A to Z Gaming: Dungeon Petz

We ran our own pet shops with grumpy, playful and magical creatures in Dungeon Petz, the latest in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Dungeon Petz
Players: 2-4
Time: 90 minutes*
Designer: Vlaada Chvátil
Artist: David Cochard
Publisher: Czech Games Edition

 

 

In Dungeon Petz, each player controls an imp family that is running a pet shop vying for the most reputation by caring for, selling, and showing their pets in competitions.The pets are no ordinary pets, though. They are magical and mystical beings whose needs must be handled carefully.

The game is played over six rounds (or seven if you have the expansion and want to play the long game).  Each round has a number of phases – setting-up, shopping, settling your pets and satisfying their needs, exhibiting your pet(s), selling pets, and cleaning up (these are my names for the phases, not necessarily the rulebook’s!)

Each player starts with an imp home, a starting pet shop with one cage that can hold a single creature, and a family of imps. The set-up phase simply gets the board ready for the next round and tips players off to the upcoming exhibitions and customers who will need to be pleased.

The shopping phase uses a worker-placement element with a twist. Each player, in secret, decides how many groups of imps they want to send out, and how many imps in each group. Imps can also carry gold. When the groups are revealed, the player with the largest group (counting imps and gold, but gold cannot go shopping by itself!) goes first. Any ties are broken by the player closest in play order to the start player.

The things you can buy include new cages, cage add-ons, pets, food, and artifacts (which give special powers). In addition, you have the opportunity to bring home some distant imp cousins, get imps out of the hospital (more on that in a minute), get on the platform to sell pets, or bribe the exhibition judges.

Once everyone is finished shopping, it’s time to set up your pet shop, New cages and add-ons are placed, and pets can be moved from cage to cage. (Though, once cages and add-ons are placed, they are stuck unless you play a new cage or add-on over the existing one.)

Next the needs of your pet must be met. This is where the big challenge of the game comes it. Each pet has a number of needs, based on their age. Babies have just two needs, older ones from the pet market have three needs, and then more are added each round thereafter as they grow up in your shop and until you sell them.

The needs of each pet are shown as colored strips on the bottom of the pets, where each color corresponds to a deck of cards. You must play one card of each color that has been revealed on your pet. The cards reflect needs that include magic, food, anger, illness, play or poop. You have to ensure that your cage can handle the magic and anger outbursts, that your pantry has food of the right type, and that imps or toys are available.

There can be consequences for the needs you play, however. If the cage cannot contain all of the anger of your pets, you can optionally send in an imp who did not go shopping to hold them in their cage; however, the imp gets injured in the process and ends up in the hospital. If the cage cannot contain the magical outburst, your pet receives a mutation. And if your pet has poop in its cage, illness can lead to unhappiness, so these need to be played carefully.

After players reveal their pets needs and how they are meeting them, and exhibition is held. These can consist of all pets or a single pet and typically give points for one or two type of need that your pet has been assigned that turn, with negative points for unhappiness and mutations (from un-contained magical outbursts). This is one place where players gain reputation – the winner and runner(s) up receive points.

Next players have the opportunity to sell their pets either form the platform or the black market. This is typically where the most points/reputation is gained – each customer is looking for pets with particular needs that were fulfilled this round, so planning ahead for that is key.

Finally everyone recalls their imps, ages their food and pets, and gets ready to set up the next round.

I picked up this game many times at the game store, drawn by the art, but unsure if the game itself would be engaging or simply cute. I finally watched a run-through (Rahdo’s) and decided I needed to try it. So, we played on one of our trips to the board game cafe, and I was hooked.

First of all, the art absolutely makes this game. The pets are adorable, and I always agonize over whether to pick up my favorites when they come out or pick up the ones I actually have the capacity to take care of. Though, they all become my favorite before too long.

One drawback is the length of the game. I don’t mind playing a 2 hour game, but it’s not always practical for our monthly game night – most players who come prefer hour-long games or so. The game is also somewhat complicated to explain. Once you start playing, it’s not too hard to understand, but it takes a bit to get there.

However, once you are in the game, it all just fits together so well. That’s not to say it’s easy – far from it – the game is a balancing act of getting pets, picking when to sell them, keeping their needs met while not injuring too many of your imps or gaining mutations or unhappiness. I love the puzzle of trying to fulfill all the needs, especially when I have 3-4 pets in my shop, each with 3-6 needs to fulfill. Sometimes someone is going to end up in the hospital or a pet is going to get a mutation. But with the right seller, that’s okay.

How is it as a 2-player game? Dungeon Petz works well as a 2-player game. To help keep the game tight, there is a special 2- and 3-player mechanism to block selected spots in the shopping market. This means that you have to be strategic about setting up your shopping groups – do you want to be first to get that one thing that you KNOW the other player wants? or do you make several smaller groups to get a chance at more things?

I would definitely pull this out as a 2-player game just as quickly as at higher player counts.

How about the art and component quality? The art makes this game – the different creatures are all adorable, and I want all of them in my house. The iconography is easy to understand, though the game summary on each player board is a bit hard to read unless you’ve played the game many, many times. I appreciate that it’s the only way to pack all of that information into a small space, but it’s hard for new players to parse, nonetheless.

The components are all good quality. The pets are a thick cardboard with a spinner attached, the imps are cute plastic pieces, the cages, add-ons and artifacts are all the heavy cardboard pieces. The only somewhat cheaper piece would be the imp house, which is just a heavy cardstock, but so far that hasn’t been an issue.

Will this stay in my collection? Oh yes. It doesn’t get to the table terribly often, but I’m excited every time it does.

*I don’t think we’ve ever played in less than 2 hours, even with just two of us playing.

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