Crusaders Games

Dungeon Crawl (Models)

My favourite board games for group play are big box expandable co-operative dungeon crawlers. This list is distinguished by having great miniatures, revealing board tiles exploration and combat through an underground location, 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, and there is little to choose between some of top games listed below as each excel in different areas :​​

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

A miniatures fantasy campaign dungeon game initially designed pitting heroes against a dungeon overlord player. 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 choices in different skill decks to reflect your character’s style. The core box set is excellent value with huge replayability, and 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. This game features my favourite combat dice for a dungeon game covering range, hits and extra powers, and whilst it can be beaten in certain areas by other dungeon games, and tends to focus on timed scenarios, i consider it the best all round dungeon game covering all different types of play, battling through a campaign, overlord controlling a dungeon, or even playing solo. It is moderate level in terms of rules and complexity, with a huge depth of expansion content available to collect, detailed here > Descent 2nd


2. Gloomhaven – Cephalofair (2017)

A co-operative adventure game with dungeon exploration and branching storyline pathways. This is a legacy style game where you build up your exploration 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 by resting or using your best skills, you will become exhausted during 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 arguably not the very best, heroes have decent models and all the artwork is very nice, but enemies are standees and tiles are lower on detail which may slightly reduce the overall immersion value. This dungeon game is my favourite for group play, and it is a more complex game and the best for tactical and strategic play, being ideal for seasoned players liking a deeper and longer term co-operative challenge.

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, and is a great solo game. I now have added Vastaryous Lair, and a new starter set called Ancient Chronicles is coming in 2020. More detail on the original box can be seen here > Sword & Sorcery

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, quests reveal locations in a semi random order, and a storyline is enhanced by reading short passages from a book, making 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 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 mould but has its own atmosphere and larger campaign set on a huge spaceship. This trilogy benefits from offering the best modelling and overall miniatures quality which will need assembling and painting, and make superb sets when finished, with additional rules also released in White Dwarf. The consistent dice action mechanic is simple and engaging, and rules are friendly enough for newer players, making it my favourite entry level choice where a lengthy campaign is not essential. Comparing the sets, i lean towards Silver Tower and Blackstone Fortress being the best choices > Silver Tower v Hammerhal v Blackstone

5. 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 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. It’s 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. Whilst it feels wrong to me not to have this game higher, as in some ways this is still my favourite, however newer games offer such tough competition now. It is still the best for a traditional random dungeon crawl, with many expansions and articles that developed and enhanced the game, the most significant ones shown here > Warhammer Quest

The following are 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, and one that i am torn on whether to buy myself, although i believe i have seen enough to be really impressed. 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 equally competing with Sword & Sorcery as the best around, and with deeper storyline than any other crawl game, with hidden reveals and a lot of between game text, which may work better with smaller player counts. It is designed for 4 characters to play scenarios, similar to Warhammer Quest, but does have a reasonable way of reducing to 2 heroes. The overall theme is a pretty unique anime style, which is an area that is not initially to my 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 are good looking quality. Overall if you do like the art style of the game over more standard fantasy, then given its content depth this could be better choice over Descent, Sword & Sorcery or Warhammer Quest. A huge 3 campaign kickstarter re-print is underway, and this is set to strongly compete as one of the best dungeon crawl boxes, but i decided it is probably not one for me given what i already own > 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 generally decent quality with artwork a little more basic compared to other games. These are not deep games, 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. This series remained in my collection for many years as a nice entry level crawler, but my son grew up and the Warhammer Quest series has become a more engaging entry choice.

 

Massive Darkness – Cmon (2017)    (Previously Owned)

This game aims to be a lighter dungeon crawl game where the miniatures are the main feature, and this has loads of really high quality ones. Each objective  scenarios are pre-built with game tiles set up before you start so there is no real storytelling involved during the adventure. Enemies have different attributes and skills, and scale for the hero numbers, with variable mob numbers and health points, which is great for different sized groups, including as a solo experience. There are 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. Gameplay comes with mixed results, as shadow areas were a nice idea but poorly implemented, and the game has questionable balancing where monsters carry random items and can become unbeatable early in the game. The campaign mode is definitely tacked on, and doesn’t really work, and as you progress your skills the combat calculations become overbearing with many little modifiers to work through. Treasure items also never feel hard earned, and can be swapped into new items way too easily. Despite these potential issues, it remains a fun game for one off scenarios, with lots of hero choice and great models. More detail can be seen here > Massive Darkness

 

Kingdom Death: Monster – Kingdom Death (2015)    (Previously Owned)

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 other dungeon crawl fighting, although ultimately 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 like-able, 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 and often complex models. Unlike most adventure games, your hero survivors will die regularly so you can’t become attached to them as characters, 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 hobby game if you can afford its luxury and are happy with the complexity of building the models > Kingdom Death

 

Darklight : Memento Mori – Dark Ice (2018)    (Previously Owned)

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. 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. This game adds new ideas with evasion and tumble skills to avoid wounds, but the critical hits can really swing the direction of a game, which felt over powerful in balance terms. If you want a purist dungeon crawl and like the horror setting, then this may be worth trying, but i personally prefer the original fantasy setting and added content depth of the original Warhammer Quest, and the two games are mechanically very similar to warrant owning both.

Previously Owned Fantasy Dungeon Crawl Games…

There are many model based 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 any 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

Massive Darkness / Mice & Mystics – story led co-operative adventures, replaced by Sword & Sorcery and Middara

Dungeons & Dragons / Darklight Memento Mori – randomly generated dungeons, replaced by Warhammer Quest

Shadows of Brimstone / Middara – alternative themes (western / anime) which may or may not suit your taste

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

Tannhauser / Space Hulk 3rd / Claustrophobia / Hybrid – all good model based two player competitive battles in varying themes, but were replaced to invest in more co-operative style games