Friday, October 24, 2014

Dungeon Petz are a lot of hard work

Dungeon Petz looks like a light and wacky fun-filled game.

Raising "Petz." Entering them into shows. Finding them homes among a group of eccentric pet-fancying dungeon denziens. The game has the theme of a casual browser game on Facebook.

And yet when you open the box what jumps out instead is harsh, unforgiving, even tedious at times. Much like a real pet there are plenty of chores before you get to the good stuff.

The setup phase

The first thing you hit in Dungeon Petz is a brutal setup phase. The board requires much maintenance at the beginning of each turn before the fun can begin. Some unlucky player eventually gets press-ganged into the role of banker, and must go through a process where 6 different resources are managed (gold, vegetables, meat, artifacts, cages, add-ons and new petz). Plus income is generated for each of the players. And if you have less than 4 players, you must also move the 3-4 dummy pawns around the board to block various spaces. (sarcasm on) Because wouldn't that be horrible, if people could just pick any old space, whilly-nilly with no extra blockers? It would probably ruin the game for everyone. (sarcasm off)


Shopping is where you hopefully get all the stuff you need to make your pets happy. There's one big innovation in shopping I love, and its the method for placing the workers. Your imp workers can be placed in multiples to put them ahead in turn order, 3 imps always gets to be placed before 2 imps and so on down the line. Cash counts as extra imps, so you can really make a glorious pile to decisively win the one single spot you must have to suceed in the coming turn. Or you can place the imps individually, and nab the less popular spots no one else seems to be going for. Whatever strategy you want.

I find this bidding far, far superior to the "turn order" spaces found in most worker placement games. Probably because I lack the forward thinking to use them. So no worries about who places first, in Dungeon Petz you just pile on more imps.

Satisfying needs

"Needs" fufillment is Dungeon Petz crazy time. All the hand wringing from not having enough of something to satisfy all your petz happens right here.

Fufilling needs is random, full of unexpected twists you really just have to hunker down and accept. Similar to Galaxy Trucker, you know the kinds of things that might happen, but you are never prepared for all of them. Colored needs cards are dealt out, and then you must carefully assign them to your pets and of course at least one of your animal projects is probably going to have a miserable, miserable time.

You might know your gorilla (or is it buffalo?) esque pet is prone to violent outbursts. But the red "aggression" cards you are dealt may very well have magic, play, eating or something else as the actual need you need to solve.

You will have cages fill up with poop. Or diseases. Or play needs you just don't have the imps or cage enhancements for. You are going to make your petz very sad. The negative difference of a single point in any category means the difference between happiness and adding permanent suffering tokens. And beyond one or two points lurks the even greater penalty of losing your pet permanently.

Exhibitions and selling

Finally, Dungeon Petz caps off each round with something I absolutely love in board games: a judging phase. You've been grooming these petz and now its their turn to shine. And not only is there judging, but usually there is 2 different judging rounds! First, a general "pet show" exhibition for earning victory points, and then another judging round where prospective petz owners try to find a match to their sometimes esoteric interests.

Judging, like in a lot of games, can either get you a magnificent pile of victory points, or almost zero if you are in the lower ranks. Luckily, you can happily pass on selling your pet if you feel the victory points are worth it…with the knowledge your pet will grow and possibly be worth even more points in the next turn's judging rounds.

Ebb and Flow

The first part of the game is like going to the dentist. Many small tasks must be performed. None of them are particularly enjoyable.

But the reason I will keep playing the game is the second portion, with the feeding and judging. Here is where the emotions of the game come to roost, and where all the tension builds up or drips out.

I don't think anyone goes into this game planning on winning either, and I think that's pretty unique. Much like Pret-a-Porter, the enjoyment really ends up being running your machine and watching the business function. if I have a couple good judging rounds and create some unique stories I have all I need for a good time.

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