Designer: Jack Spoerner
Previous Publisher: Infinity and More
Current Publisher: Sky Kingdom Games
Year Published: 2021 Previous & 2022 Current
**I need to highlight the important fact that this review is covering a full copy of the initial Kickstarter version of Dungeons of Infinity. The game is actually sold out now, but will be undergoing some major cosmetic improvements under it’s new publisher, Sky Kingdom Games, which is expected to launch on Kickstarter on September 7, 2021. As such, my main focus for this review will be on gameplay rather than components since much is projected to change for the better, so stay tuned read about upcoming changes to the game at the end of this review!**
To tell the truth, I am not sure if I can recall exactly how it was that I heard about Jack Spoerner’s Dungeons of Infinity. When it originally came to Kickstarter a couple of years ago, it was with such a modest lack of fanfare that I was not sure why it was that I even gave it a second (or third glance) when I first came across it.
But there was a good reason for this observation, as it became clearly evident that Dungeons of Infinity was the brainchild of a self-motivated dreamer—essentially the work of one man for much of it (the story and art was handled by two others as funds allowed) so it possessed all of the most obvious hallmarks for being a low-budget release.
Mighty strong talk, it seemed to me.
So I ultimately decided to join along in backing DoI. And I need to really highlight that from the standpoint of professionalism and communication, Jack Spoerner’s campaign is the best I have ever experienced—he was extremely religious about providing weekly updates on the development of the game, which should make any big company with a dedicated PR specialist ashamed of the sad lack of communication that can be present in quite a few crowdfunding campaigns these days.
The game has been sitting on my shelf for a few months now—as much as I wanted to try it out, I became rather inundated with other review material that had deadlines, so it is only now within July of 2021 that I am finally able to sit down with it and give it the time it deserves.
First of all, let us talk about what type of game it is :
-Cooperative multi-session Story
-Cooperative single-session game
-Competitive single-session game
-Competitive or Cooperative 3-tiered progressive series of dungeons where you retain abilities and items over 3 games
Those are quite the shoes to fill. Can it be be considered to be up to the task?
As of now, there are more than 8 different types of single-session scenarios that can be undertaken in both Cooperative and Competitive modes—more when you count the scenarios that can only be done in exclusively in coop or competitive mode. That is quite the selection available.
You might be trying to cooperatively defeat a specific “Sentinel” and to bring its head back to the dungeon entrance or trap a boss monster in a room, or you may be competitively trying to be the first to escape the dungeon with 10 coins or find and reach the dungeon exit while being pursued by the dungeon denizens…
Before digressing into the game’s campaign and story mode, I want to focus on what will probably be the meat and potatoes for the game…the dungeons themselves, and the fundamentals of gameplay.
To be honest, I was prepared to be underwhelmed when seeing that Dungeons of Infinity would be employing a square, tile based system (as opposed to gridded tiles and hexes) for constructing dungeons. In my experience, these types of games usually take an overly-simplistic approach to combat and exploration that in no way comes close to representing a true RPG dungeon crawl. In a way, these tiles can make it almost all feel like an ever-so-slightly enhanced version of Catacombs of Karak (see my recent review) for lack of a better description.
And while I rated Karak very highly for its targeted audience (children), adults would probably feel much lacking from such a design ; Ironically, I find many of such “grown-up” tile-based dungeon games fit into this niche and category—and they consequently feel as plain and ordinary as the stone walls of the dungeons they often depict.
Dungeons of Infinity, by the light of Heaven, thankfully manages to rise above the mediocrity of such designs.
The game comes with a set of 30 numbered tiles that, in depicting large rooms with multiple entrances and exits, allows for dungeons to be constructed swiftly and efficiently. It is not the first game to employ a design using branching corridors and paths to contribute to random dungeon design, but the fact that the tiles are numbered is what allows for the variation that makes this game what it is.
Because the numbers themselves indicate what type of encounter heroes will have in each space. What exactly transpires is determined by an assortment of cardboard charts that are selected prior to the game chart. So a room number of 1-5 will sometimes mean you find a dead body, but if you use another chart, other occasions may mean it is debris, mist, or a treasure chest.
And these are the fundamental types of risks you will encounter :
(Ethereal Ghostly) Mist.
Each type of risk has an affiliated deck that is utilized when a player decides to interact with this particular aspect of their current surroundings (Mist encounters are performed automatically when entering an unexplored tile with a number associated with Mist).
And only the foolhardy would ignore the threats posed by a seemingly innocuous body, chest or pile of debris in the room. For most, if not all, of the treasures and monster encounters you will face are determined by the risk cards you draw under such instances.
And if this weren’t enough, you will need to take care with other trouble lurking in the dungeon…
Because at the heart of the underground lair resides a cruel and twisted Dungeon Lord that will eventually stir to life and hunt you down if your adventuring party makes too much noise…
Players will roll for initiative every round, determining player order. They may then proceed to move and explore until they have utilized all of their action points (determined by player “class” , equipment and other status effects).
Threat Meters are no stranger to many of these types of games, and this aspect is indeed present within Dungeons of Infinity. This particular meter starts at a high value and will gradually diminish as you take certain actions that make noise. Combat for example, will lower the Threat meter by 2, whereas revealing a new dungeon tile will reduce the meter by 1. There are all sorts of other effects that can contribute to reducing the Threat Meter , as some characters (especially those in armor!) are inherently noisier when they clink across the stone floors, so this is thematically a very nice touch!
Once the Dungeon Lord (of which there are three possibilities) is awakened, you will place a standee representing them on a specific tile as instructed, and they will begin to hunt you down using an automated Dungeon Lord deck.
Again, performing certain “noisy” actions will mean that more cards are drawn, giving the Dungeon Lord more opportunities to move to another target, rampage multiple tiles across the dungeon, attack, teleport and more, so you’d better watch out! He’ll even bash through his own forces if it means getting to lay the smack-down on your face!
Dungeon tiles of note while exploring:
—The Merchant tile, also the starting tile. Spend two action points to interact with the dungeon merchant and buy any of the 10 cards for sale on the table. Don’t see anything you like? Look through the weapon and item decks, and place an order. The merchant will send his assistant back to fetch whatever item you want, and will return in 3 rounds with it. Awesome!
—The training tile. Gain easy experience. Please note that training makes enough noise to wake the dead (or the Dungeon Lord).
—The weapons store room. If you are lucky enough to find this you will find 4 potentially valuable items on the floor.
While there is a good element of exploration involved with DoI , survivability and therefore combat is ultimately at the heart of the game. And as good as the rest of the game might be, it would all be for naught if the Combat system felt insufficient.
Combat itself feels like it is derived from the best of classic JRPG video games. What immediately strikes me when playing this game is how much the game feels like an old Final Fantasy game (before they all went bad with real-time action!). Because of this, it becomes an exhilarating exercise in strategy, cunning and patience—which, best of all, comes with rewards for virtually every fight! (Cue the Final Fantasy Victory Fanfare).
When a party member initiates combat, all of the monsters spawned by the Event card will focus on that player. Minion (monster) cards are then laid in an array of a number of monsters that varies (depending on the player count of the game, and what the Threat card instructs you to do).
The final formation is a pattern with up to three rows of monsters, with up to three columns in total. This array is then placed right above your character board for ease of access (more on these character boards later), and you also put a treasure card face down in each row for your rewards. X denotes monsters below:
X ——X——X —treasure
A player will proceed to attack (unless caught off guard, then monsters attack first) until they have used all of their remaining action points, using Level 1 ability cards distributed at the start of the game. Unless they possess ranged attacks, they may only attack the front row. If a monster in the first row is defeated, the monster directly behind it fills the gap immediately. If you ever defeat an entire row (or if all monsters somehow flee or otherwise vacate a row) the treasure is immediately revealed to be picked up at a later time—perhaps even in the middle of the fight if you have enough Action Points (it is quite something when a sword with healing-on-hit drops in such a fashion, or even better when it drops on another players’ turn and they don’t have enough action points remaining to pick it up, meaning another player can move in and swipe it!)
If you have ranged attacks, depending on the ability card and character, you may also be able to attack monsters in the second and third rows.
Next, it is the monster’s turn to attack. All front row monsters have a chance to take a swipe at you now, as well as second and third row of monsters that posses ranged attacks. It is possible to end your turn without vanquishing all foes, and under such an instance the fight simply carries over to the next round.
Other players may at some point decide to help you out, or even entirely bypass the tile where your fight is happening since monsters are so exclusively focused on you.
If your companions chose to assist you in the fight, they may choose enemies to attack , though they attack the rear of the enemy formation relative to your own posture, representing their different positioning…Essentially, what is row 3 for you becomes row 1 for them.
*****Player 2 *****
If they target and attack a monster, it is immediately drawn to their player board area and enters a new formation against them. It will also attack them immediately when it moves over to them, so thus it is possible for the same monster to attack multiple times in a round if multiple players gang up on it.
Whether or not you hit is dictated by a 1d20 roll that can be modified by a number of factors (either in your favor or not).
Damage is generally done by comparing player/enemy power levels to defense levels and applying consequent damage, also taking into consideration factors such as player/enemy elemental weaknesses, weapons, etc.
If things turn sour, players can generally escape for 2 action points, while at the same time triggering a free attack of opportunity from the front row’s strongest enemy. They then proceed to place their character standee on an adjacent dungeon tile. The enemies, however remain on the tile, and the enemy cards can be placed on a singular stack with one of two identifier tokens (depicting a letter such as “A”, “B”, etc), while the other matching letter is placed on the dungeon tile to show what exactly is awaiting should players chose to enter that space again. Absolutely brilliant.
The usual tropes of DnD are pretty much here in full force. These include:
In addition, there are also two Characters available in a cross-over expansion from The Stonebound Saga should you choose to buy these characters (Elle the prophet and Brahms the watchman).
Each character has unique stats and ability cards, with supplemental ability cards that become available as the characters level up (for a total of 8 cards once the characters hit a maximum level of 5).
I will summarize my thoughts on the characters/classes later, in the section dedicated to overall thoughts and impressions of the games pluses and minuses.
The regular DoI scenarios will play out until victory conditions are met.
Story / Campaign mode
Unlike the random dungeon modes, the Story mode has a thick section of more than 100 pages of text and dungeon layouts that lead the players in a narrative. Unlike some of the other story-based games that you may have played lately (Gloomhaven, Tainted Grail), you will experience the story in 10 chapters that depict the ongoings of the games’ heroes. Each Chapter contains three subsections or play sessions where you will get to retain any items and experience gained, playing to the conclusion of each chapter. When the chapter is complete, you move on to the next, beginning the next branch with a new set of characters, starting at level 1 again.
I will say that I recommend doing story mode first a bit if you want to slowly work your way into the game mechanics, as it does put training wheels on you by gradually introducing new gameplay elements as you go along. Having jumped into the random scenarios first, I was initially a bit disappointed with how linear and watered-down the first few maps of the story mode felt, but later realized the reasoning behind this. So the action and randomness I came to love does pick up again.
At the time of this printing, there are some occasional moments where confusion can ensue due to lack of clarification on the process. For example, some moments in the story mode required us to make choices once we “found” a certain tile, but it left the question as to when we make this choice : When everyone is on the tile, or as soon as one person enters the tile? It was confusing because it seemed to indicate both—If you read the text required at this juncture makes it “seem” that everyone is talking on the same tile, but the way the Dungeon Lord movement started to take place seemed to indicate the party could potentially be scattered across the dungeon in terms of where you place the Dungeon Lord. Likewise, in the same instance, it let you choose to use certain character abilities to dispel a magical barrier within the text choices themselves (with a fire spell, ice spell, etc), but doesn’t make it clear if this takes place outside of the normal combat situations you usually use these spells in (and do you still generate an experience point for using the said fire or ice spell, as you normally would?)
We spent most of our time doing the non-story mode, and are only on Chapter 3 of 10 at the time of this writing. I will addend my impressions of the Story mode as able.
Thoughts and Impressions :
I know, this is a bit of a weird review in terms of my usual layout. However, let me begin my summary of impressions by saying that the game itself is very worthy of employing the use of “Infinity” in its title, because there do seem to be countless options available to play through and experience.
Consequently, rather than digesting every facet of gameplay, I want to use bullet points to highlight all that the game is capable of, all that it excels at, and its shortcomings.
Strengths and Points of Innovation :
—Distinct and varied player character classes. These are really fun to play and capture the essence of their traditional DnD counterparts exceedingly well. Assassins for example may start out with a meager set of damage, but once you find two daggers, you turn into a whirlwind, gaining unique bonuses for dual wielding that come in the form of a flurry of attacks through more action points generated via their unique character abilities. And if that second dagger ever gets lost or destroyed, you instantly feel the pain.
—Another example. Rangers feel like rangers. It is almost impossible to believe that the ranger in DoI can actually safely attack foes in distant tiles that she isn’t even present in, and without consequence to herself for the most part (though sometimes this can draw agro her way, too if she rolls a 1-3 on her to-hit roll. Thematically a very nice touch and very reminiscent of many MMORPG’s).
—Using marker tokens to denote which items, traps or monsters are on a tile makes for a highly interactive roaming experience. The fact that there is continuity in retaining monster and item locations throughout the game creates a great sense of pervasive mood and immersion.
—Encumbrance makes for situations where you have to be careful what you carry, and you may find you need to strategically drop items in tiles to optimize your game plan and ultimately fulfill your mission.
—The act of using stealth to sneak by enemies is not only fun, but is a useful tactic. Moreover, it surprisingly very much akin to employing stealth in traditional rpgs like DnD.
—Likewise, knowing when to retreat is essential.
—There are a ton of actions you can take to influencing the outcome of the game. “Shouting” to make noise to draw attention from the Dungeon Lord and lure it away ; digging out of cave ins with your hands (or having been wise enough to buy a pickax in the first place to dig yourself out!) using rope to cross a chasm ; interacting with a merchant to purchase goods within the dungeon.
—I mentioned the game feels like an old school JRPG earlier, but I love how sometimes it feels like Diablo as well. For example, if you gain enough experience in the middle of a fight, you level up , restore full health, and gain your new level abilities right away, and can continue to bash the monsters in front of you if you still have Action Points remaining. Very cool and again very reminiscent of old action video game rpgs.
—Traps. Certain events definitely make it feel like you unleashed death in a room, with permanently enduring effects that will make the dungeon tile forevermore a threat to proceed through.
—The perils of the dungeon feel significant and not inconsequential—you will be very mindful of where you step!
—Random Dungeon layouts. I know we already knew about the strength this game possesses with randomness, but when combined with the fact that I already feel this game reminds me of Diablo, I always get this feeling like I never know if some sort of randomly generated Lightning Aura Enchanted Regenerating Mephit of Haste or some other such fiend is lurking around the corner waiting to lay waste to the entire group…granted, yes, that specific type of named beast randomization was exclusive to Diablo, but the feeling is the same, the unpredictability can make for some really crazy difficult yet fun encounters.
—The combat is spectacular! Interactive, consequential, and highly engaging for all players.
—To Hit and Damage calculations are simple and effective, yet circumstantially modifiable to give a good sense of control, and because of the ease, these are fun.
—The game flows very swiftly between turns and rounds, it is very seamless in transitioning in and out of combat. Moreover, even though the game may take a few hours to play, once you get the hang of it, there really isn’t a whole lot of downtime, especially given that players can plan and interact with each other.
—Obtainable weapons, armors and items are balanced—but still enough of treat to get excited about many times.
—Magic Scrolls are actually dang useful! I almost never have any use for those things in DnD!
—Story mode : Highly detailed character background stories.The writing for the main story is good, but sometimes a little cliché.
—The puzzles in the Story mode can be quite cerebral ; I imagine this could be a downer for some, but not for us.
—Completing the entire story in DoI probably a lot more realistic option in terms of time than other recent games due to minimal setup times involved. But it claims to take about 40 hours.
—There is more personification in the Story for game characters than in Gloom (which never had direct roles in the story for PC’s). The story itself is well written, but not as quite dynamic as Tainted Grail as of yet.
—Among other modern contenders for the crown of Dungeon Crawl King, Dungeons of Infinity by far ranks #1 for the fastest setup time among the games I have played.
—Only 8 ability cards per character can leave you wishing for more. But they do work well for ensuring the essence of each character class feels like it “should” be.
—The rules aren’t the easiest to learn when reading the manual. It is almost akin to reading the Gloomhaven manual. However, the game is rather much easier to learn and teach than Gloom once you learn it, while still retaining a great sense of tactical depth and complexity.
—The non-traditional way in which the reference and walkthrough manuals try to explain things accounts for some of the difficulty in learning the game. The walkthrough teaches the very basics of the game in a step-by-step tutorial detailing a hypothetical dungeon situation you may encounter (for once I actually DO recommend reading this type of resource first) and leaves the rest of the game to learn by reading the Reference Manual, which is fundamentally an alphabetically organized list of actions you can perform in the game, and as such is rather long. It makes for a bit of an atypical and unusual learning process, and required several read throughs for me to “get it”, but once you learn it, the way the Reference Manual is structured alphabetically makes it as easy as you could possibly imagine to look up a rule in the middle of a game in case you forget something.
—Errata. There were quite a few instances of text that needed clarification or fixing. Thankfully Jack is sure and swift at correcting anything via online updates, so this is easily rectified.
—The Player Boards. Okay, anyone who has played The Stonebound Saga (where the idea of these boards came from) might already know this, but as great and innovative as the idea for “Sliders” to track Power, Hit Points, Levels, etc was, quality control made for some wildly inconsistent boards. Sometimes it is very tough to move the sliders, other times they move too easily. And the sliders themselves are very sharp, and are quite prone to scratching other game boards and cards if you store them near or on top of each other. Thankfully, this is going to be rectified in the upcoming new Kickstarter / Second Printing, with new, fully recessed player boards that will hold cubes to track game statistics.
—Not a weakness per se, but the difficulty can sometimes slam you due to the randomness of some things. Point in kind, our first time playing we got pinched between a mist card that gave us 2 sentinels and another room full of monsters. We got butchered, but as spiritual Klingons, it was glorious and a good day to die.
—There are not a whole ton of enemy types. But this isn’t enough of a downer to ruin the fun, in fact it actually sorta makes it more thematic having a room full of spiders rather than a large assortment of goons that seems more like the cast of the Brady Bunch for all of its variety. The sometimes homogenous structuring of enemy group types feels more like a feature than hinderance.
—Story mode starts out seemingly linear and watered down compared to non-story mode games. But this does get better, stick with it…
—One could say that a weakness of the game is that it offers no character customization, nor higher levels than 5. But given the wealth of other options and choices of actions that are available in DoI, the features of the game clearly outweigh and overshadow its deficits. It is easy to overlook what is “missing” when it does so much of right in terms of capturing the feel of “traditional” PnP RPGs.
Final Thoughts and the future of Dungeons of Infinity
In a nutshell, if you like dungeon crawls, I say that Dungeons of Infinity is essential. It may lack the long-term character buildup of games such as Gloomhaven, but I find it much more playable due to its ease of setup, and unlike other “bigger” games out there, you could easily throw together a game of DoI on a whim with friends who are not even familiar with the gameplay—-something that I would never, ever do with Gloomhaven. I cannot overemphasize how fun this game is, especially the combat.
I will not say that the game is perfect, but I will say that the game earns high enough of a score that any other improvements in the future can really only be considered icing on the cake. The game engine is solid enough to be at a height that can realistically be improved only so much—it is just that close to that pinnacle of epitomizing the Dungeon Crawl Experience.
The best games I own in this genre give you the sense that you control your fate with the d20 “luck” , but still have failure as a realistic option. DoI fits in this category.
But perhaps the best thing that I have to say about Dungeons of Infinity is that I no longer have to feel embarrassed turning my friends away from playing when they come over and want to experience one of the Dungeon Crawls they see on my shelf—With games like Gloomhaven, Shadows of Brimstone, and Tainted Grail, I (and they too, sometimes) feel like I am somehow insulting and slighting their intelligence when I explain to them that there is no way they could both learn and successfully play these game in the limited time we have together.
Dungeons of Infinity breaks that curse for me. I am overjoyed that I no longer have to subject my friends to what may seem like condescension. And best of all, I do not have to compromise on giving them a full-fledged Dungeon Crawl / Fantasy RPG experience—In fact, I might be giving them the best among all of of the games that I have.
In closing, I do need to highlight that the future of Dungeons of Infinity is looking very bright. Most, if not all, of the major causes of concern for the first edition are getting reworked, revamped and/or totally remedied for the next printing. Now that Sky Kingdom Games has taken up the role of publishing DoI, there is now an entire team able to back up Jack Spoerner, so newcomers to the game can look forward to the following in the next incarnation of the game, which is set to hit Kickstart on September 7, 2021. The new features include:
—GameTrayz player boards with slots for equipped items!
—Character boards use cubes instead of sliders.
—Minis instead of standees as add-ons
—An expansion with three new dungeon types (including a prison, cathedral and tower)
—new enemies, items
—a new extension to the storyline
—reworked rule books and clarification on rules that could be confusing in the 1st edition.
So mark your calendars! It remains a possibility that I may have an opportunity to check out the new edition and expansion material in the near future, so I will be sure to keep everyone posted.
Until then…try to find a friend who has this game so you can play it with them!
If you want to ask any questions, feel free to contact me in the Dungeons of Infinity thread on the EBG forum, and be sure to check out a video presentation from Harry Jacobs at Everything Board Games for more detailed information and a play through summary!
Overall : 9.1 for theme, fun, and gameplay.
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer