Game Buzz: Dungeon Petz

Here it is – my 100th post!  I’ve wondered for a while what my the subject would be for this milestone.  It was just a lucky set of circumstances that caused the rules for my most anticipated Essen game to be released just as I was working on post #99, so post #100 is all about:

image by karel_danek

Dungeon Petz is one of the newest games from Vlaada Chvátil and Czech Games Edition (with Z-Man releasing it in the US).  The game is for 2-4 players aged 13 and up, and takes 90 minutes to play.  It is a sequel of sorts to 2009’s Dungeon Lords.  However, the relation between the two is purely thematic – they don’t really have much to do with each other mechanically.  In the game, you play a group of imps who, in the wake of the dungeon lord’s fall, decide to open the first ever pet shop for dungeon lords. Unfortunately, your shop is right next door to the other first pet shop for dungeon lords, and right across the street from two more.  Through the game, you’ll be acquiring interesting creatures, caring for them, and selling them.  The object is to have the best reputation.

Before I get started, let me address a controversy with this game, specifically the title.  Like many people, I was a bit disheartened to see that they chose to spell pets with a Z.  It seemed unnecessary, and it seemed too cutesy for its own good.  However, as time has gone on, I’ve come around.  Petz does evoke cutesiness, but it’s quite ironic – much like Dungeon Lords messed with your expectations about dungeon crawls, this one takes a cute concept and completely goes in the opposite direction.  So, I’m happy with Petz.

Burrow board - image by BGG user PaulGrogan

Dungeon Petz comes with a lot of stuff.  First of all, there’s a central board and a progress board.  Each player has their own burrow board, which (as you see) kind of looks like a T-shirt.  This is because it’s actually a player screen attached to a player board, and the screen flips down during play.  Additionally, there are four pet display boards.  Player pieces (apart from the boards) include 40 colored imps, 8 colored minions (with stickers, though those aren’t necessary), and 4 achievement tokens to be used if your reputation exceeds 50.  A starting player token left over from Dungeon Lords is included, and 18 pet dials will need to be assembled prior to play.  Other bits in the game include a progress token, 8 exhibition tiles, 8 customer tiles, cage tiles, cage add-ons, artifact tiles, green and red cubes representing vegetables and meat, gold tokens, suffering tokens (awesome), manure tokens (even more awesome), and mutation tokens.  Additionally, there are some cards: potion cards and need cards.  The need cards are divided into four colors, each with a different distribution of the basic needs, which is outlined on the player screen.

Progress board - image by BGG user PaulGrogan

At the start of the game, you’ll have six imps and two gold available to you on the second row of your player board (the quarters).  The other four are split between the first four round spaces of the progress board.  Additionally, four exhibition tiles are drawn randomly and placed facedown on the blue and white spaces of the progress board (you can flip the first one face up for planning purposes).  Similarly, you’ll draw four customer tiles and place them facedown on the bottom row, flipping the first one up.  The progress token begins on #1.

Central board - image by BGG user PaulGrogan

On the central board, you’ll be laying out three random cages and two random add-ons at the right of the board.  You’ll draw one pet and place it in the top corral – this is your old pet.  Three more pets will be drawn and placed in the lower corral – these are your younger pets.  Dials will be set to 2 bars for the young ‘uns, and to 3 bars for the old one.  Two artifacts will be available to the right of the old corral.  Food tokens will be placed in the market stalls on the right side of the board in whatever combination of red and green that is shown.  Each player will put one minion on the reputation track, and another on the exhibition tent.  All other components are set to the side.

You’ll begin the game with four cards, one drawn from each color.  Along with the aforementioned imps and two gold, you’ll also begin with one manure token in your initial cage on the pet display board.  The starting player will be the one who most recently fed a pet.  Now, after all the ranting I’ve done about stupid start player mechanics recently, you’d think that this would tick me off.  And it would have.  But let me quote the entire rule:

The player who most recently fed a pet gets the Starting Player token.  Of course, you can also choose the starting player randomly, arbitrarily, or by fiat.  Just pick somebody.

Words to live by.

Let’s get to some actual gameplay here.  A game of Dungeon Petz takes five rounds.  Each round has six phases: setup, shopping, need cards, showing off, business, and aging.

SETUP: There are three steps in the setup – reveal new information, add new stuff, and get income.  Whoever has the starting player token gets one gold, and the person to their left gets one gold (only in the four-player game).  The other two players (or one in a two-player game) get two gold.  The first unrevealed exhibition and customer tiles are flipped in the second, third, and fourth rounds.  You’ll always know the exhibitions one turn in advance and the customers two turns in advance.  Refresh the board by adding food tokens, replacing artifacts, refilling the cages and add-ons, move your younger pets to the top corral (increasing their size to three), add three new baby pets to the bottom corral (size 2), and discard any old pets left in the upper corral.  They go to live in a farm somewhere.  On a completely unrelated note, you also add one token to the meat stand per pet discarded.

SHOPPING: The first thing you’ll do is secretly (behind your screen) group your imps.  You can make up to six groups of imps, and there can be as many imps as you want in each (but there must be at least one for it to be considered a group).  You can also add gold to beef up a group.  Having a lot of groups gives you more action possibilities, but having a few big groups makes it more likely that you’ll get to do what you need to do.

Once everyone has formed groups, you reveal what’s behind your screen.  You’ll then get to place your groups.  Collectively, the biggest groups get to go first.  Gold counts for your group size, so if you have three imps and one gold, you have a size of four.  Conversely, if you have one imp and three gold, you also have a size of four.  If people are tied for the biggest group, actions are placed in player order, beginning with the player who holds the starting token.  After the biggest groups have been placed, you move down to the next biggest, and so on until everyone has either placed their group of imps or passed on them, moving them back to the quarters.  You get to keep the gold in this instance.

As soon as you place your group, you get to take the action.  Here are your options:

  • Get food – Go to one of the three market stalls (veggies, meat, and combination) and take all food there.  The food is placed in the leftmost food storage space of your food board.
  • Get artifacts – Take both artifacts.  You can now use their powers until the end of the game.  Books allow you an extra card of a certain color; the crystal ball allows you to discard up to three cards and draw replacements before phase #3; the long-handled shovel allows you to remove extra poop; imp armor protects your imp; employee of the month doubles your imp’s strength when cleaning, entertaining, or catching escaped pets; the whip of obedience breaks ties in exhibitions; the magic box freezes food so it doesn’t spoil.  These actions will make more sense later.
  • Choose a cage – Take one of the three cages.  Only two can be taken in a given round, and your group must consist of at least two imps to carry it out.  The cage goes on your pet display board, either in an empty spot or replacing an old cage.
  • Choose an add-on – Take one of the two add-ons.  Only one can be taken in a round.  You can use one add-on per cage, replacing old ones if necessary – you can’t rearrange.
  • Buy a pet – Take a baby pet from the bottom corral or an older pet from the top corral, depending on which space you placed your group.  Only two babies and one older pet can be taken in a round.  Your group must have gold in order to take this action – what, did you think you could just take one?
  • Invite new imps – Take all imps from the progress board that are associated with this round and any previous rounds.  So, if it’s the third round and this is the first time you’ve taken it, you’ll get three new imps that join this group and will be available in the next round.
  • Visit the hospital – Draw a potion card and take any of your imps that are currently in the hospital, adding them to your group.
  • Volunteer for judging – Move your minion to space two on the exhibition track.  There will be an advantage when showing off.
  • Book time on the platform – You can use this to sell a pet from a public place, resulting in more points.  More on that later.
Drago - image by BGG user PaulGrogan

NEED CARDS: There are three steps here.  First, you arrange the cages and pets.  Place new cages and add-ons, and make sure every pet you have is in a cage.  Pets can move from cage to cage, leaving their manure but taking everything else.  Cages and add-ons don’t move.  If you can’t place a pet, it is removed from the game and you lose one point per 10 reputation you have (this happens every time you lose a pet).  After this, draw one need card matching each color bar on each pet – for Drago here, draw a red and a green.  You’ll then assign one matching color card to each pet, giving them different needs.  Remember that you have one card of each color already, plus extras for any book artifacts you have.  Possible needs include hunger, poop, play, anger, magic, and disease.  The distribution indicates what how often you might have to use certain needs.  For example, the green deck is half hunger, so Drago is pretty likely to be hungry.  Red, on the other hand, is half anger, so Drago is also fairly likely to be angry.  You’ll need to keep this in mind when planning, trying to meet all of the needs (enough food, a strong cage, etc.).  Potions will replace a color card, meaning that the need is already filled.

SHOWING OFF: In this phase, you need to care for your pets, then show them off in an exhibition (which doesn’t happen in the first round).  First, you need to evaluate needs in the following order:

  • Hunger – For each hunger need you have, you need to spend a food token.  Carnivorous animals (like Drago) need meat.  Herbivores need veggies (some cages allow the animals to graze, satisfying one hunger need).  Omnivores can have either.  If you can’t feed them, you add one suffering token to the pet, which will decrease your reputation when you sell it.  If a pet has more suffering tokens than its size, it dies.
  • Poop – For each poop need, put one manure token in the pet’s cage.  Some cages allow you to place one less poop token.
  • Play – For each play need, you either need to use an available imp (one that didn’t get used in the shopping phase) to entertain up to two pets, or you gain a suffering token for each bored pet.  Though one imp can entertain two pets, two play needs of one pet cannot be met by one imp.  Some cages allow you to satisfy one play need.
  • Anger – You’ll need to compare your total anger needs to the strength of your cage.  If the anger needs exceed the strength, the pet attempts to escape.  You’ll need to use one available imp per unmet anger need.  These imps go to the hospital.  If you can’t or won’t do that, the pet escapes and is treated as a lost pet.
  • Magic – Compare your magic needs to the cage’s antimagic number.  If the pet’s magic needs exceed the antimagic strength, the pet gains mutation tokens.  If the pet gets two mutation tokens, it disappears into another dimension and is lost.
  • Disease – If your pet has one or more disease needs, add them to the number of manure tokens in their cage.  If the total is 2 or less, nothing happens.  If 3 or higher, give the pet one suffering token for being sick, plus another per point over 2.

In the second round, you’ll start scoring exhibitions.  You’ll know what’s coming a round in advance.  You’ll score your pets according to the requirements of the card (single-pet or full display, needs that will score or cost you points).  Points will be tracked by minions on the exhibition tent.  The highest score gets 8 reputation points, second gets 6, third gets 4, and fourth gets 2 (if you have 0, you get nothing).  Ties reduce the score by one per tied player.

BUSINESS: From round 3 on, you’ll be able to sell pets.  Only pets size 4 or largers can be sold.  Customers have specific qualities they’re looking for, and specific qualities they don’t want.  You get reputation equal to double your match score.  If you sell from the platform (one of the possible actions), your score will be triple the match score.  Additionally, you get gold which is indicated on your dial (-2 for a mutation token).  A customer will by one pet from each player if the match is good enough.

After selling a pet, you can discard all of your assigned cards.  If you have any unused imps, you can either use them to clean up poop or earn money.

AGING: First, age your pets by turning the dial according to the number of arrows on the dial (reveal one or two more bars).  Next, age food by shifting it one space to the right in your storage area.  If it moves out of a space, it is discarded because it’s all moldy now.  Finally, return all of your imps home and pass the start player token to the left.  For the final round, give the start player token to the player with the lowest reputation score.

After the final round, there is a final scoring consisting of two final exhibitions that will be used every game.  One will score your business acumen – .5 points per gold you have and 1 point per food and artifact you have.  You lose two points for any imps that are not at home because they’re in the hospital, on the platform, or on the progress board.  The other exhibition is for your pet display – +2 per pet, +1 for each add-on and cage; -1 per mutation, suffering, or poop token.  After this, the player with the most points wins.

There are some extra rules for a more advanced game, and various changes for a 2- or 3-player game.  However, this post is quite long enough, so I think I’ll start wrapping things up.  After reading the rules, I find myself just as excited for the game as I was before I knew anything about it, if not moreso.  It’s got a definite Vlaada fingerprint with simultaneous play and a certain amount of unpredictability.  The theme is incredibly unique, and I really like the idea of growing your pet through the use of dials.  Dials are the new hotness in components, as Fantasy Flight has been proving with liberal use of them in a lot of recent games.  Dungeon Petz doesn’t feel like it’s older brother, but the two share some similarities outside the theme – a progress board that lets you know what’s coming so you can plan, a limited time frame, trying to choose actions without knowing what everyone else is doing, and some pretty unique worker placement ideas.  At the same time, it’s a very different game.  Everything about it feels unique to me.  The bidding style is similar to what was used in Strasbourg, but you’re grouping your workers instead of influence.  The process of meeting pet needs and aging them gives the game a little bit of a feel of time passing, and I think it’s kind of brilliant.

I wonder how this game is going to go over.  Dungeon Lords suffered, I think, from expectations based on the theme.  A lot of complaints I heard were that the game was not what it appeared to be, particularly from people who like to play more American-style games.  It was a Eurogame with a dungeon crawl theme.  And I think some Eurogamers were turned off by the theme, thinking that it would be more Ameritrashy than it was.  For Dungeon Petz, I wonder if people are going to be turned off by the cutesy name.  I hope not – this game looks great to me.

I did it!  Got it in mere hours before the start of Spiel 2011.  I’ll be back soon, catching up one some games I didn’t get to before the fair and probably some more that aren’t on my radar yet.  I’ve also got a new series planned based on a recent GeekList I did.  See you later, and thanks for reading!

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