Rule One of Welcome to the Dungeon: no-one wants to go in the Dungeon. In fact, most of the time whilst playing this 2-4 player bluff-off, there isn't a worse fate than being forced to enter a Dungeon unprepared. Because as you will soon learn, every player has in secret spent their previous turns adding a plethora of deadly creatures to the dungeon with the explicit intention of destroying whoever is forced to enter.
Oh yeah - and all the valuable weapons and equipment you need to survive? Well you've witnessed first hand your fellow players steadily removing them throughout the course of the round. But if you want to win Dungeon, you've either got to wait for everyone else to be knocked out or defeat it yourself; twice!
Welcome to the Dungeon is a 2-4 player party game which see's players collectively adding monsters to a dungeon which one player will eventually have to enter. The first step of setup is to decide which character the eventual unsuspecting player will have to use if they enter the dungeon (the game heavily encourages using The Warrior for beginners although once you get used to the game definitely try out some of the more complex characters!).
Next the monster cards are shuffled and the characters equipment is laid out in front of them alongside their starting HP. Each monster card has a number displayed in the top left corner and a symbol in the top right. The number informs the player how much damage it will do the players HP if a player enters the dungeon without the equipment that matches the symbol in the top right of the card.
On a players turn, they will draw one card from the monster deck in secret and be forced to choose between placing the monster in the dungeon face down or keeping the monster out of the dungeon at the expense of sacrificing one piece of valuable equipment at the players choice. This can naturally setup a number of combos such as placing two monsters into the dungeon that are vulnerable to the torch; and then removing the torch to sabotage your fellow players efforts and ensure that whoever enters will receive damage.
If a player feels that a dungeon would be impossible to defeat they can choose to instead draw a card on their turn to announce to the room that they don't wish to enter the dungeon. They are now out of the round but won't risk losing a valuable life, of which each player only has two.
If you get lost at all, the game features handy reference cards which detail not only all the different type of potential monsters you may draw, but also the number of monsters in the deck and what piece of equipment each monster is vulnerable to. This allows you to play an internal numbers game where you begin to guesstimate the odds of encountering a monster that will eliminate you, or likewise, how high a number monster is required to eliminate your fellow players.
Dungeon is one of the only games I can think of where characters get weaker as the round goes on creating a weird scenario where at the beginning of the game you'll feel invincible but by the time you're forced to enter the dungeon you'll be clutching your torch and measly 3HP praying for a miracle. It's just inherently funny to be so clearly sabotaging each-other and while it may start off relatively simple in games playing as The Warrior, the game creates it's own in-jokes between you and your friends forcing you to second guess every decision your opponents make.
Let's say someone is spotted taking the Dragon Spear and removing it from the round; which at first glance hints that they've placed the Dragon in the dungeon and want you to go in completely un-armed against the fire breathing monster. Or have they? Maybe they think you'll think that and have instead taken the dragon out and made the dungeon easier for themselves to overcome as everyone else is going to go in expecting a Dragon.
Each of the characters feel different and while it's a shame that some pieces of equipment are repeated, the strategies you will be using to succeed as The Barbarian will vary greatly to those used by The Rouge. One character in particular that offers loads of variety is The Mage and I'm a big fan of their Omnipotence ability which allows them to win if every monster in the dungeon is different regardless of the damage they take.
No matter which character you're playing as the game feels balanced as every decision is linked and has multiple potential ramifications. To remove a piece of equipment, you have to spend a turn not placing a monster in the dungeon which limits your knowledge of what to expect.
Likewise if you want to look at a monster that could end up in the dungeon you have to wait before your next turn before announcing to the room that you don't wish to enter the dungeon which could be far too late if every other player decides to retreat one after the other.
This snowball effect of players seeing another player doesn't wish to enter, assuming it's an absolute deathtrap and bailing out themselves is often one of Dungeon's greatest moments as the remaining player who is forced to then enter the dungeon is often bewildered at the sheer speed of cowardice of their fellow players and how quickly the situation escalated - especially if they then go on to humorously overcome the dungeon.
Speaking of satisfying moments as the polar opposite of the previous example, it's hard to beat witnessing someones cocky grin turn to fear as they realise they will be forced to enter the near impossible deadly dungeon they have spent the previous rounds creating becuase they waited one turn to long to pull out.
So if I have any real criticism of Welcome to the Dungeon, it's frankly that I've played it a little bit too much and would like some fresh characters and monsters to add some unpredictability to my games as I don't think four characters is quite enough. But even then, perhaps the charm of Dungeon is it's simplicity in that it's a game you can learn and attempt to master but will always be unpredictable due to the evolving strategies and playstyles of the players you play with.
Similarly at Dungeon's very affordable price - it's very difficult to feel short changed by what's included (especially as the original Japanese edition of the game initially only included one playable character). While the game does feature player elimination, I’ve never found this to be too much of any issue as rounds are short and often Dungeon is just as funny to watch as it is to play.