Every time we bring it to the table the interaction and laughter, and occasional cursing, between players is often at the forefront of the action, as vital cards are snapped up by greedy hands and best laid plans come tumbling down.
What’s It All About?
Much as the name suggests, Dungeon Draft is a game built around the noble art of card drafting. Built upon the solid foundations of classic fantasy, the game dips deep into this rich world and surfaces with a bag full of instantly recognisable sword and sorcery tropes.
The game involves players choosing, then passing, cards around the table to form their hand, then using the acquired gold to add the various cards to their collection in a bid to build the strongest, most monster slaying group of gnarly heroes ever gathered, and in turn grab the lion’s share of the XP points and overall victory!
But does it take us on a trip down fantasy lane, or does it trip and fall upon its sword?
Let us take a look…
I found a lot to love in Dungeon Draft. Considering it’s a relatively small game, with not a whole lot of actions, that’s really saying something. For myself the two things that really made this shine bright, were the beautiful simplicity of playing, and the genuine desire to immediately play again. It’s the sort of game that despite its lack of any obvious depth, actually hooks players in and allows them to get a little bit lost in some wonderfully simple strategic planning and fluid play.
I would admit that I am a big fan of the drafting mechanic in my games, so perhaps I was immediately more open to the game going in, but when such a well worn gameplay route is then coupled with cards that look absolutely gorgeous, the whole approach feels fresh and interesting. I love that designer, Justin Gary, has stuck closely to fantasy tradition, so our potential heroes come from the four classic domains of either, druid, warrior, mage, or rogue, I also love that each class has a different strategic approach. For example, druids will deliver solid XP from having them in your deck but will rarely offer anything in tackling the monsters that inhabit the dungeons, however, the warrior is opposite, offering strong attacks against foes but less XP, rogues deliver well in the gold coin department, allowing for some muscle when it comes to purchasing cards, and the mage class offers a little bit of everything. What this amounts to is a great opportunity for players to put the thinking caps on when it comes to decisions regarding cards to draft and the approach to take, and it works superbly well.
There are also quests available that I felt added a nice extra layer of interest. Quests deliver good amounts of XP come the game’s end, but, they also require that players collect, and then discard, a certain number of cards to complete. For example, the quest may demand four mage cards, now these mage cards were doing some sterling work whilst being active in your hand, but, the quest would deliver good reward. Decisions, decisions. The quests themselves aren’t particularly inspiring, it’s generally a case of have a quick glance at the cards required to complete then leave them face down on the table until the price can be met, but, it does undoubtedly bring another level of tension during the drafting phase.
The biggest draw for myself here though is in the simple joy of playing the game. Dungeon Draft is brilliantly slick, and utterly welcoming. The phases of play; draft, play cards, and clean up, which is about discarding remaining cards and dishing out some gold, are about as simple as it comes, and although each card is adorned with little details and a few numbers to understand, everything is explained perfectly in the short rulebook, allowing players to embrace the act of play in almost no time at all. There is a real life to Dungeon Draft that cannot be undervalued. Every time we bring it to the table the interaction and laughter, and occasional cursing, between players is often at the forefront of the action, as vital cards are snapped up by greedy hands and best laid plans come tumbling down. It’s just that sort of game that despite its competitive nature, tends to remain very good natured.
Finally, the deck of cards itself is excellent in two ways. One, it is big. With 173 draft cards a game with three players won’t even use half the deck. Although some cards are duplicated, it still leaves the impression that the replay value is strong, and when married to such a fun game, repeated dips into the dungeon are frequent and enjoyable. And next, the artwork is great! The cartoony vibe and occasionally humorous images give Dungeon Draft a real vibrancy that demands more than a second look every time you get a new hand of cards.
What’s Not So Good?
There is not really a great deal I didn’t enjoy about the game. Having said that, Dungeon Draft is not perfect, so let us nit pick.
The first point I would raise is regarding an actual mechanic within the play, and it revolves around despatching the baddies of the land. Combat in Dungeon Draft is super simple. If you have a monster card in your deck it will have an attack value. If you have hero cards played with enough combined attack that their total is greater than the monster, they kill it and reap the reward in gold or XP, or both. It works, it’s basic, and it keeps the game moving along. However, it is also a little bit too easy in my opinion for a player to score huge points simply by slaying monsters. If a player for example has an attack strength of seven, this score allows them to kill every monster in their deck with a lesser attack, in one go. In relation to other methods of picking up gold and XP, the combat approach feels a little over powered. I think the issue could be addressed by perhaps reducing attack strength by one card following each battle, put it down to exhaustion, but at present it is definitely a little crease that could do with the iron treatment.
For some I expect the game will be considered too basic. Although there is a strategic element, it is relatively shallow in comparison to some of the more weighty games out there. But, I don’t think Dungeon Draft is built as the cornerstone of a gaming night, and instead plays a vital role as the perfect little warm-up title, or beautifully positioned filler to wind down after a prolonged session.
As with any lighter weight game, there has to be a question regarding longevity. Will Dungeon Draft still be hitting the table in, say, twelve months time? And the honest answer is, who knows? It is impossible to tell, but right now I firmly believe we have a game that will continue to make regular appearances. Maybe not so many as something like 7 Wonders, but definitely on a par with Sushi Go, and similar. It’s small size and easy set-up make it a viable option for the travelling game, but, it is possible the appeal will wane over time due to its lack of any substantial depth, and eventual over-familiarity with the cards.
Where’s The Appeal?
The appeal in my opinion lies heavily in the brilliant combination of very easy to follow gameplay, and strong sense of fun when playing. Players with a taste for drafting games will find plenty to get excited about here, the fantasy theme shines through and definitely turn a few additional heads, and the fact the game plays at a good pace, doesn’t outstay its welcome, and can be set-up and taken down in moments should see Dungeon Draft enjoying a wide reaching audience.
The small box size means we have a game that is ideal for trips away, and its simplicity could see it as a genuine contender for the perfect gateway drafting game.
One For The Kids?
Thanks to the cartoon approach to the artwork here, Dungeon Draft, stands as a game that can be enjoyed by all the family. The rulebook suggests the game is aimed at 14+, but for me it can be played by considerably younger.
It is easy to understand, the card sets and details are well explained, and the strategy is basic enough that it doesn’t ever become bogged down by too many options. A three player game runs to around 30 minutes, meaning younger, more easily distracted minds tend to stay on the path, and the game can accommodate from two to five players allowing plenty of scope for some fun family time.
Holly, twelve, said, “It’s really good, and I enjoyed the scoring, I liked the different classes of cards available. It’s the sort of game I would happily play a lot!”
Dungeon Draft is a triumph. It delves deep into the darkness of the dungeon and emerges from a trail of vanquished monsters with a haul of shiny good stuff! The traditional drafting mechanic is elevated by wonderful artwork, the tactical decisions are frequent yet simple, the game’s flow sees minimal player downtime, and the desire to rinse and repeat is stronger than a barbarian’s bicep.
We also have a game that is open to all. Players unfamiliar with the traditional drafting approach will be welcomed with open arms thanks to the minimal rules, and those already harbouring a taste for more drafting delight are in for a treat. I thoroughly recommend donning your finest *druid robes, get your drafting head in gear, and stride boldly into the magic of Dungeon Draft.
*Druid robes are optional.
Designer – Justin Gary
Players – 2 to 5
Playtime – 30 to 45 minutes
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