Review: Dungeon Heroes

I played Dungeon Heroes, by Gamelyn Games (which seems to be mostly Michael Coe). It's a one- or two-player boardgame which takes 10-30 minutes per play; I've played it twice with my wife (who Kickstarted it) and four times solo.

The back of the box promises a "roguelike strategy game" and I admit I scoffed when I heard it. I have played many games - board and video - that self-described as "roguelike" but didn't deliver anything close to the tactical-puzzle feel associated with the genre.

This one, though, works. Nothing in the game feels over-designed, my usual first objection to dungeon-crawl boardgames. Somewhat like FTL the characters play out as resources to expend and extensions to the space of possible actions. Unlike FTL but like other roguelikes these actions are mostly non-fungible - only the rogue can disarm traps; only the cleric can heal. Randomness plays a small but critical role, as incomplete information demanding contingency planning rather than variable small-scale outcomes. In the two-player version, there's an added element of bluffing on the dungeon player's side.

There's some hints of zugzwang; rare in "classic" roguelikes but common in some of the more recent minimalist ones (Ending, Bump by Aaron Steed; Zaga-33 and 868-HACK by Michael Brough); entirely unknown to me in other boardgame dungeon crawls. Most of the time it's not relevant to the game - and the cleric can burn two actions if necessary - but the dungeon player can sometimes force very bad moves on the hero player near the end of the game.

The material quality is great. We have several Kickstarted games in our house and the quality varies a lot. This one has a high-quality box reminiscent of Fantasy Flight's Silver Line and beautifully cut wooden figures.

This acted as a flashpoint for my disappointment at the amount of latent sexism in themed boardgame design. I don't want to take it to task specifically right now because it's not uniquely or especially gross in any way. But several parts are troubling.