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Can Mantic’s family friendly dungeon crawler beat HeroQuest?

Dungeon Saga Origins releases to retail this month, and publisher Mantic promises it’s “a family-focussed breath of fresh air” for the genre.

Dungeon Saga Origins heroes, a classic dungeon crawler crew of dwarf, barbarian, wizard, and elf

Ever since it was re-released in 2021, HeroQuest has dominated the conversation around dungeon crawler board games for families and children. Mantic Games’ new Dungeon Saga Origins (DSO), which will ship from game stores and Mantic’s webstore on May 20, is set to challenge that.

Originally released in 1989 and a happy memory in thousands of nerdy childhoods, HeroQuest has a nigh unassailable weight of nostalgia value behind it – not to mention its role in popularising the dungeon crawler genre as a whole. But as the modern version of the game hasn’t evolved much from its ‘80s origins, a little competition from DSO could be a good thing for first time gamers.

A mixed age group playing the dungeon crawler board game Dungeon Saga Origins

The DSO core set comes with four heroes who will be very familiar to HeroQuest players: a Dwarf Fighter, Human Barbarian, Human Wizard, and Elf Ranger, each with its own unpainted miniature. The included campaign, Trial of Tyranny, pits them against the forces of the undead, with 27 zombie baddies to bash over 10 quests. At $75 (£60) for the core set, it’s priced competitively against HeroQuest.

Most dungeon crawlers either pit one dungeon master player against a group of heroes, or hand over control of the monsters to AI rules or even an app. DSO does both, with rules for one player to become a malevolent Overlord, or to use AI rules or a Digital Overlord app to handle the monsters.

Contents of the core box set for the dungeon crawler board game Dungeon Saga Origins

We spoke to Mantic Games’ CEO Ronnie Renton earlier this year, and he explained a little about why Mantic decided to make the latest version of Dungeon Saga more family friendly. He recalls how his kids were in the process of leaving for university, and that he realised “I never had a game that I could pop out and say let me introduce you to miniature gaming”.

The hope is that “Dungeon Saga Origins is a game that lets a parent or adult club member share a little bit of what [wargamers] do” with youngsters, and show off how “moving miniatures and rolling dice is a total pleasure”.

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But when he describes the play experience, it sounds more like he wants adults to remember how much fun it is to play with toys: “I’m gonna run over here and bash him over the head with a massive two handed axe because I’m a barbarian”… “I’m gonna run over here and fire some arrows at him and knock them out because I’m an elf Ranger”… “I’m gonna run up and block their attacks, I’m gonna take the blows on my armor because I’m a stubborn dwarf”.

Zombies from the dungeon crawler board game Dungeon Saga Origins facing an elf hero

As gamers who regularly turn the turrets on our Space Marine tanks around and make “pew pew!” noises while we’re playing, we can relate to this level of enthusiasm.

If you’re looking for a midweight dungeon crawler you can play with teens, check out our Bardsung review. And if you want to bring younger kids into miniature wargames with a game that has even higher toy value, check out our Snap Ships Tactics review or our Necromolds review.