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Writer, EFL teacher, web developer, amateur chef, and gamer. When out of the classroom and offline, Jay is eating homemade tacos on his balcony while reading a rulebook. He enjoys his expat life in Taipei. 

#016 Dungeon Duel (2018)

Designer: Zong-Hua Yang
Artist: Ru-Yi Shi
Publisher: Good Game Studio
Published: 2018
Player Count: 2
Time:  20-30 minutes

Dungeon Duel is a 2-player dungeon crawler card game! Slaughter your way through the horde of monsters, absorb the souls of the fallen, discover legendary weapons, wield the power of elemental magic against your foes, set and trigger deadly traps against your opponent, rescue imprisoned warriors and have them fight alongside you, discover the mystical healing waters of the deep, slay the Six Evil Gods of Yarlungde, and you and you alone will emerge victorious from your Dungeon Duel!!


—WHAT AWAITS IN THE DUNGEON—

 Venture through 3 dungeon floors!

Venture through 3 dungeon floors!

 Adventure awaits you in this tiny box.

Adventure awaits you in this tiny box.

 trap tokens

trap tokens

 wooden player tokens

wooden player tokens

 HP & Soul Level (XP) Trackers

HP & Soul Level (XP) Trackers

04 reference card.jpg
 sample Elemental Monster cards

sample Elemental Monster cards

 6 unique Magic Power cards

6 unique Magic Power cards

 14 unique Hero Class abilities to unlock

14 unique Hero Class abilities to unlock

 sample Regular Monster cards

sample Regular Monster cards

 the Six Evil Gods of Yarlungde lurk in the depths of the dungeon

the Six Evil Gods of Yarlungde lurk in the depths of the dungeon

 sample Weapon cards

sample Weapon cards

 sample Follower cards

sample Follower cards

 All 5 Healing cards

All 5 Healing cards

 trigger Trap cards to crush your opponent

trigger Trap cards to crush your opponent


—LOST IN THE DUNGEON—

 Thank you, Reference Card, for explaining. What in the world does this even mean?!?!

Thank you, Reference Card, for explaining. What in the world does this even mean?!?!

You’ve seen the components. You may be thinking what I did when I first saw them. I usually save this part of the review until after gameplay; however, I wanted this to stew in your mind as it did mine during the games I have played of Dungeon Duel. There’s a dragon in this dungeon, and her name is graphic design.There were some poor graphic design choices that went into this game. The graphic design isn’t terrible, but more concise, clearer, and more intuitive choices could have been made. There are also twin cave trolls guarding the entrance to this dungeon, and their names are Rule Book and Reference Card. The English was fine. Grammar solid. The 8-page rule book and reference card were very confusing and very unclear. The Game Setup, Goals, and Combat portions were clear and concise. The How to Play and Post Combat portions were a mess. This is incredibly unfortunate because Dungeon Duel is actually a very simple game with some very simple mechanics, and I’m going to prove it to you. That’s right. I’m going to teach you how to play this bloody game.


—REVISED HOW-TO-PLAY RULES—

General Game Flow…

On your turn, you will take one action, and then check if an end game condition has been triggered. If not, your opponent takes their turn. Players will continue taking turns back and forth. When one player uses an action with the last card of the 1st or 2nd floor of the dungeon, the other player begins taking their action with the first card of the following floor. If at anytime the bottommost dungeon floor card of a column is face down, immediately flip it face up. When one of four end game conditions is met, the game immediately ends. You win if you:

  1. Exceed your opponent's Soul Level (XP) by 4 or more.

  2. Defeat one of each of the 6 different Elemental monsters (brown bordered cards).

  3. Your opponent’s HP is reduced to or below zero.

  4. Have the highest Soul Level (XP) after the 3rd floor is cleared.

 Game Setup: Each of the three dungeon floors consists of 25 cards—five columns of 5 cards each.

Game Setup: Each of the three dungeon floors consists of 25 cards—five columns of 5 cards each.

On Your Turn…

take only one of four possible actions: Interact, Rest, Learn, or Explore (originally called a sacrifice action). You cannot take an action that would directly kill you.

Interact - each floor of the dungeon consists of 25 cards—five columns of 5 cards each. On your turn, you choose one of the five columns and then you must interact with the bottommost card. How you interact with the card, depends on what kind of card it is. There are 7 different kinds of cards on the dungeon floor.

  1. Weapon (red border) - acquire the weapon card and place it in your tableau. This is no limit to the number of weapon cards that can be acquired by one player.

  2. Follower (light green border) - prior to acquiring the follower card, the player must pay the recruitment fee. The 1st/2nd/3rd/4th follower will cost 1/2/3/4 of your HP. After the recruitment fee has been paid, place the follower card in your tableau. There is no limit to the number of follower cards that can be acquired by one player.

  3. Healing (blue border) - there are two icons (left and right) on the healing card. The left is for Interact Actions; the right is for future Rest Actions. When you interact with a Healing card, immediately raise your HP by the amount written on the left. Then place the healing card in your tableau. On future Rest Actions, your rest ability will increase by the amount shown on the right icon on all acquired healing cards. There is no limit to the number of healing cards that can be acquired by one player.

  4. Elemental Monster (brown border) - begin combat!

  5. Regular Monster (dark green border) - begin combat!

  6. Boss Monster (purple border) - begin combat!

  7. Trap (grey border) - there are three kinds of trap cards:

    Direct Damage - immediately lower your opponent’s HP by the amount shown on the card. Remove the trap card from the game.

    Death Trap - place the three death trap tokens of your color on any three (face up or face down) remaining cards on the dungeon floor. If your opponent interacts with a card with a death trap token, they must lose a follower with the matching weapon icon (green spear, red sword, or blue crossbow). If the opponent does not have a matching follower, nothing happens. Remove the trap card from the game.

    Damage Trap - place the two damage trap tokens of your color on any two (face up or face down) remaining cards on the dungeon floor. If your opponent interacts with a card with a damage trap token, they immediately lose HP equal to the amount on the damage card. You may keep the damage trap card in your tableau to remind you of how much damage each trap does. Once the current dungeon floor is cleared, remove the damage trap card from the game.

    **Special Trap Rules - you cannot place more than one trap token per dungeon floor card. After a trap token is placed, if the next dungeon floor card in the column is face down, immediately flip the card face up.

 Damage Traps

Damage Traps

 Direct Damage

Direct Damage

Rest Action - choose one of the five dungeon floor columns and remove the bottommost card from the game. Then immediately increase your HP by 3. If you have any Healing Cards in your tableau, increase your HP by the total amount (right icons) written on all of your Healing Cards. Choosing a dungeon floor card for a rest action does not trigger traps because the player is not interacting with the card. You cannot choose a Boss Monster (purple) card for a Rest Action.

Learn Action - 6 (three per player) of the 14 Hero Class cards (orange border) are drafted by the players at the start of each game. If your Soul Level (XP) is equal to or exceeds the number in the top left corner of one of your three Hero Class cards, you may use a Learn Action to unlock and learn your new special ability! Place your unlocked learned Hero Class card in your tableau to differentiate it from the locked and unlearned Hero Class cards.

Explore Action - choose one of the five dungeon floor columns, remove the bottommost card from the game, immediately reduce your HP, and immediately take another action: interact, rest, learn, or even explore. There is no limit to the number of explore actions a player can take; however, the cost of each explore action taken throughout the game will increase by 2 HP. The first explore action you take throughout the game (regardless of dungeon floor) costs 2 HP. The second explore action you take throughout the game (regardless of dungeon floor) costs 4 HP. The third costs 6 HP; the fourth costs 8 HP. You may keep the card face down in front of you to help keep track of the number of explore actions you have taken. Choosing a dungeon floor card for an explore action does not trigger traps because the player is not interacting with the card. You cannot choose a Boss Monster (purple) card for an Explore Action. You cannot take an explore action with the final card of a dungeon floor.

Post Combat…

sample monsters.jpg

You defeated a Boss Monster (purple border) or a Regular Monster (dark green border)!! Place the defeated monster card in your tableau and increase your Soul Level (XP) but the number in the top left corner of the card. If your Soul Level (XP) is equal to or exceeds the number in the top left corner of one of your three Hero Class Cards (orange border), you may spend a future Learn Action unlock your new special ability!

two elementals magic power.jpg

You defeated an Elemental Monster (brown border)!! Place the defeated Elemental monster card in your tableau. Keep the Elemental monster cards separate from the other monster cards. Do NOT increase your Soul Level (XP)! If you are the first player to defeat two Elemental Monsters of the same element (two fire, two lightning, two water, etc), then immediately acquire the corresponding Magic Power Card (red border with green elvish writing). If you are the first player to defeat one of each of the 6 different Elemental monsters, you immediately win Dungeon Duel!


—FINAL THOUGHTS—

 One is XP. One counts the number of fire elements. What? Why are you confused?

One is XP. One counts the number of fire elements. What? Why are you confused?

Yes, the graphic design is problematic at times. Why have numbers in the top left corner of the Elemental Monster cards or Magic Power cards that could easily be confused with XP? Why call it Soul Level instead of XP? Why have two decks for Hero Class cards for English and Chinese, when the Magic Power cards were double-sided? Why aren’t there double-sided (red and blue) damage trap tokens when the death trap tokens were double sided? WHY is the death trap token that kills FOLLOWERS and not weapons labeled WEAPON DESTROYER? Why didn’t they combine the action and card section of the Reference Card? Why do I have to spend an action to learn a Hero Class card but not a Magic card? Why is the how-to-play portion of the rules so wordy and confusing?

I’m angry. I’m really angry. I’m furious because I love this game, but it also breaks my heart! Yeah, you read that correctly. I love this game. I’ve been a big fan of JRPGs for many years, and this scratches that itch for me. I honestly don’t know of any other 2-player dungeon crawling card game that abstracts the dungeon crawling experience better than or faster than Dungeon Duel. None. When you strip away the convoluted rule book, you’re left with one of my favorite kinds of games—simple to play with hard decisions. On your turn, you’re only choosing one of five cards. That’s it. However, choosing which card to get and what card to not get and potentially let your opponent get can be beautifully frustrating.

There is only one currency in the game—your life. Kill a monster? Lose life. Free a follower? Lose life. Explore the dungeon? Lose life. Having your life be the only currency in the game adds palatable tension to each and every decision you make. Healing cards are so rare that you’ll literally sigh when you interact with one. Resting is something you will have to do often, but each time you rest, you’ll hate not acquiring weapons or killing monsters. Combat is simple. No dice. Just your life (and weapons & magic). Each monster has a weakness that aligns with one of three weapon/follower classes. Crafting and balancing your party’s Magic and Weapons reminds me of classic JRPGs.

Having multiple paths to victory adds fantastic multiple tug-of-war elements to the game. You’re constantly feeling pressured to acquire to weapons, followers, monsters, and traps before your opponent does. Dungeon Duel in many ways feels like Dungeon Race as you’re racing to complete your goals while preventing your opponent from reaching theirs.

 14 unique Hero Class abilities. Only 6 are used per game.

14 unique Hero Class abilities.
Only 6 are used per game.

There are also 14 Hero Class cards in the box, but only 6 are drafted by the players each game. These add great re-playability and help shape and guide you on how to play for every game. Should you go for low level Hero Class cards so you can access them earlier? Should you go for some high level Hero Class cards that are ultra powerful but won’t unlock until the second floor? The Hero Class and Magic Power cards add great momentum to the game. Building up and tailoring your party to your specific needs is always tons of fun and useful as the dungeon floors and the monsters within get harder and harder.

And you get all of this in one tiny box.

Now due to the multiple victory conditions and possible poor playing on one player’s part, it is possible (though rare) to win the game on the 1st floor. Most of the games I have played have gone halfway through the 2nd or 3rd floors. I’ve only cleared all three floors once. This can lead to inconsistent game lengths. Expect your learning game to reach 45 minutes; however, after your first game you should be able to knock it out in under half an hour. Analysis Paralysis (AP) is something that can happen in this game as the decisions can be agonizing at times; however, I believe that AP comes form the player and not how this game is designed.

Hopefully, the second printing of Dungeon Duel will have better rules and have cleaned up some of the graphic design. It feels these mistakes were able to happen as the game was rushed through development. I strongly recommend you give this game a try, but due to the rules and graphic design I can understand if you are hesitant to commit to a blind purchase. If you are brave enough to face the twin cave trolls (rules) and the dragon (graphic design), I’m sure you’ll find a great game with tough decisions and glorious battles waiting for you in this small treasure chest of a game.


—TL; DR—

Gamer: Cardboard East recommends Dungeon Duel for fans of JRPGs or gamers who desire a portable analog dungeon crawling experience or for those gamers looking for a deeply thematic 2-player card game. The graphic design and rule book are hurdles, but the game is really rewarding. HOWEVER I strongly recommend you play this game. It’s worth it.
Family: Cardboard East does not recommend Dungeon Duel for family and non-gamers. The graphic design and rules are hurdles that might prove to be too high for non-gamers. HOWEVER, I do recommend this game for gamers teaching non-gamers about dungeon crawlers. Since it’s a two-player game, it’s easy to guide the new player through the dungeon and its rules.
Party: Cardboard East does not recommend this game for the party environment; however, the game is simple enough to enjoy with a glass of your favorite booze.

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