I was interested in Captains of the Gulf, but the price and some complaints about the game put it on my wait and see list. Thanks for posting this.
I agree with @rho21 I don’t think Suburbia has much housekeeping at all. You gain X dollars and X population every turn based on two stats, that’s about all the housekeeping in the game. I think it’s a really elegant, quick-feeling design. If you’re reading the rules it can sound overwhelming. I think the player aid makes it seem much more complicated than it is. Every turn you just place a tile and collect some stuff. It’s the kind of game I often pull out with family or people who only play light games.
I don’t think any of the games in the IGN list have all of the parts of a city builder you’re looking for other than Suburbia. Alhambra and Quadropolis do have distinct districts that play out in a sort of set-collection manner. All of them have a city building theme though. Might also be worth looking at New York 1901 if you’re just looking for city building themed games. It’s a very simple and accessible game where players are competing to build New York Skyscrapers. It feels more city-building to me than those other games, though it doesn’t have population tracking or anything.
There’s a really spiffy looking deluxe edition of Suburbia on Kickstarter right now. I’m not sure I’d like the game or I’d be in on it.
I don’t think Suburbia has too much house keeping, although “too much” is presumably subjective. That said, we messed up last time I played. This game really nails the feel of building a city for me.
And I prefer the design of the base version to this “deluxe” edition.
I know some people like the Days of Wonder game Quadropolis, but I’ve not played it.
What is your favorite dungeon crawl (doesn’t have to be fantasy themed) and what mechanics or elements make it stand out above the rest?
Separate question, though related, what game has the best AI Overlord or equivalent?
Gloomhaven. And the fantastically deep, rich tactical battles, enormously distinct and compelling class design, constant stream of meaningful decisions at both a micro and macro level, and of course the sheer ridiculous amount of content in one merely $140 MSRP box are what make it stand out.
It’d probably also be my answer for AI design because of the personality the action cards for each monster type give and the robust handling thereof, but something app based like Descent/Imperial Assault/Mansions of Madness 2E would be next up.
MoM also stands out as a pretty solid horror-themed “dungeon crawl” of sorts, and past that I’d probably plump for Eldritch Horror, Arkham Horror (both card and board game), and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game or better yet Apocrypha, none of which are strictly speaking classic dungeon crawls, but they capture the adventuring feel that I’m looking for, fighting monsters, having story encounters, advancing characters and getting all sorts of fabulous loot and other upgrades. (Well, the story is more frame than individual encounter in the latter two and vice versa for the Horrors.)
I’m guessing things like Imperial Assault, maybe Descent 2E (both with apps), Hexplore It, and Sword & Sorcery would be on my list if I’d played them yet. (I mean, I’ve played the first two as a one vs. many affair but I do not recommend that.)
Okay, I meant to get into this a bit in that other thread where Tom reviewed the WH40k thing a few weeks ago, but I got sidetracked.
As @malkav11 pointed out, Gloomhaven really is aces, if you want interesting decisions and a long campaign. So I’ll just leave that.
My favorite more-traditional style game is Mutant Chronicles: Siege at the Citadel, which was a contemporary of the original Hero Quest, (c. 1990 or so), but much, much better. A kickstarter was run a while back for a new version, Siege of the Citadel that seems to be finally shipping soon. I didn’t buy in since I did a crazy total conversion update of the original (I’ve mentioned it around here before) a while back, so I’m not entirely sure what the changes are. From what I understand, it’s mostly the same, a few balance tweaks, a few new things.
Reasons why I like it:
The game is a competitive co-op, 1 vs many. And they mean it. You are trying to complete the mission with the other players, but you want to do better than them.
The game plays fast- no real bookkeeping or tokens or whatnot. Heroes roll to hit, if they do enough damage, the enemy is destroyed. If not, no change, etc. Nothing to track, just keep it moving.
Similarly, missions have a designated goal and time limit (6-10 turns?) so they are done in an hour or so.
The game is built for a campaign, but one player doesn’t get stuck playing the bad guy- that roll rotates among players, and they get xp points for their regular heroes for playing well in the evil role! This incentivizes them to play hard.
Starting a couple missions into the campaign, each player gets a Secret Mission, which will give them bonus XP for completing it… but might not help move toward the overall goal. You also have a couple special cards that can be used to help your squad, or alternately slow down your ‘friends’- nothing major, just a little poke.
Things folks might not like:
remember how I said you want to do better than the other players? That’s because of the loot system. There isn’t one- you find no loot during the game. Instead you requisition equipment before each mission. Higher levels and more money mean better equipment, but you return it after each mission, so just because you get it once, you might not get it next time.
Each player controls a squad of two, and they’re pretty generic- one melee-focused, one ranged, no other special powers or skills (though each player has a ‘Corp’ that has an intrinsic bonus, different from all the others). Your special stuff comes from your equipment each game.
Theme is a pretty blatant WH40k rip-off. Techno-magic Space Marines with Big Shoulder Pads and bigger guns. You can see why I felt the need to change the setting up a bit.
Regarding AI, I thought the Gears of War boardgame had a neat AI system. Enemies all felt distinct, etc.
Kingdom Death: Monster. There’s nothing even close. The card-based AI is simply incredible; feels very much like a Dark Souls boss fight. The world-building is very serious, idiosyncratic, extremely atmospheric, and second-to-none. The loot system, encampment building, and character progression are deep and profound, with tons of difficult, interesting, and surprising choices. The only downside to KD:M for me is the miniature building, but to some people that’s a plus.
I also enjoyed Mice & Mystics with my kids. The narrative there is pretty cliche, but is nonetheless rich, the characterizations are strong, mechanics solid, and AI simple but effective. There’s about 25 hours of content in the base box, with a couple of expansions that add another 40 or so hours.
EDIT: I’ll also add a vote for MoM 2e. I really like that it has a few scenarios that require no combat, and it takes 5 minutes to set up. I dislike the FFG feature creep and endless useless expansions.
There is only Magic Realm.
I’ll go stand over here in the corner now.
Thanks for bringing up KDM. I dont really think of it as a dungeon crawl as much as a survival game with elements of exploration. That said, im intrigued by the AI system. How does the game keep from feeling samey?
A-men. Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t played Kingdom: Deathmonster. It doesn’t have any dungeon crawling per se – instead of laying down tiles and walking along them, you play a hunt sequence on the way to the main combat – but it’s the gold standard in terms of making tabletop battles feel dynamic, distinct, unpredictable, dangerous, and smartly tactical.
The dynamic combat with the different enemies. I was pretty dismayed when I bought the base set to discover it only has, like, six monsters. But each of those monsters is easily worth a dozen of the usual skeletons, orcs, and spiders.
Really, there’s only so much you can do with the usual “line up the little dudes on dungeon tiles and punch away their hitpoints”. Gloomhaven is pretty good in pushing this mostly uninteresting model into places with some personality, although you have to get up into the higher difficulty levels before it starts to come into its own. There’s a lot of godawful killing-rats-in-the-basement grinding before Gloomhaven flexes what it can do.
The games that appeal to me are the ones that try something different. A sadly overlooked example is Too Many Bones, which will be discussed at length on the next boardgaming podcast. The guys at Chip Theory decided to chuck the usual model of little minis walking around on tiles in favor of their own more abstract battle system. Because they built their combat system from the ground up and without the usual assumptions, they’re able to express a ton of personality and distinct behaviors among the monsters, not to mention the different characters and character builds.
1979 called and it wants its rose-colored glasses back. :) Magic Realm does do some cool stuff with monster personality, though.
Kingdom Death: Monster has the absolute worst name I have ever seen, though.
I don’t consider KDM a dungeon crawler, so that’s why I didn’t bring it up. I has, though, the absolute best AI in the “dudes hitting monsters” space. Most games have brain dead, repetitive AI. Gloom haven is interesting in that enemy groups have their own decks, but the AI is still random (although varied and with somewhat of a personality) and not reactive. KDM feels reactive. Feels like the enemy is reading your plays and fighting against you. It’s pretty amazing in that regard.
To get a better tactical, reactive AI you have to move to the hex and counter war game space, where the state of the art in board game, player level AI lies. But that’s a very distinct genre that plays very different and doesn’t feel at all like more mainstream games.
Dungeon Crawlers are often trying to abstract a situation that alternates between having both hectic and tense situations : Hectic when the combat starts and limbs go flying, and tense when there’s no combat and you’re slowly creeping around a dungeon hoping to avoid setting off traps etc (unless it’s the kind of DC where you sprint g around dungeons looking for stuff to kill :))
I think the majority of dungeon crawling games, in all forms (whether they’re computer, boradgame, or tabletop RPG) suffer from the same major problem of trying to represent both these situations with the boring, slow slog that is tile-counting, action-point allocation, and tedious amounts of arithmetic (as you add modifiers and subtract armour bonuses etc), or lots of pausing and thinking about what to do. That slow-pace works fine for the exploration part, but does a real barbarian facing a real horde of undead skeletons really have 10 minutes to pause and figure out which of his skills is currently the most optimal to use, and which is best to save for later?!
No! The real barbarian has to figure it out RIGHT NOW and wade into the frey, decimating enemies and pushing them back with his might axes. Which is why Diablo was, and still is, such a breath of fresh air in the dungeon crawling genre, as it was real-time, chaotic, required some seat-of-the-pants character-piloting and manic clicking.
I remember when I first played Diablo 2: I popped those starting mobs with a barbarian and instantly realised that this form of dungeon crawling completely usurps all others, for me, as being “the” best way to simulate it. (TBH I’m just bitter because I once spent 4 hours playing Hackmaster and it basically amounted to travelling across the country side, getting into combat with a single snake, and then flailing amount accidentally chopping each other up whilst trying to kill it. Yawn. My chief complaint at the time was “I could have killed thousands of snakes in Diablo 2 in the same 4 hours! Borrrrrring” )
But Diablo 2 was a computer game. In the boardgame scene I’d champion Catacombs as having the exact same feeling of dungeon combatting as in Diablo 2, and it was such a breath of fresh air when I first played it. I think it’s such a fantastic simulation of a Dungeon Crawl that games like Gloomhaven don’t come close to touching. Sure, it’s turn based, so there is a small amount of pausing to think “what’s the most optimal thing to do now?”, but the actual movement and combat is played out via disc-flicking which really injects the situation with the required amount of seat-of-your-pants chaos and tension, so it removes the boring tedium of counting squares and figuring out where the best chokepoint to position the barbarian is so that the elf can get shots off etc. Instead you just have to come up with a plan, flick and hope it goes well, and, if not, adapt and refine your plan, just like in real combat! (Probably, I’m not a real barbarian)
Also, if you take Catacombs and theme it with Call of Duty or Jagged Alliance or something you end up with SEAL Team Flix, which is another dungeon crawler I’d highly recommend :)
Both are games that I find are much more pleasant ways of spending time in a Dungeon than whatever-quest or some D&D knock-off.
As far as dungeon crawlers go, I tried Sword and Sorcery. It didn’t really excite me, but then the first scenario that I played never really got its hooks into me. Combat is straight forward until it isn’t. And that normally involves modifiers. There’s armor, then there’s magic shields, there’s a tally of hits, enemy powers that might come into play, events from the beginning of the turn, critical debuffs. Towards the end of the first scenario, I had all of those, except the magic armor shield bit, and working out how much damage the red goblin boss was doing meant triple checking all the maths. I did like the AI system they went with the monsters. Even on that first scenario, mere goblins were brutally effective and crowd control was absolutely necessary. I have to try the game again, probably once Summer is over and I can not feel as though I’m sweating over bits of cardboard.
Speaking of dungeon crawlers, I had no idea, but there’s a new Pathfinder core set coming out. https://paizo.com/products/btq01ws7?Pathfinder-Adventure-Card-Game-Core-Set
There’s a series of blog posts on the Paizo website that I only just caught up on. So far I’m liking what I’ve seen with the new look cards and the simplifying of the game text.
I really just wish they would make Kingdom Death: Monster approachable from a price perspective.
I know there is differing theory as to whether game prices should factor into a review, etc. But I think it is reasonable to say that at $400 (or close to it, even with an occasional discount), the game is just out of reach for a lot of people (myself included), particularly if you are on the fence.
Spending nearly half of a thousand dollars to try a board game is a bit much for me. I say that not in anger, but in sadness. I might enjoy the game, but I’m not sure I could ever justify that for it. Particularly sight unseen.
There are some good (though not fully updated to 1.5 rules) KD:M mods on Tabletop Simulator. TTS costs about $15, so if you want to try it, you can go that route. I’ve never bought the game, but have played through a dozen Lantern Years on TTS a few times, both solo and with groups.
That seems reasonable enough. Someone make 1.5 rules mods! :)
A dude named Nognoth (who made the best existing mod) was working on it, but abandoned the project a few months ago due to IRL commitments. But, the differences aren’t huge. You can have a comprehensive KD:M experience with the original rules.