14 August 2018
The deckbuilder meets the dungeon-crawler, with high-fantastic results
In one sense, Dungeon Alliance won’t win any awards for originality. As the title suggests, all the action takes place in a dungeon – the kind that typically precedes an ampersand and the word ‘Dragons’, rather than the bars-and-manacles variety. And said action involves uninspiringly-illustrated elf, dwarf, human and gnome heroes going toe-to-claw with goblins, ogres, gargoyles and giant spiders.
However, in another, more important sense, Dungeon Alliance is impressively innovative. Andrew Parks, who devised sci-fi deckbuilder Core Worlds and most recently D&D area control spin-off Assault of the Giants, has successfully melded the miniatures-based dungeon crawler with deckbuilding, in a Mage Knight-like manner. Furthermore, he’s figured out a way for each player to easily control an entire party of characters, with each gang furiously competing for the most kills and phattest loot.
This requires an involved and extended, big-table-requiring setup, whereby the central dungeon frame is surrounded by a huge array of cards, tiles and tokens. Not only does each player have their quartet of hero stat cards, drafted randomly at the start of the game – they also have their own deck of abilities to draw on (most cards only playable by certain combos of race and class), which must be laid out in vertical columns beneath each hero card when played. Next to all this, they’ll have a pile of wooden wound tokens to track who’s damaged each monster, and a chart to keep tabs on their increasing hand size and discard allowance. Then there are all the monster cards, which need to be spread out face-up, with a pile of chits on each (rather than minis – handy for quick stat reference once they’re activated); a stack of dungeon tiles, which are revealed and added into the frame as the players get delving; and the upgrade deck, with five face-up cards that offer new abilities and items.
On top of all that, there’ll be two piles of XP tokens whose sequential depletion determines the level of the upgrade deck (one to three), stacks of facedown challenge tokens (hiding either traps or treasure), a bunch of archway tokens to mark open doorways and a dungeon die, which adds a modicum of randomness in certain situations. That doesn’t even include the optional quest and analogue-AI solo/co-operative play cards you might add to the mix, depending on which game variant you fancy – Parks provides plenty of options on that front, including PvP and a soft campaign mode.
Yes, there’s a helluva lot on the table, but despite his rulebook being a bit of an overly wordy slog, Parks’ hybrid runs smoothly and swiftly once the crawling commences; so much so, most first-timers won’t need to use the recommended basic game deck. The party dynamic is beautifully executed, as you figure out the best synergies for your team, while the competitive core game is incredibly fun, especially in the way it allows opposing players to decide the monster moves and attacks, thereby minimising downtime. The key to victory is being fearless and fast: grab those dungeon tiles, kill those monsters, loot that treasure and earn the most XP to win. It’s also the best way to enjoy the game. With only four activations for each of your heroes before Game Over, the conservative player will be left eating dungeon dust.
This smart cocktail of deckbuilder and race-against-time dungeon-bash is a bit of a ballache to set up but, once you get rolling, it makes for an involving, energising experience.
Designer: Andrew Parks
Artist: Radial Studio, Biagio D’Alessandro
Time: 1-3 hours
This review originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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