At UKGE 2022 I reconnected with the excellent SLUGFEST GAMES whom I had met several years ago - pre-wheelchair - at GenCon (Wisconsin or Indy). I was shocked to hear when the young lady on the stand told me that their massively expanded game The Red Dragon Inn is huge in the USA but has hardly made a mini dent in the UK games market. This is something that needs to be addressed, and soon. Please keep your eyes on the Games Gazette Online board game review contents, where news of a review of Red Dragon Inn will soon be posted. But for now, let's concentrate on another of their fantasy adventure board games. DUNGEON DECORATORS by Jeff LaFlam, with lively artwork from T.L.Simons.
Regular readers of my reviews know that I generally like to mention the quality of the components, so this review is no different. The wooden pieces compose of 4 large, regular-shaped, pawns (pyramid body with round head) and 4 slightly larger than normal cubes; pawns and cubes are coloured to match the four player colours. All the remaining contents, with the exception of one Red and one Blue cloth bags, are laminated playing card quality and thick, laminated square tiles. Together these components create an unusual, possibly unique (at least I haven't played or heard of such a theme - even though the drafting mechanic is far from unusual or new) and really enjoyable fun, fast-paced game.
In 1992 I published a card game called Eurohit. Within the deck, placed randomly in sections of it, are placed three machine-gun cards. They were 'timed' to ensure a full game that could not be ended within moments of the start. I mention this because of the Dungeon Decorators endgame mechanic - drawing the three Hourglasses (more later) whereby the game can be over almost as soon as the second half of the game begins.
This game is about building a dungeon in the style you wish, however you gain more points by creating shapes that match the 'shape goals' or placing decorations (the white icons) against the wall that requires them - shape goals and decoration goals are determined by cards dealt and/or drawn by the players. Regular board games players will be used to this matching shapes mechanic as it is well used, tried, and tested. Each dungeon begins with the building block of a crossways centrally decorated with a compass symbol in the centre.
As you would expect from its name, Dungeon Decorators is a game of creating a dungeon of Rooms and Tunnels and then, yup you guessed, decorating it. The decorations, in the form of square tiles, are glossy black and have various white icons on them, either in the centre or next to the side/s. Victory points can be scored by matching the placement of the decorations with the decoration goals on the cards.
The players obtain Decoration tiles from the Draft Board each round. The first turn begins with a random draw of four Decoration tiles from the Blue bag (in which 50 tiles are shuffled and placed) just after deciding which player is going first. The tiles are placed on the Draft Board spaces, 1,2,3 & 4 in numerical order - each tile is numbered. In Turn order, the players place their pawns on the top 5 spaces on the board. Only one Pawn per space. When a player makes their choice they move their Pawn down to one of the lower 5 spaces - the one next to the tile they have chosen - and then take the tile.
When all players have taken a tile or used the middle space which has no tile associated, they have to position the tiles taken into their personal Dungeons. When the Blue bag is empty play continues with the Red bag in which there are 53 tiles, 50 dungeon/decoration tiles and 3 Hourglass (endgame) tiles. When setting up DUNGEON DECORATORS 20 tiles are returned unseen to the box, thus only 100 of the 120 are used each game.
The Draft board is restocked and the players Pawns may now be in different positions - the player who owns the Pawn on the #1 space is now the first player, second, third and fourth follow in the order of their Pawn's position. Any Pawn on the 3rd position - the Centre - can take a random Room/Passage tile from the bag and either a Shape or a Decoration card. All tiles are shown dungeon decor side up because the positioninig of the icons also relates to the shape of the walkway on the tile's flipside. When taking a tile you can use either side as long as you place it legally and remember that once placed it stays placed.
The decoration tiles state clearly whether they have to be positioned alongside a walkway/passageway or a room. Rooms have only one entrance whereas walkways have a minimum of two exit/entrants. Neither an exit or entrance can be butted up to a wall (or a Decorator tile), but they can be ended by a room - walkways have to go somewhere. Some coridors are coloured and these can be joined to each other, other colours or the basic grey stone. There are possible bonuses which you may be able to earn in the way your dungeon by joining various colour walkways together - it all depends what the shape cards require.
Shape cards show the shapes required, using square blocks to illustrate walkways and hexagonals for rooms. The shape determines the building whether it has a colour or a star in it, it remains the same. Colours in a shape determine the necessary colour for the tile, some show a rainbow of colours which indicate any colour, other than grey (which is viewed as neutral) while Golden Stars have no ingame action except to be of value during the scoring phase.
When completing shapes and decorations in your dungeon it should be noted that tiles and decorations can be used (not in the same turn) for more than one scoring. ie pieces that complete a dungeon shape may be added to and thus create another shape. Similarly decorations may be attached to, for example, a walkway wall and a room wall (perhaps placed right angled to touch two walls at the same time).
Some of the tiles arrive on the draft board bearing assistant icons. Immediately you draft such a tile it is resolved. A Goblin Sapper (a Blue icon that looks like a comic bomb) allows the player to also take a generic room/hallway tile from supply. Crossed Hammers mean you can remove two tiles from the bag add them to the one drawn and then use one, discarding the other two. Other tile icons are a pair of flowing Pink arrows and a Green mimic that looks like Spongebob Squarepants ™. Both of these are extremely useful and should never be wasted as they can be game changers, even game winners.
Room and Hallway cards show what decoration is required next to the Room/Hallway. The cards with a single icon in the centre confused us for a short while on our first game as we were expecting to find a tile with that icon in its centre. Once we realised it was denoting that the icon shown just had to be against the wall of the Room/Hallway, then it made sense - it should have made sense to us in the first place, we were just being dopey.
There are solid green 'wild' icon decorations but they mean nothing unless activated by the player using a Decorative Mimic token, then they are any icon you want them to be for that turn. The Arcane Architect tokens (pink < > arrows) allow players to rotate or move a tile in the dungeon. This can be a decoration tile or a dungeon tile, plus it can be moved AND rotated. If this breaks up a previously scored Room or Hallway then the points scored remain, they are not deleted from your current score. As I said earlier, using the Pink and Green tokens can be game winners.
Within the bag of tiles are mixed 3 Hourglass tiles; these are the endgame mechanic. When the third Hourglass is drawn during Round setup the game ends immediately, if it happens when a player draws a tile from the bag then the Round is completed with all players having had equal turns.
There are two Boss Goal decks, Blue and Yellow, nine cards each. For every game each deck is shuffled and one card from each deck flipped over to reveal the 2 Bosses whose specialities will affect the final scoring, and possibly the way players plan their dungeons during play. These deadly Bosses have such frightening names, some of which are Curio George, Lois the Lavamancer, Daphne the Doppelganger and Morris the Moist. Scoring the most points (maybe with Morris it would be the 'moist' points) wins the game; point ties are decided by one of two methods.
Not About This Game But Perhaps Interesting:
If you think on it, the 120 dungeon tiles, plus the 10 generic Room/Hallway tiles, give you 130 tiles from which you can design your own dungeon for 5mm - 15mm figure gaming and/or D&D™ style games. Regular GMs of RPGs could even create statistics for one of, or all of, the Bosses and use them as top dogs or wanderers, adding a little extra light entertainment and fun. Just remember to put the tiles back into the Dungeon Decorators box when you have finished your miniatures adventures.