Dungeonquest:  review

Article published at The Kulkmanns Gamebox

Copyright Đ 1998 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Trier, Germany


Originally invented by Dan Glimne & Jacob Bonds in Sweden.
Originally published at Alga, Sweden.


Publisher: Games Workshop 1987

Status: not available

A thousand years have passed since the evil wizard TīSiraman fell, but men still fear to enter his dark fortress of Dragonfire Castle, which squats grim and brooding atop Wyrmīs Craig. In the villages that huddle in itīs shadow, stories are whispered of the fabulous treasures which fill the castleīs dungeons, and of the Things which guard them. Old men draw closer to their fires and tell of the noises which echo across the valley at night, when the castle seems to take on a malign life of its own. Few indeed return in daylight; their eyes are troubled, and they are reluctant to tell of their adventures. None has ever resumed after nightfall.

The ruddy light of sunlight begins to burn off the autumn mist, and four pairs of eyes look towards the looming keep. Four minds reflect on the villagersī tales, and four hands tighten their grip on four weapons. Sir Rohan the Knight, with his shining armour and greatsword; Ulf Grimhand, the Barbarian from the far north, with his huge double-headed axe; El-Adoran the Ranger, with his deadly longbow and the foresterīs shortsword; and Volrik the Brave, the swaggering Adventurer. Fools or Heroes ? Only time will tell.

One of the most remarkable boardgames I ever played is "Dungeonquest" by Games Workshop. Being richly outfitted with a mulitcoloured gamesboard, room-tiles, miniatures and many cards of different kinds, the game promises interesting gameplaye for many hours. During the game, 1 to four players take up the role of adventurers bound to explore the fabled Dragonfire Castle in order to bring home fame and fortune. Three of the possible four characters are Fighters, while the fourth is some sort of Ranger, having a Bow as a weapon. Unfortunately no treasure is unguarded, and thus the corridors of the castle crawl with many different kind of monsters and they are also filled with traps, hampering the progress of the daring adventurers. Last but not least, the players must reach the treasure room and get back to the outside in 26 turns, otherwise the sun will set and turn the castle into a slaughterhouse which players canīt escape anymore...

Each of the player starts the game at one of the corners of the gameboard, while the treasure room containing a terrible dragon is at the center of the board. The players donīt know which way they can take to reach the treasure chamber, since there are no corridors on the board. So each turn each player has to draw a random room tile which he has to fit onto the gameboard, thus allowing the player to travel through the castle. But unfortunately these room-tiles are not always straight corridors or crossings. Sometimes there may be unexpected turns which will again lead away from the treasure chamber, taking precious time to find a detour. Even more important are the bigger rooms the players may encounter. Here they have to draw a random event card from the room-cards deck, showing an event from a large variety like attacks, trap, treasure, a corpse etc. Players may lose lifepoints here, but they may also gain treasure or arefacts which will help them on their quests. There are also special room tiles containing many kinds of obstacles, like Cave-Ins, Traps, Chasms, Pits, Rotating Rooms, Doors, Portcullis etc, with all these obstacles taking the players valueable time to overcome.

If a player has finally found a way to enter the treasure room, he will discover that the Dragon guarding the treasure is asleep. This enables the player to take 2 random treasure items a turn, but he also has to draw a Dragonīs counter to see if the Dragon awakes. After taking a share of the treasure, the players have to leave again in order to reach an exit before the sum will set. Finally the player who left the castle with most treasure wins the game.

So far Dungeonquest might sound like an ordinary adventure game, but the most outstanding fact about the game is its absolute lack of strategy. The game is strongly based on luck, with luck deciding almost every action a player might take. Furthermore, the players have an estimated chance of survival of 15 PERCENT! This results in a normal game of Dungeonquest having all 4 players DEAD before they can reach an exit of the castle. I have played about 25 sessions of the game, and I managed to escape the castle ONCE (Having not reached the treasure room because no entry could be found due to unfitting room-tiles, thus having collected only some smaller treasure on my way). Well, itīs hard to say whether gamers may evaluate this game as an absolute waste of time and resources, but personally I have grown to like the game a lot. My fondness of the game strongly depends on Dungeonquests high suitability as a Solo-game. Due to the luck-based playing system and the narrow chance of ending the game alive, the game for me poses a challenge to try to survive the perils of Dragonfire Castle. Perhaps the game plays even best when played Solo, since in a multiplayer game a player might die as early as the first turn, and there is nothing more boring than seeing all other players go on playing for an hour or so...

Obviously there were some more gamers who liked the game, since Games Workshop went as far as producing two expansion sets for Dungeonquest. (Originally are they published as one expanesion set in Sweden)

The Burial Service was Brief and to the point. The initiate intoned the formula from memory, in a flat voice that has spoken the names many times before. Long before the end, most of the pitifully small band of mourners had chosen to step from the cold shadow of Wyrmīs Craig, and trot briskly towards the advertised warmth of the tavern door. Looking up from his devotions, the initiate realised the pall bearers had gone with them. He looked nervously at the four who remained, thought better of the question that came to mind, and scampered off to find someone who would lower the body into the grave.

"In all honesty" laughed Ulf Grimhand, "I didnīt think he would make it back. I mean, some First Timers just look like Dragon Food." The others nodded. The sentiment might not have suited them, but they recognised the accuracy behind it.

Sir Rohan looked up at the Castle, which was bathed in an awkward sunlight, which softened the grim image which was burned into his mind. "There isnīt a man alive now who has been into the Castle and returned, save those who are standing by this grave."

"All the more Treasure left for us, then" cackled Volrik, who was ever to see the potential profit in any situation.

"TīSiraman will get us eventually," growled Ulf, "But I think we can expect a little more profit from the enterprise first."

El-Adoran kicked some dirt into the grave, and made some gesture with his hand that might have been a mark of respect or might have confirmed that he too thought the ex-adventurer was Dragon Meat from the day he arrived.

"It takes a lot of the pleasure out of the game if we four are the only ones left going up there. If there arenīt hordes of other fools coming here to be slaughtered, we shanīt get the credit we deserve for our pains."

"I donīt want to share the Treasure with anyone !" snapped Volrik, but he held up his hands in front of the advancing bulk of Ulf Grimhand to show that present company was excepted.

"The way you are going, I hardly think that emptying the Wizardīs vaults is a problem", Rohan smiled. "Itīs been at least three months since you came out with a battered gold cup und your sword bent like a horseshoe. I think we could afford to advertise for some new blood..."

"Bloodīs right !" howled Ulf, greatly amused. He composed the proclamation on the spot. "Adventurers Wanted for Dungeon Quest. Pay excellent. Prospects poor. Only Fools or Heroes need Apply."

And strangely, thatīs just what they got...

In Heroes for Dungeonquest 12 new characters are introduced to the game. These new charcters arenīt simple fighters like the heroes contained in the basic game, but they are from a large mix of fantasy professions.

All these charcters are suplied in Citadel lead miniatures, giving the game a much more realistic look. Due to their special abilities, these character also give more possibilites to the players, although the basic principle of "High Luck" isnīt changed. Even with these characters the high solitaire suitability of the game remains !

Once again four figures stood at the foot of Wyrmīs Craig, heads back, eyes seeking a way through the mist. They fingered their weapons nervously, with an air of those who know what awaits them.

"The problem," said Sir Rohan in a soft voice, "isnīt so much the Dragon, itīs getting to the Treasure chamber in the first place."

"Iīve managed it !" sneered Volrik, ever confident.

"And brought back nothing for your pains !" replied Ulf Grimhand, shaking with laughter. His voive echoed off the side of the mountain.

"If there was any other way through Dragonfire Castle..." whispered Rohan.

"Maybe there is..." El-Adoran ran his hand through his straggling hair. "When last I ventured within, I found a passage that led down into the depth of the Castle. By the light of my torch, I could see there were endless Catacombs, honeycombing the lower levels of the Castle. They look deserted !"

"Nothing in TīSiramanīs Castle is ever unguarded," jeered Volrik.

"Maybe not," said Rohan, clearly. "But tomorrow, perhaps, we will explore the Catacombs, and see where those passages lead."

"Right under the Dragonīs - !" cried Grimhand, making an obscene gesture with his hand. Rohan sniffed the air disdainfully.

"Thereīs just one thing," added El-Adoran. "Iīm not entirely sure how you get out of the Catacombs once you have gone down there."

The other three turned from him to stare once more up at the Crag. It looked as if their Adventures in Dragonfire Castle were about to take a new twist.

The other expansion are the Dungeonquest Catacombs. This expansion doesnīt introduce any more charcters, but a whole lot of new room tiles and cards, treasures, monsters etc. Furthermore, the castle gets a second floor in form of catacombs below the mainboard. The players travel through these Catacombs by cards, and they may reappear almost anywhere on the gameboard.

With both of these expansions, the game becomes quite a thrilling experience and today the basic game and the expansions have become collectorīs items. My evaluation is given on the whole game plus expansions.


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