Dungeon Petz accessibility teardown

Dungeon Petz (2011) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameDungeon Petz (2011)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Heavy [3.58]
BGG Rank164 [7.51]
Player Count2-4
Designer(s)Vlaada Chvátil
Artist(s)David Cochard
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English Edition

Introduction

Our view is that Dungeon Petz is a hot mess of overbearing mechanisms and prissy proceduralism. It’s a shame so lovely a theme should have been squandered on such an unnecessarily bureaucratic beast. We gave it two stars in our review, which as is often the case puts us fair out of whack with the general consensus of the hobbyist community. Such is life. We are nothing if not prepared to take a hit for the team.

What really matters here though is its accessibility – I’ll be honest, I’m not expecting much and it’s probably a good idea if you don’t either. However, I’m often as surprised as anyone by what a teardown shows at the end so who knows – maybe we’re all in for a surprise. Let’s rattle the bars of these cages and see what we might rile up.

Grawr!

Colour Blindness

Colour is something of a problem although close inspection will usually be sufficient to discriminate. On the pet dials the largest chunk of gameplay information is provided by colour icons, but there are small symbols embedded within that allow for overlapping colours to be told apart. That becomes difficult to do at a distance though.

Colour blind pet dials

The two different kind of food tokens are likely to be an issue for those with Deuteranopia, but there are positional clues that can be used to help alleviate this problem for the most part. The largest issue will come in the ‘omnivorous’ stall which sells both meat and vegetables. When you buy foods you place them on the appropriate area of your player board, but it might be necessary to inquire of the table when you buy things to see where the pieces should go.

Colour blind food tokens

Player score tokens have problems for some categories of colour blindness too.

Colour blind player tokens

As do the imps.

Colour blindness imps

The need cards are prominently marked with symbols on the back that can be used to tell them apart. As you can see from the first image in this section it may be a little more difficult to allocate these needs to the symbols shown on the pet cards especially because there seems to be no logical link between them.

Colour blindness needs cards

The imps are probably the most significant problem here but in the end all you really need to know is that a space has been occupied – it matters less by whom. It will though sometimes on occasion be worth knowing that when competition becomes increasingly fraught. For collecting imps up at the end of a round it’s a problem too but the table as a whole can assist with that.

We’ll tentatively recommend Dungeon Petz in this category.

Visual Accessibility

There is a massive amount of information that a player needs to track, and all of it is important to know. Here’s a list of just some of the thing that are going to change on a regular basis:

  • Which cages are available and what characteristics do they have?
  • Which pets are available, what are their diets, what are their needs and how do they evolve as the pet ages?
  • Which add-ons are available and what do they do for cages?
  • Which artefacts are on sale and what they do?
  • How much food is for sale on each stall?
  • How many imps would be claimed if you went recruiting?
  • What imp groups has everyone set up and what size they are?
  • What spaces have been already picked and which will you be able to get by the time your turn come around?
  • What does the next exhibition involve and what will score and penalise a creature?
  • What’s the next customer looking for and how does that map onto your menagerie?
  • What creatures do you have in each cage?
  • What needs does a creature need to have satisfied?
  • What creatures does an opponent have and how likely are they to satisfy the needs?
  • How valuable are an opponent’s creatures with regards to exhibitions and sales?

There are more, but all of these are of critical importance to making strategic decisions. They are also very tightly related. For example, knowing the creatures you have and their needs is going to inform which cages you want to buy and whether or not you’ll be able to score well for exhibitions and sales. Each different colour of need has its own deck composition and your ability to deal with certain symbols will be dependent on that information.

Pets for sale

Knowing what food is available and the diets of the creatures an opponent has will inform how competitive certain stalls are going to be. Knowing how well someone else might be able to score will tell you whether you should try and bribe judges, or whether to go for the black market or a public sale.

All of this information can be queried but the problem is that there is so much of it and almost all of it will change after every action a player takes. As soon as one group buys a pet that will change the entire calculation of everything and any previous mental state a player has of the game is going to be almost instantly invalidated. Merely the existence of another carnivore in the ecosystem, as a simple example of this, will mean the value of meat goes up.

Much of the information that a player has available to them is presented in small icons and text and this can be difficult to make out. These include needs on a creature or the composition of each deck as it is expressed on your player board. When pets are placed on cages they’ll tend to obscure key elements of their constraints and there’s little consistency in how those are presented. Similarly with customer and exhibition tiles – they are information dense and their layout will vary.

A hand of cards

Your need cards show information only visually, and it’s not only the symbols that are important but the colours of the cards. Assigning a red anger symbol versus a purple anger symbol is a decision with considerable impact. You’ll be deciding between a huge number of cards that need to be partitioned between the creatures you have in your dungeon. You draw one card of an appropriate colour for each need bar on each creature and they go into a shared pool that you then allocate. That has to take into account cages, exhibitions, customers and the dispositions of your pets themselves.

The game is so information dense and so tightly interrelated in its mechanisms that we don’t at all recommend Dungeon Petz in this category although as is usually the case it can likely be played if someone really , really wants to make the effort.

Cognitive Accessibility

This is an awfully complicated game with dozens of rules, each of which have many specialisations, exceptions and caveats. The interrelationship of gameplay systems guarantees a game that is almost unplayable in this category for those with fluid intelligence impairments. This is a game that is exhausting to play under ideal circumstances.

The level of numeracy required is high because you have a constant job of evaluating probabilities (an explicit part of needs management), scoring opportunities, value of pets and the value of money in imp allocation. Even just working out how much you might get for an exhibition is complicated by the fact it’s bound up in a window of uncertainty – it depends at least in part on how well you’re going to be able to satisfy the needs you’ll draw after you commit your imps to the action.

The interrelationship of game systems doesn’t create synergies that must be managed but instead creates interlinked dependencies that mean you can’t do one thing without changing a half-dozen others. Buying a new pet for example changes everything for everyone – it changes how you’ll have to deal with pet need allocation (there will be more needs but also more flexibility because you’ll draw more cards), and that changes how risky it is to go for an exhibition and how much a pet might score in a sale. Similarly, that in turn changes the value of both the exhibition bribery square and the selling squares on the board for everyone. You buy a new herbivore and suddenly the vegetable stall becomes more important to the entire table because its suddenly in more demand. That in turn puts pressure on addons that satisfy hunger and potion squares that can calm needs. The viability of an exhibition may change dramatically as a result. You can’t touch any part of this game state without changing everything and that leads to an intense complexity that is incredibly difficult to effectively manage. Understanding anything in Dungeon Petz needs you to at least sort of understand everything.

On top of this there are many different tokens and symbols and they all get treated differently. Gold acts as an imp when it comes to deciding group size but it’s only necessary for buying a pet. Meat tokens work differently to vegetable tokens, and each artefact has its own specific effect. The composition of each need deck is different, with a particularly dominant need expressed within. Each need has its own specific and nuanced way of being handled and there are conditions and subclauses within all of these. Even something as simple as a pet escaping has a range of different possible pathways and outcomes that need to be worked out and they might dramatically alter the impact of later stages of the game.

The flow of the game is malleable due to the way action order is decided by secret bid. You make a lot of commitments in the market phase of the game that you’re going to have to live with in the later stages and so your actions often have consequences that are decoupled from the time you take them. That can lead to a great deal of uncertainty as to the why of outcomes as well as a corresponding difficulty in filtering even the simple causal elements through a mesh of probability.

Scoring is complicated by timing, specific ways in which cards have been allocated and even elements of diegetic cheating such as bribery. Timing is important here because pets have a window in which they are most valuable and you might not be able to take advantage of a profitable customer if you don’t choose the right spaces on the market board at the right time.

All of these issues impact on both of our categories of cognitive accessibility, and we cannot recommend the game in either. Our anti-recommendation is a little less strident for the memory category because there are few things that you genuinely need to memorise. There’s a lot though that will result in more effective play if memory is not a problem.

Physical Accessibility

Hoo boy, we’re not having a lot of positive things to say here. The first and most significant problem is that everything in Dungeon Petz is fiddly. Whether it’s aging pets up via the aging wheel or allocating imps to groups you’re often having to utilise fine-grained motor control to make changes to the game state. For the imp stage you do this in secret which is normally done by folding the front of your sheet up and holding it in place. That means that you’re doing most of this one handed because the front won’t stay up otherwise.

Player board

This has to be done simultaneously and in secret because someone knowing the order in which you assign groups would change the way they assign theirs. It’s not really feasible to have a player do this on another’s behalf without some very strict rules about the permanence of allocation – and since imps are allocated behind a screen it would be necessary for someone to be very much on the honour system not to nudge imps around to take advantage of privileged information. If this isn’t necessary then the tiny imp components and the fact you’re manipulating them in groups is going to put an unusual amount of pressure on fine-grained motion given that this is a relatively standard worker placement game. The spaces for imps are not generous and you may have three or four of them sometimes that you’re trying to put in a particular location of the board.

Imps in close proximity

Card management is a huge problem because of the sheer number of them with which you’ll be dealing at any one time. If you have a full menagerie of creatures, each of which is a couple of turns old, you’ll have a hand of thirty cards you need to partition out by colour and symbol between four beasts. Here it’s not only the icon that matters but also the colour of the card – there are times you’ll want to allocate a red aggression and a purple hunger rather than a purple aggression and a red hunger. There’s an awful lot of in-hand management and really it’s too much for verbalisation to be an effective strategy. You’d need several card holders for one thing and the combinations of cards you play are often very specific and very tentative until you finally commit yourself. The cards are quite small, which is better given the hand sizes you often must deal with, but they’re also pernickety and occasionally difficult to manipulate.

Verbalisation is possible when it comes to allocating imps to the board once they’ve been set in groups, but the impact of playing an imp may result in a lot of manipulation of your own local board. For example when you buy a cage you might want to move your creatures around, or you might want to move around food tokens or apply add-ons upgrades. The boards you get aren’t too cramped but they also expect some degree of alignment of component to outline on the board.

A cage on a board

There’s an awful lot of game state that you need to track in Dungeon Petz, and it’s helpful if you can move around or at least position yourself to be able to see sometimes quite small information. You’ll often want to know the needs that a player will be allocating for their various creatures, and buying a pet depends at least in part on what needs it will require satisfying as it ages.

None of these are huge deal-breakers but the problems increase in intensity exponentially with severity of impairment.

Dungeon Petz then is likely playable though for those with fine-grained physical impairments but it’s likely to involve a degree of support from the table and as such we only very tentatively recommend it in this category. Those with larger scale motor impairments won’t have much to worry about except for the fact the game state of the board tends to sprawl a fair bit and you’ll often want to see things that are relatively far away.

Emotional Accessibility

This can be a frustrating game in a number of ways. For one thing, your ability to choose an action you need depends on the bidding and that’s done in secret. You often find you didn’t bid enough, which can be annoying, or you bid too much and that can be infuriating. You often need to commit to actions before you fully know the consequences, and you can find even safe bets turn out to be a problem just because of a bad draw of needs cards. There are ways to mitigate that through potions and artefacts but those depend on being able to get to the necessary squares. Suffering, manure and growing pets all create an escalating difficulty curve to dealing with a pet and it’s possible to lose an awful lot of progress because a ‘safe’ deck turned around and bit you. The purple deck is mostly magic for example. The green deck is mostly hunger. It’s possible to draw nothing but aggression cards from each and that might result in the food and anti-magic protection you built into a cage being useless as the monster breaks out and escapes. The bigger the creature the harder it is to keep it and the more you lose when it disappears.

On one level that’s just ‘well you should have sold it earlier’ but the option to sell may have been blocked off by other players (or dummy players in a two-player game). That in turn becomes ‘well, you should have bid higher’ but it’s also possible that someone bid everything and still didn’t get to go first because players can have different numbers of imps. ‘Should have bought more imps’, but again – maybe that option was blocked off and it would have been blocked off by the person that now has an imp advantage. There’s always a reason why someone was disadvantaged. Sometimes that reason is on the end of a long chain of compounding responsibility where the proximal cause is not the actual cause. The impact of that is that it’s possible in Dungeon Petz not just to have a bad round but to set yourself up for a bad game. Advantage tends to compound here and luck plays a big role in how well you do when dealing with your pets. Importantly, disadvantage also tends to compound. One round you can’t clear away enough manure. The next round your pet gets diseased because of the manure which means you can’t actually sell it which means that a pet you already can’t support gets even bigger in the next round. Maybe you’re not even able to sell it then because the customer has no interest in your sick, shit-covered ogre.

Dungeon Petz is also a game that is intensely prone to over-cogitation without a corresponding performance gain to justify it. So much is unknown about the course of a round when you commit to your actions that it’s easy to plan out a perfect menu of activity and find none of it gels together as well as you might hope. That can feel very unfair because in the end all you can do is play the percentages and hope they work out mostly in your favour. When they don’t, well – you can play optimally and still be boned.

Score disparities can thus be very high, but it’s very hard for that to be engineered. There’s no real reason for players to gang up on anyone else because scoring is primarily conducted between best performers rather than weakest performers. The competition tends to be most cut-throat between the strongest players which does at least give someone a chance to catch their breath when things go wrong. Unfortunately players will aggressively get in each another’s way without there having to be a conscious desire to conspire to bring about those circumstances.

We’ll only tentatively recommend Dungeon Petz in this category.

Communication

Normally this would be a strong recommendation – no need for literacy when playing and no communication requirements. However, you need to cross reference the manual so often for game effects and rules clarifications that it’s a genuine impediment to game flow.

We’ll still recommend the game because this issue will get less onerous as time goes by but it will have a substantive impact in the short term.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

It’s hard to know what to say here when there is gendered art but it’s not human. Is that good? Is it bad? Whatever it is the box is very endearing and there is a good balance of all kinds of things there. It’s a kind of diversity and I don’t want to moan when I don’t have to. The manual makes use of the second person perspective. It’s all fine and dandy.

Dungeon Petz box

Like many Czech Games Edition titles it’s actually reasonably affordable given what you have in the box. There’s a lot in here, and an RRP of £35 is a perfectly fair price for it. It’s undoubtedly obvious from our review that it’s not a game that I think is worth the money but that has to be interpreted as an isolated voice. Its BGG rank is 164 and it is generally very well regarded. Our view is contrary, as it so often is, and as such can be safely ignored in favour of the more positive consensus. I suspect for those that do play and enjoy it the depth of the game systems will lead to it being something that can be played again and again without losing any real sense of novelty or value.

We’ll strongly recommend Dungeon Petz in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

Given the accessibility profile here you can probably guess – our tentative recommendations for physical accessibility and colour blindness would be revoked were there to be an intersection of these. Particularly given how often close inspection of pets is going to be necessary. Given the level of verbalisation required, we’d also revoke our recommendations if there was an intersection of communication and physical impairments. All other intersections are covered by the grades we give in individual categories. It’s a problematic game wall to wall as far as accessibility goes.

It’s also a game that lasts, in my experience, considerably longer than its play time would suggest. Ninety minutes is already a substantial period of time but I think it feels more like about 45 minutes plus maybe 30 minutes per player. A lot of the game is handled simultaneously but there’s still an awful lot of thinking and planning and calculating and every additional player makes that considerably more difficult. There’s no clean way to drop out of play either since there are particular game boards and rules you need to adopt for different player counts. You’re pretty much in this until the end or until someone can step in and take your place for you. If that’s not possible the game will need to be postponed or cancelled.

Conclusion

It’s a game we don’t want to play, and a game that most people won’t be able to play. Dungeon Petz unfortunately didn’t escape Meeple Like Us with a playful scratch around its ear and a new chew toy. This is a game that is going away to live on a farm.

Dungeon Petz, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessC
Visual AccessibilityE
Fluid IntelligenceE
MemoryD
Physical AccessibilityC-
Emotional AccessibilityC
Socioeconomic AccessibilityA
CommunicationB

A lot of this is simply down to the vast amount of stuff the game throws at you – both in terms of components and in terms of design. Tiny little imps that come with genuine weight to their placement. Rotating pet dials that must be nurtured in relationship to a deck of needs that is complex and treacherous. An economy of pet sales that relies as much on timing as it does on training. Dungeon Petz, regardless of what way you look at it, is a difficult sell for an accessibility teardown and its grade profile reflects that.

We gave Dungeon Petz two stars in our review. We feel that a game that leaves us feeling so tired should marry that exhaustion to a sense of elation. Instead at the end of a session of Dungeon Petz I mostly just feel harried. That’s not a sensation likely to endear a game to me and its rating reflected that. Its accessibility profile – well, that’s a different story but it’s not much more encouraging. The chances are if we didn’t put you off playing the game with our review you’ve got reasonable grounds to believe its inaccessibility will be the thing that ends up saving you from yourself.

 


A Disclaimer About Teardowns

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

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