Dungeon Petz (2011) review
Games that reflect real life, real circumstances and real consequences are kind of rare. Although, Dungeon Petz is far removed from reality in regards to its theme, it does have these three elements. It’s a work a placement game that puts you in the role of a shop manager. And if you’ve never been responsible for a shop then maybe you can relate to being responsible for your home and your kids. And maybe your partner.
Theme is bursting out from this box of delight. As the owner of a pet shop that sells demon spawn and all kinds of nasty little critters, you’re going to be seeking out and trying to attract the attention of the Dungeon Lords. These Lords require suitable little monsters that they can fill up their Hero ridden dungeons. Get them to buy your pets over that of your competition and boost your reputation higher than everyone else to win. With the help of your Imp workers, you’ll be directing them into various parts of the local market to pick up supplies, items and also newly hatched pets.
This is one game that stands out from every other work of placement that I have played, as it has an ingenious system for who goes first and the number of actions you can take. In every round you’re going to be sending your Imps out either individually or as groups. The larger the group, the larger the possibility you have of choosing which action you wish to take. Action Spaces are limited but also very unique.. In your home base, and behind a shield, players will be creating groups with their Imps. So you could send each Imp out individually and therefore take as many actions as you have Imps. Or place them in groups, which will almost guarantee the action you want. The larger the group, the more chance you have of going first. This idea adds a wonderful element of deduction and bluffing, in regards to what actions players will possibly take. You may desperately need a new cage to place a new pet into your store. But if you know the other players all need a new cage as well, you may be the player that misses out, unless you send three or maybe 4 Imps out this turn. Even just this small part of the game is a mesmerizing puzzle. Should you jump the queues in the marketplace or wait your turn.
Another nice thing is, when it comes to your turn to place out your Imp or Imps, and all the actions that you wish to do are taken, you can leave your some of your team at home. These little helpers won’t go to waste, as they can clean up the poop left by the pets that you have or maybe get themselves a paper around and earn a little bit of money. On top of that, it’s advantageous to have some imps at home just in case one of your pets get a little too aggressive and tries to escape.
As well as the typical tropes of the game like this (buy them, feed them, clean them, play with them), you also have some other thematic elements. Elements like, if you wish to buy a new cage you will need to send out at least to imps to carry the heavy thing back home. Or if you wish to buy a new pet, the Imp that you send needs to have some money. As I said this ties in with the reality and consequences of real life. Not planing correctly can screw you up. And even if you miss out on the actions that you wish to take in one round, it won’t affect your overall strategy because there are other options that you can take. I have never felt stuck in regards to being short of things to do. Although that may change if I played against a very aggressive player, as they would snatch spaces away from me just just stop me taking them.
Now I’ve yammered on and on about this worker placement thing and how different it is to other worker placements, but that is only one corner of the game. You’ll be nurturing these pets that you bought, conditioning them to win competitions and to hopefully sell them on to a loving and caring evil demon Lord. When all actions have been taken you will have to care of your pets on the next phase. You will collect a number of different coloured cards, depending on what is depicted on the age of your pets. These cards have a variety of conditions for the pets, whether they be hungry, angry, magical, or need to go to the toilet. You will then assign a number of cards, again depending on their age to each pet that you own. Then act out the consequences of those cards. For example, if you were sign food to one of your pets then they need to eat. And depending on their diet you will need to feed them that commodity. Otherwise they get a little sad. Same if you assign a play card to a pet, meaning they wish to be played with. Again if you have no imps at home to play with these pets, they get a little sad. Sadness is a killer, as if they become too sad, they will slip off their mortal coil, from depression. The pets can also get very angry and break out of their cages if you were assigned to many angry cards to them. They can also get sick from sickness cards if they’re in a cage with lots of poop. So balancing out all these cards becomes a nice little puzzle, especially when you have multiple pets at the same time. Which pet get which card.
And assigning these cards are very important in regards to the competitions and selling them pets to willing owners, that are then next phases. Competitions like the angry pet show or a talent show will require players to have a signed certain cards to a pet. Each card will give them points from the judges but they will also lose points if, for example, the judges are looking for poop or sickness or even mutations for magic. Doing well in the competition will boost your stores reputation. Selling a pet to a willing owner works the same as the competition, which means the card you’ve assigned will apply to the customer that enters the shop that round. Forward planning is essential in these instances and luckily due to a timeline on the round track, you can prepare for those customers that will arrive and those competitions too.
Now there is a little bit of downtime as you refresh the board from round to round, adding new pets and placing out food on market stores. And if you’re playing with less than four players, you’ll be moving drone imps that block certain action spaces from round to round. But again a lot of this is thematic. When you replace pets from the main board, any older than three years old will be taken to the abattoir and their reminding flash will be put into the meat market. So it’s not just a case of “it’s the end of this round we need to remove these cubes and move out there”, everything has a thematic reason for why it is moved, taken off the board, added to the board and you will even find yourself commentating and maybe even talking to your pets and your Imps as you play.
The whole game is rounded off with some stunning artwork and some neats little components. For example, the eggs when placed face down and shuffled will become the pets. Turning these over will reveal random pets with a little disc in the interior. This moving disc will show the age of your pet and the older your pet gets, the more its value increases as well as the number of cards that you will draw. Having more cards for a creator we'll make them more troublesome. This can lead to some funny storytelling as creatures may have very strong magical powers which new take them and teleport them to another dimension. Or they just become pooping machines that your poor Imps have to clean up behind. And the of variety of special powers and different needs as well as the possibility of multiplying your score are all available in different facets in the market. And there is no end to the amount of fun that can be had even just naming your pets.
Now you may have noticed that in all my writing here I have not mentioned that players do this or players move that etc. This is because the rules of the game are in the theme and vice a versa. And you'll find yourself forgetting things like the market phase and replacing it with your own catchphrase like “let's go shopping.” But the game is not on rainbows and butterflies, as we are dealing with pets which will grow in a dungeon. You may find yourself getting lost in your first few games. Everything you see in the game is of images and icons which will guide you through. Meaning that you will have to pull up the rulebook from time to time to double check things, as the iconography takes a while to digest. And while there are a majority of very large chunks of Rules that are easy to retain, there are also some tiny rules of slightly insignificant things that you will need to keep checking. But eventually you will pick it up and play will start streaming fluidly maybe on your third or fourth playthrough.
This game is the ultimate worker placement game of all time. It's funny as well as fun with its humorous and well-written rulebook. Plus the really cute and slightly sadistic artwork which accompanies the dungeon Lords and the pets. The components comprise of different materials from a wooden score me pool two plastic imps and standard tokens and cards, but everything looks stunning on the table. We love this game so much that we slightly upgraded it with some special tokens that resemble poop instead of brown cubes. And I have already invested in the expansion, Dark Alleys but have never gotten around to playing with it. Although we have added the adorable pets in the expansion into our base game. Maybe one day …
Technical score 9.5 out of 10
Stunning visuals, fantastic theme, excellent strategy and bags of laughter, all in this one box. I can only fault some of the components that are used to attach the disc to the egg, as they were missing. The upgraded components, if included in the game would make this a 10 out of 10.
BGG Score 9 out of 10
(excellent - very much enjoy playing)
This may be unfair as I have only ever played this game 14 times and only with two players, but every game has been a challenge and a barrel full of laughs. Even young children will pick this up with some storytelling, due in part to the thematic ideas attached to the mechanisms. And every game was a memorable experience with my daughter.
Combined score 9.25 out of 10
Now it's over to you...
"Dungeon Petz is a super original game, both in its theme but also in its mechanics. After the excellent Dungeon Lord, Vlaada delivers us once again a true nugget. Be careful not to be fooled by the cute illustrations and his Tamagotchi theme. Dungeon Petz is a challenging game. You will need to play several times before you start to master the beast.
Chance holds an important place but goes well with the quirky and offbeat theme.
You’ll feel affection for the small critters and almost regret selling them to the highest bidder ... or make them unhappy for lack of good care.
Passing the discovery of omnipresent humor (whether in the game or in the rules), it remains a game of management, rather sturdy but with an unpredictable dose of luck. Luck that can be more or less controlled when you start to know the game. Dungeon Petz is an excellent game that has suffered from the comparison with his big brother Dungeon Lord at its release. But the two are quite different. The theme is extremely well done. Making animals happy while respecting buyers' demands is not easy.
A very good game, a Vlaada title from his great era, a challenging game but very pleasant."