Crusaders Games

Dungeon Crawlers

My favourite board games for group play are big box expandable co-operative dungeon crawlers, often played over numerous sessions with progressive character development. They are usually best with three or four players, with revealing board tile exploration or set objective scenarios, random events and mostly feature miniatures as an important game element, requiring painting or modelling to look its best. Over the years i have bought and sold a number of these games, aiming to keep the best brands :​​

 

1. Sword & Sorcery – Ares (2017)

This co-operative fantasy adventure game has a story driven campaign with automated monster intelligence. It features great miniatures, with enemy monsters groups having 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 many 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. Also heroes are never fully eliminated by death 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, and adventures are pre-written with ongoing storyline to read out, and it is interactive and engaging to play. Overall this dungeon adventure does feature extra complexity and rules depth, a deeper enemy intelligence, and a strong feeling of progression, and is my best storyline led dungeon crawl. It rewards those who put in the effort and gains extra status as a great solo game. I have added the Vastaryous Lair multiple headed dragon expansion to my collection, and backed a new set called Ancient Chronicles coming in late 2020. My review of the kickstarter box here > Sword & Sorcery

 

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

A miniatures fantasy campaign dungeon game initially designed pitting heroes against a dungeon overlord player. The production quality of this game is very high, with great models, albeit heroes are a little smaller in scale than usual, and the most detailed map tiles around. It has campaign books with expandable and linked quests and really nice choices in the different skill decks that reflect your character’s style. The core box set is excellent value in itself with huge replayability, and it’s many expansions provide endless additional content. A later game development added an app called ‘Road to Legend’ which enables new campaign adventures to be undertaken co-operatively, where the dungeon monsters responses are controlled for you. These new quests feature a story narrative and breathe new life into this immense game, making it a better dungeon crawl experience with exploration and hidden rooms. This game also features my favourite combat dice for a dungeon game which covering range, hits and extra powers all in one roll. Whilst Descent can be beaten in certain areas by other dungeon games, and tends to focus on time pressured scenarios, i consider it my best all round dungeon game covering all different types of play you may want, battling through a campaign, an overlord controlling a dungeon, or playing co-op or solo with the app. It is moderate level in terms of rules and complexity, and has huge depth of expansion content available to collect. A new Legends of Descent is currently in development for 2021. More detail and painted models of the 2nd edition here > Descent 2nd

 

3. Warhammer 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 it’s best. It is the benchmark game for the dungeon crawl experience, with random dungeon lay outs, exploration and monster spawns and the opportunity to level up in the town at the end of the adventure to obtain new character skills. It’s main box featured creatures such bats, spiders and rats alongside goblins, orcs, skaven and minotaurs, and does not depend on having a dungeon overlord player to play against the heroes. This old favourite features relatively simple missions and mechanics, 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 notably designed for four heroes to be always playing, and in using random event encounters can swing in difficulty, and its greatest strength is not in any deep strategic challenge, but in the roleplaying adventure story and imagination it creates. Whilst newer games do offer better mechanics and tactics, it remains my best entry level exploratory dungeon crawler, where you can play and laugh your way through an adventure. It has many expansions and articles that have developed and enhanced the game, and the most significant ones shown are here > Warhammer Quest

 

4. Silver Tower / Hammerhal / Blackstone Fortress – Games Workshop (2016 / 2017 / 2018) 

Warhammer Quest returned with a new theme and dice mechanics called Silver Tower, 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, the quests reveal locations in a semi random order, and a storyline is enhanced by reading short passages from a book, making it an engaging adventure. Actions are triggered by allocating rolled dice into hero action slots to use, and players deliberate over who can best use extra destiny action dice each round. The game is relatively light on rules and simple to teach and play, and scales well for different player numbers, although is limited in character development. An alternative core game Shadows over Hammerhal was released a year later with a more traditional underground dungeon tile theme, a city to visit with events, and rules incorporating a dungeon master player. Either of these sets can stand alone or be interchanged. The latest set, Blackstone Fortress is based in the futuristic world with new dice and combat rules and more emphasis on ranged attacks. It is definitely built from same mold but has its own atmosphere and a much larger campaign set on a huge spaceship. This trilogy benefits from offering me the best modelling and overall miniatures quality which will need assembling and painting, and they make superb sets when finished, with additional rules and adventures released in White Dwarf. The consistent dice action mechanic is simple and engaging, and rules are friendly enough for newer players. Comparing the sets, i lean towards Silver Tower and Blackstone Fortress being the best choices here > Silver Tower v Hammerhal v Blackstone

 

5. Massive Darkness – Cmon (2017) 

This kickstarting company’s entry into the fantasy dungeon crawl world ended up as a mixed bag, where one to six players can co-operatively undertake pre-set dungeon missions. This game lays out the quest and objective before you start, so there is little surprise exploration, however dungeon mob spawns and roaming monster encounters will be random. This game has some quirky but nice artwork, and is at it’s best as a one shot scenario, in fact the campaign addition is largely broken and not worth pursuing. This game has it’s faults, with some questionable balancing at times, treasure that is abundantly supplied and therefore is not overly exciting or hard earnt, and combat that can become a fiddly exercise in addition and subtraction. Also the new and exciting feature of shadows and light rooms was not implemented to its potential. This all being said, it has established itself as a major dungeon crawl brand that should be considered, as many of it’s models are excellent, with masses of content, tiles that are an interesting design, and it is fun to play despite the over the top dice combat calculations. What mainly keeps this game in this list though is the potential changes coming within Massive Darkness 2, which whilst retaining many of the original features does have some improvements on the way especially for hero design, and will be compatible via a free upgrade pack. This game is aimed at one shot game scenarios where you level up a character in one sitting which is pretty cool, and it may be one for the long haul with improvement over time via ongoing design changes. More detail on the original box can be seen here > Massive Darkness

The following are some recommended alternatives, which i do not currently own (either not purchased or i have chosen not to keep them) :
 

Middara – Succubus (2019)    (Not Owned)

A huge dungeon crawl box, driven by a giant storybook, you will undertake linked adventures which result in different paths depending on your success or failure. This is a dice led game, pretty standard in approach overall with additional hits from symbols, with different coloured dice used depending on skill level. Enemies have excellent intelligence cards competing with Sword & Sorcery as the best around, and with a longer storyline than any other crawl game, with hidden reveals and a lot of between game text, which may work better really with smaller player counts. It is designed for four characters to play scenarios, similar to Warhammer Quest, but does seem to have a reasonable way of reducing to two heroes. The overall theme is an anime style, which is not really playing to my personal taste, however it is really colourful and well drawn. This game has loads of models, including some quite weird monster designs that make me think of Kingdom Death, and quality looks good. If you like the art style of the game over more standard fantasy, then given its content depth this could be a great choice, however for me it was not a must have purchase > Middara

Dungeons & Dragons – Wizards of the Coast (2011-2019)    (Previously Owned)

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 simple 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 character strengths, but combat is basic, simply determined by a twenty sided dice roll with occasional modifiers. Miniatures are of a reasonable rather than amazing quality, with artwork a little more bland and basic compared to other games. These are not deep games either, but are 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 six games in the series, and each has its own theme with slight variations in game focus, and heroes and monsters can be combined between sets to enhance variation. Your set choice will likely depend on your theme preference, however Legend of Drizzt is highly regarded and the newest Mad Mage has the fuller campaign, although this still remains fairly light. This series remained in my collection for many years as a nice entry level crawler, and it is great with younger players or non gamers wanting to try out this type of game, however its encounter deck is overly punishing and pushed you to play as quickly as possible rather than enjoying the adventure journey.

Other Dungeon Crawlers (Previously Owned)

There are many model based campaign 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. These games below fall outside my higher recommended lists now, but they be just right for you…

Heroquest / Dungeons & Dragons FABG / Dungeon Saga – competitive overlord v heroes play style, but i felt these are bettered overall by Descent 2nd edition

Darklight Memento Mori – randomly generated dungeons, very similar mechanics to the original Warhammer Quest, this is more horror themed and i really just preferred to play Warhammer Quest

Mice & Mystics – a nice more family orientated game with co-operative pre-written scenarios, and a good theme for younger gamers

Shadows of Brimstone – an alternative western theme which may or may not suit your taste, the models are slightly lower quality than other competing games