Review – Adventure Games: The Dungeon

Adventure Games: The Dungeon (which was released last year alongside Adventure Games: Monochrome Inc.) takes the experience of a digital adventure game and crams that into a small box for tabletop play. Characters start in a room, able to see aspects of the location that can be interacted with. These interactions produce information and, on occasion, item cards. By figuring out how to use item cards to advance into additional rooms, players can unravel the plot, and (perhaps) emerge victorious. In the case of The Dungeon, that starting room is (shockingly) in a dungeon.

The interaction with the environment comes from an adventure book. Each aspect of a location that can be interacted with has a number and each item has a number. To inspect an aspect of the location, turn to the numbered entry in the book. To try to use an item with a location or another item, combine those numbers and turn to the appropriate entry (or find out that there is no entry because your efforts were in vain). That’s almost the entire mechanics of the game.

KOSMOS also makes my favorite line of ‘escape room games’ (Exit: the Game), and that style of game is a natural comparison for the Adventure Games series. However, they played much more distinctly than I expected. I went into The Dungeon thinking there would be more story and fewer puzzles, but the differences were much greater. While there are some similarities (single-play game at a low price point that involves general thinking in a social setting but does not use traditional board game mechanics), the experiences are ultimately quite different – the Adventure Games are not just a little twist on the escape room game concept. Solving puzzles/riddles is, to some extent, the be and end all of escape room games. The central mechanic of The Dungeon is like an old PC adventure game – go to a location, see what’s there, try to combine an item you have with a location to get something beneficial (e.g., use gold key with gold lock). Or, if that sort of problem-solving counts as a puzzle (PC adventure games are often described as involving puzzle-solving), it is such a drastically different type of puzzle-solving from escape room games.

One thing that Adventure Games does have in common with escape room games is being a true team effort, although Adventure Games tries to hide it. Here, each player gets their own character token, which is moved to whatever location they choose to interact with. But there is almost no meaning to where the pawns are located on the locations and almost no meaning to who the characters are. Items can be freely passed between characters, movement is unlimited, character “health” is ultimately shared and doesn’t matter except for eng-game scoring, and there are no other restrictions on who can do what. You could play the game without the pawns, with the group just choosing which locations to go to next, and almost nothing would change – except, perhaps, that it always technically being one player’s turn means that there’s always one person who has final say on what to do next.

KOSMOS has a “helper app” for its games. While I am most familiar with it being a fancy timer in the Exit series, it does a lot more work here. Whenever you need to check an entry in the adventure book, you can instead plug that entry into the app. This is not only faster than the book, but the app will then read the entry out loud for you, and do a very nice job of it. Our group really liked the voice actor, and I would highly recommend using the app.

The playing time listed on the box was 90 minutes per chapter. This is one of those rare occasions when the box seems to be overestimating, as we took about an hour to complete each chapter.

The Dungeon is not a legacy game and there is no component destruction, so it can theoretically be replayed. I couldn’t see wanting to do that, however. There is some minor variation, such as which character encounters some of the locations. There is at least one other source of variation, which I will not elaborate on because spoilers. But these aren’t enough to make a second play interesting – I think that playing through a second time would be of value only if you wanted to see how high a score you could get. Personally, I have no problem with games of this sort that aren’t really for replay – if you like a game, $20 for three hours of play for a group is well worth it.

How you’ll feel about Adventure Games: The Dungeon after playing it is probably about what you feel about it right now. It recreates a digital adventure game experience, just with friends around a table. If figuring out how to combine items and locations in clever ways to unlock the next room and advance a story doesn’t sound interesting, The Dungeon is unlikely to throw a twist that’s going to change your mind. If that is something you’re interested in, The Dungeon will definitely deliver that experience for you.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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