Review based on the Rules-Play-Culture model.
Victory condition: The players are merchants who run a scam business in agreement with the dungeon’s Dragon (they call him “the President”). The merchant who makes more money and pleases President Dragon the most wins.
The merchants sell weapons and other equipment to the heroes who enter the dungeon in pursuit of fame and treasures. The heroes are bound to die and leave their equipment in the dungeon. After each season, the merchants rush in the dungeon, place goblins and an ork in its rooms to make life tougher for the next heroes and collect the equipment abandoned besides the corpses of defeated heroes, in order to sell it again to the next fools.
The two phases, that feel completely different, alternate: dungeon, sale, dungeon, sale, dungeon, sale, end.
Gameplay of the dungeon phase: You run through the rooms of the dungeon, try and place your influence tokens (goblins etc.) in the rooms where there is the kind of stuff heroes are expected to buy, collect some bonuses and then somebody announces that their merchant is leaving the dungeon and everybody is in a hurry not to leave it too late.
After this token spree, the cards with the items and magic spells are given to the players according to their influence and their exit order. Who performed best in the dungeon part gets the best cards.
Gameplay of the sale phase: it’s all automatic because the heroes are greedy and buy the cheapest item of each category of equipment they need, in the order displayed on their card and known in advance by everybody. Spells may change the situation a bit, and sometimes very much, for instance by inverting the heroes’ preferences, making them utterly uninterested in a specific category etc. Some of the most carefully devised business strategies are crushed by the events while some others can finally deliver.
It’s a fast, fun game that makes people laugh and swear. The mechanics are not obvious but they are not the Knizia kind. If you judge it as if it were Funkenschlag, I understand why you give it a 5, but it is not designed to be the typical German game. The point is that everyone’s plans are demolished by everybody else’s and you end up having very little control in the final result not because of intrinsic randomness but due to very strong interaction between players. If the purpose of the Italian authors was the creation of this gameplay experience, they deserve a higher grade.
The rules of the dungeon phase are constructed to support the experience of being in a rush to elbow your way into the dungeon rooms and pull out as soon as possible. The rules of the sale phase are constructed to support the comical collapse of everyone’s plans.
The components look good, it’s cartoonish fantasy at its best and the crappy equipment is hilarious. There’s a junk deck of cards that represents the cheapest stuff in each category which is a decisive element because by selling it you spoil the business of the others and get a special reward by the Dragon for impairing the heroes. My favourite is one of the junk cards for the Armour category: a carnival mask.
Special mention to the thematic side notes of the rulebook, a touch of narrative genius. The whole dungeon scam is described as a masterpiece of capitalist greed, organised crime, with a touch of labour casualisation.
The game is a humorous take on the absurd economy of the most typical DnD scenarios. Why is all this loot being collected in underground rooms and tunnels? What are those erratic monsters doing there? How can such a waste of resources and personnel self-sustain? What’s the purpose in life of dragons, creatures we are told by Gary Gygax etc. to be extremely intelligent? We have an answer now.
In its own gamey way, this is social critique.
PS: Yes, I got the cards with the defective back side (apparently this does not happen anymore but some of the first boxes produced in 2014 had this annoying problem). I dropped them an email and they provided me immediately with a complete new deck, their apologies and an invitation to visit their office and play with them! I wish all the publishers were so kind when they do a small mistake.
This review was originally published on my BoardGameGeek profile in 2014. It was re-edited in 2023 to fit the format of the Rules-Play-Culture board game analysis series on this website.