Dungeon Mayhem: Monster Madness Review: Character Over Complexity

Dungeons & Dragons is so hot right now. The easy-to-learn fifth edition, the meteoric rise of livestreams like Critical Role, and the general mainstream exposure thanks to shows like Stranger Things brought D&D to a new generation of players. The corporate powers behind D&D are responding as expected – by merchandising the crap out of the brand. There are t-shirts at Hot Topic, crossovers with all kinds of franchises, and a full slate of digital games on the way. Naturally, this means D&D-adjacent tabletop games aplenty.

Dungeon Mayhem began in 2018 as a fast-paced card game that pits Dungeons & Dragons adventures against one another. With its cartoony take on fantasy races and 10-minute playtime, Dungeon Mayhem is the epitome of a casual game for D&D fans. The latest expansion, Monster Madness, delivers more of the same with a few cute twists.

The original Dungeon Mayhem is a four-player battle royale and suitably came with exactly four decks based on D&D archetypes. Think Tiefling Rogue or Orc Barbarian. Monster Madness embodies the word “expansion” by increasing these core aspects of the game. There are new rules for five or six-player games, and six new decks to accommodate them. These decks differentiate themselves by being themed after famous D&D monsters. Players can now charm opponents as a beholder or burn it all down as a red dragon. And all of this comes in a large box (with included dividers!) that can fit the new cards, the old cards, and the 2019 expansion in one convenient place.

All of this makes it a must-buy for those who still frequently play the original Dungeon Mayhem. It takes everything the original did and adds to it in a very straightforward manner. Monster Madness can also be a standalone product, however, as it has the cards and rulebook needed to run games of all sizes.

Character Aplenty

Those who have played Dungeon Mayhem before know that the presentation is where much of the fun comes from. The graphics on the cards move away from the typical serious style of D&D books and embrace an exaggerated comic book look. This is more fun than ever when it comes to monsters, as the designers took their most notable properties and ran with them. The mimic deck, for instance, is full of “totally normal” items like the Completely Safe Door. The door has obvious teeth, by the way. The beholder with charm magic is drawn as a pretty pink princess who just happens to have one eye and laser-shooting eye stalks. Even those with a surface-level appreciation of D&D will get the references.

That’s the thing, though. This extremely casual approach comes at a slight cost.

Combat Rounds That Actually Last Six Seconds

The actual gameplay of Dungeon Mayhem is similar to a very simplified version of Magic: The Gathering. Each player has an equal amount of life points at the beginning of a match. Players can use attack cards to lower each others’ life points, or play shields to defend their own. Play continues until only one is left standing. Complicating matters are cards that can do things like restore life points, redirect attacks, or steal opponents’ abilities. Each player normally only gets to play one card per turn, encouraging quick games where the tables are constantly turning.

There is strategy in that each monster has its preferred style of fighting. The mimic, for instance, copies the cards and sometimes even life points of other players. The dragon just targets everything with all-consuming flames. However, when you’re playing one card a turn and participating in a big battle royale, there isn’t much chance to show off your character’s signature abilities. Who you decided to sit next to is as important as which deck you play.

Simplicity isn’t a bad thing. It’s just hard not to wonder if Monster Madness could have added more than just, well, more. Did this game, which is essentially a D&D-branded party game, really need an expansion? Then again, maybe bumping the player count up to six helps it be a better party game.

For The Monstrous D&D Fan

It all comes back to the idea that Dungeons & Dragons as a brand is expanding past its initial market. Products like Monster Madness aren’t meant to compete with or add to the core D&D game. Rather, they’re meant to be a fun little gift for longtime fans – or a way to make fans out of those who are intimidated by the rules and commitments of a tabletop RPG. It’s hard to imagine a product that meets such extreme ends of a spectrum could be successful. But someone must be buying it for it to earn this full-sized expansion. Some people just love mimics.

A copy of Monster Madness was provided by Wizards of The Coast for this review. Monster Madness available now through most major online and physical retailers.

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