Crusaders Games

Dungeon (alternative)

An alternative list of fantasy games which are set within a dungeon or similar dark setting. These are likely to be less about random dungeon exploration and not so reliant on miniatures. Often these games are more card play based, and can be competitive or co-operative :

1. Thunderstone Advance  / Quest – Alderac (2012 / 2018)

Initially a competitive deckbuilding game where players each turn will work from a hand of six drawn cards to build a strategy for the round. Gradually you improve your deck by obtaining or upgrading heroes, and buying new weapons, equipment and spells from the village to enter the dungeon and defeat monsters. This game has great theme and artwork, and has many choices for game set up using different monsters or equipment. It is easy to learn and play, but working out some killer move combinations does take more strategic thought. I adapted the Advance solo rules to my own version to make it more enjoyable and tactical > Thunderstone Solo. The game was relaunched as Quest in 2018 with fresh looking artwork and adding in new village options, dungeon room tiles, wounds and making the gameplay more interesting and engaging, with more choices to make each turn, and a dungeon that feels a little more real. It now has a huge amount of expansion content available via extra quest scenarios and the excellent addition of the solo and co-operative expansion called ‘barricades’ which really adds to its playable options and completes the game for me. Is it my favourite deckbuilding game that has seen off all the others i have tried > Quest v Advance

2. Nemesis – Awaken Realms (2018)

This is a co-operative and competitive hybrid survival game set on a dark space ship, and rooms to search and reveal and a strong aliens theme. The production quality is high, the spaceship board is huge and double sided to give alternative play options, room tiles and tokens are all thick and solid, and models look great. Each of the six characters in the core set have unique skills and strengths and you will play to survive and escape from the ship, but with your own secret agendas and objectives to complete, some of which can be traitor style if selected. Playing Nemesis is an absolute blast, you awake from hibernation unable to remember the exact lay out of the ship, and have to investigate and uncover the various rooms turn by turn. Upon entering each one you create noise in the corridors and vents, until eventually your presence is enough to trigger the appearance of an alien. This game produces tension and atmosphere and you will soon be needing multiple rooms or items to survive or remove contamination, as well as ensuring the ship is not destroyed by fire or mechanical breakdown. Towards the end you will be dragging your broken body towards the escape pods or hibernation chamber, afraid you will alert intruders at just the wrong moment. Games comes with a random set up and objectives, and the kickstarter has a short co-op storybook which has been excellent to play through with real atmosphere and interactive co-operative play. A new stand alone but compatible version set on a Mars base called Lockdown is due for release in 2021.


3. Gloomhaven / Jaws of the Lion – Cephalofair (2017 / 2020)

A co-operative tactical campaign adventure with a dungeon setting and branching storyline pathways, and it is much more a series of strategy combat challenges than a roaming dungeon crawl exploration. Driven by card hand management, this is a legacy style game where you build up your large exploration map using stickers to reveal locations as you complete missions and 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 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, heroes have decent models and all the artwork is nice, but enemies are standees and tiles are lower on differential detail which may slightly reduce the overall immersion value. This game is an ideal campaign for players liking a deeper and longer term co-operative challenge. A starter set Jaws of the Lion was released in 2020 and is a wonderful scaled down game version, with easy to learn rules progression and one focused campaign which i prefer, and it could provide enough gaming content for most people. A new big box version called Frosthaven is currently being developed for 2021. More information on Jaws of the Lion here > Jaws of the Lion


4. Dungeon Alliance – Quixotic (2018)

This is a strategic card drafting game, where you take four heroes from a large pool to explore and plunder a dungeon within a time limited four to six rounds. Each hero has 3 specific ability cards to use, and experience gained from killing monsters allows you draft new cards which also be playable by specific character types, and you will likely draft different cards each game. Each round your available cards will be used to activate each hero once in the most effective way, and each card can only be used once too. Whilst dungeon themed, this is more of a puzzle than an exploratory crawl, and the game constantly requires you to make choices on which cards to draft and play and who to activate. The component quality is generally good, but hero cards have better artwork than the enemies, although this was improved in later expansions, and models are small and unlikely to be the reason to buy the game. Tactical card playing is the core of this game, and it can be quite addictive with so many great upgrade cards to choose from, and combining them to activate your heroes is great fun. This game seems at its best solo, and has a good intelligence deck for the monsters activation, and the game was improved with the quests and adventure pack releases which added extra theme and story elements. This game gives me the Mage Knight card play feel i really like, but without quite so much brain fatigue from the combat rules.


5. Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game / Heroes of Terrinoth – Fantasy Flights (2015 / 2018)

This small box co-operative card and dice game has the Warhammer Quest dungeon crawling theme and brand at its heart, and sets up a neat character and player interaction, as your heroes interact and support each other to complete quests. In line with the original miniatures game, monsters will come thick and fast from the shadows, and your characters each have a set of 4 actions to use to combat the dungeon, and combining them with each other is critical. There is a light but specific storyline being told by each of the quest cards, and the mechanic of using your card actions and dice rolling works beautifully. This game works really well for solo play, controlling two heroes and offering up tactical choices, story development, and skill upgrades. It is a relatively quick dungeon experience, and mostly about combat, and its strength is in the hero interaction. It needed more content to keep it fresh, which sadly ended due to licencing issues, however a new version of the game Heroes of Terrinoth was released in 2018 which replicates the game in the Descent and Runebound fantasy setting. I enjoyed the game so much i wrote four custom scenarios for the original game, which have become popular with game fans > Warhammer Quest Adventures

6. Dungeonquest – Fantasy Flights (2014)

This dungeon adventure game has been around since 1985, originally produced by games workshop it is updated with improved artwork and components by fantasy flights. This is a push your luck style adventure where you gradually lay small tiles on a board as you progress towards the central treasure chamber where a dragon in sleeping. If you manage to get there, you must try to steal treasure before he awakens. This game is largely about unfortunate events and survival, and once you know this, it becomes a fun game, as you laugh at terrible things that happen to your heroes. The combat mechanic has always been a weaker point, and largely remains so, but it is quicker now in the newer version and isn’t quite such a dominant game feature. There is a new deeper catacombs level idea which works pretty well providing underground short cuts but with greater risk attached, and a new torchlight rule too. With a time track counting down before the dungeon traps you all in, the play time is consistent and not overly long. This game is extremely luck based, but is a fun and dangerous adventure where the chances of survival are very low indeed.


7. Ravage : Dungeons of Plunder – Beardy Brothers (2018)

A smaller box dungeon crawl and a reasonably quick game for its type, offering solo, co-operative and competitive options, and featuring Orc characters as the main heroes. This is standee based and uses standard size cards as dungeon tiles, making it a more compact, cheaper game. The usual dungeon exploring aspects are all here, with varied locations, enemies, some boss monsters with more intelligence, a goblin to sell you new equipment, and skills leveling. What stands out most is the excellent artwork and illustrations, together with some neat ideas such as hatching spider eggs and varied boss attacks. This is lovely game providing a dungeon crawl experience on a slightly smaller scale, and offers enough depth within the hero player boards, with varied skills with four heroes that play quite differently. It may eventually need some new enemies and locations to add extra variety, but fortunately this is something being worked on for the next swamp based expansion, and new app based scenarios have already been made available. This is dungeon crawling without high expense, modelling and painting, working well for solo play too, and is a bit of a hidden gem that with some minor improvements such as a deeper encounter deck, could become a real star.

The following are some other 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 miniatures heavy 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, and the hardback book especially like-able. 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 this is not a dungeon crawler, but it has a similar feel at times. This game is arguably the best for monster intelligence battles, but there is a high financial investment required for even the core set, and this has to be considered against other games you may desire. In the end this was too much for me to keep, but it remains appealing as an alternative immersive hobby game if you can afford its luxury, are happy with its more adult theme, and the complexity of building the models > Kingdom Death


Sine Tempore – Ludus Magnus (2019)    (Previously Owned)

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 ten 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 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 and proved to be quite strategic and tactical at times for a dice rolling game. The story campaign has some mission variety, features temple exploration rather than dungeons and is fun to play through, however our group ended up skipping most of the resource gathering planet side missions which seemed to slow progress too much. Overall though this is a good space themed alternative, but i have not kept it as the new Nova Aetas kickstarter is built off the same mechanics and looks even better. My review of the game is here > Sine Tempore

Previously Owned Alternative Card Based Fantasy Dungeon GamesDue to space and funding restrictions i regularly trade out games to fund and try newer ones, producing an ever changing favourites list, but one of these games may be right for you.

Pathfinder ACG / Dragonfire / Arkham Horror LCG – all are good co-operative survival deck builders, but were replaced by my desire to expand my preferred games in Thunderstone Quest & Lord of the Rings LCG

One Deck Dungeon / Roll Player – dungeon adventures with dice rolling manipulation, fun games but ultimately not my favourite mechanic

Legends Untold – roleplaying style dungeon adventures, a pretty good game albeit a little fiddly on rules for a small box adventure

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