I recently finalized a “review crew” of three other gamers who will help me evaluate review copies for Meeple Mountain. This is a monumental step in my burgeoning writing career; a validation that now I have so many things to write about that I need a crew of dedicated team members willing to go all-in to try out any and all games which are sent my way. (Thanks in advance Kev, Peter and Isaac!)
The first game presented to the review crew: Dungeon Party, by Forbidden Games.
After a couple of disappointing plays, I may have to bribe the review crew to come back to my house!
You remember the game Quarters, right? Well, you do if you are of a certain age—I’m in my 40s—and you like going to bars with friends.
In a game of Quarters, one person—known as the “shooter”, which is an unfortunate name for any player nowadays—would try to one-bounce a quarter off of a table into a pint glass, while standing at a table or bar. Succeed, and the shooter makes someone else take a swig of their beer/cocktail/alcoholic beverage of choice.
Fail, and you have to take a big swig from your own drink. And this would go around until everyone got wasted, or realized they were wasting their time trying to throw money into an empty glass. Regardless, sitting at a bar with friends is always a good time so the social elements of Quarters always outweighed the gamification of bad drinking habits.
Nowadays, it’s a struggle to even find quarters, let alone play Quarters.
For our younger audience members: a quarter refers to a 25-cent cash denomination. It’s a coin—not to be confused with COIN, a wargaming term—made of mostly copper, and a little bit of nickel (about 8%, according to the US Mint). You needed quarters when you visited the arcade, paid for street parking, entered a phone booth or when you wanted to talk to your grandchildren while waxing poetic about “the good ol’ days” while fumbling dozens of quarters in your pants pocket.
Dungeon Party wants to take us back to those good ol’ days by taking the idea of Quarters to a new level: an accessible dungeon crawler with monsters represented by drink coasters.
Dungeon Party is very accessible. It just isn’t very good.
In Dungeon Party, players control characters straight out of Central Casting: elves, mages, warriors, etc. Players work together to defeat monsters in each room of the dungeon, ranging in strength from 5-20 hit points (HP), and whoever lands the killing blow on each monster will gain a treasure worth a certain number of victory points. When players defeat the final boss, the player with the highest total treasure value is the winner.
On a turn, players act on behalf of each of their characters to try and hit the current monster. All they have to do is place the monster (represented by a standard beer coaster, about 4”x4”) in the middle of the game table, then try to bounce a quarter from about 5 inches away once to land on the monster. That’s a hit, and the monster’s total HP drops by whatever damage output the active character delivers.
Miss with the coin, and the monster automatically hits the player-character for damage equal to its damage rating. This goes on until either the monster is defeated, moving the hero party to the next encounter, or the heroes are all knocked out in a single round of combat, ending the game.
On paper, Dungeon Party sounded interesting to me. Not particularly special, just an enjoyable social experience. What I didn’t factor in was how long it takes to play a standard game of Dungeon Party. The game gets much less interesting as the party gets deeper into the dungeon.
Quarters is fine as a game to play for, say, 10 minutes. One pass around the table, a chance to drink one or two drinks a little bit faster if I’m suddenly terrible at bouncing a coin into a glass. Dungeon Party? I swear that one of the review crew members was TRYING to miss with his quarters because he was so bored by the fourth encounter of the game.
What Went Wrong?
Even I will admit that our first two plays of Dungeon Party took place at my house, on the neoprene mat of my Game Topper. Forbidden Games literally tells you in the instructions to play the game at a bar. It’s not quite as easy any more to get gamers to meet at a bar to play games, particularly dexterity games where some will not be drinking. So I knew the venue would affect the experience. (To the team at Forbidden Games, good call from the rulebook: so far, I have not played solo while drinking myself into Quarters shape to play this game!)
But beyond the setting? Dungeon Party misses almost everywhere else. The standard design of the game is to play about 10 encounters before winning. Some of the monsters have 12+ HP, but each character only does 2 damage before adding in any multipliers (say, +2 vs undead monsters, etc.). So, killing off monsters takes a few rounds, and while there is a nice amount of drama as other characters get knocked out and you are counting on your buddy Kev to make his next quarter count, more often than not you are just watching other players do the exact same thing over and over and over.
The artwork isn’t special. Personally, I would have leaned harder into the theme but added a drinking motif; instead of just naming a room “Cavern”, name it “Ogre’s Tavern” and feature a bunch of ogres holding swords shaped like drinking boots. As is, Dungeon Party has a look that feels flat, generic, even stale. The art just doesn’t shine; from the publisher of Raccoon Tycoon and Railroad Rivals, this is a major surprise.
The character powers aren’t that unique, and one-time bonuses available in an encounter or even as once-per-game abilities don’t feel that powerful. The iconography is sometimes hard to read (the rooms have a level, and the monsters have a level, but they use two different sets of icons to reference this); sometimes, even the hit points on a monster are hard to read, and I’m sure that would be worse at many of the poorly-lit watering holes I frequent with friends.
The treasure is really a miss; instead of drinking-themed treasures, you get a random selection of treasure pictures that populate the treasure tiles, along with some that provide benefits to only certain character classes (attack benefits for only the thief, or only the warrior, etc.).
The biggest miss of all? One of the characters has an attack that requires the use of two quarters at the same time…but the game only includes one quarter in the box, AND that quarter is about half the weight of a real quarter, making bouncing it surprisingly challenging.
Yes: you have to provide your own quarters to play Dungeon Party!!
It’s All About the Venue
Dungeon Party isn’t a great game, but it is certainly a better game under the right circumstances. I’ve played this game solo and with 3 players, but I think the ideal environment would be to get a group of 5 and come in with low expectations; you’ll have a better time. And maybe you’ll strike up a game of Quarters to round out your night!