A review of Doodle Dungeon, a reverse dungeon crawl, flip and write board game featuring the fantastic artwork of John Kovalic.
First, you draft cards to build your dungeon, then you plot the path the hero takes in an opponent’s dungeon, and finally, you play through the hero’s path through your dungeon. Will your monsters defeat the hero and protect your treasure?
Disclosure: Thanks to Pegasus Spiele for sending us a review copy of Doodle Dungeon to check out. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What do you get with Doodle Dungeon?
Doodle Dungeon was designed by Ulrich Blum and features the fantastic artwork of John Kovalic best known for his Dork Tower comic and work on the Munchkin card game. This is a flip and write game for two to four players with games taking at least an hour.
My copy of Doodle Dungeon comes from Pegasus Spiele who published it in 2020. The game features a very reasonable MSRP of $29.99 US
In Doodle Dungeon, you become the new owner of a brand new but very empty dungeon, which needs to be filled up with things like walls, monsters, traps and treasures. You start by drafting cards to add features to your dungeon as well as building up an arsenal for when the heroes attack. The path these heroes take is determined by your opponents, so you better be clever when building. Once the heroes paths are set you play through a series of encounters finding out how well the heroes fare. Will your monsters and traps defeat the invader or will they get away with their lives and your precious treasure?
For a look at the components included with this game, check out our Doodle Dungeon Unboxing Video on YouTube.
Doodle Dungeon comes in a surprisingly large box, much larger than I expected when looking at the game online. The reason for this size is just how big the pad of player sheets that you will be drawing on is. The sheets feature a rather large grid with lots of room in each square to draw dungeon features as well as an area up top for tracking what upgrades you have added to your dungeon.
The rules are very clear and concise, featuring a great summary of play on the back of the book. You also get a copy of the “DuBul” which details the dungeon drawing restrictions and also explains what the various card effects are.
The game also comes with four wooden hero meeples, four ten-sided dice, a deck of cards to draft from, a score sheet pad (which is also used for noting where you hid your treasure), pencils, an eraser and a pencil sharpener which doubles as the start player token.
Finally, there’s something I totally didn’t expect, a set of stencils you can use when doing the drawing part of the game. This is something I would love to see in more flip/roll and write games. The stencils really help to capture the look of John’s artwork even for people with little artistic talent.
I have no complaints about any of the components here. I always appreciate when a writing based game comes with everything you need, including a sharpener and an eraser.
An overview of how to play Doodle Dungeon:
A game of Doodle Dungeon is played over three phases.
In the first phase, everyone draws their dungeon. This is done by drafting cards and then drawing the features on the bottom of the cards onto your dungeon sheet. Note these same cards are also going to be used later when trying to defend your dungeons, so paying attention to what a card does as well as what features you get to draw with it is a big part of the strategy in this game.
Features on each card must be drawn in order left to right and you must draw a feature if you can.
Dungeon features include walls, monsters in three varieties (goblins, orcs and dragons), traps, treasure and dungeon upgrades. Each of these has its own placement rules. Walls cannot cut off any area of the map from the rest and there must always be a path from the start of the dungeon to the end. Monsters and traps cannot be orthogonally adjacent (you don’t want your monsters stumbling into your own traps do you?).
Treasures must be hidden and guarded. Instead of drawing treasure chests on your map, you write down their location on your score sheet. Each treasure needs to be guarded by a monster or it is lost, even before the hero shows up. If a monster is defeated by a hero any treasure they were guarding is lost so be careful where you place your treasures.
Dungeon upgrades are tracked at the top of your sheet by filling in checkboxes. Upgrades include levelling up the three different monster types so they have more strength in combat, making your traps more deadly, improving your treasure’s value, and increasing your hand size for the final resolution phase.
The next phase has everyone pass their dungeon sheets to the left. Everyone then draws the route the hero will follow through the dungeon they were handed. The hero must start at the entrance and must follow a path that eventually leads to the exit.
There are two main rules you must follow when drawing a hero’s path. You can’t move over the same enemy twice in a row (you have to hit a trap or another enemy first), and you can’t enter an individual square on the map more than twice (an important rule to remember when drawing your dungeon in the first phase). Note you can cross over your own path as long as you follow the other two rules.
While it can be tempting, in this phase, to just draw the most direct path from the start to the finish, each monster the hero kills and each treasure they loot will remove points from your opponent.
In the final phase, everyone gets their dungeon back and you take turns running the heroes through the dungeons following the paths just drawn. Each player also shuffles all of the cards that they drafted during the first phase and then draws a hand of cards from that deck. The number of cards ranges from one to four depending on how many dungeon upgrades were spent on hand size.
On your turn, you will move a hero meeple down the path to the next feature on your map and resolve that feature. While doing this you also have the option of playing cards from your hand. Blue cards buff your monsters or help you in some way, while red cards are played on another player and buff the hero tackling their dungeon in some way. After resolving the feature, you may discard any number of cards to the bottom of your deck and then draw cards up to your hand limit.
Most encounters will be battles between the hero and one of the three monster types. To resolve this combat you roll two ten-sided dice and add the total to the attack strength of that monster type, which was set while drawing your dungeon. If your total is twenty your monster damages the hero. Goblins are the weakest monster and start off with the lowest strength and only do one damage, Dragons are much tougher, have more basic strength even before upgrading and do three damage. Orcs fall in the middle. Damage to the hero is tracked at the bottom of your dungeon sheet which has twenty hearts representing the hero’s health.
After rolling, if you don’t hit twenty or more, you can modify the die roll with in hand cards. These cards include all kinds of fun things like weapons, bombs, potions and more that can modify or let you re-roll your dice. There are even cards that will let you upgrade your dungeon in the middle of an encounter (great for tricking your opponents into thinking your goblin filled dungeon should be a cakewalk).
If after you’ve played all the cards you can, your total still isn’t twenty or more, your monster is defeated by the hero. You cross it off your map. It won’t score you any points later and any treasure it was guarding is lost.
As mentioned earlier, in addition to blue cards which buff the stuff in your own dungeon there are also red cards that buff the hero in an opponent’s dungeon. You play these during your turn and they affect your opponent on their next turn. To keep things fair and to stop players from ganging up on someone, each player can only have two red cards in front of them at a time.
Trap features don’t require any die rolls. They just do damage to the hero, with the amount dealt based on how much they have been upgraded. Once a trap is triggered it’s crossed off your sheet. Note traps, unlike monsters, aren’t worth any points, they are just there to damage the hero.
If you manage to defeat the hero invading your dungeon by reducing their health to zero you stop having encounters but can continue to play red cards on the other players, if you have them. The same goes for if a hero escapes the dungeon alive.
Once all heroes are defeated or have escaped, everyone tallies up their score. Points are awarded for each monster left in your dungeon based on their type with goblins being worth the least and dragons being worth the most. You also get points for every treasure that is still guarded in your dungeon, the value of which can be improved through upgrades while playing. Five bonus points are awarded for anyone who manages to kill the invading hero and players lose points equal to the health left on any heroes that escape.
The player with the most points wins.
Doodle Dungeon is a very solid flip and write with more depth than expected.
I love the theme of Doodle Dungeon. I really enjoy the theme where you are playing the dungeon builder trying to defend it from heroes. One of the main reasons I jumped at the chance to check out Doodle Dungeons is my love of this theme. One of my all time favourite board games, Dungeon Lords, is a great heavy Euro with this reverse dungeon crawl theme, and Boss Monster, which is another game I’ve enjoyed, is a nice quick filler game that also shares this theme.
So how does Doodle Dungeon stand up to these other games? Well, like Baby Bear’s porridge in the story of The Three Bears, Doodle Dungeon fits somewhere right in the middle of those other two dungeon crawl games and it is just right. That said, it did really surprise me in a major way.
With the silly theme, and the John Kovalic art I expected this to be another light filler game like Boss Monster with rapid card play, lots of laughs and a lot of take-that elements. That’s not what we have here. Instead,, we have a game that I actually find to be more similar to Dungeon Lords. Doodle Dungeon is a longer game with a lot of strategic elements and difficult decisions to be made through.
This leads to the biggest issue I see with this game and that’s people having the wrong expectations. I know I did and I worry other people will as well.
Personally, when I hear flip and write I don’t expect a medium light game with an hour plus playing time. Even the name “Doodle” gives a light, relaxing, sort of feel, and while the playtime is listed on the box read 45 to 60 minutes, that’s easy to overlook.
It’s not that the game is “too long” it just wasn’t what I was expecting. Now that I know what to expect and I can set up that expectation with the other people I’m going to play with, I’ve had some really enjoyable game nights playing this reverse dungeon crawler.
The rules in Doodle Dungeon are very concise and well designed. There are quite a few idiosyncrasies though and it can take a play or two to learn how you should be drawing your dungeon vs how you can draw your dungeon.
Doodle Dungeon features surprisingly deep strategic play. With the variety of features and upgrades you can add to your dungeon there are plenty of different strategies you can try. The cards you chose during your first draft will affect everything going forward. Though having fourteen rounds of drawing gives you plenty of features to add and lots of chances to pivot your strategy if the cards aren’t coming up the way you hoped they would.
I particularly love the element of this game where the cards you draft for drawing also become your play deck later in the game. This is something that is easy to overlook during your first couple of plays but can become a big part of your strategy.
Similarly knowing the path drawing rules can really impact how you plan out your dungeon. The key rule to watch is the fact that a path can only enter each square twice. You can use that rule to your advantage, presenting your opponents with difficult path choices and potentially cutting off large sections of your dungeon (and keeping that valuable treasure protected!).
I’ve noted that this game often takes longer to play than you would think. One of the aspects that makes this game so long is the drawing. Not everyone draws with the same skill or speed and I greatly appreciate that the game came with stencils to help out those with less talent. I have found myself wondering, while waiting for other players to finish drawing, how much quicker the game could be if you just used simple letters or symbols instead of drawing Dork Tower style monster faces, walls and traps. I’m fairly certain this would speed things up but it would be at the cost of losing the fun of doodling and would take away from the theme significantly.
After my first couple of plays of Doodle Dungeon, I found it fascinating how much thought you have to put into the path drawing phase. To plan the hero’s path well you need to look at how the dungeon is laid out, think about where your opponent is likely to put treasure, look at which monsters they’ve upgraded, and basically do a risk assessment on how many monsters you think you should fight or avoid.
Should you try to kill everything you can, or should you assume every monster hits and make sure you can make it out alive? What will be worth more points for your opponent, leaving the monsters alive and escaping with a ton of health, or perhaps even letting the hero die but taking down most of their mobs on the way?
There is one aspect of Doodle Dungeon that some gamers won’t like and others will love and that is the random element that the dice add to this game. I think having a combat roll in a dungeon crawling game makes perfect sense and fits the theme well but it can be frustrating when your fully levelled up dragon dies instantly despite your hand full of buff cards because you rolled double ones.
This randomness is something else you need to consider when plotting those hero paths. What are the odds that those goblins are going to hit? Do you remember what cards your opponent drafted? Do they have any fire breath cards in their deck to buff those dragons?
It’s a little strange to have a game that’s all about strategic planning feature such a random element so prominently in the resolution part of the game.
I think it’s pretty clear at this point how much depth there is in Doodle Dungeon. There’s lots to think about in every aspect of this game and that keeps players engaged right from the start. The downfall though is how long it takes. For our group Doodle Dungeon really skirts the border of overstaying its welcome. Even knowing how long the game is going to take when sitting down down to play, it can feel like it’s taking up more time than you wanted it to.
While I did find the game on the longer side, my kids felt that the game was the perfect length. They felt that the fourteen drafting rounds gave them just enough time to fill in their dungeon and make it feel ‘complete’ and they really enjoyed playing through the resolution phase.
I was most surprised that my youngest stayed engaged the entire time, as she’s usually the one that wants to drop out after half an hour in most games. I think it was the drawing aspect that really sucked her in as she keep adding details to her map between turns as we played. She also took a lot of delight in beating down the hero when it came time for them to explore her dungeon.
Overall Doodle Dungeon is a really engaging, highly strategic reverse dungeon crawling game that does a great job of making you feel like a dungeon overlord. Drawing a dungeon is a lot of fun, as is determining the hero’s path for one of your opponents. The final resolution phase is fun to run through and feels like a series of Fantasy RPG combats due to the use of ten-sided dice.
At the end of a game of Doodle Dungeon, I always feel like I made something and can enjoy looking back to see what I did right or wrong with my creation. My only issue with this game is the length which is longer than you would expect and which moves the game out of the quick filler game category into something longer where it has to compete with a plethora of other games in my collection.
If the theme of Doodle Dungeon appeals to you I think this game is worth checking out. I’m very happy to add it to my reverse dungeon crawl game collection sitting between Dungeon Lords and Boss Monster. If you are thinking of picking it up, know going in that this isn’t’ a quick or light game and that it’s all about learning the rule intricacies and using them to your advantage.
If you are looking for a fun, silly, dungeon romp filled with stabbing your friends in the back and tons of laughs, this isn’t the game for you. While the game features a silly theme, silly flavour text and fantastic John Kovalic art, it’s not the light romp you might expect, and want, it to be.
Where I think this game may actually have a market is with a group that probably normally wouldn’t give it a try and that’s medium weight Euro fans. While the theme and art style in Doodle Dungeon suggests that it is an Amerithrash adventure, this game features a lot of strategy, tactics and difficult player decision points. I think euro fans may dig this, regardless of its dice driven combat system and adventure theme.
Are you, like me, a fan of reverse dungeon crawl style games? For me, my love of this genre started with the video game Dungeon Keeper, which I still enjoy playing now and then.
What’s your favourite dungeon building game? Tell us all about it in the comments below!