Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dungeon Petz- Dang

Years ago I heard about a new game called Dungeon Lords. The idea was that each player would develop a dungeon and stock it with monsters and then compete to see whose dungeon was most effective at defeating pesky adventurers. For me this was a no-brainer and my wife pre-ordered it for me for my birthday. Well it finally arrived and I unpacked it and read the rules. What a mess. I didn't understand the dynamics at all. It seemed random, fiddly, and the play strategy was completely unclear to me. Sadly, Dungeon Lords has sat on my shelf unplayed for years. Although not discarded, since it's obviously crazy to get rid of games, miniatures, or toys of any sort.

Last week game player Joy brought Dungeon Petz to board game night. Again, this seemed like a no-brainer. In Dungeon Petz you purchase and raise crazy dungeon animals and sell them to vampires, trolls, and witches as pets. The theme sounded great, the game was colorful and well illustrated, and the title made use of zany spelling tricks. Spelling things with a "z" instead of an "s" is only slightly less entertaining than using multiple "x's" to show how Exx-Treeeeme a product is.

Sadly, Dungeon Petz is almost as complex and fiddly as it's forbear Dungeon Lords. Each player has a troop of workers and in each turn you can assign each worker a particular task. There are a finite number of tasks available each turn and some are going to be wildly more desirable than others so much of the game revolves around getting your workers in the right place at the right time. Over time each player buys baby pets and then raises them until they can be sold to various dungeon dwellers. A vampire may want a very scary pet, while a troll queen may want a cute, small pet. The buyers appear in random order and if you're lucky enough to have raised the right kind of pet you'll score lots of points.

I suspect that serious board gamers manage Dungeon Petz well and have lots of fun. For me, I struggled to get any sense of strategy and somehow most of my pets died of illness before even being sold, which was remarkably depressing. I hated the limited worker placement options (which I know is a hallmark of this sort of game) and the few pets I managed to keep alive turned out to be the wrong types for the buyers who appeared randomly.

I found Dungeon Petz to be weirdly complex and overall kind of sad, at least for any player who can't keep their pets healthy and happy. It's a shame because the illustrations and theme are really appealing. I rarely play a game that just leaves me cold but this one did.

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