Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Game Expansion Review - Dungeon Lords: Festival Season

It’s the same every year. You can call it the natural order of things, you can call it the “Circle of Life” – heck, you could even get Elton John to write a song about it! – but it’s regular like clockwork. You spend the four seasons hiring monsters, setting traps, and ordering minions to make things danker (with dark highlights, of course!)… then a lousy party of adventurers shows up with their torches and their sticky fingers for anything shiny and makes a mess of all your hard work.

Ah, such is the life of a Dungeon Lord – but things are changing in the kindgom, thanks to that crafty game designer, Vlaada Chvatil (no, I can’t pronounce his name correctly – thanks ever so much for asking). Through some weird fluctuation in the atmosphere, there are now FIVE seasons in the kingdom… and we’re so excited (and we just can’t hide it), so there will be a festival each year.

There’s a whole lot of other new stuff packed into this expansion box… as far as I can tell, it’s only missing two things:
  1. the ability to play with more than four players
  2. your own personal minion to fetch krullers & iced coffees for you and your friends while you play
Since there is probably some legal/ethical/moral questions raised by stuffing a minion into a game box – though these wouldn’t bother your average Dungeon Lord – we won’t count that against CGE or Z-Man. At the same time, I personally think the decision not to add an extra player to the game was a wise move – doing otherwise would likely involve some serious balance issues due to the design of the game.

My capsule review after my first play (with a pre-production copy nearly a year ago) was “It’s Dungeon Lord-ier!” Three more plays has confirmed my initial analysis – this is most certainly one of those “if you liked the original game & wanted more, here it is” kind of expansions. (By the same token, it’s one of those “if you didn’t like the original game, this isn’t going to change your mind” kind of expansions.)

What Dungeon Lords: Festival Season has in copious amounts is MORE:
  • more monsters – to be specific, a Cockatrice, an Elderbeast (a refugee from the Cthulhu Ancient Ones Assisted Living Facility), and an Evil Eye [insert your own lame “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” joke here]
  • more rooms – I wonder what kind of cocktails they serve in the Violet Lounge? On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that the gaming area of a FLGS I used to play at was the model for the Hall of Chaos.
  • more traps – nothing says “Welcome to the Dungeon” better than a spot of Plague (Guns’n’Roses soundtrack optional)… or you can simply Catapult one of your monsters amidst the party. (Yes, we think the imp trap designers watched “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” one too many times.)
  • more spells – as if those scrawny magic-users weren’t irritating enough, now they’ve got the ability to Level Up members of the party (without twinking!)
  • more paladins – two new holier-than-thou warriors, doing their best Gimli & Legolas schtick (yes, it’s a dwarf & an elf – causing the same kind of havoc as the previous human do-gooders… only there’s two of ‘em!)
  • more events – evidently the Minion branch of the Teamsters has been organizing in your area, because you can now be hit with a Minion Holiday. Or someone could send a message to the stupid human paladin and then you’ll have three knights in white satin to deal with.
  • more gifts – for your minions to bring if you’re using the evil (and aptly named) Minions Bearing Gifts variant
  • more delightful humor in the extremely well-written rulebook… as well as more rules variants for you to try
I guess if you want to get technical (like those inspectors from the pesky Ministry of Dungeons), the dwarven & elven paladins aren’t really new – they were an Essen giveaway. But, hey, they are new to me, so under the Inarguable Rules of Reviewer Rightness, I call “shotgun” or “dibs” or “sanctuary” or whatever.

The folks at CGE wanted more than MORE in Dungeon Lords: Festival Season – they also included a whole truckload of NEW at no additional charge:
  • bards – a new character class who know a wide catalog of classic adventurer tunes (including, of course, “Brave Sir Robin”) and use them to encourage & embolden the dungeon party. The cowards (who immediately slink to the rear of the party and begin tuning their lutes) thankfully also know dirges – so as you reduce the number of the invaders, their mournful medieval Morrissey-like ballads make them less effective.
  • unique opportunities – each year, four new opportunities arise, replacing one of the normal places you send your minions. Now you have traps pre-installed, hire really tough monsters, invest gold at the local bank, or even rent a basement in town as an extra room for your dungeon! You do, thankfully, have a one season “warning” about what new opportunity will arise.
  • festival season – those unique opportunities lead to the Dungeon Lords version of a Pampered Chef party. You send your imps to pick up a special bonus, with the player sending the largest party of imps getting to choose first.
  • improved tunnels – a new item that can be built thanks to one of the unique opportunities – you can pimp out one of your standard tunnels with extra features, chrome, and flames painted on the walls. I’m a big fan of the Dark Tunnel, which reminds me (fondly) of the “Your Torch Goes Out” room card from Dungeonquest.
  • dungeon pets – because who doesn’t want a DireBunny or a Baby Golem skittering about underfoot? You now acquire one of these furry friends during the first season of each year. They can be sent into the dungeon to nip at the heels of the adventurers in a variety of ways – or you can hold onto them, feed them overpriced Monster Kibble, and gain a victory point for each one you still have at the end of the game.
  • there’s even a very clever player board addition that folds to fit nicely over the base game player board & give you places for the expanded group of adventurers and your dungeon pets. (It’s really quite impressive – I was expecting stickers but this is much cooler.)
  • Less sophisticated but still nice is the festival season board to add to the regular timeline.
That’s a lot of extra stuff to add onto a game… which begs the mathematical question: does MORE + NEW = better?

The answer (for me, at least) is a resounding “yes”… with a couple of reservations.
  • Reservation #1: The added season and added round of combat each year do extend the length of the game. When playing with two players, the added time doesn’t seem like much, but with a full complement of four, it’s added about 30 minutes to the game. (The time isn’t due to fiddling with bits or uselessly complex rules – it’s more player decision-making & action.)
  • Reservation #2: While I once again applaud the player board addition, I wish that CGE had included a sticker for the main board to remind us when to draw dungeon pets. Almost every time we’ve played, we’ve missed this at least once.
Those are, of course, pretty minor reservations. 

On the other hand, I love the variety of choices & the expansion of the ways things can go haywire in the game. The curve for planning ahead is more difficult (primarily because of the unique opportunities) – but each time we play, my look-ahead is getting better as I get to know the myriad of options. I also believe that the larger mix of monsters, traps, rooms & pets lets each player develop different strategies – I’ve been able to pursue both a “peg the Evil-o-meter at 11” strategy and a “Chamber of Commerce/Good Neighbor Dungeon Lord” strategy with success.

For fans of the game, I think this is an excellent expansion and recommend it highly.

Note: there was some word on BGG about some of the copies having printing problems – Z-Man has moved quickly to deal with those issues and continue to provide excellent customer service. Don’t let this dissuade you from purchasing a copy.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Oh, come on - no mp3 of your attempt to pronounce his name? I can do it (or at least he lied to him and said I did pretty well...)