Review – Dungeon Petz

2 - 4 Players, Aged 13+ with a 90 minute playing time 

Dungeon Petz - The box artwork
A review copy of Dungeon Petz, designed by Vlaada Chvatil of Dungeon Lords, Pictomania (reviewed here) and Galaxy Trucker fame, was kindly provided by Czech Games Edition (CGE)

This is a game that was, in large part, created because Vlaada had enjoyed working with David Cochard on Dungeon Lords so much that he wanted to find another opportunity for them to work together. The game, dedicated to Vlaada’s wife, is one which Paul Grogan (one of my Essen travelling companions) was heavily involved with. Put these factors together with the amusing theme, stunning artwork and quality components and this is a game that begs to be got out of the box and played.

I think the following set the tone for the humour of the game and a feel for the considerations to be weighed up:
Dungeon Petz - One of the players screens
“The dungeon lay in shambles, the dungeon lord was vanquished, and the spare pick-axe supply was running low. It was a tough day to be an imp. As the imps trudged back to town, thinking about where they could find another job, one of them said, “You know what this town needs? A pet shop.” A pet shop for dungeon lords? What a great idea! Original! Yeah, and no one else is doing it! No competition! We’ll be rich! We’re natural entrepreneurs! Yeah, natural manures! And now you have opened the first pet shop in town. Right next door to the other first pet shop in town. Across the street from two more. Your impish heart swells with optimism, for you know that your sound business acumen, your attention to detail, and your long-handled manure shovel will give your pet shop a reputation that stands head, shoulders, and pointy ears above the rest. You can’t keep a good imp down!“
Dungeon Petz - The part of a players Burrow board showing the imp family home
As a Social Gamer I love games in many forms but have few regular opponents prepared to play a game of this complexity. Dungeon Petz builds on the theme introduced in CGE’s earlier game Dungeon Lords (which is described in the rules as “designed for hard core gamers”) so it is no surprise that the intellectual gymnastics necessary to balance all the choices and decisions in Dungeon Petz is of a similar level – so at best your brain feels as if it has had a strenuous workout, at worst it feels frazzled!

What follows is an overview of the review copy (kindly provided by CGE) of this game broken down into 5 sections: The Game ComponentsSetting Up The GameHow To Play The GameWhat Did We Think? and finally Who Do We Think Will Like It?. So if you don't want to read the whole review scan down to the heading that interests you.

The Game Components
There are lots of them and all are of a high quality. The artwork is superb and amusing with illustrations everywhere of imps struggling to control their pets or rise to the business challenges involved in maintaining these scary creatures.

The pets themselves unusually come in two parts and are clipped together allowing the underside to rotate and so reveal ‘Needs’, represented by coloured bars, as they grow older.

The game centres around a number of boards:
  • The Central board represents the local town, with food market, boarder control, exhibition tents, pet corrals, artefact tents, a hospital (it’s a dangerous business for the imps!), an area to sell your pets and an area selling more cages and cage add-ons.
  • Dungeon Petz - The Central Board
  • The Progress Board contains areas for the extended imp families who may come and join the family business; exhibitions tiles that show the criteria on which the pets will be judged; the Dungeon Lords Tiles that show what type of pets they want to buy and finally what food will be available in any one turn. Later in the game there may be additional meat tokens, after all imps have to find some use for pets that nobody wanted to buy! 
  • Dungeon Petz - The Progress Board
  • Each player has two small boards:
    • One is the imps’ Burrow with specific areas to store food (as you would expect meat and vegetables are stored separately and have different deterioration rates), magical artefacts, gold and obviously a living area! This board also has a number of player aids. 
    • Dungeon Petz - A players Burrow Board
    • The second is the Display board where up to 4 caged pets can be kept; this comes pre-prepared with one cage and pits for 3 more cages. 
    • Dungeon Petz - The Pet Display Board
In addition there are figures / cards / tokens for food, suffering, mutations, manure (worth noting that cleaning out a cage containing one of these pets in it is not like cleaning out the hamster cage), artefacts, minions, cages, cage add-ons, gold, imps, potions and finally 4 decks of Needs cards (which come in 4 colours; Red = anger, Yellow = playfulness, Green = hunger and Purple = magic).

I did say there were a lot of components! 

Setting Up The Game
Each player takes two player boards, a coloured Burrow and a Pet Display board, two minions and ten of their colour imps. They also get to place one manure token in the cage on their Pet Display Board and receive one Needs card from each deck.

Dungeon Petz - The player Imps, Minions and Achievement tiles
Set the Progress and Central Board in the centre of the table with the 4 decks of Need Cards shuffled and placed face down with space for a 4 corresponding discard stacks. Nearby place the Suffering, Manure and Mutation tokens.

Progress Board – Shuffle the Exhibition Tiles and place 4 in their allotted spaces turning the first one up and placing the remainder back in the box. Shuffle the Dungeon Lords tiles and place 4 in their allotted spaces turning the first one face up. Lastly take 4 imps from each player and place one on each of the allotted spaces. These represent the distant relatives that want to come and join the entrepreneurial family business – the family may have omitted to mention the dangers involved in looking after these interesting pets.
Dungeon Petz - The progress board as it might be setup at the end of turn 2
Central Board – Select the side of the board corresponding to the number of players. Place 3 random pets in the bottom part of the pet corral revealing the first two coloured bars to represent their age. Select one more pet and place in the upper part of the pet corral, revealing 3 bars as this is a slightly older pet. On the left of the board place 3 random Cages and two cage Add-ons. On the right of the board place the Potion cards face down by the hospital and the imps on stretchers! Above this area is the market. Place the meat (red tokens) in the lower shop, the vegetables (green tokens) in the upper shop and place 2 veg, 1 meat and 1 veg and 2 meat of the respective stalls in front of the shops. Also in this area are the tents where imps can buy Magical Artefact’s – place one token face up on each tent, stack the remaining tokens face down beside the board. Gold (yellow tokens) is placed in the bank, opposite the hospital.

Finally place one player Minion on the score track, on zero and the other by the exhibition tents again on zero.
Dungeon Petz - The player Minions
Pick a start player.

Playing The Game
The game is played over 5 rounds of six phases or 6 rounds for 2 / 3 players. The player who, through judicious choice of pets and tender loving care of these vicious beasties, builds the highest reputation (points score) wins.

Things to consider are what pets are available and are they likely to do well if they compete for the Competition tiles visible. If the answer is ‘yes’ then you will need to consider what will you need to acquire to keep the pet in tip top condition. Later in the game the Dungeon Lords start to arrive looking to buy pets. The skill is discerning the best combination of options as it may be possible to win without winning any competitions but instead sell a number of pets to the Dungeon Lords.

The activities in each of the six phases are highlighted on the players Burrow board on the left hand flap (students of iconography will immediately understand this):

Phase 1 – Setup
Consists of three steps, Collect income - the imps’ relations in Dungeon Lords are siphoning off a little of their masters gold and sending it onto their relatives in Dungeon Petz to help them build the family business; Reveal new information on the second and subsequent turns involves turning over the left most Exhibition and Dungeon Lords tiles. Given the timing of these revelations it allows players, in theory at least, to plan their activities with a view to what pet will do well in the Exhibitions and or will appeal to the Dungeon Lords customers; Add new stuff i.e. pets, food, artefacts cages and cage add-ons.

Phase 2 – Shopping
Dungeon Petz - The Imps and their gold grouped and ready to go shopping
Consists of two steps; Organise your shopping teams of imps and gold based on what you want to buy, how many resources (imps and gold) you can afford to commit to any one retail target and in the case of pets’ the need to send at least one imp with at least one gold and for cages the need to send at least two imps because they are so heavy! The second step is to send the teams out to the local town; it is a worker placement game after all. The largest shopping teams are placed first (which may or may not be the start player), then the second largest etc. The retail opportunities are food, artefacts, cages, cage add-ons, pets or more imps alternatively imps can visit the hospital, book time on the pet sales platform, influence (manipulate) exhibition judges.!

If you have acquired Cages, Add-ons or pets you can either place them straight onto your Pet Display Board or you can wait to see how your other teams of imps do and do this in the next phase.

Phase 3 – Needs Cards
Dungeon Petz - The Needs decks
Consists of 3 steps; arrange cages and pets – whilst pets can be moved between cages, the cages and cage add-ons once placed remain there unless you discard them; draw needs cards for each of the visible needs (coloured bars along bottom edge of your pet) on your pets; assign Needs Cards for visible needs of your pet/s ensuring that where necessary you have a way of meeting the Needs.
Dungeon Petz - The Yellow playfulness Needs cards
It is important to note that within the game whilst the colour of the Needs card (its back) will correspond to the need indicated on the pet that it’s front will show one of a number of requirements e.g. whilst you may be given a Yellow i.e. playful need card it may represent a need to play or to be fed, a magical need that needs to be suppressed, a need to poop or a risk of sickness / disease. The values of the various needs cards and their distribution through the 4 different decks are detailed on the screen attached to the players Burrow Board.

Phase 4 – Showing Off
Dungeon Petz - A players Display board with a pet (Direbunny), a cage Addon and 4 Needs cards
There are two steps to this phase; Evaluate the pets’ needs i.e. the players reveal which cards they have assigned to their pets and how they meet or avoid that need. Failure to meet a pets’ needs is not good! They may escape, mutate, acquire suffering tokens, potentially die and maim members of your imp family. Having hopefully met the needs of your pets then you can then go onto enter them in a show and thereby seek to enhance your reputation.

Phase 5 – Business
There are three steps to this phase; Doing Business means selling pets to Dungeon Lords either from the public platform for the biggest boost to your reputation or on the black market. Discarding the used Needs cards (you will be left with 4 Needs Cards to carry over into the next round) and using imps who did not go shopping – they can clean out empty cages or those containing pets if they have acquired the Long Handled Poop shovel (magical artefact) and any are still sat around in the Burrow they are assumed to have earned 1 gold each from working in the local town.

Phase 6 – Aging
There are three steps to this phase; age your pets revealing more needs (life doesn’t get easier in this game); age any food left in the food larders in your Burrow Board; bring your imps back to your Burrow for a rest.

What Did We Think?
Put simply I liked it, however my social gaming playmates found it too complex for their tastes. The game requires you to juggle many alternatives and does not have a high degree of player interaction. These are both aspects to a game that lessen interest for our social gamers. An evening spent playing this caused dreams about feeding monster pets etc for my wife!
Dungeon Petz - The imp hospital and Potion cards
The theme clearly builds on Dungeon Lords although there is no particular benefit to having played this game first. The artwork and components are superb and support the levity of the theme. For myself I was left wanting to play the game more, to explore the different strategies and wrestle with balancing the various options.

The combination of the number of pets, Cages, Add-ons, Exhibition and Dungeon Lord Tiles and the fact that not all of the pets, Dungeon Lords or Exhibitions will be used in any one game means that this game has bags of re-playability and no single winning strategy.

Part of the humour in the theme is around the exhibitions and the dungeon lord buyers and whilst they are both given names in the rules these are unlikely to be referred to much after the first few games. So the tiles are likely to be seen purely as point scoring vehicle where the humour of the persona of the dungeon lord or the name of the pet exhibition has been lost.
Dungeon Petz - The pet corral area with 4 pets
A point one of our players had some confusion over was that when during the game the Needs Cards are played in combination with your pets the cards represent a need that will need to be met rather than how the need is met. So if you played a Yellow backed Need Card that has hunger on it you need to have meet or veg, as appropriate, available to feed your pet not a toy / way of distracting amusing your pet. In this example if the Need wasn’t met then the pet goes hungry and so gets a Suffering token.

Who Will It Work For?
To hard core gamers this may seem lightweight however as previously stated it definitely didn’t have the right balance for our social gamers.

If you like medium weight strategy games with lots to consider then this game may well appeal, particularly if you are a fan of fantasy themed games, or Vlaada Chvatil’s other games. With its central focus on the care for pets that are growing steadily larger hungrier, angrier yet at times more playful then it may appeal to parents of teenagers! More seriously those who enjoy a developmental dynamic to their games should take a closer look at this game and maybe people brought up on Tamogotchi’s!

Quiet obviously if you enjoyed Dungeon Lords then this is a game made for you. It presents a different set of challenges and similar if brighter artwork.
More images of the game components can be seen here.

If you liked this review then other games I have reviewed can be seen here

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