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Published on September 6th, 2013 | by Colin

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Cardcore Gamer: Lifting the coffin lid on Von Drakk Manor

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Super Dungeon Explore is a lovely little arcade-styled dungeon bash board game, which I reviewed here. Von Drakk Manor is the suspiciously Castlevanioid expansion. Journey with me into the pulsating heart of Darkness! Spoiler: contains no zombies. :D

Images of Von Drakk Manor (originally announced as Glauerdoom Moor) appeared in August 2012, whetting the appetites of all Super Dungeon Explore fans with glimpses of grody new minions and creepy bosses with a distinctly ‘Ghouls and Ghosts/Castlevania‘ feel. Now that the gates have creaked open, let’s lurch into the crypt and see what bones are shakin’

Please Press Start IF YOU DARE!

Please Press Start IF YOU DARE!

Lovely, distinctive art adorns the box, showcasing the characters and colour schemes; very helpful for those who like to paint. SDE Always delights with consistent visuals and this is no exception…but it is just a box, so on we delve!

Oh just chuck him a bonio

Oh just chuck him a bonio

She looks innocent, but her arrows are pointy!

Making a nun cross is a bad habit...and now I'm fired.

Making a nun cross is a bad habit…and now I’m fired.

The three new hero sculpts are slightly different to those in the base game and the first expansion set Caverns of Roxor, being both slightly larger and made of a softer and darker grey plastic. The shift in scale is slight, but noticeable, though certainly not a deal-breaker, but I’m not too keen on the new material, though I can see why it has been used. The SDE miniatures are quite finely detailed and I’d rather have this new plastic that risk breakage of small parts down the road.

The sculpts themselves are great, with the Belmont-esque Von Wilding and his alter ego Von Wilder clearly the winners this time around. The pose of the Sister of Light looks slightly odd somehow, perhaps due to the odd angle of her hair, but clever use of the Celestial Herald’s wings makes for a very distinctive hero. So what are they like on paper (cardboard, whatever)?

Oh, give him a Snickers

Oh just give him a Snickers.

Von Wilding is a pretty solid character with a nice toolkit of abilities and some neat synergy potential for Holy heroes. His hairier form, Von Wilder, trades up versatility for increased speed, toughness and attack. I’m not entirely sure why they chose the name “Shagfest” for an ability though, he’ll never live that down. Interestingly, Von Wilder’s attacks cause ‘lycanthropy‘, making the target vulnerable to magic, but handing a free red attack die to the wounded enemy. This limits potential against bosses, but most regular minions will die with one hit, so it’s not an issue against rank-and-file goons.

Holy...what? Holy. They're just holy.

Holy…what? Holy. They’re just holy.

The Sister of Light will be one for careful positioning to make the most of her ‘Cross‘ action and attack. She seems to sit firmly in the ‘support/tank’ slot in the team and her attack and armour are actually pretty solid, so she shouldn’t need much protection. The Celestial Herald looks to operate like an angelic gunship; a flying, ranged weapons platform with ‘heart seeking’ arrows and the ability to hit multiple targets with ‘spray‘, topped off with a useful defensive potion.

So what about the grodiose minions and terrifying bosses? Well…

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Oh hi there, welcome back from the dead!

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Who ya gonna call? Lifebusters!

These are your first lot of goons, tied to the Shallow Grave spawn points and they are very much a mixed bag. First up are the Dust Coven Necromancer and the Dust Mages, who are excellent and pointless respectively. Both use the new ‘bone piles‘ and ‘raise’ rules which allow some dead minions to collapse into a heap and be respawned as ‘risen‘ Rattle Bones (more on those later), but where the Necromancer has the ability to raise multiple bone piles and then ‘compel’ them to move into action, the Mages can only pop up one at a time. Not only that, but their base stats are fairly unimpressive, aside from the ability to inflict ‘bind‘ and deny heroes their special actions.

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My shield is like a skull of steel!

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Bring me the head of Ray Harryhausen!

Next there are the glorious Dread Knights and the utterly generic Bone Heads. Dread Knights have a strong attack, a little armour and can knock down a hero’s defence and dexterity with ‘fragile‘ and ‘cold’. Disappointingly, Bone Heads are nothing special and have very little to distinguish themselves from the base set’s Kobold Knuckleheads, even lacking the former’s ‘mob’ ability. They are also the most numerous minion in the set. The really bad part is that when either of these minions are destroyed, they come back as…

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Undead village idiots.

Rattle Bones are crap. Crap stats, and no extra abilities (aside from a barely-useful ‘mob‘) other than coming from, then swiftly returning to a bone pile. The worst part is that while the box and card say that you should have six, you only get four and this has been officially declared to be correct. Oddly enough, as well as the misprints, you get six bone pile tokens in the box and if the number of Rattle Bones had been larger, then maybe they’d not be so poor in practice.

The real reason that they’re so useless is that to play effectively as the Dark Consul you need to deny Heroes their loot, which they can easily rack up by ploughing through cannon fodder units such as these. Without Rattle Bones presenting much of a threat, nor having adequate defence, they’re little more than loot-pinatas. Oh well.

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‘Ullo Burt!

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Look at the kitty-cat head broomsticks!

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What are you looking so smug about?

Skullbats, Curse Coven Witches and Miserable Toads all form part of the Pumpkin Patch spawn group and work pretty nicely as a magical combo of annoyance. Skullbats are statistically awful, but travel in pairs and can self-destruct (thus denying loot) to make heroes vulnerable to magic attacks and therefore the Witches, who have good Will to contest initiative, are quick, not too flimsy and pack both a nasty ‘knockdown and stun‘ attack and the brilliant Transmogrify potion. This is where the Toads come in.

A Miserable Toad is what Transmogrified Heroes become and this pathetic form all but spells doom for them. While the Toad can self-heal (if lucky) and can be ‘smooched‘ back to their normal form, they’ll instantly become a great big, easily killed target for any and all dungeon spawn. They’re a solid bit of thematic, halloween fun.

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GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF GET IT OFF!

 

This is the Crypt Spider, who lacks direct synergy with his Spawn fellows, but boasts pretty good armour and health backing up a truly nasty ‘slow’ and ‘poison’ combo with a strong attack. An unpleasant solo model that may well take some killing, but will almost certainly be subjected to massed attack and ‘fire’ by the Heroes. Plunking this bugly on the table is sure to have a fair bit of psychological power, too.

We’re now winding up to the big hitters; the miniboss and the titular Von Drakk himself! Let’s crack that slab and unleash the evil!

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HELLO.

Death Spectre kind of says it all; a staple of a certain video game series and an interestingly hit-and-run miniboss. With the ability to teleport across the board, then leech life from a Hero to heal, Death Spectre also boasts very good Armour and Will. While he’s unable to hit multiple targets at once, he can quite easily whittle down 3 wounds and strike a killing blow on any unwary Hero, before buggering right off and doing it again next turn.

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A million miles from Ben Affleck

 

And here’s the biggest cheese of all; Von Drakk! What’s that? Oh yes, he can shapeshift into a huge bat-beast known as Nocturne! Von Drakk in human form has the ability to heal on the dice, good attack and defence and the ‘dodge‘ ability and this is just as well; with 6 wounds, he’s not overly durable. His special abilities suffer a little from relying upon his rather crappy ‘risen’ troops (again, the Rattle Bones) but his shapeshift throws out a large stat boost, especially to his attack and armour, with the ability to go ‘Berserk’. Nocturne also gains an AOE ‘stun’ but with only 6 health total he won’t be invincible.

In summary and on first look, Von Drakk Manor has some great ideas and some excellent synergy in places, coupled with a new ability combo that is hamstrung by some truly pathetic minions. Despite the errata I do wonder if there were supposed to be 6 Rattle Bones all along and maybe fewer Bone Heads. The failings of the ‘meat-and-potatoes’ minions in both theme and stats do rather diminish the overall effect of this set and I intend to house-rule the Rattle Bones in the following manner:

New rule: All ‘risen’ do not advance the loot track when destroyed, but advance the power gauge as normal.

In this way, the Rattle Bones become a roadblock for the Heroes, tying up attacks, but giving no reward other than potions and hearts from the dice (perhaps not even that!). I might go as far as giving the Bone Heads ‘mob’ or ‘cold’ to give them a bit more flavour and I suspect I won’t be the only one.

Now put in your false fangs and yell “KISS MY MISERABLE TOAD, HEROES!”

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About the Author

Colin

Colin likes games. Sometimes he mischievously tells us we're all really in one big game. We only take him seriously when one of us goes missing. We've found two of out five people so far.



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