One Friday evening in 1995, i stopped by my local Games Workshop on my way home from work with some time to kill, and there on the shelf was a large box called Warhammer Quest. I looked through the contents and learnt it was a type of roleplaying game with models, where you took the role of a hero character and played co-operatively to defeat a dungeon. This really sounded like a great game, and whilst i liked the Warhammer world, i had never taken to army collecting, and so I bought it home that day. Over the next few months i collected expansions and White Dwarf articles, learnt how to paint, and began my love of dungeon crawling.
The trouble with the original Warhammer Quest was that it was so good, it had varied models, a real feeling of exploration and adventure, great quality tiles, a roleplay book, and you could go into town and level up your hero or add in new monsters. When it ceased production i found i still yearned for new material, and like many others i began to try other dungeon crawl games. This largely became a fruitless quest, as nothing quite lived up to this original, and while other games excelled in certain areas, they often changed the way i loved to play. I owned Heroquest during this time, which required an overlord player to play against, which generally felt like a different experience, but it was still a good game.
Following the birth of my son in 2002 i took almost a decade long break from board gaming collecting, before returning again in 2013. Descent 2nd Edition was a real factor in this, a well known brand from Fantasy Flights that even made me paint models again. It was a great game, improving itself with the co-operative scenario packs and then the road to legend app, i was back collecting expansions, and this became a new favourite dungeon crawl for a long while. I also tried a few other miniatures games around this time including collecting Hybrid by Rackham, a competitive skirmish game with an excellent backstory. I then dabbled with the Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, a lighter, quicker, fun but slightly less satisfying co-operative game compared to Warhammer Quest. There has been a list of miniatures games i have bought, tried and sold over the years.
In 2015 kickstarters begun to change the face of miniature gaming again, with many new more complex titles put into production, mostly arriving in late 2016 or 2017. The most exciting of these were Sword & Sorcery which is very much a story led adventure game, but has all the great attributes of heroes with skills and levelling up, nice models, great tiles and an investment in your character. Alongside this was Gloomhaven which offers up the most tactical dungeon game i have encountered, with a light story that unfolds on a legacy style map. Despite being largely standee based it set a new benchmark for group adventure gaming, although over time i realised each map is more is puzzle than an exploratory style dungeon crawl. Whilst Gloomhaven saw huge playtime in my group, it has not really been an ongoing collectable hobby experience which i also love.
In 2017 Games Workshop made its recent return with a new brand of Warhammer Quest games called Silver Tower, followed up by Shadows Over Hammerhal, Blackstone Fortress and now Cursed City. Players i introduce to this new series have really enjoyed the dice allocation mechanic, and by combining the sets it has produced a nice variety of co-operative campaigns in different settings. It is not the deepest of games to play but once more the models are the best around, and painted up become a set you are really proud of. Building these sets have provided me with a core hobby interest over recent years, with some White Dwarf magazine articles to collect too, and with my own new ideas forming for dungeons to explore.
Kickstarter generally has meant an explosion of dungeon crawlers, and it is quite hard to pick the really good ones out from the more average ones. Dungeon Saga from 2015 is another game i enjoyed briefly, with its great book style box design, this is another overlord competitive based in style, and ultimately for me wasn’t quite a match for Descent 2nd edition. Massive Darkness in 2017 i bought as a kickstarter and is a quicker, less rules heavy game, which works well for one off scenarios rather than campaign gameplay, but for all its simplicity is way over fiddly to calculate combat, and the game balance is all over the place, but still it does looks nice on the table. Darklight Memento Mori from 2018 is largely a remake of the original Warhammer Quest with a darksoul horror theme and slightly larger tile and model scale, which all looks great, although ultimately i prefer the fantasy theme, and some new rules such as critical hits threw out the balance somewhat. Shadows of Brimstone should be acknowledged too, with a number of core boxes and many different world expansions, however it does have a western heroes theme, and model quality whilst improving over time has not quite reached the higher standards set elsewhere. Then the entry level co-operative series of Dungeons & Dragons such as Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt are fun sets to play with less experienced gamers.
As we move onto the most recent releases, a few stand out, Altar Quest from 2020 is a card based dungeon crawl using a heroquest style board and has modular card decks to select your mission, adversary and boss, all of which work really nicely and is a great co-operative experience, and is a game with a bit more depth to it play wise. Chronicles of Drunagor kickstarted relatively quietly and released in 2021, but had such good feedback that the reprint and expansion was very successful, with a cube management action system, and decision book. Descent Legends of the Dark is the new release in the Terrinoth series and despite initial drama from players who just wanted more 2nd Edition content, this new game with its three dimensional terrain and app based adventures has set new standards in hidden exploration adventuring and has done well and is one of my current favourite dungeon crawl games. Bardsung is a 2022 release which is great looking and more a narrative driven crawler, with neat artwork, tiles and a great mix of enemies, and themed on hobgoblins.
My favourite dungeon crawler changes over time, and will likely continue to do so as more titles come, and it ebbs and flows especially while new content is being released and when i am painting up a set. You can read more on my current favourite big box dungeon games here > fantasy dungeon crawlers.