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Dungeon Derby

Dungeon crawling is slow! Why not race through the dungeon instead? It's a dungeon full of traps, monsters, and loot.

Currently on Kickstarter, Dungeon Derby has each player laying bets on who’ll reach the finish line first, decking heroes out with armor to help them along, and using the occasional spell to give themselves the edge.

Gameplay

Each game of Dungeon Derby takes place over a series of races — the number is agreed on by players before the game begins. Each player chooses one of the six heroes that they will be sponsoring and draws three cards.

There are six phases to each race, with a different player acting as dungeon master for each race. During the draw phase, players draw back up to their hand limit. If you have less than $250 worth of chips, one of the cards you draw can be a quest card, which you then play in an attempt to complete it. Some quests involve in-game actions, such as playing the quest card on a hero and if he loses the race you earn money, or it might involve something in the real world, such as earning money if you see any animals in your immediate area.

Next is the lineup phase. The dungeon master draws the purse card for the race. The purse card determines how much money the heroes’ sponsors win for coming in first, second, and third, what the payout ratio is for each bet, and which lane each hero will start the race in.

Treasure cards can be spells, armor, or encounters. During the third phase, players can play armor cards face down on any of the lanes, and play encounters, which allow them to place encounter tiles on spaces in the lanes. Each player also has a hero encounter tile which they can play on the board. When a hero hits this, the player whose tile it is can either steal $100 worth of chips from the player who controls that hero or take one of her treasure cards. Players then move onto the betting phase, in which you secretly bet on which hero you think will win.

At last, the race begins. The dungeon master reveals the armor cards. These often have effects on dice rolls or change what happens when a hero hits an encounter. If the armor cards played on the same hero disagree with each other, the one that was played first trumps any played after it. The dungeon master begins rolling to determine which hero moves, and how many spaces. Players can use spells at any time — if more than one player attempts to play a spell at the same time, the one that hits the table first is the one that activates. The other player can take their spell card back into her hand. Spells will often affect movement, they can switch heroes between lanes, force dice to be rerolled, and so on.

An encounter triggers if a hero lands on it. There are different kinds of encounters — some are monsters, and the hero must roll higher than a particular number or move back several spaces. Some encounters are traps which move heroes forward or backward, while others are loot which give the player who sponsors that hero extra money. If a hero encounter tile is triggered, it is returned to the hero who played it. If any other encounter is triggered, it is removed from the game.

The race ends once a hero has passed the finish line and no more spell cards are going to be played. During the final phase of the round, bets are paid out. If a hero sponsored by a player wins, that player takes the hero’s winnings, otherwise the winnings stay on the board to be added to the winnings of the next race. The player with the most money at the end of the final race wins the game.

Dungeon Derby Components

Review

By the time we’d reached round two of Dungeon Derby, the game had us hooked. During the first round, it's fairly predictable where players will bet — but as encounter tiles are not removed from the board until they are activated, and as heroes' lanes are changed each race, backing your own hero might not be such a good idea by round two. With leftover encounter tiles threatening to put a spoke in your wheel, you really start to become paranoid about what armor cards your opponents are playing and try to deduce where they’ll be placing their own bets.

Cards activating as they hit the table works thematically well with the sense of being in the middle of the race. Consequently the higher the player count, the better this plays out as you will more often find yourself in a situation of multiple players trying to play a spell card at the same time.

The spell cards are such a fun addition to each race and the uncertainty they pose is enjoyable. When we played, the hand limit for three players was three cards apiece, and we wished there could be more of the spell cards floating around the table. However, the publisher has discussed changing the hand limits for smaller player counts, so this may not be an issue in the final version.

The quest cards are a nice way to keep everyone in the game, and their slightly quirky nature, often pulling in real world elements, is a surprising but welcome addition.

Dungeon Derby takes a nice chunk of table space and at a game length of about an hour, it's the kind of board game that will take center stage at game night. There's nothing filler about it. It’s light enough to be easy to learn but hefty enough to be the star of the show. With some light, clever humor and some great artwork, Dungeon Derby is well worth checking out on Kickstarter.

Pros: Great escalation and carryover between rounds, spells cards are a lot of fun

Cons: At its best with higher player counts

Disclosure: this preview is based on our evaluation of an unpublished prototype of the game, which is subject to change prior to publication. While a modest payment was received to expedite the review process, our thoughts and opinions expressed here are honest and accurate.