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Rarely have I been more excited to play a game than Paper Dungeons which is bizarre because it’s a small-ish game containing a dungeon adven...

Paper Dungeons by Alley Cat Games Paper Dungeons by Alley Cat Games

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November 2021

Paper Dungeons by Alley Cat Games


Rarely have I been more excited to play a game than Paper Dungeons which is bizarre because it’s a small-ish game containing a dungeon adventure-themed roll-n-write.  However, when I saw the box art I was smitten, they had me at ‘A dungeon scrawler game’.

Gameplay

Each game will see you and a number of your intrepid friends scribbling their journey through a dungeon, fighting minions, monsters, triggering traps, picking up treasure and moving around obstacles.  It will take a fairly accurate ‘30 minutes’ if playing with others to complete a single game although I’ve completed some solo adventures in under 15 minutes.


Each game will consist of just 8 rounds in which you will use 3 dice.  To start the round, you will roll a pool of 3 white and 3 black dice which remain freely available to all players no matter if they’ve been used or not.  These dice will dictate your actions for the round.  There are four main actions you can take with each dice, but the colour and symbol of the dice will limit your choices.


The actions are Level Up, Craft Artifact, Brew Potion or Explore the Dungeon.


Each player will start with an identical dungeon and a pretty much identical party of a Warrior, Wizard, Cleric and Thief.  There will be some minor differences between the colour of each of these, for example I might have a black Cleric and black Wizard and a white Warrior and White Thief.  I will only be able to level up my white Warrior if there is a warrior symbol on one of the white dice.


Crafting most artifacts can be done with any dice but you will need to burn two of your actions to complete it.  When you consider that you only have 24 discrete actions in a game there is a small trade off between using the dice for their affect or trying to generate combos.  In my experience with this game, it is always better to move at least one if not twice each turn than do almost anything else.


Any dice can be used for 2 movement, but there are 3 boot icons in the dice pool which allow you to move 3 squares.  This doesn’t seem like a big change, but I promise you that moving is the most powerful action in the game.  When you move, you’ll likely take damage but also gain rewards and moving is the quickest way to unlock the combos which are evenly dispersed throughout this game.


For me, there is a direct correlation between how fun a roll-n-write game is and how many combos you can do.  I don’t know why but I get a little kick each time my movement triggers a fight, which give me a reward, which lets me craft an artifact which gives me more potions…  That type of combo is fairly typical in this game, but unlike other roll-n-writes where the combos are usually towards the late game, they are available right from the beginning in this game.


The final action is to brew health potions.  These are critical for success as you will take damage directly to your party without them.  Damage is tracked alongside the combined level of your heroes and the more damage you take directly, the more score deduction you get at the end.  If you can assign that damage to potions there’ll be no impact to your score.  It is possible to die in the dungeon (the only game play effect is a -9 points) but I’ve never seen that happen.

This is not a big score...

My top tips for getting a big score, move lots, have plenty of potions and look for combos.  As you can see this is a fairly simple roll-n-write but with an applied theme that is far more successful than others of this ilk and heft, e.g. Welcome To or 30 Rails.


Seemingly the biggest difference between games will be in which monsters you meet and where any dungeon walls may be.  Each game will pit your party against a level 1, 2 and 3 monster. There are 4 of each in the base game and across a ‘campaign’ of 12 dungeons the monsters and extra walls are all that separate the dungeons.  Unfortunately, each level of monster is identical in strength and damage, so the difference quickly just feels cosmetic although it is certainly a nice cosmetic change.


However, before you start playing you will choose a secret objective and power; there will also be three public missions.  Not only do these help to set up your party but they also give a variable number of points based on how well you achieve the card.  These cards are a nice addition to the game as they do prevent every game from feeling the same (it still does get a little bit samey after a few plays).


Components

There are no gripes here, the components are all perfectly adequate.  I particularly like the artwork and iconography.  The prime engine of the game is driven by nice chunky 20mm dice – think King of Tokyo for comparison. Which are easily readable, even from across the table.  The publishers deserve some extra praise putting this into a sensible sized box.  There’s still some space left over but it’s not excessive, most of it is taken up by the game pads of 100 sheets. 


Criticisms

I was looking forward to playing the campaign (it’s a dungeon scrawler after all) but after the fourth or fifth mission I realised there was little beyond flavour text linking the missions together.  This minor flaw, the game stands alone in its own right, is compounded by the fact that monsters don’t change in strength.  Dungeon A of the campaign feels just as easy/hard as Dungeon L.  There doesn’t appear to be any progression beyond a cards-worth of story.  Each dungeon and monster are too similar in feel if not aesthetic.  This is partially mitigated by the objective, missions and power cards.


The other criticism I have after having played it close to 20 times is that it is too easy.  I have never seen a player die and it is rare for a player not to reach a monster’s room, which acts as an in-game timer of sorts.  When you’re playing with other players the highest score wins (duh!) and as you’re all playing with the same constraints this effectively negates this criticism.  I would like to see more jeopardy or tougher decisions.  I think I’ll suggest playing with one less round next time…

This is a much better score

This isn’t really a criticism but I’m over halfway through my pads, is that I’d like the publisher to release a pdf of the score pad to download and print.  Failing that I’ll be laminating my last 10 to be able to continue to take it to game nights.


Conclusion

I’ll always recommend this as a fun filler. At game nights it easily accommodates a wide number of players   If you like roll-n-writes and have played D&D then I think this will quickly become a favourite.  There’s a lot to like here.  The gameplay is quick, simple and most importantly it’s fun and has gone over very well with everyone I’ve introduced it too.  There isn’t a dearth of combos until you get to the late game which is an issue with some other roll-n-write games.  In this you have to find the combos right from the beginning of the game.


I’d like to thank Asmodee UK for sending this review copy. You can use this link https://www.asmodee.co.uk/contentpage/find-your-game-store to find your Friendly Local Game Store, which need all the help they can get at the moment.


Designer: Leandro Pires

Bgg page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/291962/paper-dungeons-dungeon-scrawler-game

Playtime: 30 minutes 

Players: 1 - 8


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