Dungeon Petz is a recent game by veteran designer Vlaada Chvátil. His design credits include: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, Galaxy Trucker, Space Alert, Dungeon Lords, and Mage Knight.
My Wednesday night gaming group brought this to the table recently so here is a brief review based on the initial play.
As with other games, I’ll rank the game on a variety of aspects, and provide an overall rating.
Become the leader of an imp family that has just started a new business – breeding and selling petz. Sound simple and safe? Well, we forgot to mention that those petz are for Dungeon Lords. This means magical, playful, sometimes angry monsters that constantly desire attention and at the very moment you want them to demonstrate their qualities to buyers they are sick or they poo. Sometimes you are even glad that you got rid of them – but the profit is unbelievable.
Dungeon Petz is a standalone game set in the Dungeon Lords universe created in the board game of the same name. The game consists of several rounds in which players use unusual worker placement mechanisms (players simultaneously prepare different-sized groups of imps in order to play sooner than others) to prepare themselves for the uneasy task of raising creature cubs and pleasing their different needs represented by cards in order to sell them as grown scary creatures to Dungeon Lords. In the meantime they also attend various contests in which they show off their pets, scoring additional points.
Let’s start with Theme. The theme of this game is original, and fun. What is most surprising is that the whimsical theme seems completely out of place on this particular game. Since the theme sounds so light and playful, I had expected the game to be light in strategy as well. Boy was I wrong. Even still, the theme by itself is awesome and very well implemented throughout the game.
This is a heavy strategy game. If you are the type of player who likes to compute and optimize your play to yield the highest score you will feel right at home with this game. There are so many options to consider each turn, and while luck does have some impact, this game is a heavy euro dressed in a dire bunny suit. Since each turn you must draw cards that determine what ‘needs’ your petz have. If you were a good planner you will likely be able to keep your pets happy, clean, and safely locked in their cage. However, the luck of the draw could put you in a position where your prize pets become diseased, mutated, or worse.
The components in Dungeon Petz are well above average. Each pet is designed on a rotating wheel so that the longer you have the pet, the more valuable (and needy) it becomes. Each player also has a supply of little imps that are used in a fairly unique worker placement mechanic. If I had a nit to pick, it would be about the size of the game board. There is so much going on in this game, all of the actions are crammed onto a small game board. Overall, I think almost everyone who has a chance to play would probably agree the components are very well designed and of high quality.
There are a lot of mechanics in this game. My favorite mechanic of the game is the way the designer chose to implement the worker placement mechanic. Players must secretly assign imps and coins into groups. After all player have decided, the groups are simultaneously revealed. The turn order is based on the largest groups to the smallest groups for placement. This allows a player to decide if they want to concentrate on winning one or two crucial actions for the turn, or perhaps have more actions but risking that the actions they want may be occupied by other imps. The reason I didn’t go even higher with this rating is simply that the game feels like there is too much to think about on a turn and players prone to paralysis may need a lot of time to assess all of the possible permutations that need to be considered. I tend to think that the mechanics of the game should allow easy to understand yet meaningful decision making. In this game, the number of decision needed per turn are overwhelming.
I really wanted to like this game. It has everything going for it. Great theme, components, sold mechanics. For my personal taste, this game has too many decisions, and each decision requires math and analysis to determine what action will yield the largest number of points. Of course many games require this type of analysis, but usually there are not quite so many different things that need to be considered at the same time.
Overall Rating: 6/10
If you like heavy strategy games and the theme appeals to you, this game has a lot going for it. Reflecting back, I wonder if the fact that it had such a light theme and such heavy mechanics might have skewed my opinion. If the game had the feel of a heavy euro, my expectations of the game might have been very different.