From its name on down, 5-Minute Dungeon is all about speed. You learn it fast, you play it fast, and if you’re not careful you lose it fast. You’ll also probably lose it a lot, but that’s okay. This isn’t the kind of game where winning or losing matters all that much.
5-Minute Dungeon occupies a place somewhere between an involved tabletop setup and a free-wheeling party game. Up to five players pick their hero and grab the deck of cards color-coded to that character. Some of these cards have special actions, but for the most part they display either a shield, a scroll, a sword, an arrow or a jumping guy. Your task is to use these cards to beat the first boss, Baby Barbarian, by supplying cards that match his stated requirements. But it’s not that easy. You also have to defeat twenty-five weaker cards before you even get to him. Some of these are regular villains who require only, say, two shields to beat. Others are special events or mini-bosses. On top of all that, you only have five minutes to succeed.
Your first play through will be chaos. This is a high speed card slapping game, which means it’ll take some time to organize how it works for your group. Someone should be assigned to flip the villain cards each time one is defeated. Someone else should sweep the used cards off the table. But quickly!
As you can imagine, with a game of five people, you might have four folks try to put down a sword at the same time. You might even hit each other’s hands in an effort to quickly defeat the newest opponent card. Give yourself a play-through to get used to the feel of the game and the room you’re taking to play it. Ultimately, you develop a rhythm that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
The first boss is beatable once you get into things. So is the second. I never got past the third. Each new boss requires more opponent cards and has higher icon requirements. By the time you get to them, it’s not uncommon to be out of cards completely. Even early in a game, you have to be careful about strategizing which cards you lay down because you might need them even more later. And then, of course, there are times (a lot of them, actually) when no one has the needed card. Maybe someone has a special power that lets players redraw. Maybe you’re just screwed. Either way, the clock is ticking, unless someone stops time, that is.
The character selection is one of 5-Minute Dungeon’s greatest assets. There are five classes, each with a different distribution of cards. So for instance, the yellow Valkyrie/Paladin class favors shield cards and so on. As a result, games with less than five players are at a bit of a disadvantage from the start. Furthermore, each class has a male and female version and rather than have these be arbitrary, both choices have their own unique special power. So it really matters who you play as, particularly if you want to balance what other players can or can’t offer.
Then again, you may not even remember your special power once things get going. That five-minute time limit is a real doozy. You can even keep track of it with a 5-Minute Dungeon app on your phone that adds a lot of fun flavor. But you might also end up throwing your phone against the wall.
The game is filled with cool and witty artwork, but you’ll have to appreciate it before and after your matches. There’s simply no time to look at the enemy names or ponder what fantasy trope they’re satirizing. You can buy a Marvel-licensed version of the game as well which looks to offer more than just different artwork, especially regarding character selection. But even then, the game is still going to be a bunch of card-slapping at speeds that’ll keep you from ogling anything too long.
There’s a limit to how much of the night you’ll want to spend on 5-Minute Dungeon, but that’s built into the nature of the game. It has more depth than I expected, but nevertheless remains pretty slight overall. On the other hand, it’s great for getting people in a gaming mood, as a palette cleanser between harder games, or as an option for playing with children. For those reasons alone, I’m very happy to have it in my collection.