Episode 328 – Room to Grow: Dungeon Crawl Games

So you love dungeon crawl games like Gloomhaven, but aren’t sure where to start in introducing the genre? We’ve got three (or four) dungeon crawl games that are great for kids. Each one introduces a bit more complexity than the one before.

328 Fact! According to SeaWorld, there are 328 different species of parrots.

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What We’ve Been Playing

Turing Machine
Lacrimosa (review coming soon)
Featherlight (review coming soon)
Detecteam Family: One Egg Too Many – a mystery that’s completely family friendly! Reminds us of the Decktective series.
Unmatched: Houdini vs. The Genie – can’t wait to review this one!
Flamecraft (review soon)
Chronicles of Avel (more below)

Mada game

SNAP Review – Mada

Mada from Helvetiq is a pretty simple press-your-luck game. Look around the table as you ladder up to high-scoring cards – but don’t press your luck too much or you’ll end up busting, and everyone else gets points instead.

Watch the video or read the transcript for Mada.

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Room to Grow: Dungeon Crawls

In the Room to Grow series, our goal is to help you bring your kids through a series of games with the same main mechanic, starting at a very basic level, then increasing in complexity and building on each other. All of these games are suitable for a family context (so… no Gloomhaven, sorry!)

What is a dungeon crawl game?

Players explore a space (a “dungeon”) that is mostly hidden and gets revealed as they explore. Within that space you find treasure to keep and monsters to fight. The concept came from tabletop roleplaying games (like Dungeons & Dragons), which usually include both plot elements as well as a place to go that involved beating enemies, solving puzzles, and getting treasures. Video games and board games quickly arose that stripped out a lot of the plot and put a big boss somewhere in the “dungeon” that players would need to beat.

Dungeon crawls may have a central plot… or not.

There are also fast-moving games inspired by dungeon crawls: Dungeon Academy, Deadly Doodles.

Dungeon Crawl for Beginners: Quest Kids

The Quest Kids

Players use the same board layout every time. Instead of “finding a path” through the dungeon, you’re either looking for specific items (in the campaign) or clearing out all the monsters. On your turn, move to a space, and flip over the card in that space.

There’s almost no reading required (except in the campaign, which can be read by a single person in the group), and limited numeracy.

There’s no die rolling or other randomness in whether or not you beat a monster – instead, you examine whether or not you have enough resources, and you can ask for help from the other players! Quest Kids is rated for ages 5+ and we think that’s exactly right. It’s best for pre-reading kids. It can be played completely cooperatively, or as “co-op-etition”: working together to beat monsters, but tracking who scored better at the end of the game.

Thinking about Quest Kids for your family? Read our review.

More Freedom, More Luck: Karak

Catacombs of Karak

Unlike Quest Kids, Karak is a tile-placement game. Players dynamically generate the dungeon as they explore.

You must fight monsters to get/upgrade equipment; the game ends when someone defeats the dragon, which requires at least some equipment (and a lot of luck) to beat.

There is a lot of luck in Karak – you roll dice for combat, but also pull new monster tiles randomly from a bag. You never know what you’re going to get. Unfortunately, that means it can also drag (if you start the game pulling hard-to-beat monsters, or roll poorly several times in a row).

Like Quest Kids, there’s very little reading required, and we’ve played it successfully with pre-reading kids.

Karak introduces asymmetric player powers and inventory management. There’s more numeracy required – reading numbers, comparing dice, adding numbers together, and an introduction to probability.

Art-wise, the enemies are still cartoony, but scarier than in Quest Kids.

Thinking about Karak as a good fit for simple dungeon crawls? Read our review.

More Enemies, More Dungeon: Chronicles of Avel

Chronicles of Avel has a rich world, drawing players into the game. It feels like there’s a real reason why you’re fighting the big boss.

Chronicles of Avel introduces enemy spawn points (new monsters will keep showing up on the board), along with traps & blockers. There’s also inventory management (including the ability to swap out weapons/helms/shields as needed).

Fights are still decided by die rolls, but there are many different ways to get/upgrade equipment, leading to more choices. (Use coins to buy a weapon/armor, or gamble, or buy a trap…)

There’s a ticking timer (the round counter) that adds tension – and keeps the game from going too long. The spawn/rest round cycle also encourages players to discuss timing and sequencing.

Unlike the other dungeon crawls, fighting monsters is not really your goal (until the end of the game). Instead, it’s a tool you can use to gain more equipment and abilities to be ready for the end of the game.

Sounds good, but you’re not sure yet? Read our Chronicles of Avel review.

More Kid-Friendly Dungeon Crawls

CoraQuest is more plot-driven than Karak or Chronicles of Avel but also gives a lot of freedom in how to explore (like Karak). This might be a better choice if having a story keeps your kids more engaged in playing a game. We like it best as a simpler replacement for story-driven games like Mice & Mystics.

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