Real-time games come with an allure. No matter the gameplay or theme they always come with the potential to be amazing once the timer starts. Often though, they fall short on reaching this promise because in order to have a real-time element, designers need to sacrifice a lot of complexity as the onus of the rules are placed on everyone. This makes me incredibly cautious when considering real-time games, but sometimes it’s worth the risk. Isn’t it?
Name: 5-Minute Dungeon
Publisher: Spin Master
Designer: Connor Reid
Artist: Alex Diochon
5-Minute Dungeon is a board game that takes 5 minutes to play, and less than 1 to explain.
You begin the game as a generic role-playing archetype with a character deck, and a hand of cards. There is also the dungeon deck. All cards in both decks will either have a bunch of icons, or an action to perform. The aim of game is to defeat all the cards in the dungeon deck, and a boss card within the time limit. To do so your team needs to spend cards from their hand matching each icon or performing the action on the dungeon card. That’s all the rules. Was that one minute?
Each character deck comes with its own unique power, action cards, and ratio of icon cards. This provides some asymmetry but doesn’t go far enough to make each character to feel individual. And although this makes the game easier to pick up and explain. Once you’ve played one class there’s no desire to explore or play any of others. Which is the biggest disappointment of this board game: there isn’t enough variation.
There’re five different dungeons to run, and each increases the difficulty by having a stronger boss, and more dungeon cards to beat. While there’s a fantastic feeling of progression as you storm from one dungeon to the next, there isn’t any reason to go back – unless you follow the rulebook to the letter.
The rulebook suggests whenever the party dies, they should start the game from the beginning, like a roguelike computer game. It works for those types of games because they provide spontaneity through procedurally generated game sessions, or feelings of progression either within or continued between runs. None of that is in 5-Minute Dungeon. Leaving you and your team with the question: why bother? The answer of course, is because there’s not enough content otherwise. Once your party has finished beating the last boss the desire to play the game again isn’t there. This is a huge flaw, but thankfully one that can be fixed with expansions.
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how good this game is. Ultimately, it’s a game of hand management, communication and efficiency. However, you’ll always reach the point where all this goes out the window and you and your friends start spending cards like it’s the first day after payday. Its surprisingly tough as well. As you always have incomplete information when making decisions throughout the round, but the clock puts a limit on how much time you can spend thinking. This leads to you and your friends wildly yelling things like “3 jumpies,” or “2 shields,” and then responding as quick as you can. Simply put, this is frantic fun for the whole family.
Because of the way the progression works, with each dungeon being stronger than the last. It creates a real drive to keep pushing to harder and harder difficulties. For our group, we went from having never played this board game, to playing it 2-3 hours straight. This is a huge compliment given how short our attention spans are.
Aside from the sharp gameplay, 5-Minute Dungeon is incredibly charismatic. Its playful art and theme have their tongues firmly planted in cheeks as they expertly satirise the many tropes of role-playing games, and fantasy pop culture. From the very uncomfortable chair (a reference to pointiness of the iron throne) to the massive pauldrons (a jab at World of Warcraft) if you’re a nerd this game will put a smile on your dial.
Additionally, the accompanying app is well made, free, and comes with 5 different narrators – including the designer Connor Reid himself!
While I’ll argue 5-Minute Dungeon is not the most fun you can have in 5 minutes because we live in a world where we have dogs, kids, and sexy people. It does come close, as it’s a brilliantly fun game that’s easily accessible to almost any board game group you can imagine. The only issue I had, was the replayability, but this game is a cash cow just waiting to be milked with an overabundance of expansions. To which I say: squeeze those teats Connor Reid, SQUEEZE THOSE TEATS!
Really sad I missed out on the Kickstarter for the expansion Curses! Foiled Again! And can’t wait for it to hit retail. In the meantime what are your favourite real-time games?