Dungeon!s and Dragons

I doubt it’s news to anyone reading this blog that Wizards of the Coast is reprinting the classic TSR board game Dungeon!

For those not familiar with the game, which first came out at the dawn of D&D in ’75, it’s a straightforward old American-style boardgame just dripping with old-school flavor. Players send colorful pawns representing various Chainmail-type characters (an elf, wizard, hero and superhero — note how we’ve got PCs of different experience levels adventuring together!) into the depths of a dungeon full of traps and secret doors. There they draw cards representing monsters encountered, roll dice to defeat them and draw treasure cards. Magic item cards help your PC win fights or explore more efficiently, but it’s monetary treasure which helps you win — you need treasures of a high enough GP value, and you need to escape with them alive!

It’s amazing how well the gameplay lines up with the OSR playstyle. Killing monsters is fun, but taking their wealth is the only thing that really matters. And while the PCs don’t form a party — you’re in competition with the other players — dealing with other PCs is reminiscent of dealing with rival adventuring parties or active dungeon factions in old-school Caves of Chaos-type play, where you watch NPCs fight each other and hope to swoop in on the weakened victor to make an easy score.

What really appeals to me about the WotC re-release is the price. Whereas other companies’ recent re-releases of classic 70s and 80s games, like Steve Jackson’s OGRE and Games Workshop’s Talisman, had hefty three-digit price tags, the new Dungeon! reprint is listed as a cool $19.99. This looks like a serious effort to market the game for a new generation of kids, rather than as a cash-grab from nostalgic fortysomethings. I hope this works; Dungeon! can’t compete with today’s best Euro-style boardgames for quality of play, but it’s head and shoulders above its “classic” American competitors like Monopoly or Sorry! or what-have-you. It’d be nice to buy a few copies for my various nephews… maybe it’d encourage them to play D&D with their uncles when they’re older.


14 Responses to “Dungeon!s and Dragons”

  1. May 3, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    This must have been a fairly popular game in the early 80’s, because several families I knew owned copies, and they weren’t gamer-types. I remember being very baffled by what a “Superhero” was doing with these weird other guys, and also remember wondering why anyone would want to play anything else.

  2. 2 Michael (Gronan) Mornard
    May 4, 2012 at 3:53 am

    “Dungeon” is wicked fun.

  3. May 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    I had lots of fun playing Dungeon! as a kid, but I’m not sure how much of that is nostalgia.

  4. May 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    I had lots of fun playing it this year for the first time. Some of that was the pleasure of discovering connections to D&D, for which nostalgia is not the right word. Surely the Germans have a term for the experience of listening to a song you’ve never heard before, but which is heavily sampled by another song you really like?

  5. 5 Michael (Gronan) Mornard
    May 5, 2012 at 5:15 am

    I don’t think my memories of “Dungeon!” fun are nostalgia. Even back then, it was “dumb beer & pretzels fun.” I **STILL** like “dumb beer & pretzels fun” games. That’s why my dungeon contains an NPC named Necross the (HA HA HA!) Mad.

  6. May 5, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I played it as a preteen — there may have been pretzels, but no beer! — so my memories of its gameplay are suspect. I’m glad to hear that someone with more adult memories of the game can provide a more solid view.

  7. 7 Michael (Gronan) Mornard
    May 5, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Dungeon! reminds me a LOT of “Munchkin” with a board, except not QUITE so silly.

  8. May 6, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for posting this Tavis! Wish I could have been there. I have about 500 questions for Megarry… :)

  9. May 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I asked Megarry whether the Dungeon! map was based on Blackmoor Castle – the Start location reminded me of the basement of Level 1 in the FFC – but he said no, it was his own invention. He had a photocopy of the map of the town of Blackmoor like the one in the FFC that was interestingly colored, which I meant to ask him about but didn’t get the chance. He did say that his character in Blackmoor built a house near the castle and hired dwarves to tunnel down until they hit one of the dungeon levels so that he could have his own private entrance to the dungeon. Arneson considered for a long time whether he’d get away with this, but after some very careful accounting of the costs involved let the plan proceed. Megarry said that they hit the dungeon tunnel a little off-center, so that there was a ledge between their shaft and the hallway below which proved useful for setting ambushes and the like. I wonder if this tunnel isn’t the one in FFC that can be seen just as a stair on levels like 1-3 IIRC, not connected to anything else, before eventually connecting.

  10. May 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    That’s a great story about the house in Blackmoor! I believe Megarry played a Dwarf himself so hiring dwarves to do the digging would be easier for him. I will check the Blackmoor Dungeon maps later on. I wonder if we could also be able to figure out which house in Blackmoor Town belonged to Megarry?

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Past Adventures of the Mule

May 2012

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