By: Mr. Saint with input from Mrs. Saint
Note: Review originally published on BGG September 2018.
Gen Con 2018 was our first Gen Con. It was the Mrs.’s first gaming convention ever. Intentionally, we left ourselves plenty of time on the first day to just take in the Exhibitor Hall and see what the depth and breadth of the convention would be. While wandering the Exhibitor Hall aimlessly, a man in a sharp beret called out to us. “Do you two like cooperative dungeon crawlers?” Little did he know that co-op was our favorite way to play, and dungeon crawlers were among our favorite genres. Thus began our enthusiasm for Wakening Lair, by Rather Dashing Games.
The goal of Wakening Lair is to find and defeat the Monstrous Terror before it can escape the dungeon. This is done by exploring a randomly created dungeon of 12 connected rooms. Each player selects a hero with a unique ability to be the avatar of their dungeon-delving. Play is crisp, with each player turn consisting of rolling two dice to reveal a room (or add monsters to an already revealed room) and then taking up to three actions.
These actions consist of attack, move, and perform special abilities unique to heroes and items. Each hero attacks using one of two damage types, listed on their hero card. If you’re attacking in a room that matches one of your damage types, you have Room Advantage, granting +1 to all dice rolls. If a monster has a matching symbol to your hero’s attack, you may “Press the Attack”, allowing you to possibly deal multiple wounds with a single action. Defeating monsters via attacking yields treasure (or possibly traps!). Then any monsters left in a room have the opportunity to attack the hero back.
Wakening Lair uses a clever system for treasure earned from defeating monsters. Any card gained can be equipped as a weapon or an item, but a hero can never gain the benefits of both parts of a single treasure card. Certain weapons are better suited to certain heroes, allowing them to roll significantly more dice in combat, and most items are generally useful for everyone. This system allows for real choice in an individual hero’s power progression, and adds a bit of tension as well. Do you give the Sunstone Rod to the Wizard so she now has a 3 dice attack? Or do you keep the Amulet of Channeling for yourself, giving your hero a significant power boost?
The endgame is triggered by drawing the “The Monstrous Terror Awakens!” card in place of a normal monster. This spawns one of six randomly selected boss monsters, each with their own behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. Once spawned, the Monstrous Terror will advance towards the dungeon’s entrance at the end of every hero turn. If the heroes can defeat it before it escapes, they win!
Mr. Saint’s Thoughts:
There is a lot to like about Wakening Lair. One of the things I like most about it is that it is one of the few games we own that is true to it’s stated duration on the game box (30-40 minutes). By design, this duration is rock solid even at different player counts (tested with 2 to 4 players, we have not had the opportunity to play with 6 as of yet but mechanically it seems like this would continue to hold true). It is rare that games are honest about their stated duration and that said duration works across multiple variable player counts, so Wakening Lair is certainly noteworthy in that regard.
As the Mrs. and I are starting our family (baby #1 on the way!), games like Wakening Lair catch my eye more and more. There is enough nuance here that player decisions matter, but the core mechanics of the game are simple enough that a child could grasp them (the box says Ages 14+, but I could see playing this with someone as young as 8). This seems to be reinforced by Wakening Lair’s art direction – typical fantasy characters drawn in a somewhat cartoony style. I also appreciated that each hero card features a male and a female version, something I wish more games did.
One thing to note, the game’s difficulty changes wildly based on the number of people playing it. The Mrs. and I’s win rate with only two heroes is 100%. With four heroes at the table, that number drops down to around 30%. This seems mostly due to the fact that with less heroes, less monsters are drawn per a round, giving the heroes more time to accumulate treasure. By the time the Monstrous Terror shows up with only two heroes, both heroes are usually decked out with a full complement of weapons and items, ready to take on any challenge. When you have to stretch treasure between four heroes, things become a lot more uncertain. I enjoy the heightened tension that playing with more heroes brings to Wakening Lair, but other people might be bothered by the variable difficulty.
Mrs. Saint’s Thoughts:
I am so happy Mr. Saint and I stopped to talk to the gentleman at the Rather’s Dashing Games booth at GenCon this year because I truly love Wakening Lair (probably more than Mr. Saint wishes I did because I always want to play it when he asks what do you want to play). The first night of GenCon we played it at least 4 times.
I have enjoyed all of the different characters I have played. Each character’s own special ability or skill, combined with the randomness of the dungeon rooms, monsters drawn, and treasures won makes every game feel fresh.
The other thing about Wakening Lair that is a huge plus, is that its ease of play and shorter length of time allow for it to be the perfect introduction to cooperative dungeon crawlers for friends and family. Our friends and family we’ve introduced to the game have also thoroughly enjoyed playing.
Not the host of game night? Not a problem with Wakening Lair! The game is also easy to transport, with a box styled to resemble a large book. A magnetic clasp keeps things closed whether you choose to store the box upright or laying down. The box also comes with a high-quality insert that fits all the components inside neatly. After being conditioned by larger companies such as Fantasy Flight to accept that the box insert will probably be useless, this was a nice surprise.
To my husband’s point, now that we have a little one on the way, I look at everything in life a little differently, including our beloved board games. When we play Wakening Lair now, I envision our child in a few years sitting at the table with us – loving the game just as much as we do which lets me know that we made a good game investment. My one wish is that the creators of Wakening Lair make an expansion with additional character classes and Monstrous Terrors – if for no other reason than I have more of an excuse to bug Mr. Saint to play this with me.
Dungeon-crawlers are by far our favorite genre of game. However, one of the flaws of the genre is the length of time an average session can take. They are also not usually great as gateway games (we’ve had very mixed experiences trying to get non-gamer family and friends to engage while playing Descent, as an example). Wakening Lair is fast and light, while possessing enough nuance to keep more seasoned gamers engaged. It occupies that rare space shared by other gems such as King of Tokyo or Sushi Go! Wakening Lair is light enough on rules that a child could grasp it, has enough depth of decisions to entertain a more seasoned board game enthusiast, and takes an amount of time that makes it easy to squeeze into a game night as an opener or filler. We heartily recommend Wakening Lair and will be seeking out Rather Dashing Games at our next convention to see what else they have on offer.