Classes start tomorrow, so people are filtering back into town. We managed to get together for a game last night, and Ethan had acquired and built Super Dungeon Explore over winter break, so we gave it a shot. SDE is a dungeon-crawling boardgame with a video-game aesthetic which is kind of endearing (to paraphrase Ethan, "Most companies that make minis are really really grimdark. These ones are kind of cutesy but also good looking and good price per mini."), though the female PCs... ah, let's just say that their defenses seem a bit high for the amount of armor they're wearing. While the rulebook is not particularly clear / well written, Ethan had been spending a lot of time on forums and knew what was up, so we chose PCs (with Matt as the Console / DM) and went for it.
The structure of the game revolves around the PCs trying to destroy the spawn points scattered throughout the dungeon, thereby preventing the Console from placing more monsters. Every wound taken by anything (PC, monster, or spawn point) advances a counter which determines when the minibosses and final bosses appear. Additionally, damage inflicted by the PCs advances the loot counter, which awards a draw from the Loot deck every 3 hits or so. Treasure from chests comes from a separate (better) Treasure deck. Loot / treasure (stuff?) adds to the various stats of each PC - Attack, Armor, Dex, Will, Actions per Turn, or Movement, in addition to adding special features like a Slow condition on all of your attacks, immunity to some conditions, or special actions. For example, in the first treasure chest, we found a Horn of Fire that added a green die to Attack and also allowed the holder to create a giant cone o' fire at the cost of two actions.
The dice subsystem deserves some mention, both for how awesome and how annoying it was. The annoying bit is that the game uses custom d6s in three colors - blue dice have two sides with 1, one with 2, and one with a heart (if you roll a heart on an attack that hits, you heal a wound), while red have higher values and one side with a potion (as with hearts, gives you a potion on a successful hit), and greens have the highest values, plus one with both a potion and a heart. Pretty much everything is expressed in terms of these dice. I had a sorceress, for example, with Attack of two blue, Armor of three blue, Dex of... don't remember, never had to roll it, and Will of one red and one blue. Buffs and items add dice in the same way; Tim's paladin had an armor buff that increased the Armor of all allies within three squares by 1 blue until end of turn, and by the end of the game, I was suited up in wizard gear for two red and four blue on my Will-based spells. When you make a check with a stat, you roll the listed dice, your opponent rolls his own for Armor or Dex, usually (most units use Armor to defend, though some use Dex), and whoever has the highest total wins, with ties going to defender. It's a remarkably simple and easy-to-grasp system, but it's also plenty granular, in that there's a huge range of possible combinations of die colors for different effectivenesses and variances - a unit with like... six blues for attack will be really swingy, but capable of hitting high-defense characters, while one with just one green will have lower variance and a lower mean, with most critters falling somewhere in between those two extremes. But, again, the trouble is that it's hard to use one's own dice; you could certainly temporarily relabel / have a conversion table from numerical side values to results based on color, but it'd be a slight pain.
The game balance is also remarkably good. Matt made some tactical mistakes as Console, though we made a few questionable moves ourselves, as when Ethan split the party to open a second front and try to flank one of Matt's strongpoints - I'd argue that this was actually a good move, but if I hadn't moved to support Ethan at range, it mightn't've gone so well, which is saying something since Ethan was on the verge of death when we fled that room... and then died twice later. We'd found a Resurrection Charm that triggered when he was killed by a mini-boss, and then he died again under a relentless pile of dragon whelps while trying to rescue Tim's paladin from a mimic during the final boss fight... Glisson's support character, whose primary ability was generating and distributing potions (each hero has an ability that can be activated by spending a potion; some, like Tim's massive healing and effect removal, were awesome, and some, like my +Will and Flight, were less so), was also killed by the minibosses, though not before killing one of the pair. The final boss and the minibosses were serious threats to our survival, and even the kobolds in the second room managed to lay a good bit of hurt down on us. The game felt really close / skin of our teeth - we ended up having to overextend ourselves into a really nasty position in a desperate bid to down the dragon this turn, punching a hole through the wall of dragon hatchlings to give Jared's ranger a clear shot at the boss. If he'd been a little less lucky, we'd've been overrun next turn. The balance between PCs was also pretty good; though each PC had distinct stats, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, everybody was useful. The paladin provided excellent healing, the +Armor buff, and decent melee, the Barbarian could lay down a ton of attacks really quickly and also regenerated wounds (which was good because we didn't have to heal him as much, but bad because it encouraged him to take lots of damage, which advanced the injury counter to hit the minibosses and bosses before we'd taken out all the spawn points), the Ranger had a ranged burst that was good for hitting foes around cover and an ability to remove status effects (like On Fire), Glisson's potion support powered the Paladinic Healing Engine and was no slouch in melee either, and my Sorceress was for putting damage and negative status effects on the monsters at range. I was actually relatively useless at the beginning of the game, when we were up against monsters with only 1 Wound (impossible to status-effect; if I hit them, they would die), so that was disappointing, but once we started going up against the dragon hatchlings, which had two wounds, I was suddenly useful, and I felt pretty clutch against the minibosses and boss, who I was causing to drop their highest die roll for both attack and armor (ex: Rex the Kobold Ogre miniboss was rolling two reds for armor, I believe. If he was under my effects, he'd roll two red, maybe get a 3 and a 1, drop the 3, and end up with 1, which made it much easier for everybody else to hit). So I was a better late-game character; c'est la vie. There were also another 4 heroes that we didn't get to play - a teleporting tiefling rogue, a druid with shapeshift into a giant bear, a pyromancer with lots of ranged damage and On Fire conditions, and a dwarf fighter with extra HP and good armor.
Overall impressions - would play again. One weakness is that PCs, once dead, tend to stay dead and leave that player out of the game until terminated (which can take a while... we took ~4-5 hours, but we got distracted by sandwiches at one point). The game feels, to me, much like a cleaned-up, balanced, multiplayer version of Space Hulk With Stuff. I'd be kind of interested to tweak it to a future / bughunt setting; it would be fairly easy, actually. The nine heroes could be replaced with modern / sci-fi archetypes; Sniper (ranged point damage), Heavy Weapons Guy (low mobility, lots of attacks at range, suppression fire?), Sarge (potion gen or status effect removal), Medic (wound removal), Joe Grunt (generalist, possibly strong potion ability), Cyborg (melee tank), Demolitionist (area bursts at range, traps / mines, Knockdown), Assassin (backstab, Stealth, teleport, &c), and Firebat (great burnin' cones of fire). Thanks, TF2. The core set has five flavors of kobold (weak melee, ranged attack, melee with reach, high-defense buffing melee, and a ranged buffer spellcaster), three of small dragons (one flying, one with two attacks and two wounds but low armor, one with one attack, one wound, and higher armor), one of miniboss, and one big boss. That's not that many monster stats the would need to be cooked up; from a Space Hulk perspective, you could easily do something like Genestealer Hybrids as kobolds / tier 1 monsters, Gaunts as dragon whelps / tier 2 monsters, Purestrain Genestealers as mini-bosses, and a Carnifex or something as the big boss. The real trouble would be items; there are a lot of items in that deck... probably the easiest thing would be to keep using the items as-is and just kinda handwave the flavor text away. Likewise, chests -> ship's lockers / xenotech lockers. So that'd be a fun project if we ever exhaust the fun reserves of the core game, though it was mentioned last night that the producing company is working on an expansion where the opposition is giant stony turtles, so it appears that the flexibility is going to continue to expand. It's clear that the game is meant to be expanded even from the rules that exist already; the Paladin's Smite ability, for example, does extra damage to Demons and Undead... none of which exist yet. Likewise, there are some effects (Choke, I think) that nothing inflicts yet, but that there are rules for. So it's pretty clear that they aim to keep making more stuff, and keep the game fresh.