Teaching Time: 2 mins
Playing Time: 15-20 mins
Setup Time: 1 mins
Value For Money: Mid
There is certainly a genius to simplicity, and the undeniable success of Dungeon Drop is tribute to the value that it can bring. A relatively small campaign that funded at over $250k it is based on an idea that is both simple and very attractive to tabletop gamers, the chance to willfully chuck euro cubes all over the place. It has a solid solo mode, fan designed by fully supported which I’ll be reviewing here.
Base gameplay is simple, a selection of euro cubes are dumped onto the table, some of them count as pillars of the dungeon in question. Players select three such pillars at a time to form a room and claim any euro cubes within the triangle that they form. Some cubes represent treasure, some monsters, the player that manages to claim the most treasure wins. There is more, with players having race and class abilities of the adventures that they represent looting the dungeon allowing them to flick or re-drop some cubes or otherwise bend the rules, and extra cubes are dropped into the dungeon as play goes on. There is a slightly more advanced version where players can place their own meeples into the dungeon which is jolly, but doesn’t massively alter things.
First of all, this is a game that is best played in a well-lit room. The first time I played it was in slightly subdued non-daylight and while I have good colour vision identifying the difference between the blue and green translucent blocks (the green blocks are only present in solo play), or even the pillars and gold blocks, added a struggle which wasn’t much fun. That said, in a well-lit room those issues immediately disappear, although I will say that I imagine this game will be practically impossible to play in solo mode for those with green-blue colour blindness.
In general, the game is solid for the investment that it asks in time, cash and shelf space, all of which are low. However, there is a slight feel of disjoint sometimes between what some players might expect from it and what it gives. To explain, this is a game that comes in a kooky cube box adorned with all your favourite creatures depicted either in cutesy anime style or charming cubic form. It then opens with you mixing up a load of blocks and tossing them in reckless abandon across the table, all of which feels like its going to lead into something silly, crazy and joyful. What it actually then leads to is peering at a table of quite blank blocks picking which shape has the most points in it. Its fine, it’s a jolly game that anyone of an age to be trusted not to shove a euro cube somewhere that will require an operation to retrieve, can compete at and it will attract a ton of gamers. I don’t regret backing it by any means, but it doesn’t quite feel like the experience you might have been hoping for. Its odd in that it actually feels quite thinky, you spend a while peering at a mass of abstract blocks with a range of values scattered into a random shape on the table, but that thinkyness never crunches into place and pours out rewards. Rather, you tend to sit there, peering for a bit and then conclude that your best option is barely a few points different than all the others anyway, and was usually the first one you saw too.
Which can be seen as a strength or a weakness. If you can chill out a little and go for the first decent room you see without examining all the options then you’ll almost certainly have a lot more fun here. Also, there’s no chance of someone seeing the hidden secrets of the game and crushing all comers in perpetuity. Every player has a real chance of beating every other player, but without having to bring in an excess of luck to level the field, which is brilliant and very welcome. There’s an odd aspect of the game in that if you’re the sort of optimization player whose heart leaps when you hear the term “euro cubes”, you might find the experience of play a little wearing. If, however, you’re a little more of a beer and skittles player who giggles when you hear the term “flinging euro cubes across the table” this is more likely to be for you, which hopefully is what the designers were aiming for.
In the solo mode the cubes include a staircase and a couple of relic cubes. If your room contains a staircase you can go onto a new level of the dungeon, re-dropping the cubes. Each floor has up to two relics, claim enough to win the game’s score attack solo mode, but as your relic count climbs you need to recover more treasure to progress to the next level. The solo mode is available as a PDF download, but it is supported by components in the box, namely a card, a few cubes and some tokens. By the looks of things, the PDF would have significantly increased the length of the rulebook, which I assume is the reason for making it a download.
In standard mode the game is a quick filler of the type where several rounds are probably expected in a play session. In solo mode though if you’re looking to hit the higher levels of the scoring system you should expect a surprisingly lengthy play time, I had some runs taking over an hour. That’s a long way from being a problem since a solo mode generally wants a longer play time, but it is quite divergent from what might be expected.
There are a few elements that I chose to house rule for solo play. First of all, and this feels more like common sense, but there are three ‘pillar markers’ included in the game. In solo mode you select a room to loot as usual, but one that has your character in, you then have to make a room connected to the first room to represent you making your way through your dungeon quest to search for staircase and relics. The pillar markers are provided is so that you can mark which pillars you’re using for your current room while you pull cubes out or drop them in and plan your next move, presumably and thoughtfully provided to help you not to forget your place. The suggestion is that you remove your three pillars and replace them with the pillar markers, then mark the new pillar of your next room with your finger while swapping it with one of your pillar markers as you move through the dungeon. However, the game does provide a fourth blank token (presumably space on the die) and I found that slipping markers under or out from pillars while leaving them in place to be a much more elegant and accurate solution. I also found one of the quest cards “collector’s curiosity” to kill otherwise perfectly good runs with sufficient regularity to remove it from the options.
Another point to be aware of is that the hero’s race that you are provided with is partly balanced in the standard game by the hero’s initiative. That is to say, each race has a power and goes in the main game based on their initiative, since the first mover gets to loot the juiciest starting room better initiative means a weaker power or less health for balance. In solo mode, however, initiative is entirely meaningless since you take all the turns in your own order. As such races with worse initiative tend to be rather better. Again, this is fine since it allows for re-play value and fine tuning of difficulty where heroes with better initiative can be used if you find yourself repeatedly clearing the dungeon, its just that this point isn’t mentioned, which is a shame since the PDF can, of course, be any length the designers wanted.
As more relics are picked up the hero claims more and more classes with extra powers, which is a nice touch as the extra relics require more treasure to be claimed, however it can lead to a situation where runs feel like foregone conclusions halfway through. For example, at the highest level the treasure requirement never goes beyond 35, when you find you’ve picked up over 40 treasure on repeated levels it can then feel like there’s little point going through the box ticking exercise of the rest of the run. Of course, this is solo play and its your gaming time so you’re free to chalk it up as a win and move on, it might have been nice though for there to be an option to trade off large treasure excesses for relics.
There is one point when the game can be frustrating. Since the cubes are tipped randomly onto the table it can be that pillars clump up at times. In the main game this is no problem, since players can pick a room anywhere on the table, they can just avoid clumped regions. However, in the solo mode players have to make it to a relic and then to the staircase while creating rooms that contain no pillars via connecting rooms. When this means that you have to make it through a clump of pillars it can be genuinely grinding, even worse when you end up dropping more pillars into the path with additional drops. Again, players are free to tweak in solo mode and I’d suggest a drop mulligan since these levels are usually not tricky so much as simply un-fun, but again it would be nice to have this specified in the rules and explained as something to consider rather than leaving it as something for players to discover, since in this case the discovery isn’t a particularly fun process.
All that said, I consider these mostly points to consider and be aware of rather than criticisms as such. Dungeon Drop solo (or otherwise) is a genuinely and fascinatingly different game. When you have a good solo run its an engrossing and enjoyable puzzle requiring very real spatial planning and adjustment to changes. It provides random additions in a way that feels organic, understandable and mostly interesting rather than the frustration that can so often occur. For a game simple enough to play with children and parties to have a solo mode of this depth is really impressive. Its not a heavyweight game, but it’s a solid middleweight one made out of a very lightweight filler.
For any hobby gamer, the simple joy of chucking euro cubes is a pure delight, and its great to see these dry euro stalwarts being flung about in a party filler. Physically it is in the sort of tiny box that should be able to slot into even the most groaning of game shelves and its welcoming enough that it should get a few plays in, at least enough to justify its presence.