Get in, complete the quest, and get out fast in Dungeon Time
Dungeon Time is a cooperative fantasy game, where players must work together to meet the requirements of a series of quest cards: gaining rewards, and using those rewards towards future quests.
The big twist, is that Dungeon Time is a game that must be played against the clock – you only have 5 minutes to get everything done, so there’s no room for hesitation. However, you still need to be careful – try to bring too much equipment on your quest, and the group’s backpack will break, causing everyone to lose the game.
Dungeon Time: What’s in the box?
Dungeon Time comes with several decks of cards representing Missions, Equipment and Characters, some cardboard tokens to represent quest rewards, and an egg timer. There is also a large cardboard “satchel” and some bigger sheets of card for Adventures.
The cards are 90% of Dungeon Time, and they’ve definitely done a nice job: the art is detailed, but the graphic design remains clear, colourful without being garish. The card stock itself is good, and they don’t look like they’ll crumple too quickly.
The anatomy of a mission card is pretty simple: a title and a bit of flavour text across the top, symbols of what’s required across the middle, and the symbol(s) of the quest reward across the bottom.
The tokens are also well done, matching the style of the cards. The larger components – the mat and the Adventure sheets feel slightly superfluous, but again the production quality is good.
So what do we do?
To set up a game of Dungeon Time, you choose a Scenario from the rulebook, which will tell you how many cards from which Mission deck you need. You then deal 2 of those Missions at random into a pile and add a dozen or so random equipment cards (the exact number will depend on the player count) and distribute them to form players’ starting hands. Shuffle the remainder of the quests into the equipment cards to form the draw deck.
Once the timer begins, players will have 5 minutes to complete as many missions as they can. To do this, they must first play equipment cards into the backpack, THEN play the quest cards themselves. This will involve a fair bit of talking “I need a torch and a sword” “has anyone got some herbs and a spell-book?” and the like.
Often the players won’t have the right cards in hand, at which point there’s a temptation to simply play a card anyway, in the hope that it becomes useful later. The problem with this strategy though, comes in the second phase of Dungeon Time.
No room for the keys – the bag breaks and the players lose!
Once the five minutes are up, and everyone has had a chance to catch their breath, you flip the pile of played cards over, and sort back through them. There’s a cardboard token representing a backpack, with eight little arrows to represent places you can store items. Each item you revealed is added to the backpack: into a new space if you don’t have any of that type of thing currently in the bag, or alongside others of the same kind if you do.
Obviously, backpacks aren’t huge, and the backpack in Dungeon Time is no exception: if you ever try to place the fourth of a single type of item, or a ninth different type of item, the backpack splits, and everyone loses.
Only 4 of each type of equipment available (+ 2 rewards)
On that basis, you might decide to just discard equipment cards you don’t need instead, so that you can draw replacements. Again though, there’s a problem: Dungeon Time has a 48-card equipment deck – with 12 different types of equipment, that means only 4 copies of each one. In Easy you can probably get away with discarding 1 or 2, but on the higher difficulties, you’re going to need every single one to solve those Missions.
When sorting through the deck in the resolution phase, once you reach a Mission card, you have to check to see whether you have the equipment you need for it: if you do, discard that equipment, and add the Mission to a completed pile for scoring. You also take a little cardboard token to represent the equipment gained for completing the mission, and add it to the backpack in the same way as if it was a card. If you don’t have everything you need to complete the Mission, then the Mission is discarded, and you can choose whether or not to keep the equipment.
1. The Players have 2 Maps and 1 Perfume in the backpack
2. They reveal “Pure Water” which needs 2 Maps and 1 Perfume
3. They complete the mission, discarding the Maps and the Perfume – as a reward they take a Bow & Arrow, and add it to the backpack
Most set-ups will allow you to fail 1 or 2 Missions, but if too many are discarded this way, the players lose! – in an ideal world though, you will have kept a steady level of equipment in the backpack, adding items (never more than 8 different or 3 of each), then removing them to fulfil missions – if you complete enough (typically 10 out of 12 in the deck) you win.
Easy as you like – to near impossible
Dungeon Time is light, short and fairly easy to get the hang of – like a lot of games, you might cause a bit of confusion when you explain it ahead of the first game, but you can always just dive in, and after the first five minutes are up, everyone should understand what they’re doing.
There is a very broad range of difficulty available within Dungeon Time – you’ll probably start using the easiest missions: straightforward cards that need 2 pieces of equipment and give 1 piece as a reward. There are 4 different difficulties of mission available though, going right up to multi-part missions needing 4 or 5 different things and reward you with any item of your choice.
I really liked the amount of variable difficulty in Dungeon Time, as it allows you to take it from a fairly simple activity where most cards can be solved quickly, and discarding excess cards is pretty safe, to something fiendishly complicated, where you are needing to keep track of 3 or 4 different missions and which of the rewards you are or aren’t taking.
I’m going on an Adventure
Probably the biggest change to the standard set-up in Dungeon Time comes with the 4 Adventure cards: printed on what is probably unnecessarily large bits of paper, these make for a unique game session, in that they not only provide a story, but they specify exactly which missions are going into the deck, and they give a quest-specific unique starting mission which goes in someone’s hand from the beginning of the game. This unique mission generally has a powerful, game-shifting effect once completed, so again it can put a distinct spin on how you play the rest of the round. For example, the first quest starts with a mission whose reward doesn’t give you any equipment, but which does mean that any future missions that game which require 2 sets of the same piece of equipment can now be done with just the one.
Realistically, the theme element of the Adventures are still pretty thin at this point (if I recall correctly, the first story is about finding a spell book for an apprentice who might be a friend of the Princess), but it definitely does a good job of putting a fresh spin on the gameplay.
Keeping in Character
It’s also possible to add an extra layer to Dungeon Time with the player characters – generic Fantasy folk who each have an ability that you can trigger during the resolution phase. There’s not a lot of point in using them during your first few games, but once you’ve got your head around the basics, they can provide an interesting extra layer of strategy.
At first sight, most of the characters look like they are designed to help you get yourself out of a hole – allowing you to complete a mission that otherwise wouldn’t be doable, or to look ahead mid-way through the resolution phase. However, used this way, the characters will often require a bit of guesswork to be used to full-effect so this is actually another way in which the game is encouraging you to plan, think and remember, a fun extra addition to the game.
Variety is the Spice of Life? – Up to a point
There are lots of ways to tweak Dungeon Time – choosing one of the many different difficulty levels, or using the Adventures, or Characters (or both)
Did you notice that this mission was about protecting Fireflys? no, nor me…
In one way or another though, every game of Dungeon Time boils down to the same thing: getting the right items in the bag, immediately before playing the right missions to use those items, all against the clock.
Every mission comes with a bit of flavour text, which supposedly justifies why exactly it is that you need these specific pieces of equipment for this particular mission, and why the mission comes with the reward that it does. However, when you’re trying to get through an entire deck of cards in 5 minutes, you don’t have the time to stop and read this flavour text, and a lot of the theme is basically lost.
The adventures are better in this regard, as the flavour text is read before you start the timed period of the game, and the character powers are triggered after, but overall, for all the fun that Dungeon Time is, there is very little to the theme.
Dungeon Time is a fun little game, really quick, with 10-15 minutes being plenty to go from set-up to completion. There are also plenty of options to link things together into a campaign if you fancy something a bit more drawn-out.
The theme in Dungeon Time is very thin – there’s no real opportunity for getting immersed in the game when you’re trying to get through a dozen missions in five minutes. That said, the art is nice, but I found that the thematic lightness didn’t bother me – in truth, I think the only thing I’d change about this game would be to reduce the box size so that I could more easily take it places.
The more you dig into Dungeon Time, the more you’ll find in it – at hardest levels it looks phenomenally challenging, so you’re unlikely to exhaust the life of this game any time soon.
Overall I’d rate this 8/10. A hidden gem
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits in my new life as a dad.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Dice Masters and Destiny) when I can make it out of the house.Competitively. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.