Super Dungeon Explore: Arcade Mode Review

I got the first wave of The Forgotten King Kickstarter sometime last week. The game has two modes: Arcade, which is fully cooperative, and Classic, which is, well, the "classic" way to play. I've only delved into Arcade mode, so that's what I'm going to talk about in this post.

I'll get into the heroes some other time, because some of the originals got tweaked, I got another heap in the first wave (currently my hero roster is nearly at forty), and there's still more to come in the second wave. I will say that, so far, Brave-Mode Candy is fucking awesome.

If all you want to know is what I think, the short of it is that, quibbles about rules clarity aside, I really like Arcade mode. The game seems far less one-sided, plays faster due to the monster gang rules, and adds plenty of fun new bits, like new basic actions, exploration cards, and pets.

For us it seems a tad easy, what with princess coins, ease of treasure accumulation, and bosses not summoning hordes of monsters at the halfway mark. To be fair we've only played a couple times, and there are suggestions in the back for ramping up the difficulty. It might have also been because of our party composition: we're going to try out new heroes the next time and see how it goes.

So, that's my recommendation: if you like the original Super Dungeon Explore I think you're going to like this way more due to the tweaks and additions. If you didn't like Super Dungeon Explore because you prefer coop games, or were frustrated by how easy it is for the Consul to utterly dominate the game, then I'd definitely give this a chance.

If you've never played Super Dungeon Explore, it's a fast-paced, easy to learn and play, beat 'em up chibi dungeon-crawler. You run around beating up monsters for loot, potions, and hearts, smash spawning points, and ultimately try to destroy the boss. It's a great stepping stone to something more complex, like Descent, and you can use the minis for tabletop role-playing games.

The Heroes
Though the hero cards look pretty similar, there are some key mechanical additions and differences.

The middle of the card no longer says stuff like Magic, Missile, Reach, and such. Instead there are tiny icons by the stats, letting you know which can be used to attack (and the attack's range) or defend yourself. So if your STR has a little sword with a 1, you can use your STR to make a melee attack against something 1 space away. If your WILL has a wand with a 6, then you can make a magic attack against something up to 6 spaces away.

On the left-hand side is a picture of a crystal with one or two colors. This denotes the hero's crystal affinity. Crystal affinities, near as I can tell, only pertain to specific treasures. Like, one might give you +1 Red to your STR stat, but if your crystal affinity matches you instead get +1 Green to STR. Some monsters also have them, but I'm not sure what they do.

Some of the traits have been changed or removed. For example Dodge is no longer a thing: instead a hero that used to have Dodge can just use DEX to defend themselves (and, even better, still do so when suffering from the Slow or Knockdown status effects). Another example is Stealthy: instead of rolling DEX to reduce the range of an attack, it just gets reduced by 3 (to a minimum of 1).

Finally, potions. In Super Dungeon Explore you could use them pretty much whenever you wanted to, as often as you wanted to so long as you had them on tap. Hell, you could use a potion in anticipation of a hero with lots of red dice rolling another. We used to do this with the Claw Tribe Barbarian to give everyone +1 Blue to Armor and Backlash before the Consul went.

Now you can only use one (unless you have Alchemy, which lets you use two), you have to declare it during the hero's activation, and instead of an immediate effect it gives you a free, single-use action to use during your turn. The exception are emergency potions, which can be used during the Consul's turn.

In addition to special actions featured on the hero's card, you can also choose from a slew of new basic actions, including bandage (roll your WILL to remove a wound from a target), explore (draw an Exploration card), pick lock (roll your DEX to try and get two treasure cards from a chest), vigor (roll ARM to remove a Status Effect), and more.

There are still four item slots, but you don't gain loot the same way. Instead of having to rack up three wounds, you get one loot card per minion or elite monster you kill, up to three per turn. You also can't equip them right away: you have to wait for the power up phase (which at least happens after every hero and consul turn).

Treasure is not only gained in the usual manner, but you can easily gain way more than before. Partially this is because you can use dungeon keys or the pick lock basic action on a chest to draw two cards (and keep them both), Another key factor is that you get to place the treasure chests, meaning that you can plant them near tile entrances and even the starting token.

The Monsters
Monsters are way different, at least in Arcade mode, and I don't just mean how they try and stop the heroes.

First, they don't roll any dice. Instead they have static STR and ARM stats: if you want to avoid getting hit, your defense roll has to meet-or-beat the attacker's STR, and if you want to hit them you have to roll higher than its ARM (even if the attack tells you to use DEX or WILL or whatever). Effects that would have formerly added or removed dice just increase or reduce their stats.

Second, they come in three flavors: minion, elite, and solo.

Solo monsters are mini-bosses and bosses.

They do their own thing, and gain no inherent benefits from having other Monsters hanging around (though they can benefit from various support actions that other monsters use). Killing a mini-boss nets you a treasure card and dungeon key, but also makes minions and elites more powerful: their ARM and STR can both increase twice, and they can also gain add a random Status Effect to their attacks.

Something to note is that bosses no longer spawn hordes of monsters and teleport away with their timeout effect. Instead they add kicker effects to any minions and elites that are still alive.

By themselves minions don't do shit: the only Command they respond to is Move (I'll get to Commands in a bit), which causes them to follow an elite that they are bonded with (ie, within 2 spaces of), run towards the nearest elite that they can bond with if unbonded, or leg it to the nearest spawning point that can spawn an elite they can bond with, if there isn't an elite on the board.

Elites are the most common threat you'll deal with. They're similar to solos in that they actually attack the heroes, but they also gain bonuses when they are bonded with minions in groups that are called gangs. Here's an example of the Lil' Sprouts gang card (and minis):

See the two sets of stats in the upper right-hand corner? The set on the left is if the Sprout is all by his lonesome, while the set on the right is for when he as at least one Mook within 2 spaces: the Sprout not only attacks with a STR of 2, but his RNG is increased and he can attack three times.

The Sprout is the elite, with a Speed of 5, 2 Wounds, and an ARM of 3. He transforms into King Sprout when killed (Forced Shift and Shapeshift: King Sprout), and has the Virulent trait, which boosts his STR by 1 when attacking a hero with the Poison status effect.

The minions that he bonds with are the Mooks. They have the same Speed, but only 1 Wound and an ARM of 1. As I said above they don't attack, but if they are bonded with a Sprout they cause his attacks to gain Poison (which syncs with his Virulent trait), add the support action Rampant Growth to the Sprout's Commands (further boosting his STR, assuming the Command card has them use it), and let him use his "gang" stats.

You might be thinking, rather that hew through all of the minions, that you can just take out the elite and call it good. After all he only has two Wounds, and minions don't attack. Well, it's not that easy. When an elite is hit by a single-target attack, any Wounds get shifted to bonded minions until there aren't any left/within 2 spaces. So, you either have to use area-effect attacks, or use actions that push/pull monsters about to keep them separated.

The Setup
As before you lay out one dungeon tile per hero, each tile gets one spawning point and treasure chest, and the heroes put a starting token within four spaces of a tile door that isn't connected to another tile. Unlike before, spawning points are always placed in a specific spot, and treasure chests have to be placed within 5 spaces of the spawning point.

This means that you can drop the chest right next to a hero, and depending on the facing of tiles can put treasure chests by tile entrances, making it incredibly easy to get all of the treasure chests.

The loot deck is much as it was before, though the cards look different. The treasure deck is built using a default set of cards, which include six Boo Booties (two of which eats your gear). You are permitted to customize it with various other cards, though some cards feature hero or monster portraits: those can only be included if you are using said hero or monsters in the game.

Similarly, the exploration deck is built using a default set of cards, plus another set of cards related to whatever boss you're fighting.

Finally, all minion and elite monsters start in play. You have to put them within two spaces of the spawning point, and they can't be next to each other unless you have no other choice. My guess this is to avoid dropping an area attack on the entire batch right out of the gate, since the heroes always go first.

The Gameplay
The overall goal of the game is to defeat the boss. Since there's no Power Gauge, the boss spawns once all of the spawning points have been destroyed.

There's also no initiative roll: the heroes always go first (which I love, because it means you don't have to hoard WILL items whether or not it's a key stat for you). You activate any two you want, then the monsters go, then you activate two more heroes (starting with any that didn't go on the previous turn), then the monsters, and so on.

When you activate a hero, before you do anything else, there's an upkeep phase. During upkeep you end effects from the previous turn, like auras and potions, can spend princess coins (I'll get to those in a bit), apply healing effects (like from Tough), and apply Status Effects (like Fire and Poison). I like this, because it makes it explicitly clear that you heal first, then take damage.

Once the heroes are done it's the Consul's turn. Only monsters on the same tile as the heroes, and those directly connected do anything. Arcade monsters don't have a skull value, so every valid monster acts. The book actually states that for an easier crawl, arrange the dungeon tiles in a straight line. This will make it so that at the start of the game, only monsters on the starting tile and the next one over will do anything: the rest will just stay put until you advance to the second tile.

To determine what the monsters do, you draw a Command card. These usually have a set of Commands, like Move x 1, Unique x 1, and Fight x 1, though the Recover card removes all Status Effects and one Wound from the Monsters.

Monsters usually go after the Hero with the most Wrath (though the Griefer Command card makes them target the one with the lowest). Wrath is analogous to aggro in MMOs, and is gained each time you kill a monster, open a treasure chest, drink a potion, and use support actions.

The rules specify that they'll avoid harmful terrain effects if possible, so you can't run them through difficult terrain to slow them down (unless they have Surefoot, which let them ignore it), and/or brambles to hit them with the Poison status effect (unless, again, they are immune to Poison).

Something that the book wasn't clear on, but I was able to figure out online, is that monsters will move towards the hero with the most wrath, but will attack the hero with the most wrath that they can get to. So, you can't use one or more heroes to block entrances and passages, to prevent them from getting into a fight.

There's also a spawn command, but again since Arcade monsters don't have a skull value it causes every available monster to respawn. If you killed a couple Mooks, they respawn. If you wiped out the entire Lil' Sprouts gang, then all of them make a comeback. So, hopefully it comes in last on the list. On the upside, each time a spawning point spawns monsters it suffers a wound: at least that will make it easier to destroy.

Speaking of destroying spawning points, when one is destroyed you put a mini-boss and a princess coin in play. Princess coins can be used during upkeep to either fully heal or revive a dead hero (no more resurrection charms). When you finally kill a mini-boss you not only get a treasure card, but it also drops a dungeon key. Dungeon keys can be used to allow anyone to safely open a treasure chest and get two treasure cards.

The last major addition to the game are exploration cards. You draw one the first time a hero enters a new tile, and you can also use the explore basic action once per tile (meaning that, besides the starting tile, you can get up to two per tile).

They often cause creeps to spawn (the number in the mouth of the weird, purple face). creeps are obnoxious little shits—especially the rabid squirrels—that aren't worth any loot at all, and pretty much solely exist to harass you and make you waste your time.

Exploration cards can also introduce an effect (which can be good or bad, like netting you a princess coin or preventing you from using certain actions) or trigger a trap. Traps do something whenever a hero moves onto or next to a trap template, but affect both heroes and monsters. They can be disarmed using the disarm trap basic action (roll DEX against the trap's ARM).

Closing Words
As I said at the start, I fucking love Arcade mode. After the countless, regular total party wipes of Super Dungeon Explore, the only reason I'm even going to try Classic mode is to see if there were any meaningful changes made, in particular some that would prevent me from using my key strategies (and I'll be writing an article on Arcade strategies). 

With the new loot mechanics you're pretty much guaranteed to get three on every turn. I don't mind this, since it allows heroes to not have to focus entirely on slaughtering monsters, and can help both lessen the blow of playing with two heroes that use the same key stat, and losing it to monsters that destroy gear on a hit (like one type of Boo Booty and Trent).

I also like how you can regularly get access to more treasure cards. This is something I disliked from the original, where you'd maybe get 2-3 depending on treasure chest placement, and a lot of times it wouldn't even be useful. Even as a veteran player, when I played a hero it was difficult to get to the chest on the third tile, unless Melissa was deliberately merciful and placed it near the entrance.

Now you can easily get six or more per game: just have a high DEX character pick the lock of the first one for two, or just be patient, kill the mini-boss, and use a key to get three (since the mini-boss drops one, too). They still might not all be useful (in the last game we played as of writing this we discarded two), but your odds are certainly better.

Kinda related, I've been working on my own tabletop role-playing game. Not only are these minis perfect for it (ditto for the art style), but coincidentally the monsters use minimal stats that the characters roll against; Attack and Defense. I also mentioned during our last Hangout playtest that I'm changing it so that when defending against a horde of monsters, the Difficulty just goes up and you roll once.

Image Dump
Here are some random pics from our most recent game:

We've got a bunch of awesome stuff going on this month:

Today's the last day to sign up for this month's Mythoard, which features a Dungeon World adventure written by me.


  1. thanks so much for covering this! I've been waiting for a long time for a game like this to be playable with my wife or even by myself (I'd just control all the heroes ya know?). So thank you for covering it! Gonna have to take the plunge. As for which to get, Forgotten King, right?

  2. You're welcome!

    Start with The Forgotten King, and if you really like the game pick up Super Dungeon Explore (The Forgotten King has conversion cards for it, so you can use those minis for Arcade Mode).


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