By Josh Speer / January 4th, 2016
|Title||Guild of Dungeoneering|
|Release Date||July 14th, 2015|
|Genre||Roguelike, Dungeon Crawler|
One of the things I regret never trying before I mutated to adulthood was tabletop gaming. Specifically, Dungeons & Dragons-style tabletop gaming. I had a few opportunities, but my younger self avoided them, afraid that somehow this subset of nerd culture was unsavory (completely untrue, blame my lack of common sense). The other, far more acceptable reason was that I was worried it would be a huge time sink, and from what I understand, playing true tabletop games is a serious commitment, not unlike marriage, a job or running a political campaign. Regardless, that itch to try tabletop gaming has always lurked in the corner of my subconscious, so when I tried out Guild of Dungeoneering at PAX Prime 2015, I was intrigued. This seemed like a streamlined, simplified D&D experience for the nerd without enough free time. Despite knowing nothing about the game, I found myself hooked to the monitor for quite a while, playing and dying repeatedly, yet loving it. So, it’s understandable that when I was given the opportunity to review Guild of Dungeoneering, as well as the Pirate’s Cove DLC, I jumped at the chance. Was Guild of Dungeoneering the tabletop game I always wanted, or should I build a time machine to recapture my misspent youth?
Guild of Dungeoneering is a roguelike dungeon-crawler where, instead of controlling the hero directly, you build the dungeon around him or her. Each turn you place up to 3 cards, choosing from room pieces, monsters and loot, building a labyrinth for your hero to explore. If you are unable to place 3 cards, you can also select to end your turn prematurely. Each dungeon has a specific goal to accomplish, such as slaying X amount of foes, collecting specific treasures, rescuing other lost Dungeoneers, defeating a Boss and more. You can guide your Dungeoneer by placing shiny treasure in his path, which they rush to, or by placing high level monsters, which they run from. Mind you, all of this is done to satisfy the whim of a somewhat unscrupulous main character, a selfish and arrogant piece of work that wants to flip the bird at the Ivory League. Luckily, nothing gets too dark, and the entire game has lots of tongue-in-cheek humor and quirky dialogue.
It’s probably best that the game is so funny and light-hearted, because the combat is anything but. The game is hard, and you can easily lose your very first battle in any given dungeon. This is improved drastically as you acquire money (you even get a little when you lose) and use it to expand your guild. Doing so unlocks new classes, and trust me when I say you want to do so. The starting class of Chump lives up to his name, with no special traits and battle cards that consist of weak attacks and blocks. He’s nothing special, but every class you unlock has unusual quirks and traits to spice things up. For example, the Bruiser has a trait called Spikey, which activates when you block all damage from an enemy attack, and retaliates with damage. Or take the Ranger, which quickly became a favorite with his Ranged ability that lets your physical attacks hit your opponent before they can make a move. There’s a ton of different classes, and while I don’t love all of them equally (looking at you, Mime and H20mancer!), most have their uses. It’s a good idea to spend some time with each class, as if you find yourself stuck on a particular dungeon, you may find it easier with a different class.
You can also use your funds to unlock a better class of relics, which are randomly found in treasure chests or as spoils from combat, as well as Blessings. Blessings gift your Dungeoneer with a specific boost for a period of time, such as starting with +1 health, doing more damage or increased hand size. Needless to say, these all can tweak things in your favor, and improve your margin for success just enough to help with troublesome missions. Just keep in mind if your Dungeoneer has Battle Scars, which are rewards of sorts for successfully completing a mission. These are totally random, and range from great, such as getting a free loot card at the start of a dungeon, to horrible, such as a smaller hand size in combat or being drawn towards higher level foes. Generally these aren’t a huge factor, as many of your Dungeoneers will end up in the Graveyard, and you only keep Battle Scars if your Dungeoneer survives multiple dungeons (the most I can survive with a given Dungeoneer seems to be 4 consecutive dungeons, but luckily you have an everlasting supply of new recruits).
As for the combat, it is deceptively simple. Once you engage an enemy, the battle starts. Each class of Dungeoneer is armed with a different deck of battle cards, and each turn you need to play one of them from your hand. Since your foes will hit you first, it’s important to react accordingly and always keep your health in check. You can see the card your foe attacks with each turn, but you may not always have the right card to retaliate properly. For example, if your opponent uses a card with 1 physical damage and you only have a card that can block magic damage, you’ll get hurt. But if you have a card that blocks 1 physical damage, you will get out scot free. It isn’t that simple when you take into account foes also have traits that can weaken or strengthen their skills, just like you. Some of the more frightening ones are Fury, where foes physical attacks get stronger when they are at half health or less, or Tenacious, where enemies can’t be killed unless they take critical damage when they have exactly one heart left. Loot also has a part to play in battles, as different weapons and armor will give you new cards to play in your battle deck. Luckily, you can scroll over anything to see its properties beforehand, which is a godsend.
The main game in Guild of Dungeoneering is comprised of several areas split up into various missions, which are in turn broken up into sub-missions that need to be beaten in order. To get to the next area, you need to successfully complete every mission. This may seem overly linear, and while it is, it’s also a lot of fun. Better yet, you can replay boss missions after you beat an area, which is helpful for those trying to unlock all the achievements in the game. While it’s true I would have liked a bit more open ended of an experience, I had no complaints. My only frustration with the game occurred in time-sensitive missions, where you had X amount of turns to get to a spot on the map. These are easy when you get room pieces that lead you the right direction, but if the random shuffle gives you dead ends, you’ll lose. Luckily, these were few and far between. The main game was challenging, fun and took me about 14 hours to get through. As if that wasn’t enough, there was also the Pirate’s Cove DLC, which offered many more challenging missions, new items, enemies and classes. Depending on your luck and skill, getting through Pirate’s Cove can take anywhere from 5-9 hours, and I felt it was well worth it as DLC. It wasn’t free, however, so if you want it, I recommend buying the deluxe edition of the game.
The art style of the game, though not initially appealing, grew on my quickly. It reminded me a lot of a middle school sketchbook, as the entire game has a cartoony vibe to it. The color palette only added to this impression, as the game was black, white, red, blue and yellow, with not much nuance. As for the sound design, besides being a bit overly loud, none of the songs in the game are bad. They are mostly atmospheric and mellow, and each song will play for a few minutes before alternating to another. I would say the sound design is mostly forgettable, with one noteworthy exception–the Bard. Each time you do something significant, such as unlock a new class, beat a dungeon or fail miserably, he will sing a little ditty. It’s nice when you’re winning, but frustrating when you keep losing, especially as the Bard seems to take joy in your failure. However, each ditty was well-written and entertaining, and fit the vibe of the game perfectly. Just expect to get a little salty when you’re reminded by the game how badly you’re losing.
Overall, I was very pleased with Guild of Dungeoneering. It was one of those addictive yet simple games that keeps me coming back for more. It was a great game to play in my free time, and one that I found myself spending more and more time than I intended with. Play sessions could range from a half hour to several hours straight, which is a testament to how fun it all was. Though the difficulty of the game was oftentimes frustrating, nothing in it was so tough that I couldn’t get through it with a bit (or a lot) of trial and error. Furthermore, the game ramps up gradually, so by the time it gets harder, you’re better equipped to deal with it. If this game taught me anything, it’s that I really should have spent more time playing tabletop games in my childhood. Guild of Dungeoneering was approachable to a noob like me and quickly drew me in. I recommend it for any fan of simple yet challenging games, and feel it’s more than reasonable for $14.99, or $22.99 for the deluxe edition. Give it a shot, you won’t regret it!
Review Copy provided by Publisher
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