Today Firestone reviews Dungeon Petz, a heavy worker-placement game from publisher Czech Games and designer Vlaada Chvatil. In a flash of inspiration, you've decided to open a pet shop in town. Unfortunately, a bunch of other imps had the same flash, so now you're all competing. In each of the five Rounds you'll send out imps to gather the necessary supplies for your endeavor. If your pets don't break out of their cages, disappear into another dimension, or poop themselves into despair, you just might earn enough money to make this thing work!
So is Dungeon Petz all it's crapped up to be? Or is it just a steaming pile...? Let's find out!
This is a complex game, but I'll try to keep this as short as possible. Other than some--pardon the pun--cleanup you do at the beginning and end of a round, there are three main parts of a turn: shopping, taking care of needs, and showing off/selling.
The incredibly busy board has spaces for you to send imps to gather supplies. Let's "quickly" go over those spaces.
Food: There's a veggie stand, a meat stand, and a stand that sells both. You place an imp on the stand and take the available food.
Cages: You'll need to send at least two imps here (because cages are heavy!), and choose one of the available cages to add to your shop. Cages have different abilities. Some have great Magic strength. Some can contain Angry pets. Some have grass so they can feed herbivorous pets. Some have playgrounds. Some even have soft ground so Poop just...uh...soaks in.
Add-Ons: Each turn there are two add-ons available, which let you permanently add one ability to a cage space, such as increasing Magic or Anger resistance by one, or providing food.
Artifacts: Visiting this space gets you two useful Artifacts for the rest of the game. These include books that provide additional cards in your hand, a "magic box" that mysteriously keeps food from spoiling, and a long-handled shovel that lets you clean Poop out of an occupied cage. Are you sensing a theme here?
New Pets: You'll have to send your imps with Gold to buy a new pet. Choose either a baby Pet or an older one--but you'd better have an empty cage to put him in!
New Imps: You've got family members just waiting to join the business. During setup you'll place one imp from each player on each of the Round spaces. When you go on the New Imps space you take the imp from this Round and any previous Rounds, and they'll be ready to send out starting next turn. This is a bit of a gamble, because you want the extra imps as early as possible, but it's not efficient to go on that space every Round. Plus, only one person can take that space each Round. So you can get a few early, or try to get them all on the last Round, which is most efficient, but then you lose the use of those Imps. It's a great tension!
Hospital: Two things happen on this space. First, you get a Potion card, which is a Wild card. (I'll explain cards soon.) Second, it might be that some of your Imps ended up getting injured in a previous Round trying to keep a pet from escaping. You can get those Imps back now.
Judging: Sending an Imp here gives you an edge in the Exhibition that happens later in the round. You get a 2-point jump on the competition.
Booking Platform: Imps you send here don't come back at the end of the Round. Instead, they stay on the Platform, and help you earn more Reputation (VPs) from selling pets.
That's all the spaces. But unlike most worker-placement games where you simply take turns placing out workers, there's also an auction element to this phase. Everyone raises a screen and makes groups of Imps, but opponents can't see how many Imps are in your groups. So everyone's secretly making groups of Imps, and you can add Gold pieces to Imp groups, which counts as another Imp. Once everyone is done, you'll reveal your groupings, and then players act in the order of the largest group of Imps--with ties broken by the Start Player marker, which passes players each Round.
This blind auction element adds so much to the game. Sometimes you'll way overbid when it turns out nobody actually wanted that cage. And sometimes you'll realize you've underbid, as another player swipes that perfect pet out from under you. It adds depth and tension to a worker-placement genre that already has it built-in.
Now before the next phase begins, you'll place new cages and rearrange and place any pets into cages. You might want to move a pet to a new cage so you can clean the Poop out of the old one. Or maybe you just bought a new cage that has great Magic protection, so that cute pet who's getting older and has more Magic needs now needs to go in there.
The next part of a Round has you fulfilling the Needs of your pets. There are four colors of cards (green, red, yellow, and purple), each representing different Needs that pets have (Hunger, Anger, Play, and Magic, respectively). And while the majority of the green cards, for example, are Hunger needs, not all of them are. Of the 32 cards in the green deck, 16 are Hunger, but 10 are Poop, four are Anger, and two are Disease. So you're never quite sure what you'll get.
Every pet start with two card colors visible on his or her wheel (check out the pic.) As pets age they have more Needs. More can go wrong. But they're also old enough to sell. And will generally score higher in the Exhibition. So each player looks at the card colors showing on all pets he owns, and draws that many of each color.
Now it's time to assign Needs. Everyone started the game with one card of each color, so combine those with the ones you just drew and you've got a little maneuverability. Basically, if your pet has two green and one red card showing, you'll have to assign those exact colors of cards to that pet. Maybe you bought some food, so you can safely assign a Hunger Need. Or maybe your cage takes care of one Anger Need, so that's safe to assign. Where it gets interesting is when you bought food, but none of the cards you drew had Hunger Needs on them. Or maybe you drew a red card with Play on it, and you have no way to take care of that Need.
I'm not going to go into all the ways you can mitigate and satisfy those Needs, but things could go well, you could end up with cages full of Poop or pets with Suffering tokens on them, or you could even have pets run away or warp to another dimension.
After everyone has assigned and dealt with all Needs, you'll have an Exhibition--except in the very first Round. The Exhibition tiles are randomly dealt out at the beginning of the game, and you'll always know this Round's Exhibition and the next Round's, so you can plan. One Exhibition gives you extra points for Anger needs assigned this round, but subtracts points for Disease. Another gives you points for each different color of card you assigned, but subtracts points for Poop and Sadness. If, after adding and subtracting points, you have more than 0 points, you put your Minion marker on that number. After it's all said and done, you'll give out VPs based on order.
Finally (whew!), you can sell to Customers. Just as with Exhibitions, you'll randomly deal out Customer tiles at the beginning, and always know the Customers for this Round and the next. Just as with Exhibitions, they're looking for specific things (Anger, Play, etc.), and don't want others (Poop, Sadness, etc.). If the final number is greater than 0, you can sell that pet. You'll get VPs and Gold in return. And the Customers will buy one pet from each player, so there's no worries about getting screwed over here.
After 5 Rounds, you'll have to final Exhibitions, that are the same every game so they're printed right on the board. These basically give you VPs for all the various things you've collected over the game (Gold, leftover pets, cages, leftover food, etc.), and subtract points for things you didn't deal with (those extra imps you never brought home, Sadness and Poop tokens, etc.). Most VPs wins!
In case you couldn't tell from the ridiculous length of this review, Dungeon Petz is a heavy game. One of the heaviest worker-placements out there. There are lots of moving parts, interconnected parts, and puzzley parts. But here's the crazy thing: It's not overwhelming, because the rules are tied so closely to the theme. It all just makes sense. In fact, I'd be surprised if this game wasn't designed with the theme first, and then mechanics that fit that theme.
The theme is also the #1 reason my kids love this game. And they seriously LOVE IT. And they shouldn't. It's long. There's some downtime. It's easily the most complex game they've ever played. My youngest is only 8 and shouldn't like games this complex and fiddly. And my oldest doesn't even like board games very much (I know, right?!), but he asks to play this. I fully believe this is because of the theme, and the humor threaded throughout the game and the rulebook. When I taught them the game, I had two options: teach the game or read the rulebook. Normally--especially with the kids--I try to teach and not read. But with Dungeon Petz I read the entire rulebook, and the humor threaded throughout it helped them fall in love with the game.
Another thing it's got going for it is that it scales really well. If you have fewer than 4 players, you play on the flip side of the main board, and three imps from a color not being played are placed on worker spaces, and move around in a known pattern, clogging up spaces you might want to take. I'm usually the guy who wants to play a certain game with a certain number of people--the "right" number. But I'll play Dungeon Petz with any number.
Dungeon Petz is long. It's super fiddly. It's not nongamer friendly because of complexity. And sometimes the luck of the draw will completely screw you over. But you know the odds, and you can take a chance or hedge your bets. But when you pull a Poop card instead of a Magic card, you have no one to blame but yourself!
I should note that one image might put you off. Some of the cages take care of Magic needs for your pets, and the one that gives the most Magic protection has an image of a pentagram in the middle. You're not doing anything with it, other than putting pets into the cage. Not invoking anything. Not casting anything. It's just artwork. I wish they hadn't chosen that image, but it won't keep me from enjoying the game.
If you do any research on Dungeon Petz, you might find that it's a sibling of sorts to another Vlaada game called Dungeon Lords. They both take place in the same "universe," and in Petz you're actually selling the pets to Dungeon Lords. But I couldn't stand Dungeon Lords. I hated it so much I didn't even want to try Dungeon Petz. So do what you will with my opinion, but don't bother chasing down Dungeon Lords.
Firestone's Final Verdict--Dungeon Petz is fantastic. It's a clever and meaty worker-placement, wrapped in a cutesy theme, with just enough randomness thrown in to make things interesting. Excellent components make this a complete package. Dungeon Petz gets a huge thumbs-up.
What about you? Have you played Dungeon Petz? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments. And thanks for reading!