Ok, but does it blend?

That is the question in your mind after seeing all the components of the new Dungeon Saga : Dwarf Kings Quest game in my earlier post ().

But before we can play, we have to know the rules, and how are those?

First, the game comes with a quick start guide.
Quick Start Guide
The QSG is well written and like it's name, is quick to read.  8 pages, glossy full color paper with pictures through out.  If you follow the instructions (something I often find hard to do, wanting to skip ahead (such as punching out everything before even looking at this book, and seeing the highlighted section saying you only needed the tiles and counters in the red sections to play.  Ok, which ones were those again?).  However it lays out, illustrates and explains everything.

The game has two 'learning' adventures, labeled A & B (as opposed to the 'real' adventures numbered 1-8) that are designed more to teach you the game.  These are not really balanced, in that these are designed for the heroes to win, usually quite easily.

The QSG walks you through the setup of the adventure A, as well as the first round of play.  IT starts with Orlaf moving and fighting, highlighting where to find the necessary information for each of these steps and how to resolve the actions.  It then lets a player actually do take Rordin's turn.  It then spends a full page describing the overlords turn, including command, raising the dead and command cards.  One thing to note - raising the dead is a special type of action only available in Dwarf Kings Quest (and the Return of Valinor expansion).  If you are using other overlords (such as in the Infernal Crypts expansion) then they will have other actions instead, as well as other command cards.

Once you have finished your first game with adventure A, it then has you set up adventure B, which introduces shooting and casting spells, doors, magical wards and breaking away.

The QSG then ends with a quick introduction to Adventure 1, as well as a nice illustrated paragraph on reposing the miniatures when needed.
The cover of the rulebook is a nice picture of the painted miniatures.  Glossy and full color like the QSG, it is a whopping 24 pages, not only full of illustrations a lot of breakouts that show examples for the rules.

The book has a detailed list of all the components in the game along with pictures to exactly identify each of them.  Each phase of the game, from setting up through the turns is detailed in the book.

It is more of a booklet, being fairly short and the covers are barely heavier paper than the interior.  However it really fits a board game.  It is not the huge tome that you get for miniature games with dozens of pages of background, though there is a little in it.  The quickstart rules do say to not even open this up until you have done the first couple of adventures though.

My first read through did not reveal any blaring errors.  Simple (yet not simplistic) and well laid out. It has a table of contents, but no index.  This is actually small enough that I don't think that is needed at all, though some would complain.

The mechanics of the game are such that you won't need much more than the quick reference on the back cover after a game or two.  You move, then take an action.  Fight, shoot, cast spells.  Most sections take about half a page with examples - the base rules are not complex.  This is intended as a first 'serious' game and playable by families including both kids and grandparents.  You do not need any experience to play the game, and that is great.  There does appear to be a bit more tactical depth to it however, so the replay value seems high.  I think it is great that the first expansion is the Adventurer's companion - which has everything to take this from the simple single threaded dungeon quest to larger custom campaigns, using more and more models as they come out.

Quest Book
Beneath the rules is the quest book.  Note the rulebook just says Dungeon Saga - each of the individual campaigns has its own sub-heading - this, of course, is The Dwarf King's Quest.  In later expansions I expect to see a similar campaign book with the title of that expansion.  Same materials and quality as the rulebook.  It has the standard warning seen in so many other products that utilize a game master v. players to not go beyond this page if you are going to play the heroes, because a lot of the fun is NOT knowing what is around that next corner.

Yes, I'm a Star Trek geek as  well.
Each quest give the tile layout and furniture, door and monster placement for the start of the game.  It also specifies the number of overlord cards to use - these no only give the overlord a few more options, but add a timing mechanic - the overlord draws one additional card at the end of his turn.  If there are no more cards left to draw, then the adventurers lose and must retreat to try again.  Each scenario also has the hero victory condition, and any special rules.  As an additional feature, each quest also has a section on tactics. This is useful if the heroes do not win on the first try - it gives them some advice on how to beat the scenario without completely giving it away.  This is intended to only be read to the players after they have failed an adventure, to give them a bit of a boost.

The timing mechanic give the game a nice sense of urgency, you can start to feel the time about to run out when the overlord gets down to the last few cards.  The overlord is kept from being too powerful by randomly shuffling the cards and then dealing out the appropriate number to use per game.

The quest book as 2 'learning quests', and then 8 full adventures.  Each adventure has a slightly different setup for the heroes, to represent them gaining experience and finding useful items as they plunge ever deeper into the depths.  Eventually the heroes are instructed to flip over their player cards to the "Legendary" side, and now they have even more power for the strongest foes.

A major part of the fun is for the players to have to reveal each section of the adventure as they go - they do not know what is beyond the door until they open it.  As such I don't want to go into detail on each adventure.

One thing that Mantic has done is to make beta tests of their games public, so people can play and give feedback before the final product.  They did this with an early version of DS - providing pictures of the layouts for adventures A, B and 1, as well as cards you could print out.  With the aid of some extra dice, bones figures and old D&D tokens, I ran through the beta adventures a few times with my sons.

I thought it might be interesting for people to see what the beta looked like vs. the final product.  The beta did not have any miniatures - so I dug into my box of Reaper bones to find some as well as some very old paper tokens from a D&D starter set (I believe it was for 3rd edition) to use for bone piles.  The cards and maps were printed out and pasted together (for the maps).

So here is adventure A - Journey from the West - beta
red dice are for wounds
and compare it to the final boxed set version
This on ended up being very similar
This scenario changed very little from the beta.  It is fairly straightforward introduction to moving and fighting.

Adventure B, Journey from the East, underwent more changes.  I do recall the heroes losing this one a few times.
going against two archers was a little tough at this point
Final version from the box set.  More movement, more doors, one less skeletal archer.
more doors, and the heroes are now required to move!
In the beta, it was far too easy for the overlord to just keep shooting at the wizard, who never moved as he and the elf started next to the door he had to open (I believe it took 4 attempts).  Since the scenario had the characters pinned down, it was easy enough to take advantage of that.  The released version actually requires the heroes to move a bit, and seems a bit more balanced.

The final adventure 1.  Spoilers - it has what is beyond the doors.
All the heroes started clustered together
This one changed quite a bit.  Be forewarned - the first two 'learning' adventures are mean for the heroes to win.  With this one they will have to actually work at it a bit.
now they enter from different entrances, and have to meet up in the middle to get through the final door.  Plus a chest and table.
The beta had all four heroes starting together, and was fairly easy for them to completely clean out the first room before opening either door.  In the released version the pairs of heroes have to meet up and get through the final room.  I played it this weekend, and it was a lot of fun.  The heroes won on the very last turn with several having taken some wounds.  Tim played the heroes, and he quickly went from thinking this would be a cake walk to realizing just how tactical the game was, and pulling out the win at the last minute.

I also ran Adventure 2 twice as well.  The first time the heroes lost, due to a lucky card draw for the overlord (me), and hitting the very situation which the tactical advice warns about.

Adventure 3 is more difficult for the heroes than it looks - without spoiling it remember that teamwork is a key, and heroes have to protect each other.

The remaining six adventures continue to increase the difficulty, but in turn the heroes are growing more powerful and getting abilities and equipment.  The last two adventures are played with the heroes at the "Heroic" level (by flipping the hero card).

The quest book also has rules for running the game as a campaign as well as experience to allow the heroes to gain a bit more power (much like Dreadball allowing coaches to earn extra 1-time use dice, so experience here can allow the same thing).  The campaign is simple in that the heroes have a total of 15 tries to get through all the adventures in order - so they can fail a few.  If they have not beat the final adventure by the 15th game, then they lose.   It also has some extra goals that can be used to up the difficulty of the game (shortening the time for each game, or setting additional goals).

It is also exciting to know that there are many expansions on the way for this as well.  The Adventurer's Companion has cards and rules for creating your own characters as well as creating your own scenarios.  The "Return of Valinor" expansion continues the story from this set, introducing both the hero Valinor and his daemonic, undead nemesis, Ba'al.  Plus the upcoming "Destiny of Kings" expansion for Kings of War also follows the events here, but allows you to play another campaign where you combat an army of the undead raised by Mortibris (and one of the scenarios there takes the four bosses from this game and has them exploring a dwarven hold being protected by Rordin).  Plus there are three more expansions on the way, including orcs, abyssals and a dragon!

Because it is all fun and games . . .