Dungeon of Mandom VIII
Publisher: Oink Games
Format: Bluffing, Memory, Push Your Luck
Number of Players: 2 - 4
Play Time: 30 minutes
Copy Purchased By Reviewer
I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving small box games with big hearts. Dungeon of Mandom VIII is another such game, and my first review from the publisher Oink. You’d think with my love for small boxes I’d have already reviewed something from a publisher renowned for making exclusively that. Don’t ask me why I haven’t. We’re going to fix this right now!
Dungeon of Mandom VIII, which I’ll just be referring to henceforth as Dungeon, is a simple game all about bravado. Assuming you don’t bow out of a round and pass to save your own skin, you take it in turn to draw a monster card off the deck, check it, and either add it to the dungeon or set it aside, stripping off a piece of valuable equipment as you do so. “I don’t need this magical scepter,” you brag, and no one is quite sure if you’ve just spared the dungeon a dragon or if you’re trying to screw over the next player. You win if you can get through all the monsters to the treasure on two separate dungeon runs or if you’re the last person standing when everyone else has “retired” twice, dropping to zero hitpoints while running down those same dungeon hallways.
Regular board gamers might recognize this format from another game, Welcome to the Dungeon. After its expansion, Welcome Back to the Dungeon, the original (also released under the name Dungeon of Mandom) was updated with all the additional content and given an VIII (presumably due to its new total of 8 heroes). Between buying a game and its expansion or just buying one tiny box with everything, I know which I’d choose. But enough with the history lesson. Let’s see what’s in that glossy box!
Every time I hold this box it just feels good in my hands. I've had that feeling over components, but for a box itself this is a first.
What you get here is absolutely lovely. The game comes in a sturdy box that nonetheless fits in the palm of your hand. It contains eight different heroes, each with six pieces of equipment, all printed on tiles that are just thin enough to save space in the box while thick enough to feel satisfying as you snap them down. You get a clear set of rules containing some FAQs (which is always appreciated), and you get a deck of linen finish cards. The artwork is evocative, and I’ve heard several people tell me they actually prefer it to the more cartoony look of Welcome to the Dungeon. All in all, the small size of this game is no reflection on its production quality which remains top notch.
I’d explain how to play, but you already know! This game is as easy to teach as my second opening paragraph is to read. The real trick comes in deciding when to set a monster aside and which piece of equipment you take off the hero who is ready to delve into this dungeon. If you think you can still take the dungeon yourself, you can probably afford to lose some +HP items. After all, if you can slay or bypass monsters outright, you’ll take no damage at all. On the other hand, if you remove a more valuable piece of gear, are you likely to cause everyone to pass and stick you with an unwinnable run? This game is just as much about the mindgame of playing your friends as much as it is trying to track the limited information you have control over. As games with a push-your-luck mechanic go, I find Dungeon exhilarating.
In addition to the regular monsters, two special monsters are dealt into the deck each game to add a little extra spice!
You’re Not Bluffing?
My friends all had a good time with Dungeon when I brought it to game night. It’s quick, it’s fun, and it’s exciting. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and if people are still having a good time when someone cuts to a victory, you can easily shuffle up and play again. The glossy box with its gold lettering feels luxurious, like you’re holding a little gold bar in your hands as you dig it out of your game night bag. I questioned Eric if this wacky game of daring fit in our “it’s stupid and I love it” category, a description we reserve for wild games of chaotic glee, but he reminded me that the limited knowledge of the monsters along with the decision over which equipment to remove (along with the timing of doing so) make the game more than a purely random chaosfest. I agree, and I think we all enjoyed where this game sits, just enough strategy to feel a little thinky but not so crunchy that you can’t push your luck and come out ahead.
So who isn’t this game for? Definitely I would say fans of pure strategy games will find the push-your-luck side of Dungeon off-putting. At some point, you just have to accept you will never have perfect information and will have to take calculated risks. You have to be ok with removing a piece of equipment in a bid to get someone else killed, only to find everyone else passing and getting stuck going in yourself. People who can’t laugh at their own misfortune in these circumstances are probably not the types who will enjoy this game as much. Also, if you’re really tired of fantasy themes, Dungeon isn’t going to do anything special to reignite that love. A small additional criticism, but the Princess hero also made us a little uncomfortable, having “equipment” like The Chaperone, The Suitor, and Daddy’s Sword. The implications of this hero getting objectively weaker without a chaperone or suitor is somewhat troubling in our modern day of boardgaming, unless of course she’s using them as meat shields to shove in front of an angry golem. That’s the narrative I stick to anyway.
I'll never admit it to my friends, but I think sometimes I like removing equipment tiles just to have an excuse to fiddle with them.
Bang For Your Buck
All in all, I think Dungeons of Mandom VIII is one of the most solid ratios of awesome game to box size you can buy. As long as you can be sure you’re playing with a crowd that appreciates making decisions under imperfect conditions, you can have a lot of fun egging each other on, bragging, smack talking, or just quietly smiling at your friends as you walk past each monster and into a chest full of treasure. Each of the heroes adds variety and replayability, some preferring straightforward fights while others use tricks to subdue foes, and it’s fun to puzzle out the best way to play each hero given the monsters you draw and the attitudes of your friends. The push-your-luck element also helps players lagging behind to clinch daring wins. You know, or faceplant into certain death. Either way everyone at my table has gotten a good laugh. All this wrapped in such a small package, a box easily fit in any day bag or most coat pockets. I really don’t think you can ask for more. I’ll certainly be interested to see what else Oink has to offer moving forwards for my own small box game library.