Play Time: 30 mins.
Welcome to the Dungeon is a light weight Push Your Luck and Bluffing game where you and your friends build a dungeon and one of you has to take a progressively-less-powerful adventurer through the created gauntlet.
If you’re a fan of Tabletop Games, the last two decades have been absolutely incredible. This most recent decade has been even more remarkable, and every year seems to provide more depth to almost any taste of games you have. It’s sometimes very easy to get distracted into fixating on one genre or a particular weight of games. This happens to me all the time – I’m a sucker or theme, dungeon crawlers, variable player powers, and persistent characters or campaigns.
For quite a few years of gaming, our crew never paid much attention to Lighter Weight, or Filler games. It seemed like the classic style of board games we had played as kids (Monopoly, Clue, Uno, FIREBALL ISLAND!) were sufficient, and it was time to move on to bigger, better things.
Unfortunately, in that eager drive to find and enjoy more complex newer offerings, we were missing out on a whole world of awesome new games that you could pick up and learn in just a few minutes. There’s a lot to like about those games, but by far the aspect I appreciate the most is that they allow us to enjoy the hobby of playing games with friends and loved ones who don’t want to sit down with you for a game of Blood Rage!
Games like Love Letter: Batman or Exploding Kittens are great examples of giving people a glimpse of what the Tabletop Gaming hobby looks like these days, without hitting them over the head with unnecessary weight that could turn them away. There’s room for almost anyone in the current climate of Board Games, and that notion is very exciting for looking forward to the coming years!!
Welcome to the Dungeon is another of those games that proudly carries the banner of Light Weight Game. It sets out with an interesting and compelling idea for gameplay that attempts to draw the player in immediately. IELLO is definitely building a reputation for publishing some very high-quality Light Weight games ( check out our previous review of IELLO’s Kenjin, to see what else they’ve been up to.) and Welcome to the Dungeon is one that has been out for a little while now, and still deserves Board Gamers’ attention. It’s time to take a good look and see whether we missed out on a hidden little gem.
IELLO was kind enough to send a review copy of Welcome to the Dungeon for us to review! This will not affect our subjective rating of the game!
Gateway Game / Light Weight: Enjoyable for (almost) everyoneWelcome to the Dungeon has a succinct and simple rulebook, along with very helpful player aid cards to reference the iconography. It’s very quick to learn and, once learned, even easier to explain to others.
The box for Welcome to the Dungeon is wonderfully small, to the point where it could probably fit inside most pockets. Even still, IELLO puts just enough of a meaningful insert inside to keep the bulk of the components from sliding around all over each other.
One main component is the Adventurer Tiles and their respective Equipment Tiles that each one uses. These have IELLO’s trademark wonderful artwork, and have a great feel to them. Picking them up gives the immediate sense that they could last hundreds of games and still be in great shape.
The other important component to the game is the cards, and the sentiment towards them mirrors the Tiles completely. The production value shows with beautiful artwork and solid durability, and it’s that much more important to the cards when compared with the Tiles, since any wear and tear would ruin the game.
That’s all there is to it, and it’s another example of a game that gets a lot of mileage out of a relatively low amount of “stuff.” in the box.
Instructions and Rules
In a light weight game, it’s often easy to overlook something like rulebooks, but I find them to be critically important. If the “time to sell” a new player on a medium/heavy Tabletop game is on the scale of 10-20 minutes, then Lighter Weight or Gateway Games is probably 10-20% of that. You want a rulebook that gets the game in front of players, explains parts of the game in a logical order, and has them getting to the A-HA moment of understanding very quickly.
Welcome to the Dungeon is an example of how that’s done.
It is more than instructions and rulebooks in some cases too. Previously, I was incredibly hard on Kenjin for not including player aids in a game like this that has consistent iconography, but takes time to learn. One of the reasons I took Kenjin to task was comparing it to just how effortlessly this game took care of something so simple:
It’s all right there. Everything the player needs to know about which monsters have which icons, and how many of each monster are in the whole deck. One card per player, and they even made these Player Aid cards functional as the player’s “Health” – flipping it once if you fail a dungeon, and if you fail again, you’re out of the game.
This is how you teach and assist players in learning a game, and specifically how you help get a Light Weight game up and running without a hitch. Really great job from the designers here.
Welcome to the Dungeon takes place over a series of rounds. Each round begins by selecting one of the Heroes that will be taking on the Dungeon. That hero is put on the board, along with their 6 starting pieces of equipment.
What is a bit different about this game, is that all of the players will be then choosing who is going to try and take that Hero through the dungeon. If you end up being selected to take the Hero, and they make it to the end without dying, then you get a Success Card. If you get two Success Cards? You win the game! Simple enough, right?
There are a few twists, though. Once the round starts players will go clockwise and decide if they want to:
-Draw a card or
If you pass, you are out for the rest of the round, with no chance at a Success Card. If you Draw a card, you then have to choose whether to play it face down and add it to the “Dungeon” or play it face-down in front of you, and remove one piece of equipment the Hero has available.
As the players take their turns, the Dungeon is either constantly growing, or the Hero having to face the Dungeon is becoming weaker. The interesting part is that you know the cards that you have either played in the dungeon, and the ones you have kept out.
The challenging part? You don’t know for sure what your opponents have been putting in, and what they’ve been keeping out.
These two monsters above are great examples of how that knowledge is useful. For the Orc, if you know that you’ve put two of them in the Dungeon, and the Hero has access to a torch, then you’ve got an advantage.
The Vampire is an even-numbered monster. If you’ve placed one of them, and a few 2’s and a 6 in the Dungeon, then you might have a good shot if nobody’s removed the Grail item.
If the Hero has no items to remove a monster, they have to reduce their HP by the number value of the monster. This kills the monster, but if the Hero is left with less than one HP, they are dead and the Dungeon run results in a failure. Two failures and you are out of the game.
Once the available items start to dwindle, though? Things start to get very dicey and the decisions are dangerous.
The critical point is that first decision of: Do you want to draw another card and stay in? Once you’ve decided to pick up that card, there is no going back, and you’ll have to wait until everyone else goes before you even have the chance to bail out. If everyone else after you decides they’re done, then you are the last one left and you must take the Hero on the perilous quest.
The Gameplay is relatively simple, but the concept will take a round or two before it starts to click From there, you can begin to use deduction from what you’ve played, and how many total cards are in the deck (from the wonderful Player Aid) to try and figure out just how much of a chance you have of making it through the Dungeon.
It’s on that basis of Gameplay that the wonderful bluffing elements start to show up, as well. Drawing a weak card and putting it down and then removing a powerful item can give the impression to your opponents that you’re setting them up to fail, but really just leaving yourself an easier Dungeon than it may appear.
Either way, the anguish of defeat is usually short-lived as the next round starts up and everyone gets another chance right away… unless you’ve lost twice, that is!
I want to qualify this section of the review first by noting that Welcome to the Dungeon is on the lowest end of pricing for a board game. There is a lot of gaming value included for the price!
Much of the depth comes down to the interplay between the people playing the game. Once you’ve learned the basics, then you start to add on the layers of playing against your opponents, and trying to feel out just how far they’re going to push their luck, or if they’re setting up a bluff for you.
It isn’t the type of game that we were able to pull out and play for hours, but Welcome to the Dungeon fits in wonderfully as a game to start or end a night of Tabletop gaming, and has a real penchant for providing some very close games.
One possible weakness is only having a few classes and monster types to choose from. I chose the word “possible,” since the balance of the game is able to be kept very tight due to having a consistent and small set of variables. Still, this one comes off as a game that seems like it would be more fun with greater variety!
This quasi-weakness could be potentially alleviated by the upcoming expansion Welcome Back to the Dungeon coming in mid-September. Having another 4 heroes and different Monsters should go a long way to giving this game a little more to dig into!
Who is going to fold first?
Each time the turn order goes around, you’ll be watching your friends and trying to discern just what they are up to. Seeing card after card go into the dungeon very quickly creates a menacing-looking stack of face-down monsters, and you will only know (and hopefully remember!) a few of the cards that are in, and one or two cards that you might have removed.
Meanwhile, the equipment available to you on one turn can be cut in half by the time it comes back around to you, and then you’re left with that painful decision of whether to stay in and push your luck a bit further, or fold and count on some other poor bud having to try and make their way through a nasty dungeon with a few HP and a Vorpal Sword.
Then there are remarkable moments, with classes like the Mage, when the Omnipotence item (which means a win if every monster in the dungeon is unique, even if the Mage is slain) have everyone at the table watching wide-eyed as the last few cards are flipped over.
It’s truly fun having everyone at the table daring and pushing each other to go further into the realm of “holy-shit-there’s-no-way-you’ll-make-it” and then getting to watch as they PROBABLY don’t, and go out in a blaze of glory. Those moments are great, and everyone gets to watch the end, but they also make the exciting moments of victory even more entertaining.
Welcome to the Dungeon – The verdict
For a little box, Welcome to the Dungeon provides regular big moments of cheering, hollering, and laughing. Victory is almost always snatched narrowly from the man-made jaws of hilarious defeat.
What we Loved about Welcome to the Dungeon
– Perfectly crafted instructions and accompanying Player Aids that other small-box games should pay attention to.
– Unique Hero characters make each round play out differently.
– Excellent artwork and component quality.
– Quick-to-learn and engaging gameplay, with some surprisingly high payoff in entertainment value.
What we didn’t Love as much about Welcome to the Dungeon
– Could have used a bit more variety in Hero classes or Monster cards.
– Slightly weird disconnect from Hero characters by design, theme may not be quite what buyers expect.