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 an ongoing adventure designed to be played over numerous sessions with progressive character development. They usually are best with three or four players, with revealing board tile exploration or set scenarios with combat, and mostly feature miniatures as an important element, requiring painting or modelling to make a game look its best. Over the years i have bought and sold a number of these games, aiming to keep the best ones :​​

 

1. Gloomhaven – Cephalofair (2017)

A co-operative campaign adventure 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 which are set up in advance 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 enough, but are not the very best in class as 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 more of a strategy challenge than a roaming exploration and is a more complex game becoming the best dungeon crawl for tactical and strategic play, being ideal for seasoned players liking a deeper and longer term co-operative challenge.

 

2. 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 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

 

3. 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 clever 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

4. 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 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 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 newer games do offer better mechanics now, it is still the best entry level traditional random dungeon crawler, where a long campaign is not as essential. It has many expansions and articles that have developed and enhanced the game, the most significant ones shown are here > Warhammer Quest

 

5. 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. Comparing the sets, i lean towards Silver Tower and Blackstone Fortress being the best choices > Silver Tower v Hammerhal v Blackstone

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6. Sine Tempore – Ludus Magnus (2019)

A  miniatures based co-operative space campaign rather than a dungeon crawl where your party of four heroes are scouting out a new planet in search of a new homeworld. The core game has a 10 main story missions which are interspersed with quicker exploration missions, randomly set up each time with new enemies and scenery. Completing these explorations unlocks areas of the planet map to gather important resources which you can use to upgrade your spaceship or equipment. The core box has four different heroes, a close combat leader, ranged weapon android, psionic powered character and an armed medic, and a variety of enemies which have two different variations per model type. Artwork throughout is excellent, models are great quality in hard plastic and with good detail, tiles are large with scenery having a three dimensional aspect to crates and trees that really stand out alongside the models. This game looks amazing in play and works really well with a unique momentum tracker and action points which allow you more choice than usually seen in these games. This is a scenario mission based game with middle ground complexity, dice rolling play, and has enough upgrade areas to make playing the campaign seem interesting and worthwhile. It is designed for four heroes to always play but is proving to be quite strategic and tactical for a dice rolling game, with missions offering good variety. It has become the favourite space campaign game, more popular for us than Imperial Assault.

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

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 cannot become attached to them as characters, and whilst this is not really a dungeon crawler, it has a similar feel, and is the best for monster intelligence battles. The core set and expansions are very expensive, and in the end too much so for me, but it is an alternative immersive hobby game if you can afford its luxury and are happy with the higher complexity of building the models > Kingdom Death

Folklore the Affliction – Greenbrier (2017)    (Not Owned)

A co-operative role playing campaign game set in in a horror world with werewolves, spirits and varied demon type creatures. There are two versions, the all in models set or a cheaper standee only version which is an appreciated choice. The game is well presented with its general artwork, and has a main exploration board alongside a lot of different location tiles, although these are all thin cardboard rather than the nice thick tiles we are more used to for dungeon crawl games. The game is very rpg driven, and as such you have a lot of statistics to keep track of so pencils and paper are necessary, and there will be many dice modifiers around. It’s greatest strength is the interactive storyline you follow, with text to read, some branching choices to be made, and it is a really engaging aspect of the design as you want to know what happens next. Heroes have unique skills, but the boards are again thin card stock, and it is best played with four players, as rules for less, whilst workable, do make the game tougher. Combat however is a slight weakness, everything is settled by d100 roles with lots of modifiers to the roll you need to hit, although monster attack activation through a d10 does give you some AI variation for your enemies. Overall it is an interesting campaign game, and is a good alternative to a pure rpg as it gains from its visual boards and cards, and if you like a storyline to work through then this can be recommended as a good campaign with the standee version at a reasonable price. I have enjoyed playing a friends copy, but it has a more demonic theme rather than fantasy which is not quite so much my taste.

 

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 equally 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 with smaller player counts. It is designed for four characters to play scenarios, similar to Warhammer Quest, but does have a reasonable way of reducing to two heroes. The overall theme is a pretty unique 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 decent. Overall if you like the art style of the game over more standard fantasy, then given its content depth this could be the better choice over Descent, Sword & Sorcery or Warhammer Quest, and a huge and expensive three campaign kickstarter re-print is underway. It is impressive, and this is set to strongly compete as one of the best dungeon crawl boxes, however the art and writing style did not make it a must have for me, and a gaming friend of mine has backed it anyway so i will get to play it > 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, although this remains fairly light. 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.

Other Dungeon Campaign Miniatures Games

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 fall outside my higher recommended lists now, but they be just right for you…

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

Darklight Memento Mori – randomly generated dungeons, replaced by Warhammer Quest

Imperial Assault – predominantly overlord style, i prefer the theme of Descent 2nd edition and the campaign of Sine Tempore

Mice & Mystics – nice more family orientated game with co-operative pre-written scenarios, replaced by Sword & Sorcery

Massive Darkness – scenario based dungeon crawl with neat models but the campaign and enemy balance is lacking

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

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