Crusaders Games

Dungeon Crawlers

My favourite board games for group play are big box expandable co-operative dungeon crawlers. This list is distinguished by having great miniatures, board tiles exploration and combat through an enclosed underground dungeon, with encounters changing each game, and usually requires painting or modelling to make a game look its best. Over the years i have bought and sold many dungeon crawlers, aiming to keep the best ones, which are currently the top six listed below :​​

1. Gloomhaven – Cephalofair (2017)

A co-operative adventure game with dungeon exploration and branching pathway and storyline. This is a legacy style game where you build up your map using stickers to reveal locations as you discover new areas. Catering well for different player numbers, six starting characters are re-themed variations on more standard fair such as the Inox Brute (tank) and Vermling Mindthief (psychic thief), and whilst heroes level up, they also will eventually be retired to bring in new ones to the game. Game balance is particularly well executed, scenarios are largely closely fought but failure means you will return stronger to try again, and monster difficulty is easy to change using their excellent statistics discs. The core of the game focuses on entering locations to battle enemies using an amazing card based combat system, choosing two cards to combine and play each round. These cards also represent your stamina so if you discard too many resting or using your best skills, you will become exhausted from that quest. A small deck of adjustment cards during combat provide a nice edge of randomness and can be customised over time, and there are no dice involved. Components are good but not amazing, heroes have decent enough models and the artwork is nice, but enemies are standees and tiles are low on detail which may reduce the overall immersion value. This dungeon game is my favourite to play, but i honestly like owning others more, it is the best for tactical and strategic play, and ideal for seasoned player groups liking a deeper and longer term co-operative challenge.


2. Descent 2nd Edition – Fantasy Flights (2012)

A miniatures fantasy campaign dungeon game initially designed as pitting heroes against a dungeon overlord. The contents of this game are high quality with great models, albeit heroes are a little smaller in scale than usual, and the most detailed map tiles around. It also has a campaign book with expandable and linked quests and really nice choice in different skill decks to reflect your character’s style. The core box set is excellent value with huge replayability, and expansions provide endless content, making it also a collectable hobby. A later development added an app called ‘Road to Legend’ which enables new campaign adventures to be undertaken co-operatively, where the dungeon monsters are controlled for you, rather than having an overlord player. These new quests feature a story narrative and breathe new life into this immense game, making it a better dungeon crawl experience. This game features my favourite combat dice for a dungeon game, and whilst it can be beaten in certain areas by other dungeon games, i consider it the best all round dungeon game covering all different types of play you may enjoy, battling with your chosen hero alongside others against a variety of monsters, or maybe controlling a dungeon, or even playing solo. The depth of content available is huge and details about the many expansions can be found on my specific page > Descent 2nd

3. Sword & Sorcery – Ares (2017)

This co-operative fantasy adventure game has a story driven campaign with automated monster intelligence. It features great miniatures, with monsters in groups with different poses and colours, enabling the game design to change their difficulty and response intelligence. The game tiles are excellent, split into larger areas than the usual small square grids, they have an easy to use line of sight system and lovely artwork, and have become my favourite of this genre. Heroes can be lawful, neutral or chaos in alignment, have choices of powers to select, can equip weapons based on their fighting style, and find new items that can be subsequently upgraded. There are some really great ideas in this game, with cooldown timers for the better skills, and soulpoints gained as experience to level up or recover a hero if defeated. Heroes are never fully eliminated during play, but use their weaker soul skill until they can restore themselves, keeping everyone involved. Combat is ten sided dice based, with more options than normally seen as symbol combinations will trigger extra abilities. Adventures are pre-written, with ongoing storyline to read out, and it is interactive and engaging. Overall this dungeon adventure does feature extra complexity and rules depth, a deeper enemy intelligence, and a strong feeling of progression, and is the best campaign storyline led dungeon crawl. A new starter set called Ancient Chronicles is coming in 2019, but more detail on the original box can be seen here > Sword & Sorcery

4Warhammer Quest – Games Workshop (1995)

A miniatures co-operative game featuring an automated dungeon questing mechanic, with immense depth to character development. Choose your hero and enter the dungeon with your allies, where monsters, traps and treasure await. This game has impressive content and great models, with little to assemble but really requires painting to look their best. It is a benchmark game for the dungeon crawl experience, with random dungeons, monster spawns and the opportunity to level up in the town at the end of the adventure to obtain new character skills. Its main box featured creatures such bats, spiders and rats alongside goblins, orcs, skaven and minotaurs, and unlike many games of its type, this one does not depend on having a dungeon overlord player to play against the heroes. This old favourite features relatively simple missions, lovely floor tiles and a comprehensive bestiary and roleplay book, which made it hugely customisable, and in this area it remains unbeaten by any similar game since. The game is designed for four heroes to be always playing, and in using random event encounters can swing in difficulty, and its greatest strength is not really in any deep strategic challenge, but in the roleplaying adventure story and imagination it creates. This game is still the best for a pure random dungeon crawl, with many expansions and articles that developed and enhanced the game, the most significant ones shown here > Warhammer Quest

5. Silver Tower & Shadows Over Hammerhal – Games Workshop (2016 / 2017) 

Silver Tower remakes Warhammer Quest with a new theme and dice mechanics, where up to four heroes are summoned to a chaos tower to recover parts of a lost talisman. Exploring rooms, encountering events, and defeating monsters, each quest uses a series of locations to uncover in a semi random order, and its storyline is enhanced by reading short passages from a book, making an engaging adventure. Your actions are directly influenced by dice rolling, allocating dice into hero action slots to use, and deliberating over who can best use extra destiny dice each round. The game is relatively light on rules and simple to teach and play, and it scales well for different player numbers, although is limited in its character development. A new alternative core / expansion game called Shadows over Hammerhal was released a year later with a new campaign, a more traditional underground dungeon tile theme, a city to visit with events, and rules that have a dungeon master help control the game. Either core set can stand alone or be interchanged and the combined variety lifts this game to a higher level. These games offer the best for modelling and overall miniatures quality which need assembling and painting, and make superb sets when finished, with new rules and dungeons also released in White Dwarf. The latest set in this series is called Blackstone Fortress (2018) and will be based in the futuristic 40k world. I made a comparison of the two fantasy sets here > Silver Tower v Hammerhal

6. Dungeons & Dragons – Wizards of the Coast (2011)

The dungeons & dragons board game series are entry level co-operative dungeon crawls, where straightforward mechanics allow you play against the dungeon to defeat a series of quests. Featuring random tiles drawn from a stack, you will encounter monsters and events as you explore the dungeon, with enemies having a set of automated instructions. Heroes have unique skills, some of which last the whole game while more powerful ones need to be saved for the right moment. There is a strong feeling of co-operation and playing to your character strengths, and combat is really simple, determined by a 20 sided dice roll with occasional modifiers. Miniatures are pretty good quality with decent artwork, occasionally a little more basic compared to other games. These are not deep games, but are really enjoyable adventures, and with quicker set up and play length are suited to when you do not want to think too hard or play all night, and they work well with less experienced players. There are 5 games in the series, with a 6th coming next year, and each has its own theme with slight variations in game focus, and heroes and monsters can be combined between sets to enhance variation, which is great. Your set choice will really depend on your theme preference, as the games are mechanically very similar, however Legend of Drizzt is often regarded with the higher rating, and is my personal ownership choice due to its better looking cavern tiles and monster combinations. This series is the best entry level dungeon crawler.

The following are recommended alternatives, but for various different reasons i have chosen not to keep them :
 

7. Massive Darkness – Cmon (2017)

This is a lighter dungeon crawl game where the miniatures are the main feature, and this game has loads of great quality ones on offer. The game is less rules heavy than many others, enemies have different attributes and skills, and the game tiles are set out before your start with no real ongoing story telling. It does scale well for the hero numbers, with variable mob numbers and health points, which is great with different sized groups, including as a solo experience. There are neat plastic player boards which hold your active cards and are used to track health and experience, which is a nice touch, but skills are recorded on tick sheet pads rather than cards which is a shame, although component wise you will likely be happy overall. Sadly the game does have questionable balancing where monsters can become unbeatable early in the game or to too easy later on, and the campaign mode is definitely tacked on, and doesn’t really work. Also as you progress combat calculations become a little overbearing with many little modifiers. It is still a fun game for one off scenarios, with lots of hero choice and great models, but it’s rules are below par for a dungeon crawl and new treasure or items never feels hard earned. More detail can be seen here > Massive Darkness

 

8. Darklight : Memento Mori – Dark Ice (2018)

A viable alternative to Warhammer Quest (1995), this game uses the same core mechanics featuring automated dungeon questing, with random room and monster generation, character developments and settlements to visit. It also features a start of turn dungeon roll which affects event generation and spell casting abilities. This game adds some good new ideas with evasion and tumble skills to avoid wounds, and then critical hits that can really swing the direction of a game, which felt over powerful. The theme is more darksoul horror than fantasy, and room tiles, doors and miniatures are slightly larger in scale than usual, it is a well produced and impressive game on the table. The core box comes with random quests and a full campaign, and the villages and towns have unique locations which add extra variety. It is also designed to scale for the number of heroes which is an improvement over the original Warhammer Quest. If you want a purist dungeon crawl and like the horror setting, then this may be worth trying, but i personally prefer to stick with the fantasy setting and added content depth of the original.

 

9. Dungeon Saga – Mantic (2015)

This dungeon game requires four heroes to cooperatively defeat a dungeon controlled by an overlord player, and as such it has most in common with Descent 2nd edition. Whilst I generally prefer the type of quest objectives in this game, which feel more exploration related, they often feature loss by time limitations which is not the best game mechanic. The rules feel relatively simple, positioning and facing is important which provides tactical choices, and the dice attack to defence comparisons feels unique and works nicely.  This game finds a nice midpoint between ease and depth. The artwork is decent, the book style box is lovely, and the models are reasonable quality but arguably slightly below the standard of the best games.  There is a lot available to expand this game, with new themed campaigns and an adventurers guide that tries to automate it into a cooperative game, but these rules can be confusing. This game does not really better anything seen in other dungeon games, but it does come together rather well into a nice, relatively uncomplicated experience to play with straightforward combat.

Alternative : Kingdom Death: Monster – Kingdom Death (2015)

This is a co-operative campaign set in a nightmare world where you take your settlement survivors on a journey through many lantern years, fighting strange creatures to improve your survival chances. Each lantern year is split into three game sections, with the hunt being a story preparation phase before you hit the monster showdown starting with the white lion. The monster artificial intelligence cards brings thematic variation and interesting mechanics into play, far beyond any other dungeon crawl fighting, although general dice rolling mechanics are quite simplistic. The settlement phase is an addictive array of choices, from learning new innovations, to crafting weapons and armour, or choosing fighting skills, and the ability to build and make complete armour sets is a seductive experience. This game is very expensive but the quality of components is high, the hardback book especially likeable, with great models with loads of detail. This is a hobby game experience, you are given a huge black box of goodies to use, and modelling and painting plays an important part, as you can build unique models to represent yourself. Unlike most adventure games, your hero survivors will die regularly, so you can’t be attached to them, and whilst this is not really a dungeon crawler, it has a similar feel, and is best for monster intelligence battles. It is an alternative if you can afford its luxury > Kingdom Death

Previously Owned Fantasy Dungeon Crawl Games…

There are many big box dungeon crawl games, each having their own take on the main theme and mechanics, and it is largely a matter of trying them out to see if they suit you. Due to space and funding restrictions i trade out games to fund and try newer ones, producing a changing list, but one of my sold games below may be just right for you.

Heroquest / Dungeons & Dragons FABG / Dungeon Saga – overlord v heroes, replaced by Descent 2nd edition

Mice & Mystics – story led co-operative adventure, replaced by Sword & Sorcery

Darklight Memento Mori – random dungeons, replaced by Warhammer Quest and Silver Tower

Kingdom Death – campaign led arena battles, unique but really expensive to collect