (and indeed many Vlaada games) are very front-loaded, meaning that there is a wide range of different concepts that must be learned before a game can start, but once the game starts the concepts will make more sense. This means it can be overwhelming to those who are not prepared to learn complex rules, but the game offers a compelling puzzle to those who are willing to invest the time to learn it.
Dungeon Lords turns the age-old trope of heroes questing through a dungeon on its head, and puts the players in the shoes (or spiked greaves, if you prefer) of a dark lord trying to defend his subterranean lair from pesky heroic invaders. Those familiar with the Dungeon Keeper series of videogames should be at home with the idea behind Dungeon Lords.
There’s a lot to keep track of in Dungeon Lords, and the game is not for the faint of heart. The game revolves around assembling the pieces to help you with the main puzzle – defending your dungeon from the invading heroes. Each turn, players will dispatch their minions to perform tasks, such as hiring monsters, mining for gold, building new tunnels and so on.
However, they need to be careful how they expand – the Ministry of Dungeons is quite heavy-handed when it comes to collecting taxes, which are based on dungeon size, and your monsters won’t work for free – they’ll need food, gold, or maybe the opportunity to terrorise the locals, which won’t put you in good stead when the heroes come knocking. You’ll need to put down two waves of heroes before the end of the game – or at least hold them off until they get bored and leave.
Before you play Dungeon Lords, know that it is not a forgiving game. If you overextend your dungeon and can’t pay your taxes or monsters, you could end up in a worse place than if you didn’t expand or hire at all. If you can’t take care of the attacking heroes, you could end up with your dungeon completely conquered. If you allow your reputation to become too tainted, you could attract a powerful paladin to your dungeon, who can be such a challenge that even experienced players choose to avoid him entirely. This can be demoralising to new players but solving the puzzle of how to best protect your dungeon is mentally engaging – and next time, you may even be able to defeat the paladin!
Dungeon Lords plays best with four players, as with three or two players, dummy players are used to occupy certain actions on the board instead of allowing actual players to take those spaces. However, the game is still satisfying with less players, merely a little different.
Dungeon Lords comes highly recommended for experienced boardgamers. The quirky art and Vlaada’s Orwellian sense of humour add a lot of charm to the game, and the board art is packed with little details. The game itself is quite unique, though players will need to plan their moves carefully as mistakes can and will be punished. If you can deal with that, and a lengthy learning time before your first play, then definitely give Dungeon Lords a spin.