Review: Two Hour Dungeon Crawl, part 1.

Two Hour Dungeon Crawl comes from Two Hour Wargames. It apparently uses the same rules as other games by the company.

It costs $14 for a pdf and $15 for a printed copy.

The internal artwork is quite small. It also doesn’t exactly fit the genre. To me it looks more like a screenshot from a cartoon. The artwork also looks like it was originally in color, and was then printed in black and white. I can’t see any reason to have black and white rather than color in the pdf version.

An example of the art.

An example of the art.

The game requires six-sided dice (the rules say at least six), counters or figures, paper (graph paper recommended), and pencil. You can use dungeon tiles instead of graph paper.

The rules say that the game can be played solo, cooperatively, or competitively. This is a review of the solo option.

The player creates a ‘Star’ (player character) and some ‘Grunts’, (non-player characters).

I would expect that, after the introduction, the rules would tell you how to create your characters. In fact creating your Star starts in section 9.0 (‘Profession’), and creating your NPCs is section 13.0 (‘Forming Your Band’). It’s not clear why. My guess is that the first sections are the rules that are common to all the 2 Hour Wargames, and these are followed by the rules specific to this game. Whatever the reason, I don’t think it’s a good choice.

The location of the tables is particularly strange. There is a section (4.0), called ‘Tables’. But this just tells you that the tables are all grouped together (though not where they are). In fact they’re at the end of the pdf. Tables are numbered based on where the rule that relates to them appears. For example, table 39.9, ‘Rivals’, refers to rival adventuring parties that you might meet in the dungeon. This relates to rule section 39.9, ‘Rival Adventurer Party’. However table 39.9 doesn’t appear in that section, nor does section 39.9 tell you where the table is. The whole document is only 47 pages long including the cover, so it’s not as confusing as it could have been. However, it seems like it would have made much more sense to have the table with the relevant rule.

To create a Star, the player chooses a race. There are the common races of human, dwarf and elf, as well as races which would more commonly be monsters, such as ghouls and vampires. There are 15 races in all. The obvious ‘missing’ race is halfing. However, it looks like it would be easy enough to expand the rules to include them, or any other race desired. Each race has a single advantage. For example ghouls can infect their enemies, potentially turning them into ghouls.

For the purposes of this review I chose a human.

The player then chooses a profession for their Star. As with races, each profession has a single advantage. There are 8 professions–although Warrior, Soldier, Knight and Paladin are all counted as separate professions (and Paladins don’t seem to have any supernatural abilities). It might have made more thematic sense to have a single profession of Warrior, which chose or rolled one of these four advantages. The other 4 professions are Caster, Healer, Thief and Shooter. Not all races can choose all professions. For example zombies can only be Warriors. The rules (section 9.2) mention that your Star can be a ‘dual profession character’–that is, you can have two (actually ‘two or more’) professions. This section doesn’t mention any disadvantage to doing this. It’s also unclear how much of a penalty the character has when acting as the third or subsequent professions.

For this review I choose Caster.

The player then recruits their party. Each Star is restricted as to which races will join them. For human, dwarvish and elvish Stars, the player chooses the human, dwarf or elf table, and rolls on it. Thus the player can’t be sure which professions the party will have, but can choose a table which gives a greater chance of the desired profession. For other Stars you first roll for race, then roll for profession on the appropriate race table. For example a Petty Demon might recruit goblins, ghouls, zombies or skeletons. This could easily to changed or added to if, for example, you wanted a world like the Discworld where trolls are a ‘core’ hero type and elves aren’t.

I rolled on the human table three times, and got a Soldier, a Knight who I couldn’t recruit because his Reputation (similar to both level and hit points in D&D) was higher than mine, and another Soldier. Since I felt like I had enough fighter-types, I moved to the elf table, which tends towards Shooters. I got a Knight who I couldn’t recruit for Reputation reasons, followed by the desired Shooter. I decided to roll on the dwarf table for the final NPC, and got a Soldier who I couldn’t recruit, followed by a Shooter.

Having done this, I realised I hadn’t chosen weapons or armor for my Star. The section on armor (section 12) says there are three levels of armor. It says you can choose, although, since the armor levels are given for NPCs, I assume this means for your Star only. The section doesn’t give any disadvantages to choosing the highest level of armor and a shield. The description of magic (28.0) mentions that you have to have your hands free. It would have been good to have this in the shields section as well. However armor doesn’t seem to have any effect on magic, or on your movement speed. It seems like this isn’t really a choice: it would have been better to just say that your Star has AC6.

You can choose your weapons. My wizard chooses a two-handed sword.

After rolling your other party members, you have to skip from section 13 to section 33, passing over several sections on turn order. Section 33 tells you to choose whether to play a campaign, or a one-off game. For this review I choose a one-off, although I’m glad there’s a campaign option. This was probably the biggest thing missing in The Sorcerer’s Cave, a game I used to play all the time until I updated Windows and couldn’t run it any more (it was originally a card/board game).

The player then rolls for the ‘Big Bad’, the monster who rules the dungeon (I got an orc–presumably the chief of a tribe) and the reason the party is exploring the dungeon (I got ‘kill the Big Bad’). It might have been interesting to have the option of raiding dungeons of ‘good guys’–perhaps especially given that the party can be made up of monsters.

The actual process is quite simple and logical, but the illogical order of sections, and the fact that you have to go to a separate, unmarked section to look up every table, made it much longer and more confusing than it would otherwise have been.

This concludes the setting up, and part 1 of this review.


Review: Four Against Darkness

Four Against Darkness comes from Ganesha Games, who are best known for their wargame rules A Song of Blades and Heroes. Four Against Darkness describes itself as “an old-school dungeonbashing solo game that can be played with minimum space and equipment.” It requires two six-sided dice, a pen or pencil, and some paper (preferably graph paper).

The player begins by choosing classes for a party of exactly four characters. There are eight classes, which are almost the same as the seven found in 80s Basic D&D (barbarian, warrior, wizard, cleric, rogue, dwarf, elf, and halfling). Characters are much simpler than in D&D. For example they have no attributes. This means that you can create a new party very quickly.

The game is similar to the procedures for randomly generating a dungeon that are found in many versions of D&D. The player first rolls to generate the shape of the room or corridor, then rolls for what’s in there (a minor nitpick: the pictures of rooms and corridors have grid lines, but they’re so hard to see that I didn’t notice them for a few days). The result is often a group of monsters. The player usually has the option to attack the monsters immediately, gaining a small advantage, or wait to see what they do, often giving a chance that they will run away or demand a bribe. Traps are quite rare, only coming up if a roll of 2d6 totals 3 (on average, 1 room or corridor in 18). There are also ‘special features’ such as an encounter with a wandering alchemist who offers to sell the party healing potions and/or poison.

The game is very easy to learn, especially since most people who play it will already be familiar with the general idea. There were some areas where I found the rules unclear. I would also have preferred it if the rules were mentioned where they’re used. For example, the class description for dwarves mentions that trolls hate them. It would have been good to have this, and its game effect, on the random monster table entry for trolls as well. However the ‘after-sales service’ is very good: I posted to the Ganesha Games Yahoo group, and got an answer the next time I was on the internet.

I would have preferred it if the game had more frequent decisions. For example, in many cases the decision whether to attack monsters or wait wasn’t a real decision, because the monster type in question always attacks (or always attacks your party–trolls, for example, will always fight dwarves). I would like to see both more options–for example parleying aggressively with the monsters, parleying humbly with them, pretending to have come with orders from their master, and so on–and more possible outcomes–for example the monsters might demand a hostage, or agree to join your party for a certain amount of money.

It seems like it would be easy to expand or tweak the game, for example by adding or replacing monster types, or altering the probabilities of various outcomes.

The game certainly succeeds in its apparent aim: to be a cheap, one-player, simpler, no-preparation version of a dungeon crawl. The downside is that it also reproduces what can be a flaw in such games: a lack of meaningful decision-making. Whether you like this game or not will depend very much on how you feel about randomly-generated dungeon crawls as a whole.

The game is available here.