Players: 2-4 Ages: 10+ Play Time: 40-80 mins
The Diary of a Lincoln Geek team met the representatives from SlugFest Games at the 2022 UK Games Expo. There, Jen Kitzman and her crew introduced us to their range of games, and we were thrilled to be asked to review some of the selection they had to offer.
We were particularly excited to be asked to review Dungeon Decorators by Jeff LaFlam which won the People’s Choice award for Best Card Game (general category) whilst we were there. I could not wait to break out this award-winning game that had me interested from the first glance. While the Slugfest Games stand was rather understated, the looks and names their games instantly drew me in for a closer look. I was delighted to find that the theme of this game promised to be as entertaining as the name and artwork.
In Dungeon Decorators the evil overlord has died, likely slain by either an epic hero or some blundering party of incompetent misfits. The point is that nobody really cares. Infact every Tom, Dick and Hairy are eyeing up the position of Bad Ass In chief. However, you can't be taken seriously as a villain, let alone supreme leader of the dark forces, if your lair doesn't show off your worst side. I mean you could be a sanity destroying and bloodthirsty elder god, but if your underworld looks like Barbie's Dreamhouse it's not going to work (unless your name is Delores Umbridge).
It is this task that is entrusted to Dungeon Decorators players. They must construct and furnish the best lair for a new Overlord candidate. Each player represents a different design company looking to sell their vision of what the Big Bads denizen should be. Intrigued yet?
I ventured in with high hopes of finding gaming gold...
Components and Rulebook
Dungeon Decorators has quite a few components to it, including over 130 one inch square tiles, more than 90 cards, and various tracker/play boards and tokens. All these components are of a good quality and should hold up to a fair amount of play. From a component standpoint, my only disappointment was the lack of a proper organiser such as a vacuum formed tray. Instead, we have a basic card divider and small ziplock bags, and while this just about does the job it could be better.
The rulebook for this game is rather good in that it is clear, concise and provides good visual examples of the rules being described. Additionally, it features a QR code that links to a how to play video. This is particularly handy for those that learn best from a demonstration by others. But overall, it’s a pretty simple game with some cleaver mechanics. This game is best described as a tile drafting, map building and point scoring game.
During set up, players each choose a colour/design company to play as. Each company has an individual name, flavour text, unique colour pawn/tracker tokens, and a player board. Whilst these are all fun, the colour/company choice has no impact on gameplay. Who knows, maybe there is some room for house rules or an expansion that gives character abilities in this game's future.
Set up is pretty easy. The drafting and score tracking boards are placed in the centre of play and a player's pawn and scoring cubes are placed on these. Then we simply mix up all the main dungeon tiles, randomly put 20 back in the box and put 50 tiles into each of the draw bags. Then place 3 hour glass tokens into the red bag.
Next we shuffle each deck of cards. The shape and decoration goals are placed in reach of all players and starting hands drawn. Whereas the yellow and blue boss goal decks each draw one random card before returning the rest to the box. Those selected are placed face up where all players can see them. Finally, each player takes a starting tile and we’re ready to play some chaotic Changing Rooms. Which could explain some of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's horrifying creations...
Dungeon Decorators gameplay is quite straightforward. Each round, tiles are drawn from the bag and placed on the drafting board. In player order, each person selects a tile, resolves any assistant icons on the selected tile, then they may place it in their dungeon using either the corridor/room or decoration side. Players then score any points earned during their turn and refill their hand of cards if needed.
So how do you score points in this game? There are several ways to score points, but these all more or less boil down to the same mechanic. Each player is over the course of the game, building their own dungeon design. Whilst doing this, they are trying to complete shape goals (corridor and room configurations) and decoration goals. These are set out by the cards each player draws during the game. Points earned by these objectives are scored upon completion during a player's turn. The rest of the points are earned once the game ends. Some of the final scoring remains the same for each game, for example points earned for having different colour schemes. But the boss goals are randomised during set up. The bosses are essentially your prospective clients, and their goals reflect what they like in a lair. For example, M’alice Fiendish Fae likes lots of rooms and each dungeon room a player has at game end scores three points. Some bosses give more points than others and some give to all players whereas some give only to one or two.
This game features a couple of neat mechanics that I think really stand out. The first mechanic I would like to highlight is how turn order is determined each round. The first-round turn order is randomised during set up. However, after this each round's turn order depends on which tile a player picked on the previous turn. This introduces some additional room for both luck and strategy based play.
Next is how the game ends and how game time is balanced across different numbers of players. The game is played in two ‘halves’ as determined by the blue and red dungeon tile bags. During the first half of the game tiles are drawn from the blue bag until empty. When playing from the blue bag players know that the game is not about to end. However. the red bag has three hourglass tiles inside and as soon as all these are drawn the game will end. Therefore, the second half could be over almost immediately or run until the red bag is empty. This builds uncertainty into the game and pushes players to score objectives as soon as possible. Also each round regardless of player count, four tiles are drawn. Any unclaimed tiles at the end of a round are discarded. This means that the number of players has relatively little effect on the number of rounds in a game and thus the game's overall length.
Finally, I’d like to explain the dungeon tiles themselves. All of the main tiles have two sides. A corridor/room and a decoration side. On the drafting board the tiles are displayed decoration side face up. However It is still possible to know if you are choosing a room, straight corridor, crossroads or L shaped corridor etc. This is because the number and placement of white decoration symbols. Each white symbol is placed where an opening is on the opposite side. Therefore a tile with only one decoration will be a room whereas a tile with two to four white marks will be a corridor with two or more open paths. This I feel is quite cleaver making both sides of a tile ‘readable’ at once.
As with any review, it is not enough just to show what the game is. We must of course provide some insights, opinions and ultimately a DOALG D6 or six-sided dice score.
I have really enjoyed Dungeon Decorators; with its unique theme and entertaining game play. It has many great qualities such as; robust components, good rulebook, and artwork (by T.L. Simons) that is both pleasing as well as clear. These features coupled with the fact there is very little text during play makes it accessible to younger players and those who struggle with text.
Overall, Dungeon Decorators is a lightweight medium length game that will easily fit in to an afternoon or evening. It is certainly worthy of the People’s Choice award for Best Card Game (General category), that it won at UK Games Expo 2022, in my opinion. However, whilst this game scores high with me it is not perfect. Whilst certainly entertaining I do feel that it needs a little something extra to hit gold. Perhaps adding more suspense or the satisfying feel of laying a winning hand. Thus I hereby award Dungeon Decorators a comfortable 5/6.
Stay safe and keep gaming.