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Dungeon Crawler Games

Dungeon crawler games are immensely popular. Pulling from both wargames and roleplaying games, dungeon crawlers tend to emphasize exploration, combat, and character advancement.

Since the release of Dungeons & Dragons in 1974, board games about exploring mysterious dungeons and fighting dangerous creatures have become increasingly popular. The phrase “dungeon crawl” or “dungeon crawler” refers to the practice of slowly moving through a constricted, often labyrinthine network of enemy-infested rooms in search of valuable treasure. Dungeon crawler games typically feature a fantasy setting, some kind of exploration or event system, a combat or conflict resolution system, and character-driven gameplay. Individual entries may not feature all of these aspects or may place greater emphasis on some elements than others.

Dungeon crawlers have a lot of overlap with adventure games, particularly fantasy-themed or combat-focused adventures such as Mage Knight. While it can be difficult to determine where one genre ends and the other begins, dungeon crawlers generally take place in a single specific location. This focuses gameplay on surviving or exploring that location, rather than engaging freely with a large open world setting. Many games fall into both categories, however, and some players feel that dungeon crawlers are a subset of adventure games rather than a distinct genre.

Dungeon!

1975

Widely considered the first dungeon crawler board game, this 1975 release set the standard for the genre. It featured four distinct character archetypes as well as tiered monster and treasure levels, making it feel very close in structure to Dungeons & Dragons.


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Gloomhaven

2017

This massive fantasy-themed campaign game sports an incredible amount of content, customization, and crunchy combat that marks it as one of the most ambitious dungeon crawlers ever created.


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Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

2020

A slimmed-down version of Gloomhaven, this box offers somewhat less complexity with fewer characters and much smaller maps while still offering plenty of great gameplay that will take hours to complete.


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Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure

2016

In this dungeon crawler, players must balance risk and reward in order to move through the dragon’s lair and grab the treasure before the ancient wyrm destroys them all. With its signature “clank” mechanic in which characters taking noisy actions draw the dragon’s deadly wrath, the original game has spun off into a series of expansions and standalone entries that provide plenty of variety for everyone.


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Spire's End

2020

Unlike many dungeon-crawlers, this deck of cards focuses less on specific rooms and goes heavy on the monsters that dwell within. A distinct visual style and clean, straightforward rules support its brutal combat.


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Too Many Bones

2017

For players who just like rolling dice, Too Many Bones offers plenty of dice-chucking action alongside clever character advancement that creates opportunities for powerful combo effects.


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Doodle Dungeon

2020

This unusual dungeon crawler plays in two parts: in one phase players flip cards to draw the elements and monsters of their own dungeon, while in the second an opponent’s hero is let loose to do battle and seek treasure within the created dungeon.


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Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Scrawlers - Heroes of Undermountain

2021

While not quite the traditional dungeon crawler, Dungeon Scrawlers is a quick-playing experience in which players of all ages race through pre-constructed dungeon mazes.


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Arcadia Quest

2014

Arcadia Quest is a classic-feeling dungeon crawler with sculpted miniatures, dice-driven combat, and an upgrade system full of exciting rewards. It also has a replayable campaign mode where players run through a handful of the game’s modular scenarios.


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About the author

Ian Howard

Ian Howard is a game designer as well as a freelance writer/editor. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey and hiking. He currently lives in the Nashville area. You can find his professional work at Leafy Dragon Games.

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