Dungeon Hustle Review By Wizkids
Quick Glance: Dungeon Hustle
Game Type: Vaguely cooperative dungeon crawler
Number of Players: 2-4
Mechanics: Hand management, Variable Player Powers, set collection
Dungeon Hustle is a new entry in the ever expanding line of board games by WizKids of Dicemasters and Heroclix fame. This one is a family-weight dungeon crawling game with a light puzzle-solving aspect. It has some cooperative elements, without feeling like a full blown co-op game. It’s hard to tell whether the toughest enemy is a 3rd level monster or the rules.
A game of Dungeon Hustle goes until either the team successfully complete 3 levels of dungeon diving (running through the deck three times), or a number of monsters escape the dungeon (based on a difficulty set by players at the beginning of the game). If the team makes it alive, then the player that scored the most points is declared the overall winner. If the monsters escape, then everybody loses.
A regular round of Dungeon Hustle takes place over 6 phases. Each player completes all phases before the next player takes a turn. The first phase is the titular “Hustle.” Players jump from dungeon space to space, moving on as many like-colored cards as they choose. Once they move onto either a corner space, or a card of a different color, their “Hustle” phase ends. They then pick up all the cards jumped on that turn as long as no other players or monsters were standing on them (yes, oddly, you get to walk right by monsters if they are on the same color card as you).
Next, the cards you moved on are replaced. If any of them show a green “Monster swipe” icon, you’ve been attacked by a wandering monster! If you picked up any shields on your hustle, simply discard one for each monster. Otherwise, you lose a card from your hand at random.
If you ended your hustle on a monster space, you enter combat! Combat in this game is simple, although I do have some issues with it. First, you calculate the monster’s base strength, which conveniently is your character’s current Level (monsters are more powerful the stronger you are). Next, you can ask for help from the other members of your party. The rule book doesn’t really go into whether you are supposed to ask specific players, or if they can just help out of the goodness of their own heart. Either way, each person that helps you gets 1 gold, a special ability that they get to use on their turn, and you gain one attack point.
Now you draw a number of cards off the top of the dungeon deck based on which dungeon level you are on (monsters have a better chance of getting stronger the deeper you go), if they show a monster attack icon or a sword, the monster gets stronger by 1 point. You may discard a shield to have them redraw (once per combat).
Finally, you play all your sword cards and determine if you have defeated the monster.
If you win, hooray! Remove the monster from the board, and gain gold based on your depth in the dungeon. If you lose, it’s not the end of the world. Simply discard 1 card at random from your hand, and move to an adjacent space.
I’m not happy with the order in which these steps happen. You are supposed to ask for help before you know if you need it. This felt counter-intuitive, and in fact, by the halfway point in the game we just started playing it our way, and it worked much better.
By asking for help before combat, there is absolutely no downside to not joining the battle. You get your helper bonuses whether you actually helped or not. Plus if another teammate actually gets into trouble before you have a chance to recharge you helper power, they could get hosed.
If you didn’t enter combat, perhaps you found your way onto one of the corner spaces of the board and want to attempt a quest. Each quest card shows a number of icons. You simply have to discard those cards to complete the quest. The only catch to this is that if there are multiples of a symbol on the card, you must discard a different color for each symbol. Each quest gets you some gold and points for the end of the game.
Now the monsters respawn and try to escape the dungeon! In monster movement phase, flip the top card of the dungeon deck over, and look for a matching color card on the outer ring of the dungeon. If there is one, then a monster respawns on a matching square on the outer ring of the board. If there isn’t one, you get a brief respite. However, any other monster on that same color gets to move one step closer to the center of the board. If a monster makes it to the center, they escape the dungeon and your crew is one step closer to losing the game!
Finally, we come to “Rest Phase” during rest phase, you can spend gold to upgrade your character, refresh your abilities, use the keys you’ve collected to buy artifacts, and otherwise prepare for your next hustle.
An entire game takes about 45 minutes, with the first run through the deck taking the longest by a fair amount.
The last thing I want to say about gameplay is that I have found the game to be pretty easy to beat so far. In all my testing, I’ve only had 1 monster escape the dungeon, and that was on the very last turn of a game because everyone decided to go for quest points. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, as Dungeon Hustle is not a typical cooperative game. You are out for yourself. You want the most glory, but you also have to keep a loose eye on these monsters.
The rulebook explains the basics of game play rather well, past that it gets a bit sketchy. The rule book is laid out well. It explains the steps of each phase of the turn very clearly. There are plenty of pictures and examples, and it does a good job explaining the mechanics the game. Players should not have trouble understanding how the game works.
Where it falls flat is in the details. For example, absolutely none of the icons are explained in the book. Most of them are shown on a player aid, but not all of them. At one point, a player asked me what an ability (Backstab) did, and I gave him a firm, and direct answer. At this point he said “Do you know that from the book, or are you guessing?” Without missing a beat “Oh, total guess. Backstab is explained nowhere in the book, on the player aid, or on any other card in the game!”
As generic as fantasy can get. Take a fantasy stereotype into a generic dungeon, collect potions, beat monsters, level up.
Setting up Dungeon Hustle takes a few minutes. You must construct a 7x7 grid in the middle of the table. However, only two of the rows are actually 7 cards wide. There are also three stacks of quest cards that need to be built in a specific order. It gets a little tedious initially setting up the board.
I highly recommend a few small baggies for components at the end of the game to ease teardown. Fortunately, tearing down isn’t much more complicated than dumping stuff into bags and tossing it all into the box.
The components overall are pretty good. I like the big, square dungeon cards, even if they are a pain to shuffle. I REALLY like the character and monster art. Unfortunately, the art is confined to small slivers on the character cards, and the cardboard monster standees. I wish they would have put the character art onto their respective standees. Still, it’s really good.
Speaking of the standees… I hate that they are all the same size and shape. It makes it surprisingly easy to move the wrong characters during monster movement phase. I feel like the characters should have maybe been smaller, or a different shape. Also, because the standees are so big, they often completely block out the image underneath them. That being said, they are good quality.
I wish they would have used different colors for the board icons. I found it rather difficult to tell apart the reds, oranges, and yellows used…and I’m not one that normally has trouble with this. They use gradient effect used on the images where everything fades into white, and at a glance, it can get confusing.
The coins need to be bigger. I have giant ham hands, and these coins just were too tiny. I may have to replace them with some nice metal coins.
It may not sound like it, but I actually quite enjoyed Dungeon Hustle. I loved the puzzly aspect of trying to figure out the best route through the dungeon. It isn’t always as simple as “just grab every card of the color you’re on” because if you spend too many turns not fighting monsters or questing, then you are wasting valuable time. Plus, you have a hand limit at the end of a turn. So just because you can grab 9 cards doesn’t mean you should, especially since there’s a good chance you’ll have to lose 2-3 of those cards to wandering monster anyway.
I feel like Dungeon Hustle lives in the same realm as Munchkin. I think it’s actually a better choice for families, of only for the fact that there’s really no backstabbing. I guess you could withhold help during combat, but by doing so it also keeps you from progressing in the game, which is a nice touch.
If you can get by the fact that you’ll have to guess as to how some parts of the game work, I do think Dungeon Hustle is worth your time. It’s quick, it has good decisions, and just a little bit of luck. It may not be the dungeon crawler for hardened gamers, but as a light romp, it’s a good time.