Dungeoneer: Vault of the Fiends
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A twisted mage has built an impenetrable vault in which to pursue his heinous experiments. Horrendous fiends now plague the countryside, terrorizing helpless peasants and destroying vital crops. The people cry out for great heroes to confront this evil. Do you have the courage to enter the deadly Vault of the Fiends?
Each Dungeoneer set is a stand-alone card game for 2 to 4 players that may be combined with other sets for more dungeon-delving fun! You take on the role of a hero attempting to complete a series of quests, while the other players act as the Dungeonlord on their turns, directing perils against you. Vault of the Fiends features pumpable monsters that scale with the level of your opponent, map spaces that change with conditions in the game, and more intense strategic interaction.
I basically view this game as an expensive CheapAss game. The box only comes with cards -- you need pawns, counters, and dice to go along with it. (The little cutouts that come with the game don't work as well as real pawns.)
The rules say the game takes 30 minutes per-player (hence, 60 minutes for a 2-player game, 90 minutes for a 3-player game, etc.). I'll believe this estimate, but only if everyone has played before.
The game itself is really fun, but the instruction book is a sizable aggregation of small-print rules and examples that will scare away some amateur gamers. (Though, if you've played "Magic: the Gathering" or any reasonably complex D&D-type game, this game will seem like a mild simplification.) Once everyone wraps their heads around the rules, the gameplay is pretty straightforward...
You're all adventures in this dungeon, and you win by completing three quests (which are assigned somewhat randomly). Each quest just requires you to go to a specific room in the dungeon and perform some action (e.g. kill a monster, pay some cost, roll some dice). Finding the room you need to be in to finish your quest is usually much harder than actually performing the action, so it encourages people to explore rather than just hack at each other. There are also global quests which anyone can complete, and you must complete at least one global quest to win, so it causes people to compete more (especially at the end).
While you're trying to find the right rooms to finish your quests, each player accumulates "glory" and "peril" points, which are basically mana points used for spellcasting. You can use your own "glory" to cast beneficial spells/items on yourself, and you can use your opponents' "peril" points to cast detrimental curses/monsters on them. Yes, you read that right -- you spend your opponents' peril, not your own. This means that every player is effectively a Dungeon Master for all the other players.
The first edition of the game (Vault of the Fiends) has a number of misprints on the cards, and is not very balanced, since there is only one of each spell/montser in the deck. The second edition (Tomb of the Lich Lord) is balanced much better and more predictably. I haven't played the others yet, nor have I tried combining sets (which is advisable if you want to play with more than four people).
My biggest criticisms of the game are that:
1.) The rules are a bit long and complex, which cause the gameplay to slow down a lot if people are unfamiliar with them. In particular, everyone needs to know how to resolve combat (monsters) and threats (traps).
2.) The game is slightly biased towards being more of a race and less of a role-playing game, which makes it a little unfair if someone gets lucky and manages to finish a quest on their first turn.
Still, a great game. I'm definitely buying the other versions.
One last note-- if you do buy/play this game, be aware that there are some situations (fairly rare) which the rules don't really cover. Most avid gamers can easily agree on what the logical extension of the rules should be. Though, one source of confusion and disagreement that I've hit is how to interpret speed/movement bonuses (i.e. the white boot symbol). The way we've been playing it, we make note of whether the boot is in a circle or a diamond. If it is in a circle, then it does add to your movement points (awarded at the start of each turn). If it is in a diamond, it does not give you more movement, but does help you overcome speed threats (traps, pits, spikes, locked doors, etc.).