After some epic gaming over the start of the winter myself and my friends Mike & Richard have completed the campaign from the Dungeon Saga core box; The Dwarf Kings Quest. Mike played as the evil Necromancer Mortibris and me and Richard shared out the heroes between us, I got the Dwarf and the Wizard, which of course left Richard with the Elf and the Barbarian. The campaign is 8 missions long and the heroes get a total of 15 attempts to complete them all. If you can do it quickly enough an attempt won't count towards your total (we found that to be VERY rare as most of the missions are very finely balanced) and if you fail you have to do that mission again until you get through.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
If you plan on playing this as the heroes there might be some stuff here you shouldn't read before you've had a go at the missions, unless of course you don't like surprises......
Before the campaign there are two training missions, I'm not going to bother going through these, they are very easy for the heroes and just give you a chance to practice the main rules.
Adventure 1: Well Met
This may be adventure one, but this is no gentle introduction for the heroes, you need to move quickly and kill stuff to win this one and get through the final door before the cards run out. In our first play of this we were playing as if this was Warhammer Quest, by which I mean to conservatively, trying to secure each area fully before moving on, we all survived, but the timer beat us quite comprehensively. You can't move too quickly either though, the Wizard and the Elf start separately from the Barbarian and the Dwarf and can be very vulnerable. Loose one hero and you loose the mission, don't forget it. Pay attention in this mission and think carefully about every move.
Tries to complete: 2
Star Rating: ****
Adventure 2: Into the Depths
This adventure is another one where you have to open the final door before the time runs outs (there's quite a of these). This is however where you meet your first Zombie Troll, which at this point are pretty scary things. We really enjoyed this one, the key is not to get bogged down fighting the troll and try to slip someone through on either side to make a run for the final door. Remember that only one person has to get to the door to win the mission. Our run through of this one came down to a dice roll to smash the door as the final action of the game! how's that for balance.
Tries to complete: 1
Star Rating: *****
Adventure 3: Restless Guardian
Time for the first boss fight! Except you don't actually fight the Banshee in a normal fashion, you need to survive her attacks whilst you collect the four fragments of her shattered stone heart and collect them together so she can finally have rest. This was a walkover for the heroes, the Banshee has some nasty spells, but can't do enough damage on her own to realistically cripple a hero before they collect all the pieces. There are a few minions about, but with only one Overlord Command per turn they're not going to achieve much as they rarely get to even activate. This is also the first time that the Overlord gets to use magic and Mike didn't get it at first which helped ease our victory. We were looking forward to our first boss, but ultimately the speed at which we accomplished the task took away the joy of victory. We might try this again with two Overlord Commands per turn.
Tries to complete: 1 (Within bonus time limit so doesn't count towards total)
Adventure 4: Left or Right
We're back to getting through doors within the time limit now. The twist this time is a randomly collapsing dungeon. This is a winding dungeon, with several routes to the final door, wether those routes will still be there next turn is part of the gamble you'll have to take. We found this one to be incredibly close and like Adventure two it all came down to the last dice roll of the game against the door.
Tries to complete: 1
Adventure 5: Stench of Death
A proper boss fight at last! This time against the Zombie Troll Shaman Hoggar. Like the Banshee fight the Overlord is severely limited by a single Command per turn. The mission is a pretty straightforward romp through some Zombies and Zombie Trolls until you get to Hoggar himself. He's a pretty tough beastie to kill. It looked like we were storming it until we got to the boss who then took a lot longer to kill than we were expecting and we only just did it before the time ran out.
Tries to complete: 1
Adventure 6: Turned Around
It was going so well upto this point, we'd been a bit lucky on adventures 2 & 4, but basically we'd aced everything! This was also when your heroes become legendary! But..... This mission really held us up, on the plus side this made the campaign mode interesting again as suddenly it was all there to play for. The twists here are the two large randomly rotating rooms and a random exit point. If you can roll sixes when you get to a chest(the exit is hidden in one of them) this one can be over quickly and easily, if however you flunk those rolls and have to do it the hard way by opening all the chests this mission is hard, especially as it's impossible to plan from turn to turn as you never know where your men are going to be! Having said all that it's still a fun mission, but I'm glad we didn't have to do it for a fifth time.
Tries to complete: 4
Adventure 7: The Final Insult
The penultimate level and the penultimate boss. This is our first, and only true 'fighty' boss, Grund, the Undead Dwarf King. The first room is full of monsters, you need to try and clear these quite quickly, but without getting overwhelmed in the process, we found the dwarf stood in the center did a great job of splitting the monsters into two groups. Once you get through the first room you have a pretty clear run upto Grund himself where you attempt to kill him before the time runs out. On our first attempt we had Grund down to a single wound when the time ran out, frustrating to say the least, but to be fair it was Mikes turn to pull off a last victory. The second attempt also failed in the last room, this time the Barbarian had taken too many hits and went down just before Grund would have done. The third run finally went smoothly and victory was ours.
Tries to complete: 3
Adventure 8: Only One Gets Out Alive
The final showdown, we finally get to confront Mortibris himself, even the heroes are expendable here and the game doesn't end if you loose one, the mission is also big containing all the minions in the set to slowly fight through. I say slowly, actually we smashed trough them with ease, our dice rolling was nuts here, we didn't flunk a single attack, nor had we taken a single wound by the time we entered Mortibris' inner sanctum. Obviously a lot of luck helped here and I expect that result is unusual. Even though we were unharmed as we got to the end boss Mortibris soon started knocking wounds off us, he is a tough cookie indeed, he can't stand up to four heroes, but if you loose one on the way to him I think you'll be in trouble.
Tries to complete: 1
The heroes win on the 13th out of 15 potential tries, although with one 'freebie' we actually had 14 tries; pretty damned close!
In conclusion this is a really good campaign, with different challenges for both sides, and we found it pretty well balanced, which is always tough in games like this. The limited time mechanism puts a slightly different slant on this than other dungeon crawlers that I'm familiar with, it won't be for everyone, but I found it added a sense of drama and tension to proceedings. We only found scenario 3 to be horribly unbalanced and 2,4 and 7 in particular where spectacularly close and therefore more enjoyable. I also like how the heroes get better over time and there's always a new ability or item to learn to use. The average of my (admittedly subjective) star ratings comes to 3.75, make of that what you will, but I think this is a solid initial campaign for Dungeon Saga.
However Mortibris is not quite dead and may come back yet.........