Thursday, March 25, 2021

Game 406: Dungeon! Computer Adventure Game (1982)

I feel like we've seen that dragon before.
Dungeon! Computer Adventure Game
United States
TSR Hobbies (developer and publisher)
Released in 1982 for Apple II
Date Started: 14 March 2021
Date Ended: 14 March 2021
Total Hours: 2
Difficulty: Very Easy-Easy (1.5/5) as a single player game
Final Rating: 12
Ranking at Time of Posting: 37/412 (9%)
Dungeon! is the second of TSR's three attempts to make computer versions of its own intellectual property; the other two were the recently-reviewed Theseus and the Minotaur (1982) and an air combat simulator called Dawn Patrol (1982). Either the company was unhappy with sales or dissatisfied employing computer game programmers, as they never again tried to develop their own properties, instead relying on selling their licenses to developers like Strategic Simulations. But the effort did launch the career of Bruce Nesmith, who stayed on with TSR to develop modules and eventually transitioned back into computer games in time to work on The Elder Scrolls.
The board game that this was based on.
This game is a computer adaptation of a 1975 board game that the company published as a kind of "lite" Dungeons and Dragons. Both the board and computer games feature maps that you could regard as somewhat basic, unimaginative D&D modules, consisting of nothing but hallways, secret doors, and rooms, monsters, traps, and treasures. The goal is to be the first player to collect a designated amount of gold and return to the starting room. The specific amount varies depending on the class you choose to play. Elves and heroes have lower odds and fewer resources and have to collect only 10,000 pieces. Superheroes get easier rolls and have to collect 20,000. Wizards have the most resources (including "Lightning Bolt," "Fireball," and "Teleport" spells) and have to collect 40,000.
Irene moves through the maze. I believe the third square from the top in the center is the color that indicates the active player. I lose track of myself unless I'm actually moving.
There are five "levels" to explore--really just five screens. Tougher enemies are found on higher levels, but so are the more valuable treasures. Smart players go to levels consistent with their characters' abilities. In addition to gold, you can find magical swords of +1 or +2 (necessary for a couple of foes), secret door maps (if you have one, the game treats the door as a normal door), ESP medallions (let you see what creature is in the adjacent room), and crystal balls (let you see the creature and treasure in any room). 
The only equipment upgrade in the game.
Unless you're the wizard, there really isn't anything to combat except random rolls. The game tells you what roll you need to defeat the creature, then rolls something like 2D6+2 (more if you have a magic sword). The specific math isn't offered, but I don't think I ever got anything lower than 4, and I didn't find it as uncommon to get rolls of 9-12 as a regular 2D6 would offer. If you hit, the creature dies and you find his treasure. Monsters respawn after you leave the room but the treasure doesn't.
A goblin occupies this room. I have to roll a 3 or better to defeat him. I don't think it's possible to roll lower.
Wizards have to decide whether to cast "Lighting Bolt" or "Fireball" before they enter a room. ("Teleport" just lets you navigate faster, moving you between random rooms on different levels.) If they do, as far as I can tell, the spell is 100% successful. You only get 12 spells when you start the game, however.
The spell graphics are fun.
If you miss, the creature gets a chance to attack you. If he misses, you get another round. If he hits you, you drop some treasure and get shoved out of the room, but you can go right back in if you want. If he hits you badly, you drop half or all your treasure and wake up back in the starting room. Either way, your treasure remains where you dropped it, and nothing stops you from throwing yourself repeatedly at the same creature until you win (except, of course, what other players are doing). 
This is the closest you can come to "losing" the game in single player.
Playing Dungeon! as a single-player game is hardly an epic experience, but neither is it much worse than a lot of other quasi-RPGs of the early 1980s. The only problem is that you can't really lose, so there's no suspense. On the other hand, when I invited Irene to join me for a two-player game, it suddenly became a lot of fun--not as an RPG, of course, but as a computerized board game. She played a wizard and had a great time blasting enemies. She wanted to know what all the enemies were despite it not making any difference except for numbers. I did my best to let her win, but she wasted all of her spells on lower levels and couldn't get the 40,000 before my hero got 10,000.
I stopped in some extra rooms on my way back to the entrance.
Regardless of my definitions, I finished it so I'll GIMLET it:
  • 0 points for no attempt at a game world.
  • 2 points for character creation; the choice of character does make a difference and significantly affects gameplay, but there's no development.
  • 0 points for no NPCs.
  • 1 point for the most basic encounters and foes.
  • 1 point for a very basic magic and combat system.
A superhero defeats a giant lizard.
  • 1 point for a little equipment.
  • 0 points for no economy. Yes, there's gold in the game, but it's a winning condition already rewarded under "quests," not something you can use to buy things.
This is the highest-value treasure that I found.
  • 2 points for a main quest.
  • 2 points for acceptable graphics and a very basic interface consisting of R)ight, L)eft, U)p, and D)own. One key problem is that you have to keep track of your own gold, as the game doesn't show it anywhere.
  • 3 points for gameplay. It gets that for being replayable and quick.
The final score of 12 is pretty abysmal for an RPG, but I could see playing this again with Irene, or getting the board game version. I've been looking for something that evokes some feeling of a role-playing game but in a more bounded system.
It really is a bit odd that this is the best that TSR could do given how thoroughly they dominated tabletop role-playing during the same period. On the other hand, their decision to license D&D instead of developing it internally was probably better for us in the long run.


  1. Huh. It sounds like it's quite a faithful port of the board game--which is, I'll agree, not an RPG, but a lot of fun for younger players or as a beer-and-pretzels boardgame. As I recall the basic mechanic was 2d6, but I don't remember what, if anything, you added.

  2. I received Dungeon as a Christmas present around 1980... we played it quite a bit! It's a great beginner board game. I still have it down in the basement.

    I tried the computer version out on Internet Archives a few years back. Interesting, but less compelling than the board game.

  3. When I tried to play D&D with my wife, she played as a wizard and then refused to cast any spells at all. I was trying my best to let her win as well. Go figure.

    1. Feels like if playing with a non-D&D SO, it would be best to give them fighter if the goal is to let them win, as usually magic classes are more complicated to play.

  4. Those battle graphics are wonderful - astounding for the time to be frank. They're very Shining Force.

    1. I was thinking Suikoden, but yeah, Dungeon!'s battle representation is ahead of the curve.

  5. The boardgame sounds like a predecessor to Hero Quest which computer game conversion you already covered.

  6. We bought the current-in-print board game version; still close to the same rules. Not Hero Quest quality but still fun for what it is intended for. It's pretty wildly imbalanced between the classes, but that's part of the beer-and-pretzels thing I guess.

  7. I played the board game in the 80s with friends, and loved it! So my kids and I naturally play the modern printing and at 7 and 9 they love it too. Am I reading correctly that you have to select fireball or lightning bolt before you enter the room as the wizard in this adaptation though? What I crazy nerf--you should be able able to see the number you need to roll to defeat the monster for each attack type, then select the spell or decide to not even use one. Some magic resistant enemies give better odds for the wizard to win without a spell, and some are immune to one or the other spell. I wonder how closely that was adapted, since the spell selection was changed so drastically.

    1. If I recall correctly, if you didn't defeat an enemy in a room, you could reenter it knowing what's there.

    2. There was also an ESP Medallion treasure that let you look at the monster in a room before entering. There may have been a couple other treasures, or I may have house-ruled some in.

      IIRC the combat in the game was just 2d6, no pluses, and each monsters had a different threshold for each class or spell to beat it. Also IIRC it could be pretty unforgiving especially for the weaker characters, so maybe the computer game made it 2d6+2 as a nerf.

      I remember making up some rules (maybe about how characters can interact) to make it more complicated, but it's basically a fun mindless game where you roll dice and see what happens. The first screenshot made me nervous because the boardgame map looked way better, and the game just wouldn't have been fun at all without the pictures, but the combat graphics look very satisfactory. (I mean, satisfactory at evoking the kind experience I might have had of it when I was nine or whatever.)

      Also once decades ago I had a dream about proceeding through nine levels of a mysterious building that I only now recognize was obviously inspired by this game.

    3. Magic swords have you a plus 1 or 2 as well

    4. You were supposed to select your spell before entering... but I know we played with house rules allowing you to see the monster occasionally. It's much tougher to be a Wizard and do it this way though - otherwise Wizards mop up!

  8. 1982. long did you say are you doing this now?
    This must seem like the Neverending Story to you by now.

    1. This is my third pass through 1982, but yeah.

    2. Less Luck Dragons, unfortunately.

  9. Feels like you've hit a run recently of these simplistic "computerized board game" titles. Is that accidental, or meant to balance out the larger open-world games you've been playing alongside?

    1. I mostly roll random numbers to choose the games I play, so any contrast is almost certainly accidental. We've been seeing more lately because I already made two passes through the 1980s and most of what I'm picking up now are quasi-RPGs so obscure they took until last year to even be cataloged.

    2. Cool, incorporate some statistics that influence your rolls, and your blog could be an rpg itself!

  10. This game's intro dragon is, I believe, the brother of the Ultima II intro dragon. He didn't have much luck at modeling after this and eventually got a job at ATM.

    1. I've heard that line of work leaves a very bad taste in your mouth.

  11. I played this in the school library when I was 6. I thought it was called 'Dungeons & Dragons' though, so that's what I asked Santa for.

    I was disappointed come Christmas.

    I ended up getting Dungeon! some years later, but by that point I'd already been playing HeroQuest and Space Crusade for some time so the game felt quite lacklustre.

    Sounds like a fairly faithful rendition - much like the board game, the best aspect is the art.

  12. Assuming it's true to the 1975 boardgame, the dice roll is indeed 2d6.

    It's worth noting that it *is* the 1975 version this is based on (obviously, given the release date) because the 1989 re-issue and all subsequent editions have used different classes (ditching the "hero" and "superhero" at the very least for more D&D-ish options).

    1. Well... more AD&Dish options. In the original D&D boxed set—which is the only version of D&D that existed in 1975—the paladin and thief that would feature in later versions of Dungeon! didn't exist yet—but "Heroes" and "Superheroes" did!

      Specifically, in the original D&D, there were only three classes: Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics. (AD&D first edition sensibly renamed "Fighting-Men" to "Fighters", but "Magic-Users" would stick around until second edition.) However, there were also different names for the classes at different levels. A Wizard in OD&D was a Magic-User of the highest level (eleventh, though they weren't numbered); a Hero was a Fighting-Man of the fourth level; and a Superhero was a Fighting-Man of the eighth level. (Which was not the highest level—Fighting-Men could reach the ninth level, whereupon they became "Lords".)

      So it's not that heroes and superheroes are any less D&Dish than paladins and thieves—they're just from an older edition of D&D!

    2. I still can't use the term Wizard when it comes to D&D and its versions... they will always be magic-users!

      Great memories of AD&D 1st ed!

  13. I'd be interested in playing the boardgame of this one

  14. If you're looking for a D&D-esque boardgame to play with your wife, I recommend either Talisman (more luck-based, but with good flavor and easy rules) or Runebound (closer in feel to a real RPG, more complicated, but probably faster overall). My wife does not play D&D with me, but I can usually get her to play one of those.

    Both can be fun if you're willing to lean into the story and give it a little imagination.

    1. Thanks! Runebound may be a bit pricey for experimentation, but Talisman seems reasonable. These both do SOUND like the sort of game I was looking for.

    2. Good luck if you get it! If you go with Talisman, there's an optional rule in the book to start with your guys at level 2 instead of level 1. I strongly recommend it. It skips the first rounds where you die a lot (think low level RPG guys) without reducing the competitiveness or fun (IMO). Not that those parts aren't fun in CRPGs/tabletop DND, but I think it can drive off newer players.

    3. Sorry, can't edit, but I notice there is now a Talisman spinoff game called Talisman: Legendary Tales. I can't vouch for that one.

    4. Talisman isn’t a great game to take seriously but it’s got a pretty strong narrative appeal.

      Ascension is a good card game for two. Easy to learn, but with enough interesting decisions that it takes a long time to get stale, and enough variance such that both players have a good chance of winning. My partner and I have been playing it lately.

    5. (ascension also has a free mobile app, the complete game, no tricks, no ads, free. You have to buy the expansions, but the base game is good for quite a long while before you itch for new cards)

    6. The (almost) undisputed paragon of this genre - Gloomhaven - also has an intro spin-off called Jaws of the Lion which might fit the bill. It's a cooperative game though.

    7. Gloomhaven, it should be noted, is a pretty tight resource-management game which requires you to (practically) complete most missions in a fairly limited number of turns, which can be confusing to people expecting a more exploratory RPG-esque game.

      Also its between-missions RPG-decision elements are basically coin flips, and its lore is as dull as it is interminable.

      That said, it is a *great game*, and should be played - just that the bits that might entice an RPG fan are going to end up disappointing.

      (The first expansion, Forgotten Circles, is unplaytested rubbish and can be ignored.)

    8. Also, as a legacy game, Gloomhaven requires you to find 2+ people ready to commit to a 100+ hour campaign, because you're going to experience sadness if someone quits halfway through, even if you've purchased an optional "replay" pack.

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. @Tristan: I agree with "Talisman isn’t a great game to take seriously but it’s got a pretty strong narrative appeal," pretty much exactly, which is why it's one of my usual recommendations for 'dnd-lite' style board games. It's so close to Monopoly that it feels like a comfortable middle ground between harder gaming and traditional stuff.

      Ascension is my wife and mine's number one all time played game together (other than backgammon and gin rummy). Really great!

      I would say it's a steeper learning curve for a non-board gamer, but not too hard for anyone who is actually interested in learning.

      I have not played Gloomhaven, but it looks too 'heavy' for me (I like real RPGs and I like wargames, but the combo tends to turn me off for some reason).

    11. Haven't played Gloomhaven itself, but I am in the middle of the Jaws of the Lion prequel campaign. And I have to say, that Gloomhaven isn't a newb friendly casual game (although I do play as the Voidwarden, which I gather might be the least straightforward to play of the four characters), which I gather is what the Addict is looking for. And the story is truly awful, but the game mechanics are very good, and enough to keep going with it.

      Talisman on the other hand is nice casual game to play with non gamers.

  15. I have three versions of this board game: the original 1975 version which I inherited from a much older brother, the 1992 version which I got for Christmas as a kid, and newer 2010ish version. The later versions add new characters, such as a Paladin that can heal (in later versions, if you get wounded twice, you die) and Thieves (which can backstab other players).

  16. The dragon graphic in the first image remindede of this one:

    1. Or the Ultima II splash screen!

      Guess 8-Bit Dragons only come in so many flavours!

  17. "There are five "levels" to explore--really just five screens."

    Well, Rogue and NetHack do the same thing. It's just that each level here isn't as exciting.

    That purple worm is so cute. Between it and the Superhero, did this game's artist get influenced by anime/manga? Were Japanese CRPGs even around at this point? I know in 1982 we're definitely not yet at Dragon Quest and its huge artistic influence. Back in a while, gonna adopt me a purple worm.


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