I Hunger For More/ More Super Dungeon Explore
(Psst: If you want the details of the game in bottomless depth you should go listen to this review, or wade around the BoardGameGeek page for a while. If you want to hear about my thoughtful-gamer experience with it, you’ve come to the right place).
What You Need To Know
Super Dungeon Explore is a giant pulsating love letter-bomb to the design and aesthetics of anime-style Japanese video games in the form of a U.S.-designed boardgame/miniature game hybrid.
Either that sentence gives you a massive erection/engorged clitoris (in which case you’re going to love the minis that come with this sucker) or you’ve already passed over this paragraph, scanning the article to see if there’s anything worth reading, or maybe a score out of ten. Since you’re reading this, we can assume you’re horny right now, and continue. Okay? Okay.
Moving and Killing
As a player, you take one of basically two roles in the game: You either play one of many Heroes, and as a team try to take down the Boss of the dungeon, or you play the Consul, and try to take down the Heroes with your Boss and plentiful lesser baddies.
If you’re one of the players playing a Hero, you pick your dude(tte) who has certain dice to roll when attacking, defending, etc. You have special abilities, too, which ostensibly make your Dwarven Fighter feel and play like a dungeon-crawling arcade-game version of a Dwarven Fighter. And that’s all you need to know. Plop your Hexcast Sorceress or Deeproot Druid or Ember Mage at the beginning of the dungeon and you’re ready to move and kill.
Which is what you do. A lot of moving and killing. “Let’s see…I’ll move, move, kill. Move-move-move kill. Move. Okay, my turn’s done, guys.” Really though, it works, because there’s a bunch of different monsters to kill, and there are monster spawn points to kill, and mini-bosses to kill, and then a dragon boss to kill! Sometimes there are treasure chests to open, and then sometimes you have to kill the treasure chests, too! Killing is fun because the rules for it are simple and clear (though the rulebook would like you to believe otherwise) and you have non-bullshit choices to make every turn in who you try to kill and how you try to kill them.
All that micro-managed killing is pretty deftly woven into the larger game. Every time damage is taken by Hero or Consul, a damage track ticks up by one. Periodically the Consul gets what’s basically more Spawn Power by reaching points on this track. The damage track is also the pacing mechanism for the game, as when it’s halfway done the mini-boss pops out, and when it’s all the way to the end the Boss boss spawns, and whoever’s left standing after that fight wins.
Cute 16-bit murder is the engine of this game. The Heroes also get rewards for killing, other than the intrinsic reward that killing already is. Whenever they do damage, a loot-o-meter ticks up by one, and they draw loot when it reaches certain points, which they can equip to make them better at killing and better at getting not-killed.
Playing the Consul, on the other hand, is actually less about killing (at least initially) and more about wearing the Heroes’ health down, forcing them to use resources, and using your hordes of minions to get the Heroes to go where you want them to be. You have a lot of playing pieces, and don’t have to play as conservative with them as the Heroes have to be with themselves. Your incredibly adorable little kobolds die, and they can respawn next turn as long as you protect ya neck (your spawn points). Dropping down a big-ass Ogre mini-boss or the oh-my-god-what-an-astounding-bitch-to-assemble Dragon boss is super satisfying.
It’s a nice little two-for-one deal. When you’ve gotten a little tired of trying to figure out Hero strategy, you can switch it up and try to beat down on those cute little dude(tte)s.
How It Pushes My Buttons
I’m excited about this game because it hits me right in my minis-gamer heart and board-gamer life schedule. Which is to say, I think I’m going to play it a lot with like-minded people who are passionate about the game (dear lord do I love Portland, Oregon), but at the same time it’s not so deep (read: an unending rabbit hole of updates and constant releases) that it will require me to spend all of my gaming time and money just to be able to keep up with it. Minis games require you to find (or build) a community. Boardgames are so ubiquitous that community is almost built-in. I’m hopeful that Super Dungeon Explore will straddle that line very well, in the long term. Deep enough for me to swim in without drowning. Especially if expansions are released every-so-often, as looks to be the plan for now.
Super Dungeon Explore is the closest thing to a video-game-minus-the-video that I’ve ever played. There’s one particular way it hits my nostalgia buttons (as it’s so clearly trying to do): It makes me want to stay up all night playing it again and again with friends, just like I used to do with my Super NES.
Protip: The 8-bit and 16-bit versions of the game (this is a game-size/game-length distinction) work well for a game night or even that “let’s play it one more time!” all-night gaming binge. If you’re going to play the full Super version, with 5 Heroes and a Consul, do it on a Saturday or Sunday when you have some more time. Play until the Dungeon Boss spawns or is close to spawning, then take a nice long break for lunch or snacks & chat. If you’re anything like me, you’ll need it. The rules say the Super game should take 2 to 2.5 hours, but in my experience it’s more like 3.5 to 4. Take your time and enjoy the game, otherwise gamer fatigue can set in at the end.