Reviewed by Herb Levy
(Asmodée Editions, 2 players, ages 11 and up, 45 minutes; $29.99)
I hate to admit this but I am one of those old enough to remember when Dungeons & Dragons was new. One of the pleasures of those old adventures was what became known as a “dungeon crawl” where a band of stalwart heroes (often accompanied by some of the less savory denizens of the realm) would plunge head on into unknown dangers deep within cavernous unmapped regions. Dungeon Twister, designed by Christophe Boelinger, captures the feel of those adventures while bringing to the gaming table some exciting and new, if you’ll pardon the expression, twists.
The basic set of Dungeon Twister (expansions are already planned) contains 8 square room tiles, two sets of tokens and cardboard figures, two 16 card decks and a variety of play aids. The premise of the game is simple. A bunch of adventurers have found themselves transported into a magical labyrinth created by an Arch-Mage to serve as a source of entertainment for him. Each player controls a set of these adventurers with the same goal: to successfully exit the labyrinth.
To begin, the 8 room tiles are shuffled and placed face down to create a 2 x 4 grid flanked by two “starting areas”, one for each player. Both players choose a color and take the matching card deck and tokens (14 of them representing both characters and objects found in the rooms). Both card decks are identical and consist of four Action cards, 3 Jump cards and 9 Combat cards. Character assortments are identical too consisting of a Cleric, Goblin, Mekanork, Thief, Troll, Wall-Walker, Warrior and Wizard. Each player chooses four of his characters as his “starting four”. These tokens are placed face down on his starting area. Remaining tokens are seeded throughout the dungeon with a limit of 2 or 3 tokens per room. Now the contest begins.
Action cards must be played as the first phase of every turn. Action cards reveal how many Action Points are available for use by that player that turn. Cards range in value from 2 to 5 AP. While any Action card may be played, in the first turn, AP totals are restricted. The first card may only be a 2 with subsequent plays being only equal to, one less or one more more than the previously played AP value. As soon as a 4 AP card is played, however, this restriction is removed. Once played, the same card may not be used again until a player has used all 4 Action cards. Then, all four cards are reclaimed (recycled) and the player once again has the full set from which to choose.
Action Points allow characters to DO things. For example, it takes 1 AP to reveal a room (flip it over to its “right” side ready to be explored), move a character (according to a character’s specific movement capabilities), use an object (which when found within a room may be picked up and carried), use a character’s special power (most characters have an extra “something”), “rotate” a room and, as you might suspect, initiate combat.
A character may attack any adjacent enemy character. That’s where those Combat cards come in. Attacker and defender choose a Combat card from their hands and reveal them simultaneously. The Combat card value (ranging from 0 to 6) is added to the attack value of the characters engaged. High total wins leaving the opposing character wounded. Used Combat cards are removed from the game (except for the 0 card which may be reused). Wounded characters have their tokens flipped face down. (Cardboard figures are provided for each character. It is suggested that the figures be used when a character is active and his matching token used to symbolize a wounded figure in its place. This is an excellent suggestion.) If more than one character is adjacent to a character under attack, ALL become involved in the combat.
Wounded characters are at a distinct disadvantage. Their combat value is reduced to zero, any object being carried by them at the time is dropped in the square occupied (where it may be retrieved by any other) and, worse yet, he cannot carry out any actions! Although he can defend himself, he is certainly a tempting target. A second wound kills the character and the successful attacker removes his token from the board. (Eliminating a character earns you 1 VP.) This makes the Cleric very important as he is the only character who has the special power to heal others. (Ironically, he cannot heal himself!)
Objects may be discovered by adventurers as they explore the dungeon. Some objects (such as the Fireball Wand) may only be used by specific characters (in this case, the Wizard); others (such as Armor) may be used by any. Treasure will earn 1 VP for a player if the character carrying it successfully exits the dungeon. But the rooms contain obstacles besides other characters.
You’ll find more than one portcullis in your explorations which are essentially closed doors blocking your path that may only be opened by a Thief (one of his special powers) or broken by a Warrior (one of his special powers). There are also Rotation Gears present which, magically, rotate the position of a room by 90º or more (at the cost of APs). What makes this even more interesting is that the same maneuver can rotate the MATCHING room (4 pairs of rooms match) at an equal additional cost! (Rotation direction is determined by arrows on the space. But the special power of the Mekanork permits him to ignore the arrows and rotate in any direction!) Since your goal is to exit the dungeon in the most expeditious and safest manner possible, these rotations can leave you with a clear path or (possibly even better) leaving your opposition staring at solid walls or in perilous predicaments! And, if that wasn’t enough, there are Pit Traps
Pit Traps are basically bottomless chasms found in each room. A Thief or any character carrying a rope (one of the objects in the game) may stand on a Pit Trap. Otherwise, you need to play one of your Jump cards to leap over the Pit. But remember, you only have three of these for the entire game.
As characters leave the dungeon, Victory Points accrue. Each character successfully exiting (through the opposition’s starting line) is worth 1 VP to the controlling player. (The Goblin, a character with NO special powers, is worth 2 VPs upon exiting.) Treasures held by characters when they exit are also worth 1 VP each. For each character that dies, the opposing player gets 1 VP. The first side to amass 5 Victory Points wins!
The colorful rulebook provides plenty of examples to smooth the learning curve (which is not very steep for anyone who has ever dabbled in dungeons). This is helped by giving each player a screen which contains all the pertinent information you need to keep the game moving. As more adventurers join your party (as you discover them in the rooms), your menu of choices increases. This can create a little “freeze” in the action. The rules suggest limiting turn time to 2 minutes. This may be a little strict but maintaining the flow makes the whole experience more enjoyable. If your gaming partner tends to overanalyze, then this time limit may be necessary.
Dungeon Twister captures the feel of old time Dungeon & Dragons adventures in a graphically pleasing setting and a well balanced format. Dungeon Twister is a fresh and welcome twist to the Sword & Sorcery genre. – – — – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
Fall 2005 GA Report Articles
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