WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 1-6
Published by: The Op
Designed by: Julian Allain
Dungeon Academy is such a simple game. Initially I was unsure why I was quite so drawn to it. The art is simple. The rules are light. But the game play is thoroughly entertaining. There are a lot of things here that just work well. The sense of accomplishment when you come out of a dungeon alive, and sometimes even better off, is strong. Beating the clock and getting out of the dungeon before the time runs out (if you play that way!) adds a lot of tension and satisfaction. And the missions along the way make this feel like a real adventure.
In Dungeon Academy you are playing as brave adventuring scholars, fighting monsters and collecting potions. Trying to outscore your fellow students to gain your Dungeon Academy Diploma. Something you didn't even know you wanted until now right? Set over four levels, players will pit their wits, bravery, and coolness under pressure against each other to see who can be crowned top of their class to get the first pick of the post game biscuits.
The game is set up using dice. 16 dice are randomly placed into the dungeon lid. You then place the dungeon itself into the lid that is filled with the dice and flip it over 180 degrees to drop the dice into the dungeon and set up the first game. When all players are ready with their dungeon map, pencil, and 'can-do' attitude, the lid is removed and the timer started. The timer can be set to 1 minute for an easier game or 30 seconds for a harder one. We play without a timer with my youngest and the game still works very well. I will explain the differences later.
Once the game has begun, each player is assessing the dungeon as they see it from their own position at the table. There is no top or bottom. The dungeon is how you see it. Players can enter the dungeon from any space, they must not travel over a space they have already visited, and you cannot move diagonally. Other than that, you can do as you wish. You could enter in the top left space, move one space down and then immediately exit if you like. Or snake round, and visit each space. It is entirely up to you.
As you travel through the maze of rooms, you will encounter various monsters along the way. Initially, the monsters come in four simple varieties. Large and small. Red and blue. Each player will start with a varying amount of blue and red potions based on the character they chose at the start of the game. The game comes with ten different adventurers to chose from, each with their own special powers and starting potions. When you encounter a monster, you must spend the right type of potion to defeat it. Red for red, blue for blue. The large monsters require two potions in order to be victorious. You can collect additional potions through the dungeon, but you must calculate your running total in your head as you go against the time pressure and speed of the other players.
As mentioned, you can vary the amount of time allowed to do this based on your personal choice. I often play without a timer at all as the game comes with a clever mechanic of adding another type of time pressure, but without the possibility of complete failure for not exiting before the time runs out which can be too stressful for some players. Once you have exited the dungeon, you will claim the card with the number one on. The second player takes the number two card and so on. This determines the order in which you will get to pick from the available treasure cards. If your journey through the dungeon was a successful one. This means the the last person out of the dungeon will have the final pick on the treasure but they will have time to get out. There is still a pressure if you want to have a better choice of treasure, but not so much that you cannot finish the round. Ideal for younger and less experienced players.
Once all players have taken a card, or the time is up if you are playing that way, players will then use the teacher standee to demonstrate the route they took. This is a fun way to show off your clever plan, and hopefully, prove you had enough potions to do it! I enjoy looking at how each player tackled the same task in different ways, and how each player used their own set of skills to maximise their points tally. They will place the appropriate potions on one of the top four spaces on their score sheet as they move through monster spaces; and acquire additional potions from the pool when they are able. Players who successfully manged to get in and out of the dungeon without breaking any of the movement rules of succumbing to any of the monsters can then claim their treasure and points.
Players will score one point for each monster they defeat, and then add any potential bonus points from any previous treasure cards they have or personal player powers they posses. There are also four missions shown on the bottom on the player sheet which you can score if completed. They require different combinations of monsters to be defeated that round, the two red ones both large and small, the large and small blue, etc. If you complete at least one of these, you can pick one to score that round, and gain an additional one point for each monster of the type of mission you are scoring that round that you defeated. For example, if you successfully fought two large red monsters and one small red one, you could get three extra points for the first mission. There are four missions and only four levels, and as only one mission can be scored each round, you need to try to complete one each time you enter the dungeon.
In the second round you will remove one die at random and replace it with the Labyrinth dice, and in the final fourth round you will replace another die with the Boss die. These replacement dice bring added elements into the game. The Labyrinth die brings certain restrictions to the routes you can take when moving through this space. There is also a banana peel which takes one gold from your total if you move through it, and a purse that rewards you with one gold.
The boss die introduces extra monsters to fight. The Troll requires three red potions but rewards you with three gold. The Lich has the same reward but requires three blue potions. The Dragon requires three red and three blue potions in order to defeat it, also for a reward of three gold. The Chest will give anyone who travels through it two gold. There is one dice face which simply blocks your path, and a final key space that if seen, must be moved through into order to exit the dungeon. These dice bring a lot of replayability to the game. As only one side of the dice is seen each game, each final round will be a little different.
Playing Dungeon Academy feels highly satisfying throughout. The game is simple and can be explained and played with most people of ages 6 and up within a few minutes. But the enjoyment that comes from successfully navigating a dungeon in a clever way is highly rewarding. The potions you use up each round must be carefully monitored as they do not regenerate between rounds. You don't want to enter the final round with under three potions of each colour ideally in case the Dragon shows up. You can always avoid fighting monsters, but then your points total will be lower.
There is an element of push your luck in this game which brings a lot of fun. The possible paths through the dungeons are obviously very high! It all depends on your own bravery, and risk/reward levels. Do you want to go big early to try and get first dibs on the treasure in the early rounds, to try and race ahead in the points total. Or do you try to build up slowly but in a steady way in order to be better prepared for the final rounds when the monster gets tougher and the rewards bigger.
The treasure cards can give you opportunities to score extra gold for doing certain things in later rounds. Some will allow you to fight certain monsters for free without requiring potions. Others can be a complete waste of time such as the Rubber Duck! There are 20 cards in all, and there will be one per player available each round. So long as you successfully navigate the dungeon.
This game is the perfect filler. It takes just 20 minutes to play, offers a fun and rewarding challenge, and feels fresh each time it hits the table. There is a small amount of luck involved regarding the dice rolls, but enough free will and choice to mitigate this. I like the pressure to get out first so you can pick from the treasure cards before the other players. But there are times when I don't even try and rush, I just plan my route as carefully as possible. Sometimes because I can see there are a lot of points available or other times because I am low on potions and don't want to risk dying. If you do fight a monster without the required potions, you are not of the game, just that round. And your potions will reset to the starting allocation. I have seen this done intentionally once, as the player saw it as a better way to prepare for the subsequent round. But this is rare!
The dungeons obviously look different each game. The mechanism by which this is done is very smooth. The dungeon that you build feels sturdy and functions very well for this purpose. The lid adds a nice touch of drama too. The reveal when all players are ready feels like the lid being lifted from a fine meal in an old school restaurant. I like the tension this builds and then the race to interpret what is revealed before your eyes.
I would thoroughly recommend this game to anyone looking for a new filler game, or something to play with their children. There is some pressure here, but as discussed, you can remove the timer to mitigate this. I have found my children really enjoy this game as much as I do, and due to its simplistic nature and length, it has seen a lot of plays and will continue to do so for a long time to come.