Fight Your Way out of the Dungeon in “Unbroken”

unbroken game

The general theme of most dungeon crawler games inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings, or similar, is to fight your way through monsters and evil denizens, attain a prize of some sort, and then scurry back out before you’re killed, run out of food, or have something else dire transpire. Heck, the text-only computer game “rogue” had that theme when I was back in college back in 19[mumble], so it’s been around for quite a long time.

In the solo dungeon crawler game Unbroken, the theme is flipped on its head: the game begins just after monsters have attacked you at the lowest levels of a dungeon, slaughtered all your compatriots and left you for dead without armor or weapons. All you’ve got is your fighting spirit and hopefully just a bit of luck. And you’ll need it, because Unbroken is not an easy game to win!

Current on Kickstarter, it’s doing great with funding and should end up being a really great addition to any gamer’s library, and with a play thru time of 30-45 minutes, it’s a solid rainy day option too. I tested out the print-and-play version, so the final artwork and design will be subtly different, though game play will remain the same.

I’ll walk you through my latest attempt, including how I ended up in a no-win situation and, well, succumbed and lost.

You start by picking one of four different characters, each of which has unique skills and attributes. I decided that the Sneak would be interesting:

unbroken - sneak

You can see that he has three skills: flexible, take a peek and dodge. I think dodge is probably the most useful, but let’s proceed and you’ll understand how all come into play.

The game is played in four cycles, each ending with a monster to overcome and defeat. Each phase is broken down into phases, the first of which is the travel phase. This is critically important because it lets you equip yourself for the upcoming battle. Once you’re ready to encounter the monster – or if you run out of time and end up having it ambush you – you move to the second phase: combat. Defeat the monster and you move to rewards, hunger, and new phase setup. Your currency is essentially effort: You start with small effort units, and expand into medium and large effort, the latter of which allow you to do more and be much more effective in combat. Time is your constant enemy, though, and it’s ever diminishing while you’re trying to equip yourself; run out of time and the monster attacks even if you’re not ready.

That’s tracked with the following cards:

unbroken dungeon game basic cards

The left card tracks my attributes, objects and effort, the central card tracks time and monster armor and health during combat, and the right card is my current weapon. Bare hands. Not so great against serious bad guys, but ya gotta start somewhere!

On the left card, the resources, starting at the top, are cunning (the fox), metal (knife), wood, food and treasure. Below it are small, medium and large effort and you start with 13 small effort which you’ll need to cannily convert into more useful things against whatever beast you’ll be fighting at the end of the phase. Time starts at 7 (look closely, you’ll see 2, 3 and 4 slash spots: the blue cube is on the 1 slash spot denoting the starting time for level 1). The Bare Hands card shows you the basic mathematics of all transactions in Unbroken: resources + effort = outcome. The first one, for example, shows that a large effort can defeat 1 point of shield, two small effort will cause 1 heart of injury and two medium effort will cause three injuries against the monster’s health. Below you can see the same formulas, but for upgrading your weapon: To go from bare hands to a club, you’ll need three wood, one small effort and one time. A knife requires one metal, one medium effort and two time.

There’s more to the equations, though, because during the travel phase you can also use as many general actions as you’d like. Here they are:

general actions - unbroken

The most important one here is Scout, actually, because it lets you reveal the monster you’re going to be fighting while you’re still equipping yourself in the travel phase. Darn useful to know if they have armor, for example, or special actions that can cause trouble for you. We’ll get back to that, however, so look and notice that “focus”, produces a medium effort for four small effort, “inspiration” turns two medium effort into one large effort, and so on. You cannot, however, create wood, metal or food. So how do you get ’em? With the Encounter Cards.

Remember, we’re still in the travel phase, so it’s basically a series of iterations of you doing general actions and encounter actions until you either run out of time, run out of effort, or hit a card that forces you into the combat encounter. And so here are two typical encounter cards:

unbroken - encounter cards

This was one spot where I was very confused by the rules included with the print and play: The cost of playing the card is shown in time units, and in addition you can choose which card to play, but you have to play one of the two drawn from the encounter deck. Don’t want to or can’t play either because of the spend? You can have a “nap” cycle which will add the number of time units as small effort, but cost the amount of time specified too. Yeah, a bit confusing. In the Forsaken Shrine card example, to utilize it will cost one time, but spending one small effort to get a medium effort is really good when the general transaction is usually 4:1 for that improvement. Greedy Goblin will cost two time and you’ll need a treasure, which you can then convert into two metal, which is darn handy for upgrading weapons. If you have plenty of time but too little small effort and no treasure, you can use the Greedy Goblin as a nap card and gain two small effort at the cost of two time. Got it?

One more thing to explain and show; the monster cards. There are six monsters at each level of the game and four levels total. You roll a D6 and choose the appropriate monster for the level you’re at. As I start out at level 1, here’s what I ended up with:

feral hyena monster - unbroken

Ah man, a Feral Hyena. You can see she has 4 health points to start the battle, will cost me two small effort if she ambushes me (e.g., I run out of time), can be tricked by me throwing some food and offers some terrific rewards (at the very bottom) if I defeat her in combat!

Let’s rumble, puppy! Since it’s not an ambush –  you really don’t want to run out of time in the travel phase! – I get to attack first. Here’s what I’ve got:

unbroken fighting feral hyena

Notice I have gained one metal and two medium effort. At the beginning of combat the time tracker jumps to the current monster level + 1, so it’s in my best interest to dispatch this critter as quickly as possible. Two medium effort with bare hands inflicts 3 damage, leaving the Hyena with one health. I move my medium effort tracker cubes down and mark 1 on the health tracker for the monster. Her turn. Which is easy: I roll the D6 and … a 2. Phew. No effect.

My second attack is easy, a two small effort = -1 health and that’s enough to kill the laughing, um, feral, not-so-laughing hyena. Winner!

Now I get to collect my rewards of two food and four small effort. The hyena is tossed, and I’m just about ready to move to level 2, once I gain a new skill from the skills deck and eat. I had no food but luckily BBQ hyena turns out to be quite tasty so I immediately consume one of my new food resources, which adds another one to my small effort. And I’m ready to move to phase two and go against a second level monster. Here’s how that looked as I went into combat:

unbroken - level 2 monster

I’ve upgraded to a knife, but am otherwise pretty low on resources. Fortunately the above is after I’ve killed the darn bear with a single attack since I started combat with a large effort, cunning and some small effort. Toss all three against the Knife card and that’s 5 damage, a killing blow. BOOM! Of course, the bear’s special action is that it actually attacks after being defeated and as you can see on the die, a 5 would cost three time, but the Sneak can Dodge, which drops the roll down by 1 and produces a wound, -2 small effort.

And so it went until I got to the third level beast, which I simply wasn’t prepared for as I had nothing to combat their armor:

unbroken level 3 monster

And that, as they say, was that. With no way to actually defeat the Hobgoblin with the resources and effort I had, I collapsed into a heap and accepted the defeat as the monster slaughtered me, cackling all the way. Bummer.

THOUGHTS ON UNBROKEN

That’s the game play, but is it fun? Does it make sense? The answer is a cautious ‘yes’. There’s some confusion in the print and play rules that I expect will be addressed in the final rules and it desperately needs a single round walk-thru of what happens when, along with a handy reminder cheat card. I kept finding that I’d forget to advance the time tracker before combat, or forget to take advantage of my skills or, more often, have a bad series of card draws and be unable to acquire the necessary resources to improve my position to reflect the strengths of the upcoming monster. Frustrating.

unbroken game

Some of the challenges could be overcome with a bit of creativity and some design improvements too. For example, the monster armor and health tracker should be either on each monster card or on its own card that you slip below the monster card so there’s a logical connection. The time tracker could also be a clock or wheel that you used to track resources, and the icons need some color too, so that medium and large effort are more easily differentiated. Time costs on encounter cards could be shown as “-1” and “-2” to more clearly denote that they’re a cost, not a benefit. Or, heck, green time units could consistently show a gain of time, while red is a loss of time. Etc.

But don’t be deterred, there’s definitely a fun game here and I keep plugging away at Unbroken, determined to understand how to prepare not just for the upcoming battle but be smarter about which encounter cards I opt to utilize so that I’m also preparing for the bigger fights further down the road with the more formidable level 3 and level 4 monsters. I haven’t won the game yet, but as the designer says, the game isn’t meant to be easy!

Check out the Kickstarter campaign for Unbroken, which runs thru April 24! You’ll notice it’s way overfunded, which means lots of cool stretch goals which will bring about a lot of add-ons and improvements to the components too.

Disclosure: I was sent a print and play copy plus tokens for the purpose of this review.

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