Can good components make a card game more fun? (Dungeon Busters Review)

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This year at Origins Game Fair I had some time to kill, so I wondered over to the Mayday games booth and played a demo of Dungeon Busters.  What drew me to it was the cute JRPG style characters depicted on the box and cards.  After trying it out I decided to pick it up, it was on deep discount and had a fun theme, so why not?  But is it worth its full asking price? Read on to find out.

Designed by Japanese designer Tomohiro Enoki, Dungeon Busters is a game of simultaneous action selection and greed.  Each round a monster card is dealt. This card detail’s the monster’s strength, as well as a payout of gems.  Players will each select a battle card from their hand, with a value from 1 to 7.  After battle cards are revealed they are totaled together.  If the total from all players battle cards is equal to or higher than the monster’s strength value, gems will be paid out.  The gems in the #1 chest go to the player who played the lowest card, #2 to the second lowest, and so on.  If the monster is not defeated, the player who played the lowest card will lose all their gems of the color they have the most of.  If two or more players play the same value card, they and their cards are removed from the fight, disqualifying them from gaining gems, but not from losing gems should the monster not be defeated.

 

After resolving the fight, battle cards are discarded, and cannot be used until the dungeon is completed.  Therefore, you cannot play the 1 battle card every round.  This info is public, so if I see that everyone else has played 3, I know mine is safe.  Dungeons consist of 4 monsters, after completing the dungeon you get all discarded cards back.  The game lasts for 3 dungeons, after that you tally up scores.  Each gem is worth 1 point, but if you have a set of all 3 colored gems they are worth an additional 3 as a set.  The player with the highest score is the winner.

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Dungeon Busters in the middle of a game

It’s an easy to learn, and easy to play game.  The mechanics lend themselves to some mind games and negotiations.  But there isn’t a ton of variety in its mechanics.  Outside of strength and payouts, each monster acts the same.  Each player* is the same too, just with different art.  These aren’t deal breakers; Dungeon Busters still packs some decent decision making and interaction amongst players into a short playtime.

 

*There is a tiny expansion that gives each character a unique card with a special ability for their deck.  Unfortunately, this was not available at the convention. Actually, I only found out about it after researching this article. This expansion could add some spice to the game.  For now, this article is only for the base game, if I ever get ahold of this expansion I’ll post a new entry.

 

Dungeon Busters’ largest strength lies in its presentation, its fun just to look at.  The box is covered with cool little adventurers and tons of colorful gems.  It’s like a mashup of Bejeweled and Chrono Trigger.  Also, the priest is a cat, not a cat person, just a cat with a mace.  I wish he was in every game.

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The components: Gem tokens, the spoils pile, each character’s deck, and the dungeon cards.

My absolute most favorite thing about dungeon busters are the gem tokens.  The base game comes with card board punch-out tokens. But, at the convention they had a set of clear plastic tokens for only $2 more, totally worth it. They come in 3 colors: red, yellow and blue, each with a distinct shape.  I know on paper it doesn’t sound like much, but they add a lot to the game.  They look like real gem stones, and even kinda feel like real gems (or at least what I think real gems would feel like). Just the act of picking them up feels good.  They are even more fun when hoarding them to yourself and seeing your colorful collection grow.  Also, it makes losing them feel that much worse, because they more closely resemble something of real value.

 

My biggest takeaway from this game is how much impact fun game pieces can have on the experience of the game.  Board and card game components are tangible objects, and posses a literal “game feel”, something that is often overlooked. In the case of Dungeon Busters, these little plastic gems elevate it from a just OK game, into something more enjoyable.

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Character battle cards and some monster cards

To wrap up, I picked up this game for $5 and the gems for $2, a total of $7.  At that price the game is more than worth it. The current asking price for Dungeon Busters on Amazon is $17 for the game, and $9 for the gems, for a total $26.  At that price I think it’s a harder sell.

There is another game with very similar mechanics called Get Bit, for $15 on Amazon.  This game also has its own unique twist on the tangibility element.  Get Bit comes with a little plastic shark, and a plastic toy person for each player.  When the shark bites you, you literally tear a limb off your character.  I haven’t played Get Bit in a few years, so I can’t truly recommend it at this time.  But if Dungeon Busters mechanics interests you, but you think its asking price is too high, look into Get Bit.

all prices are from the time of writing, they are very likely to change.

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