I was really impressed by the demo I played of Dungeon Digger at Games Expo, a tile laying game of Dungeon building and management. The game has a charming style, which let it get away with its foibles in the demo. I bought the game as it was on release at Expo and I have finally had a chance to sit down and play through it post con. Let’s delve into what I think.

It’s a good looking game Dungeon Digger, with an art style that really evokes a humorous underground kingdom full of weird denziens.

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For some reason I don’t have shots of the 5 player game, here are some from Expo

Anyway, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. In Dungeon Digger you are competing dungeon overlords, Underlords?, looking to build the best dungeon. Ostensibly you are doing this through laying tiles on a hex based board, joining up rooms and moving your ‘Stooges’ around to build rooms, conquer other players complexes and steal their gold. In actuality what you are doing is setting up chains of actions that will let you do more with your limited supply of Tyranny points, which are how many Actions you get on your turn, and score precious points that will win you the game.

Tyranny points drive the game, instructing your stooges, and why not call them minions folks, to do various things as well as being used to mulligan the tiles you have available to build, an essential churn to get you those precious room tiles. In the basic version of the game you are starting out with only 2 of these precious points, and you will need to use them as efficiently as you can to build you own subterranean kingdom.

You can command your stooges to run about the place, build rooms and bring down rocks in the way of other players etc. They can move into other Underlords territory and fight, capturing territory as they go, but unfortunately they don’t have rocks to plant a flag in, just other stooges! Poor stooges.

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Poor stooge!

Let’s come back to your paltry two actions. At the core of the game is a game not so much about hex laying as about setting up the chains to make the most of your actions. For instance the kitchen tile once built gives you an extra action whenever you build another room, the type of action that you are allowed to build being based on the number of kitchens you own. Various other rooms give you extra actions depending on other actions like building a corridor. Simple enough you would think.

Problems start to arise, and the downtime between turns also increases, as you introduce free actions from all sorts of different sources. There can be a quite a large number of nested triggers on a turn and working out exactly what you can do and how many times can be a bit of headache. The recommended way to keep track of these extra actions didn’t really work for us either, so we ended up using the summary sheets and some spare stooge counters.

Although there is ostensibly a system for fighting and capturing other people’s territory we started so far apart on the 5-6 player board that we saw very little of that side of play. I saw some of it in my Games Expo demo, but that is because you start a hell of a lot closer and I do feel that the shape of the board is miscalculated in some player numbers.

We muddled our way through a 5 player game, helped a little by the fact I had played a demo at Expo. The rulebook is not very good at all I’m afraid, and I do plan to reach out to the guys at Tin Hat Games and offer my services in writing up a second edition. On top of that the summary sheets, which are packed with text, don’t always summarise very well and we were jumping between them and the rulebook a lot. The summary sheets are not great either and contradicted the rules in some places.

There are a load of extras in Dungeon Digger that I haven’t played with yet: heroes running around the complexes, dragons at the centre, a more competitive mode that moves the starting tiles closer (something I am keen to try) and powers from the individual Underlords you can choose. That’s lots of lovely icing to the cake but the problem lies in that the sponge has come out a bit half baked and I don’t know if it’s ready to be finished off.

I do think there is a good game at the core of Dungeon Digger and I really wanted to find myself recommending it to you, but in its current state it feels a little unfinished. One of my friends put it well. If someone had turned up at my playtest group with this it would have felt really polished, if needing some work. As it stands it feels like a product that needs a bit more time in the oven.