Lately, dungeons have experienced something of a resurgence in popularity.
To be sure, they never truly went out of style. The dungeon is a staple of games, after all, and it will always be around. But recently they’ve been more of a focus than they have in some time.
In a way, it’s a return to the roots of gaming, back when RPGs didn’t have time for things like plot, or perhaps even towns. You just dropped into a dungeon and you went, and hopefully you killed the boss at the bottom. It’s a tried and true concept that’s been explored plenty of times, with new variations on the same theme – now you’re the villain! Build your own dungeon! Randomly generated! – but even with the most well-worn ideas, there’s always room for a new twist.
Guild of Dungeoneering by Gambrinous offers one such twist. Your adventurer explores the dungeon as with most games, but instead of controlling the adventurer, you control the layout of the dungeon itself.
The game deals you a hand of cards and tasks you to play them, three to a turn. These cards can be new rooms, or monsters or treasures to place in them. The hero explores automatically, following the path you lay out. Encountering a monster leads to more cardplay, with a separate combat deck full of cards based on the hero’s class and current equipment.
There’s a boss involved, too, in a preset location somewhere on the map. Naturally, the goal is to get to that location and kill the boss – and if you take too long, the boss gets a boost in power and goes on the offensive, starting to hunt the hero through the dungeon. Therefore, the game is a bit of a balancing act, trying to build your dungeon to maximize the adventurer’s power while still getting to the boss before it wakes up. Between dungeon runs, you return to your guild, where you can purchase new upgrades based on the reputation you earn on your adventures.
Building the dungeon out of tiles you draw reminds me of board games like Boss Monster or Dungeon Lords, just with the alternate focus of helping the hero instead of trying to murder them. Indeed, the art design looks designed to invoke that as well, with the dungeon being illustrated on graph paper, rapidly drawn in as you play your cards. It’s easy to imagine yourself as the DM of a tabletop session, laying things out in front of the players as they explore. Mix in a bit of Rogue Legacy with the upgrades between attempts, and it seems like an idea with plenty of potential.
Sadly, it’s difficult to say how well the execution actually lives up to this potential right now. While the preview build offers an interesting concept, there’s just not much of it. Yet, at least. It only had one dungeon to try, with the same boss at the end each time. The reputation that’s earned is useless at the moment as well. Both of those will no doubt change as it gets closer to release, so I’m less worried there.
What does concern me is the difficulty, though. The randomness of drawing tiles each turn can leave you in a situation where you can’t accomplish what you need to. With the dungeon-building, it was never too bad, but combat was surprisingly frustrating at times. This is a risk of any card-based fighting system, of course, but it stood out as more aggravating than normal in the demo.
Still, overall this was an interesting game. The twist on the well-worn concept and the tabletop aesthetic are enough to attract attention. Assuming the more frustrating parts of the difficulty is tweaked a bit by release, this is a game worth keeping an eye on.