A short while ago, I got 30. To celebrate the occasion, I wanted to have some friends play board games over a week-end a bunch of Knizia classics that I have still in shrink in the dungeon (Ra, Taj Mahal, Through the Desert, Samurai, and Tigris & Euphrates, which is the only one I was lucky enough to play). Unfortunately, the concept of friends is one that doesn't really apply in the practicality of my daily life, so, I changed my plans and decided instead to wreck some Ravage in the dungeons of plunder... Except, on my birthday, sorting out the components and reading the rules proved too much for the night, then I was submerged by work (but remember, I love my work, so it's not the worst think that can happen to me, if a bit overly exhausting at times). And yesterday, I finally could play!
Sorry for this introduction (an exclusive excerpt from my future memoirs, Diary of a Frustrated Board Gamer). Now, time to set up the dungeon!
The true solo mode seemed to suck, so I decided to go two-handed for one of the 11 scenarios available in the box, starting with the first one, because I am such a responsible adult now. I picked the Berzerker and the Shaman, leaving the Archer and the Cultist for other times. And of course, I went with the recommended set of skills for both. This wasn't the decision making I wanted to get involve with that night.
As you can see, you have HP, XP, Energy, and "Teeth", which is the currency among Orcs. XP is earned as you spend energy, usually to activate your skills, so you have a strong incentive to use these skills as much as you can. It helps that they are really powerful. When you fill the XP gauge, you level up and get to flip one of your 5 skill cards to its better side. This is a rather neat and elegant system of character progression, and it's a bit reminiscent of what The Elder Scrolls do (the more you use skills, the better you get at them).
But how do you gain energy? You gain energy by rolling the energy symbol with the dice, either when you attack or when you defend. In a sense, it's a "fail", but it also gives you an edge later on. Here again, neat system. By the way, the dice rolling is well done, as there is limited variance in the results - still enough to leave you at the mercy of a one-shot kill at mid-health. Activating skills increase your dice pool, better dice, or simply +1 to the results.
The dungeon explore part is a bit less good. Each round, you start by adding a card to the dungeon (unless you are too far away from the edges), and then draw a card to know what gets spawned - a trap, a monster, a potion. Therefore, you are a bit forced to add and add and add to the dungeon, which may get a bit taxing and fiddly at times. It reminded me a bit of Ratcatcher, but nothing nearly as exasperating. And, you need a system to keep a steady influx of monsters. Still, I would have preferred spawn points, or something that takes less space on the table.
Okay, but what about the quest? Well, it was a bit dull: find the treasure room, take the treasure, run away. At some point, vengeful heroes start roaming into the dungeons. Quite thematically, they appeared when I was finally getting the treasure... But too late, and only for the show. I was already on the run and they didn't even get to use their awesome powers on my plundering Orcs. Losers.
By the end of the game, the table was a real mess. An FFG-like mess.
And yes, the game has all the FFG hallmarks. Plenty of components, nothing in the box to help sort them out in a satisfying away (the cardboard insert being a hindrance more than anything else), everything feels like a FFG game, except the much more vivid color palette. The rules are a bit of a mess, with lots of essential components in the "Appendix", sorted in a weird alphabetic order you cannot really foresee. But it's okay - information does not come by easily but I did not encounter any rules issue.
My characters had not become much powerful by the end of the game - the Shaman had levelled up twice, the Berserker would have done so if it hadn't been the end.
The game lasted about an hour. Very decent for a dungeon crawler, still a bit long for what it was - fetching some treasure and running away. I hope that once I'll be better with the rules it will go smoother. I also expect the other quests to be a tad more interested and climactic. I enjoyed my time with it, was really sucked in the game, and would gladly play the next scenario. It really strikes a right balance between full-fledged dungeon crawler, with exploration, character progression, monster chasing you in dark corridors, traps, loot, poison, and a simple rules system, with a decent play time.