Lessons from Board Games – Dungeon! and Social Interactions

I play a lot of games, some light and some heavy, and for the most part I’m not particularly afraid to jump into something pretty complicated. My group jumped from Risk to Pandemic to Battlestar Galactica in a few sessions, and the Flames of War rulebook is huge (I still haven’t read it all, because I don’t need to learn about artillery and aircraft if I don’t have any).

But still, I don’t mind a simpler game now and then (or 75% of the time) and Dungeon! is quite a simple game. You move, find monsters, roll a die, and either run away or get treasure, then go back to the center. There is almost no skill used in the game, and no strategy beyond the gamble of being at higher levels (which give you better payout but are more likely to kill you), or lower levels (which are easy but don’t give you much. It can be played mindlessly). Turns require almost no thought, just hope.


Just try not to destroy the components


And in my opinion, that doesn’t make it a bad game. Are there better games? Absolutely! But if you’re just sitting around talking, and want to do a little more than talk, it is absolutely the game to go for. Since it doesn’t require much thought, Dungeon! doesn’t impede the conversation. The most interruption it’ll cause is either when you tell someone it’s their turn, or when there is an “epic” battle going on (which the player will almost always lose). In some cases it even helps the conversation to progress: if you have someone who won’t stop talking, they likely will for at least a moment to take their turn, allowing someone else to get a word in while the other can still listen. It also livens up the evening (or any time) by adding in moment of excitement where the players can cheer for either a monster or another player to win a battle, and since most battles are determined by chance, there is very little the “better” gamers can do to make it more likely for them to win.  Everyone’s even, and the stakes are very low, unlike in heavier games, where an aura of tenseness or ill-will can persist near the end of the game. Not that that usually lasts for long, or a grudge is held, but sometimes it’s good to just not have it.

The components got better, but the art isn't as unique

The components got better, but the art isn’t as unique

There are plenty of other games that can fill this role: most dice or “filler-type” games will work just as well. The difference here is that Dungeon! takes a bit longer, which, depending on the scenario, can be good or bad. If you just want to play for fifteen or so minutes and then get to something else (usually a larger game) Dungeon! isn’t the one to go for. But if you have 45 minutes to kill before dinner (supper, lunch, brunch, tea, possibly breakfast) and the conversation, while still going, is a bit down, it works great for that. That doesn’t make it a great game, and just because it works for my group doesn’t mean it’ll work for yours. But I know if I want to have a conversation and play a game with multiple people, Dungeon! is the game I reach for, and I like it for that. It fills a niche I never thought needed to be filled before, and might not ever have intended to fill. So, well done, Dungeon!  My shelf is a bit more well-rounded now.


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