How Well Does Dungeon Mayhem Capture The Spirit Of Dungeons and Dragons?
Every now and then we come across games where we like to see how well they capture the spirit of D&D. Usually, these are big box games – we’ve looked at two in the past to be precise – Descent: Journeys in the Dark and Tyrants of the Underdark. Both are high fantasy games and can be comparable to some degree.
Today, I thought it would be interesting to look at a game that is similar to neither of those games. It is one we reviewed quite recently, but one that deserves a bit of an exploration into this topic due to the fact that it could be seen as an entry level exploration into the genre. Dungeon Mayhem is an incredibly simple game set in the D&D universe; however, it comes with a bit of a twist. This is not necessarily a game that sets out to be immersive, but instead is a fun, quick introductory game into the genre.
As mentioned in the aforementioned review, Dungeon Mayhem is a game I have played with my old man. He is one of the best Dungeon Masters I have ever had the pleasure of knowing (and I have known him my entire life as well, lucky me!) so I was interested to get his take. We’ll move onto this in a bit, but first let’s look at precisely what it is that Dungeon Mayhem does to incorporate its Dungeons and Dragons legacy.
How Dungeons and Dragons-y is Dungeon Mayhem?
So, what does Dungeon Mayhem do to incorporate the Dungeons and Dragons side of things? Well, first up, let’s look at the characters.
There are four characters in Dungeon Mayhem, all of which have a different background in the D&D world, even if they don’t really shout about it. The characters are all listed by name in the rules. These are:
- Sutha the Skullcrusher
- Azzan the Mystic
- Lia the Radiant
- Oriax the Clever
Although their races are not specified anywhere, any D&D player can look at the characters and say “oh, so that a Half-Orc Barbarian, a Human Wizard/Mage, an Elf Paladin, and a Tiefling Rogue”. They are obviously so, firstly by the art and then by the cards.
Below are examples of their cards, and you can see what I mean. Although nowhere on the cards does it say that Azzan is a wizard (although it does in the rules), he has cards like Lightning Bolt, Burning Hands, and Mirror Image. All of those are wizard spells in D&D. We can say that he is a wizard from his cards and this is supported in the rules. Likewise, Sutha has Rage, which is a distinctly Barbarian trait. Oriax is stealth orientated, so it doesn’t take much to figure out he is a Rogue, and Lia is based around healing and divinity.
Looking up Divine Shield – it is actually a 3.5E level 4 Paladin spell. She’s also all about justice which is a very Paladin thing to be about, differentiating her from a Cleric.
So, the cards have distinctly D&D-y names, which is great. They do feel D&D like – that being said, for me it is a shame that the characters are not named by race and class on the cards but only for the benefit of the person who reads the rules. It would have been that one step further to say that Sutha the Skullcrusher is a Half-Orc Barbarian and could increase the immersive factor, so it’s a shame they don’t go there.
There is no doubt, looking at the deck, that this is a Dungeons and Dragons game. These are D&D characters and their actions are D&D based actions.
What About The Gameplay?
The game play however does not hugely reflect the genre. The text on the box says that the party has been split. This suggests that all the characters were initially a party who are now fighting amongst themselves. Where this is open to some interpretation, it is also where I potentially see an issue with the game.
The initial question asked (“How well does Dungeon Mayhem capture the spirit of D&D?”) is a bit of a vague one because we need to take into account the mythos and the game itself. Tyrants of the Underdark for instance, massively reflects the mythos through the gameplay and theme. Descent on the other hand would be looking at reflecting the gameplay experience of D&D itself. Although Descent is by FFG and not meant to be a D&D counterpart, the fact it was a roleplaying style game in a high fantasy setting was enough for a comparison.
So, where are we going with this? Well…we have already said the theme is in keeping with the theme of D&D, but the gameplay isn’t.
Why? Well it’s simple – in party fighting is not in keeping with the theme of D&D. Yes, okay, it happens on occasion, but it is usually not in the interest of the players or the game.
Okay, so this may seem a bit weak, or seem like a bit of a sloppy argument but this is an issue that, when my old man made it, I couldn’t help but see his point. The concept of one member of a party casting lightning bolt on another member just doesn’t happen that often and that is ultimately why Dungeon Mayhem doesn’t quite capture the spirit of D&D.
There are, of course, work arounds for this. Since the Half-Orc could be called an Orc and since the Wizard has Evil Sneer as a card, it could be argued that this was never really a singular party. Instead, this is a battle of four separate parties in one. Alternatively, the Paladin vs the Mage could be a grudge match between a PC and a boss; however, those don’t hold true in accordance with the blurb and text on the box. The box very definitely says that these are Adventurers that we are playing as and this is a party that has been split
Being an Adventurer
If you are playing as Adventurers then this is not a game that takes place within the wider D&D world. Instead the direct comparison comes from playing an Adventurer in D&D as a game instead.
It seems a very small and unimportant point, but one I felt important to raise due to the nature of the game. Since Dungeon Mayhem could be seen as an entrance point into the D&D genre as an Adventurer it also feels like, where the theme of the characters is right, the gameplay implies the wrong kind of experience. Once again to quote my old man – D&D is ultimately a cooperative game.
Now a game where the adventurers try and beat the DM – there is a card game I would like to see.
So there we have it – a small and almost entirely inconsequential point about a question you never wanted to ask. I still like Dungeon Mayhem and enjoy it as a D&D themed game, and I encourage you to do the same. It can still be D&D themed without necessarily encompassing the nature or spirit of D&D. I like it, and where it may not encompass what it means to be an Adventurer in the D&D world, it does encompass some of what it is like to be a character. We can enjoy that for now.
What are your thoughts? If you have played Dungeon Mayhem, how well do you think it encompasses the spirit of D&D? Let me know in the comments below.