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Dungeon Twister

February 19, 2009

A fantasy-themed strategic/tactical board game for 2 players.  Play time is about an hour.  Suggested age – 11 and up.  Design by Cristophe Boelinger, published by Asmodee.

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Indulge me for a moment, if you will, as I try to expound the virtues of this underplayed gem of a game.  Fair warning: this is not a game you show your casual gamer friends, or heaven forbid your parents who think you’re “over” the collectible card game days.  These family members may schedule you a weekend visit at the local psych ward after seeing a copy of Dungeon Twister.  But for your gamer friends, those with more open minds and a taste for dancing with analysis paralysis and coming away victorious – ah, now that’s a different story. 

RULES SUMMARY

The arch-mage has too much time on his hands.  And too much power, apparently, for he has crafted a maze-like dungeon full of traps and treasure, and captured adventurers from across the land for his own entertainment, watching from afar as they battle their way out of the dungeon.  Each player forms his own team of 8 characters picking from such archetypes as the Mage, the Warrior, the Thief, the Troll, and the…Mekanork?  Yeah, that last one’s not an archetype.  But he’s pretty cool anyways.  Each character has his own special ability.  The Thief can pick locks and disable pit traps.  The Warrior can break open doors.  The Mage can use the Fireball Wand and Magic Scrolls.  The Mekanork – he can twist better. 

Remember that whole title, Dungeon Twister?  Every room in the dungeon, of which there are 8 total in the base game, has a space on it with a rotation gear, and if a character stands on it, he can rotate the room in the direction shown on the gear.  The Mekanork can twist the room in the opposite direction, which can be quite helpful, saving you precious actions.  At the beginning of your turn, you play an Action Card, which shows how many actions you can perform that turn, ranging from 2 actions to 5.  Once you’ve played all four Action Cards, you get them all back.  An action encompasses things like moving, attacking, spinning a room, revealing a room which is face down (as they all start face down), or using an object like a Speed Potion or Fireball Wand. 

Characters have a Movement value telling how many spaces they can move per action and a Combat value.  When attacking, players choose a combat card from their hands and play it face down, revealing simultaneously and adding to the combat value of their characters.  Losing characters are wounded and may not move, thus becoming sitting ducks to be finished off with one more successful attack. 

The object of the game is to score 5 Victory Points, which are earned by killing characters or escaping characters from the Dungeon, though you have to go out the opposite side, sneaking past your opponent or slicing through them with brute force.  So if you kill 2 characters and escape with 3 of your own, the game is yours. 

All of this is straightforward enough, but a nifty added complication is introduced when you learn that every room in the dungeon has an opposite, forming 4 pairs of rooms and numbered and color-coded identically for easy reference.  So if your character is standing on a rotation gear that has its mirror on the opposite side of the board where your opponent has several characters, you can use your character to twist his room and possibly cause great distress and wasted actions, blocking him off with the way walls line up or don’t line up, as the case may be.  This ability to mess with rooms on the other side of the dungeon can be fantastic fun.  

dungeon-twister

GAMEPLAY ANALYSIS

One element of luck exists in this game, and that is the setup of the original 8 room tiles which make up the dungeon.  Other than that, both players are on completely even ground, with very similar tools at their disposal.  The options during your turn can be staggering.  Do I use the Warrior to break open the door so I can go after that Sword which will make him even stronger, or do I use my Thief to drink the Speed potion and try to rush her out of the dungeon this turn, or do I let my Mekanork twist the room to make it easier for my Mage to get in line of sight with the Fireball Wand and blast my opponent’s strength 4 Troll, killing him instantly (and then laugh gleefully at the look on my opponent’s face when he realizes he left his strongest character in harm’s way)?  It can be overwhelming at times, but it’s a good kind of overwhelming, especially if you like games with (very) little to no luck. 

Most of these decisions are tactical; however, strategy enters the picture in the form of where you place your characters and items during initial setup.  This is a chess match (cliched, I know, but this game is sometimes compared to chess) in itself and can feel like mental gymnastics.  If you buy the expansions, which I highly recommend, you can form your own teams and structure them around themes or specific strengths, such as speed vs. strength, giving a sort of “army” or party building aspect to the game.  These expansions also come with other items with powerful and fun effects and different room tiles with other obstacles or special features, all greatly enhancing the original game and offering more strategic play.

So you’ve probably guessed the truth already: I am a huge fan of this game.  It has an exponential geek factor to it that may turn a lot of people away from even trying it out, but geek factor = cool factor to some of us.  If you have an inner geek in you at all, you will probably love Dungeon Twister.  Just bring along a timer for those friends who take three hours every turn.  (Tournaments are played with timers and 2 minute turns.  Don’t let the fact that there are tournaments for this game scare you.  It’s a good thing.)

I could make an analogy to football here, strangely enough.  Sometimes it feels like a fast character making a break for the exit, on a rectangular “field,” sidestepping obstacles and enemy would be “tacklers,” is a wideout heading for the end zone.  Only the defensive back is a Paladin with a two-handed sword. 

RATINGS

Components/Presentation: 7/10   Dungeon Twister screams for painted miniatures and a 3D dungeon, but all they gave me was this (albeit perfectly adequate) cardboard?  I guess that’s why it’s 29.99 instead of 149.99.  The components are perfectly functional out of the box, and most people won’t mind.

Theme: 8/10  Bizarre, yes.  Geeky, most definitely.  But it works.

Mechanics: 10/10  The game runs like a polished, well-oiled machine.  Once you get a few games under your belt, the depth of gameplay and possibilities are mind-blowing. 

Replayability: 10/10  Skill level is a huge factor.  So much so, in fact, that the rules suggest playing with a handicap when an experienced player faces a beginner, sometimes in the form of up to several fewer characters.  Dungeon Twister is difficult to master, but the first game is still great fun.

Fun Factor: 10/10  What game design could be better than throwing 16 fantasy characters in an enclosed space and letting them duke it  out?   That’s a pretty tall order, right?

Overall: 10/10

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2 comments

  1. Great review, Jonathan … and I agree with your assessment. The game is very strategic and tense, requiring lots of tactics and tough thought. I’ve purchased the multi-player expansion, but have not yet played it.


  2. Greg, I’ve not yet attempted much multi-player, but I think it almost necessitates a timer from what little we’ve played. I’m going to try to get reviews of Mercenaries and Forces of Darkness up eventually.



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