Divine Dungeon Overview
A key factor to my enjoyment of a board game is player interaction. I tend to strongly favor games with high interaction as opposed to multiplayer solitaire. Divine Dungeon is a game that describes itself as a “take that” Dungeon Crawler. So when I was offered a chance to preview it, I had to take it.
You can find a video version of this preview on my YouTube Channel
It’s not a witty marketing slogan either. Every aspect of the game is rooted in your actions affecting other players, and their actions affecting you. You all play twofold roles of Dungeon Cores and Adventurers. Every round players take turns adding tiles to form a dungeon, and then they take turns running through that dungeon as an adventurer, while the other players attempt to stop them.
Both the Dungeon Cores and the adventurer can play cards to aid or impede each other. But a balance must be struck as the cards also serve two roles. The top half of a card is playable by the Dungeon Cores and the bottom half by the adventurer.
Divine Dungeon manages to facilitate two very different sets of mechanisms. Tile placement for the dungeon building and card management for the dungeon dives while keeping the game simple to understand.
Divine Dungeon just launched on Kickstarter, the copy I was provided with is a prerelease prototype. The artwork and rulebook were still being finalized. But I was told the game itself is the same one that backers would be supporting. So, I should be able to arm you with all the insight you need to decide whether or not it’s a game you want to back!
Divine Dungeon is a very aggressive game, but it’s very much tongue in cheek. It’s based on a book series by Dakota Kraut, and almost every card is amusing in some way. Card Titles such as “How Did You Get A Shark?” or “That Monster Was Absolutely Playing Dead” constantly remind you that the game is lighthearted and consistently squeezed some chuckles from my gaming group. Even so, if you are adversarial adverse, Divine Dungeon is not the game for you.
Hitting people in the face and evading that metaphorical dodge ball yourself is the core foundation of the game. To win, you need to advance 8 ranks. Ranks are gained by escaping the dungeon or defeating the boss as an adventurer, and murdering other adventurers as the Dungeon Core. All players will have the chance to play both sides multiple times per game.
My group adores the “take that” style of games, and constantly tripping each other up definitely sparked joy. There is a great satisfaction to be had in watching someone arrogantly skip over several traps with a well-timed card. Only to do your best YuGiOh impression and slam down one of your own, flipping over the next tile in their path and blocking their progress.
Cards can range from enhancing traps, changing tiles, direct damage, and all manner of mischievous shenanigans. It’s not a mindless slapdash of kidney punching, however. It actually takes a rather intricate amount of planning to bully an adventurer without leaving yourself open to being shoved in a locker. All thanks to Divine Dungeon’s clever tile placement and card management.
A Dungeon with Layers
Divine Dungeon is actually quite simple to learn. But there is a multifaceted degree of strategy that you have to think about and it makes the game much deeper than it may appear at first glance.
The first of which is the dungeon layout itself. Every character receives a hero that has a unique power and an elemental affinity. A hero whose affinity matches a tile can bypass any traps or monsters in it. However, affinity also matters when you’re a Dungeon Core. You get to draw a card whenever an adventurer takes damage on a tile-matching your affinity. If you contribute to an adventurer’s death, you gain a rank, but if the adventurer dies on a tile-matching your affinity, you also gain a rank.
During each dungeon-building phase, players receive some tiles, and there’s a queue of tiles that anyone can choose from. The first, second, and third players to run out of tiles gets to choose between the boss, exit, or start tokens. Once the dungeon is finished, those players get to place those tokens in order from start, boss, and then exit.
When designing the dungeon itself. You are attempting to leverage its layout in a way that YOU can successfully complete, either by exiting or beating the boss. While also trying to design it in a way that stops the other players from completing it. The trick is, that the other players are also attempting to do the same exact thing.
There is a great deal of tactical thinking within the tile placement alone. But you can’t simply place tiles in a vacuum, you have to keep in mind the second half of the game, the actual dungeon dives.
An adventurer performing a dungeon dive moves tile by tile, allowing the Dungeon Cores enough time to play cards in-between. The adventurer can also play cards to help them safely advance through the dungeon or counter other players’ cards.
The key is, that it’s difficult to gain new cards during a round. You have to carefully manage your hand during your own dive and during every other player’s dive. If you blow all of your cards early, you leave yourself defenseless during your dive or won’t be able to impede other players’ dives at all.
The way this mechanism is implemented is brilliant because it sidesteps several problems that I predicted the game would have. For example, it completely negates the ability for several players to dog pile on a single adventurer. It doesn’t physically stop them. Every player at the table could, in theory, use all their cards against one player, but it wouldn’t be an effective strategy.
Dungeon Cores don’t just want the adventurer to die, they want them to die on a tile that matches their affinity, and they want to contribute to the death. They also have to retain cards to use during their own dive and to thwart multiple players.
It creates a kind of wild west standoff, where players’ fingers inch just above their holster, ready to draw and shoot at any time, while carefully watching the other players. Waiting to see who makes a move first.
What the adventurer is trying to accomplish also matters. Reaching the exit awards one rank, while defeating the boss awards two. How far ahead or behind any given player is can affect the decision-making. It might be safe to let Greg escape, so you have the spare cards to pull the rug from under David. However, Angela is in the lead. So you have to be careful not to kill an adventurer on a tile-matching her affinity while trying to keep her from contributing to the adventurer’s death at all.
While the game doesn’t make any claims to feature bluffing and subterfuge. There are still a good bit of mind games at play, and it makes for a very interesting experience.
The Good and Bad
Divine Dungeon is quick to set up and put away and is a much deeper game than its quick-to-learn rules would suggest. I loved that the small profile box is shaped like a book, and I hope that’s how the final version ships.
It’s a great game of “take that” with an elaborate set of mechanisms that work together cohesively to form a whole. The tile placement, dungeon diving, and dungeon smiting aren’t simply three pieces glued together. But three pages of the same script to execute its play synergistically.
It’s also unique. The closest game I can think to compare it to would be Boss Monster, but while the concepts are similar the gameplay is drastically different.
I love how interactive Divine Dungeon is. Every action is intertwined with the other players at the table, and it keeps everyone focused on the action. There’s no downtime where a player can disengage to get on that dreaded handheld electronic dopamine dispenser we all carry around. Every stage of the game matters to every player, and that’s great.
Each round the Dungeon expands, and once the dungeon becomes a sprawling labyrinth of color it has a nice table presence. I appreciate the simplicity of the components as well, boiling down to a bunch of cards and a few tokens. While a collectors edition is possible as a stretch goal, the fact that expensive minis aren’t a focus for the base game is a big plus in my opinion.
Finally, the fact that every card serves a dual purpose. One effect for Dungeon Cores and one for adventurers is brilliant and contributes to the satisfying web of strategy that makes up the meat of Divine Dungeon.
On the flip side, I do have a few complaints. While the game is simple to learn, not everything is clear. This is almost certainly due to being a prototype, as the designers were already able to clear up some questions I sent to them in an email.
In particular, the timing of cards can get sticky at times, which could lead to some heated arguments. There are a few interactions that were difficult to reference as well. For example, an adventurer defeats a monster, or boss anytime they survive landing on its tile. However one card, “Really Big Fireball” Deals damage to monsters. This is the only time I found damaging monsters to be referenced. It’s easy enough to parse out the intent, but still a bit awkward.
I played Divine Dungeon at player counts 2 and 4, and I definitely think that the game is better served at higher player counts. It’s still fun at two, but it does take on a very different style. Without the need to retain cards to block multiple adventurers, it becomes much more of a punching match. And with three affinities left unused due to the lack of players many of the tiles matter less.
The scoring felt a bit off as well. We ran out of tiles long before anyone reached rank 8 in our playthroughs. If you run out of tiles, that’s the last round and the highest-ranked player wins at the end of the round. It’s not a big deal, it just felt a bit strange.
Some of these issues will almost certainly be ironed out during the Kickstarter and my overall impression of the game remains positive despite my complaints.
Divine Dungeon has a few things going on it’s Kickstarter that I really like. The pledge that lands you the game is pretty inexpensive at just $25. I also like that they offer a print and play version with a cheaper pledge, that’s awesome.
Divine Dungeon is aiming to fulfill by the end of the year. Now, obviously, that can change, especially given the ongoing circumstances surrounding well, everything in the world. But the fact that they are aiming for a quick turnaround, rather than a handwavy goal of in a few years is a good sign in my opinion. It shows that the bulk of the design is done, and they need funding to put into players’ hands.
This is also the first project of Waypoint Games which is a relatively small company. Now I know that may make some people hesitant, but I see it differently. The Author of the book series is involved, so the project is definitely being taken seriously. But more importantly. I feel that projects like this are more in tune with the spirit of crowdfunding than how it’s commonly used.
Someone has a game design and needs backing to get it out there. This isn’t a project being Kickstarted by some big wig company basically using it as a marketing platform with a mile-long list of FOMO-fueled stretch goals.
By that same line of reasoning, I appreciate the brief and meaningful list of stretch goals offered. A set of mission cards, which sounds awesome, room for a 6th player, and then a collectors edition. The collector’s edition obviously hits that FOMO button, that’s kind of what a collector’s item is. But I appreciate that it’s not overdone and most of the additions definitely feel like solid add-ons to the game that really would need to be cut under certain budget restraints.
Given what I’ve played of Divine Dungeon and how the Kickstarter is presented. I’m confident recommending it to you if you’re a fan of “take that” style games with high player interaction.
Divine Dungeon is unique and strategical, with multiple layers to its gameplay. Plus it takes up very little space on the shelf. Combine that with the inexpensive pledge. Fair stretch goals, and potentially quick turnaround, and I think backing it would probably feel more like a preorder. One that helps an indie designer bring their game into existence, and that’s the very heart of what crowdfunding board games should be.
You may also enjoy my preview of World Breakers!