Published on May 4th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen0
The Soda Pop Dungeon Delve
A Super Dungeon Explore Review
It was a minor mark of personal shame that I hadn’t played the full version of Super Dungeon Explore by Soda Pop Miniatures until very recently. I played the demo version at PAX several years ago and was totally into what I had played. After that, I was always interested in getting into the game, but the hefty price tag always made me cautious to buy it until I had played a couple of more times.
I have always liked the chibi anime style of the characters in Super Dungeon Explore. I get tired of so much serious business in my fantasy all of the time, and I appreciate it when a company gets art for their game that is fun and has bright colors. Super Dungeon Explore is cartoony but that does not take away their attention to detail in the art. Similarly, the minis that Soda Pop Miniatures makes for the game are extremely high quality. Half of me wants to get every set so I can paint the minis that come with it for use in other fantasy roleplaying.
If you’re looking to pick up everything Soda Pop has released so far for the game, be aware that there are two editions of Super Dungeon Explore. The first edition base set (Super Dungeon Explore) is not technically compatible with the newer base set (subtitled “The Forgotten King”), so if you want to use them together make sure to pick up the upgrade kit. Soda Pop has dropped the retail price for the older base set so the 1st Edition ($65) + Upgrade ($15) is still less than buying the Forgotten King set ($100) which seems like a great incentive to pick up the older version.
Thankfully for my wallet, my friend Paul recently got his expand-alone Super Dungeon Explore: The Forgotten King Kickstarter fulfilled, which in his case came with a whole extra large box of extra figures and cards.After spending over an hour sorting everything out and determining which cards went to which game mode (and truthfully spending a lot of time oogling at the great minis) we jumped into playing the cooperative Arcade mode. There are competitive modes to the game as well, but I have not yet played them.
Super Dungeon Explore is basically the love child of a tactics RPG, like D&D 4th Edition, and the video game Gauntlet. There are three tiles that represent different rooms of a dungeon, and within each of those rooms is a physical marker called a Spawn Point. These spawn points poop out dudes for you to fight throughout the game, until you destroy the spawn point. Destroying a spawn point summons a mini-boss, who drops a key to a treasure chest- unless it’s the last spawn point of the board in which case it summons the final boss. Kill the final boss and you win!
In the Arcade mode each player controls one Hero, and the monster actions are chosen by playing the top card of an event deck. Each Hero has 3 action points on average, and two to four abilities to use them on when it is their turn. If you’re an experienced gamer and are running the game with a small amount of people, I’d say go ahead and take two characters per player. People who have played D&D 3.X or 4th Edition should just jump in with two heroes- both of them together are less stats than a single character in either of those RPGs.
Each character has certain strengths within the game and a role to play in each battle- an idea that you see a lot in video games and other tactics RPGs (basically anything with a grid). But where some games tend to codify these roles, or at least let players know that they are there (ie: class roles in D&D), Super Dungeon Explore lets you discover these roles out on your own. The party that we ran with was balanced because we’re used to tactical group composition, but I feel that this is a gritty little newbie trap. You could easily take a party that is unable to meet the challenges that come later just because of your choice of hero, which I feel is something that could have been easily remedied.
The combat in Super Dungeon Explore is pretty fast paced and painless. Each character has such a small list of abilities that choosing between them is almost never an issue- the thing that character should do is usually fairly obvious. What makes the game more tense is the luck factor inherent in the dice- you roll dice of various utility to perform attacks so risk management is a large part of game mechanics. Treasures give you additional dice or automatic successes, and if you don’t want a treasure you can hand it to a friend until you equip it.
When we first started the game, it felt like we’d be done in about 90 minutes. By the time we had beat the final boss it had been over 3 hours, and the last hour was definitely a bit of a slog. By the time the final boss came out we were so well equipped that he went down without much of a fight, despite his getting a bonus for each piece of treasure we had. That the final boss went down so easily after it took so long to get to him was a minor annoyance. The most fun part of Super Dungeon Explore was the middle of the game, when you’re partially equipped and have access to a couple of different items but before you’ve gone Super Saiyan.
I really like Super Dungeon Explore, but it has some pacing issues. Mostly I want to see a version of the game that takes a bit less time to get to the end. I guess some simple house rules could work, and I’ve heard of people playing the game two player, with one player using 3-4 heroes and the other controlling the monsters. Super Dungeon Explore makes a very strong showing but I would definitely hit it with a custom set up or house rules that speed things along a bit if I picked it up for myself.