Super Dungeon Explore is a role-playing adventure board game by Soda Pop Miniatures. Combining elements of both video and board games with pen & paper RPG concepts, it creates a truly unique experience that can be hard to learn, but a mountain of fun to play.
Super Dungeon Explore is extremely well presented. Bright and colourful artwork plasters well-made boards, tokens, and playing cards, making the chibi characters pop and giving the game a unique and stylish feel. Pieces follow suit and are very detailed, matching the associated cards and general art style perfectly. Everything you need to play the game (except glue) is provided; however, the instruction manual, whilst well presented, is fairly obtuse. It contains the information you need, but is poorly structured, making the game somewhat difficult to learn. I recommend playing your first game with an experienced player or watching a “Watch It Played” video to learn the basics. If interested in the latter, we’ve put links to the best ones on the Super Dungeon Explore video page.
The first thing you’ll notice upon opening the beautifully presented box is that your play pieces aren’t pre-assembled. I’ve been told this is to make them easier to paint; however, many of the joins require putty, which means you can’t always pre-paint them anyway. It’s not a huge issue, but does add a few hours of work before you’re actually able to play the game. Interestingly, all expansion packs and add-on characters come as single piece moulds, so it’s obviously something they’ve since addressed. Pieces are made of a hard plastic so they feel nice and tough; however, this also makes them more brittle than their softer counterparts.
The premise of Super Dungeon Explore is simple: one to five heroes traverse a dungeon collecting treasure and killing monsters until either they or the final boss is defeated. Gameplay is turn-based, with heroes and consul (dungeon master) alternating each round. Game progression is controlled by an interesting feature called a Power Gauge. Every time a wound is inflicted, the gauge advances one space. Once the power gauge is half complete, the consul is able to spawn mini-bosses and, when it reaches the end, the dungeon boss appears. This is a great way to keep the game moving and encourages heroes to act quickly rather than conservatively.
Once activated, characters are able to move a set number of spaces and perform as many actions as their action points (AP) allow. Actions range between melee attacks, special skills, opening treasure chests, and so on. In an interesting twist to traditional gameplay, action points and moves are interchangeable, so you don’t have to use up all move points before using an action. For example, if you had 8 move points and 3 action points you could
1. move two squares
2. use 1 AP for a melee attack
3. move another 1 square
4. open a chest
5. move 2 more squares
6. use 1 AP for a special attack
7. retreat another three squares
before your turn was over.
Combat is very straight forward and performed by rolling a combination of blue, red, and green dice. If the attacker rolls more stars than the defender then it counts as a hit – a wound is made and any status effects are applied. Some die also have images of hearts and/or potions, which, if rolled on a successful attack, means the enemy drops the item shown. In a very Zelda-esque way, hearts immediately heal one wound and potions can be either used or saved for later.
Another way Super Dungeon Explore sets itself apart from other role-playing adventure board games is with its use of spawn points. Instead of set monster locations, the consul is able to spawn a certain number of monsters per spawn point at the start of each round. While most monsters are weak and easily destroyed, they almost always have passive group skills meaning they grow in power as more of them appear on board. Spawn points are also used to summon mini bosses once the game conditions allow and provide buffs to the dungeon boss when he/she appears. This being the case, the heroes should always prioritise the destruction of these spawn points in whatever strategy they adopt.
The heroes aren’t defenceless of course, and have a decent range of special skills at their disposal. These range in usefulness across the eight base characters with only two feeling out of place. Most of the heroes have a decent balance of power and defence that, if used strategically as part of a well formed team, can prove formidable. The Royal Paladin has some fantastic group heal/augmentation skills and decent attack, whilst characters like Glimmerdust Ranger or Ember Mage have ranged attacks with area affect. Area affects are key to thwarting the consul’s plans, due to the aforementioned reliance on numbers for strength. Sure, the consul can spawn more monsters next round, but you’ll be in a much stronger position to take them on if you’ve played offensively and aren’t trying to recover from previous attacks. The downside of powerful ranged characters is that they have a poor base defence, which means that augmentation or protection is essential. This is where the other characters come in. You could use the Hearthsworn Fighter to pull enemies away, or perhaps the Riftling Rogue to deploy defensive smoke or teleport them to safety. There are a vast range of strategies you can apply, making for a fun and differing experience each time.
As mentioned earlier, there are two characters that don’t feel balanced. The Deeproot Druid is extremely powerful with strong defence alongside ranged area attacks, great passive skills, and the ability to transform. If any character can solo the game, it’s the Deeproot Druid. The Hexcast Sorceress also feels imbalanced, but in her case it’s because of her skillset. All her special attacks are focused on inflicting status effects, which is great if you’re fighting a monster with more than one HP or playing PvP. Most monsters only have one heart, though, and the wound you would inflict to give the effect would kill them anyway, so what’s the point? Spawn points have 3 HP, but are immune to status effects, so she’s not much use there either. She’d be great for debuffing bosses, but is it worth carrying her for the first half of the game to gain that advantage?
Once you learn the mechanics, Super Dungeon Explore is very straightforward. Character cards provide all the info you need to determine your moves, and small cardboard tokens are provided to help keep track of status effects, potions, and wounds. Looted items provide stat buffs and are equally easy to use, sliding partially under your character card to provide a visual reminder of their affects. The only time this fails is when trying to track activations or persistent area effects. For example, Riftling Rogue has a move that lays smoke within a two tile radius of her position. Smoke allows dodge rolls and blocks line of sight for all characters on a “smokey” tile. Without visual representation on board, it can be hard for fellow heroes or the consul to keep track. To get around this, I printed some “status notifier” icons and slid them under the character when they had an effect active. I also used yellow paper slips to identify when a piece had been activated. Remember, a round ends when all pieces have been activated, and knowing which pieces have yet to move can be a key part of your strategy.
There’s a wealth of additional features in Super Dungeon Explore not covered in this review; however, I hope there’s information to give you a fair indication of what it’s like. It’s a fantastically presented game that is a joy to play and should appeal to both experienced and new players alike. Games can turn quickly, so players should always remain alert and the conclusion isn’t always inevitable. It’s certainly not without fault, but the pros most definitely outweigh the cons. If you’re still unsure, why not head to the video section and watch it played or come to one of our community games nights? I’m sure it will be in regular rotation, as it’s been a big hit with our players so far.