Saturday, February 16, 2008

Board Game Reviews - The Order of the Stick: The Dungeon of Dorukan

Welcome to another week of the Game Dork's discussions of gaming.

This week, I introduce an activity that I expect to do on occasion: board game reviews. To start with, I was thinking once about the way that people review movies, and it occurred to me that what these reviews are doing is saying, "I liked this movie because..." or "I didn't like this movie because..." but that does nothing to let me know if I'll like the movie! Shouldn't we find a more objective way of reviewing things that will actually tell a reader if that reader will like it? So I have endeavoured to do just that.

Thus, I present to you, my system for reviewing board games. Hopefully, this will enable anyone who reads to decide whether or not they would like the game, without having to rely solely on my opinion. Using this system, each game will be rated on the following charts (you can always click on the graphic to see a larger version of it that's easier to read):
Strategy and Randomness are rated from 0 to 6. A 0 means the rated aspect plays no part in determining the game's outcome; and a 6 means that it is the only factor that determines the game's outcome. Complexity is also rated from 0 to 6; a 0 means that it's so simple a six-year-old can play it, a 3 means any adult should have no trouble playing, and a 6 means that you'll need to refer to the rulebook frequently. Humour can be rated as 'None,' meaning the game is not meant to be funny, or it may have one or more of the following: Derivative (meaning the humour is based on an outside source, such as a game based on a comedy film), Implicit (meaning that the game's components are funny, such as humourous card text), or Inherent (meaning that the actions the players take are funny). Attractiveness has nine possible ratings. Ideal: the game is beautiful and makes game play easier. Pretty: The design is beautiful and neither eases nor impedes game play. Nice: The design is beautiful but makes game play harder than necessary. Useful: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but eases gameplay. Average: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Useless: The design is neither beautiful nor ugly, but makes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Utilitarian: The design is ugly, but eases gameplay. Ugly: The design is ugly, and neither eases nor impedes gameplay. Worthless: The design is ugly, andmakes gameplay harder than it needs to be. Average Length of Game Play describes how long an average game will probably last, give or take.

So this week, we start with The Order of the Stick Adventure Game: The Dungeon of Dorukan.Strategy: 3
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 5
Humour: Derivative, implicit, inherent
Attractiveness: Average* (see below)
Expected Length: 3 hours or more* (see below)

Fans of the online webcomic "The Order of the Stick" can rejoice, for all their obsessions can come to life in this game. This set contains the base game (there have been hints of expansions, though none yet exist) in which you play one of the six main characters: Roy (the intelligent human fighter), Haley (they attractive and greedy human rogue), Elan (the stupid but attractive human bard), Durkon (the dwarven cleric of Thor), Vaarsuvius (the intentionally sexually-ambiguous elven wizard who loves to hear the sound of his or her voice), or Belkar (the evil halfling ranger with deep-seated emotional problems).

Unlike in the comic, you are not on a team in this game, but rather, each of you is out for himself. Gameplay consists of exploring a dungeon, which is accomplished by laying out oversized cards that represent rooms. The dungeon can have a number of levels, determined at the beginning of the game (this is decided upon by all players, depending on how long they want the game to last). In any given room, you can look for stairs, which enable you to go to the next level down, until you reach the last level, which is called "Xykon's Lair." Gameplay continues until someone finds and kills Xykon, at which point, the dungeon collapses, and all players flee the dungeon. Once everyone is out, the game ends, and you count up your bragging rights. You earn bragging rights in several ways: possessing loot that you Drool Over (indicated by having your character's icon on the loot card), learning shticks (the special abilities and combat techniques that you can use), being the one to defeat Xykon, and being speedy in fleeing the collapsing dungeon.

Movement and exploration in the dungeon is straightforward, but combat can be very complex. Mostly this is because it is likely (especially on deeper and more difficult levels) to have many monsters in combat. Add to that the fact that there are a great many abilities that the monsters can have, many of which can be fairly complex. Most notably, there is an entire category of abilities called "Support," which gives a monster a certain bonus multiplied times the number of monsters of a certain class on the same level.

I've played the game twice now, and support abilities still hurt my head.

Other than that, the game is a lot of fun, partly for me because I am such a fan of the comic, and the game delivers a lot of that same style of humour. Those who aren't fans will still find plenty to laugh at, but some of the jokes just won't make as much sense. Much of the humour is implicit, in that the cards themselves are funny. However, there is a lot of inherent humour as well, as players can use "Screw This!" cards to alter the course of events, often in hilarious ways.

The attractiveness of the game is rated at Average. This is in part due to the nature of the comic. The author, one Rich Burlew, draws a stick figure (sort of) comic, because it adds to the humour of the comic. He does this on purpose, not out of laziness or inability. The game captures that style of artwork perfectly, which means that the art in the game will not be what you would call attractive. But since that's the point of the art in the comic, this cannot be held against it.

The design could be a bit more effective as far as game play goes, however. The oversized dungeon room cards are hard to keep in order, especially on a small table. Since they are so large, they take up a lot of room, especially if there is a lack of space in the play area. Of course, making them smaller would limit the amount of room to work with, since often, you'll have two or more players, several monsters, and a large stack of loot in any given room. Another problem is the very small size of loot cards, which is only bad because it makes it very hard to shuffle them. Especially since there are so many.

The last thing I'm going to say about this game is that the expected time of play listed above is for the short game, in which there are only four levels to the dungeon. The rulebook states that the short version should take two to three hours, but in my experience, you can't get away with less than three hours. And heaven help the poor fools who decide to try playing the "Weekend Killer" version listed as an option...

Now, as you may have noticed from the nature of my rating system, any reviews that I write are intended to be as objective as possible. Obviously, my opinion will play a role in what I say about a game, but I try to keep the description of the game itself as objective as I can. That way, even if I review a game that I do not like, you'll be able to decide for yourself whether you want to try it.

So, with that in mind, hopefully this review has given you a decent overview that will allow you to decide for yourself if you want to try the game. Please let me know in the comments below how I did, so that I can continue to improve in the future! And until next week, I bid you a fond

Game on!

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