It’s a touch dark in here and something smells absolutely disgusting… no, wait, that might just be me. Fear can certainly affect the body in ways we ought not ponder on for too long… right! Best foot forward… oh what was that I just trod in?
Press play for a dungeonesque ambiance to accompany your read
So What’s All The Fuss About?
Dark, dank and donk are the dungeons deep and it is this into which we delve. A card based rogue dungeon crawl style of game offers us, the soloist, an opportunity to explore rooms, wander passages, advance from level to level of a dungeon, and face-off against the most unpleasant of inhabitants that dwell within the dingy rooms. A small package it may be, but it still offers all the features one would expect from a dungeon delving session… beasties, artifacts, weapons, character development, confrontation, interaction with NPC’s and open exploration.
Immersion or Subversion?
Combining the art style and the nature of the game layout/gameplay, we certainly feel as if our hero is deep within the catacombs of some subterranean environment. Uncertainty lies around each corner as we explore the many locations, difficult decisions thrust upon us at each new turn. There may not be the depth and richness of a large scale RPG session, but as the game is aimed at solo players wanting a lighter, yet challenging experience, it certainly involves and engages us fully as we systematically clear a dungeon floor by floor.
The overall game -requires us to explore a series of areas (comprised of a grid of 3×3 location/room cards) as we advance towards the deepest level in search of Og’s Blood (a mythical artifact said to be a ruby gemstone). We move through a location at a time and interact with each new location accordingly. As each area is constructed from a randomly drawn selection of nine cards, creating a floor or area, each of which will have a very different feel to the previous. Some locations offer us NPC’s to interact with, sometimes traps await us and often something far more unpleasant wishes to see our demise. The idea is we start at the top left most location, reveal the location below and to the right of this point. From here we can decide which direction to move as we traverse the dungeon area towards the bottom right corner, and ultimately the exit of the current level. Each level may throw up beasties to challenge us, but even if we manage to avoid conflict, there will always be the Boss Creature of each area to vanquish before we progress to the next level.
There are the usual statistics for us to track on our hero character sheet such as health, armour, experience, wealth and potions.
The encounters are dictated by die rolls. Be it a beneficial encounter or something deadly like the Spider Queen, choices are presented on each location card and our hero must roll to find out what we face. Many encounters require us to make skill tests comprising of a roll from our hero die. As we commence our journey, we have but a single die, but as we gain experience, additional dice are acquired (and effectively making us more skilful/more adept at dealing with the ever growing threats) These tests usually require a 5 or 6 to succeed, or suffer the negative effects dictated by the roll of the black Dungeon Die. If matters were not grim enough there are also affliction dice that may have to be rolled, each causing additional negative effects to us such as poisons and curses.
Once an area has been cleared successfully we have to eat, understandably, as dungeon delving is hungry work. Managing our limited resources (health, food ect) becomes a vital aspect of the adventure.
Wood Chits And Cardboard Bits:
I have been playing with a well finished prototype and although not final component quality, certainly indicates that the game is going to be a good quality affair. My dice are currently stickered but the custom images on them I am sure will look great on production items. The illustrations by Gabriel Gendron are excellent, giving the game a bold and distinct visual style. The wooden components (cubes and meeples) are standard in my prototype and at this stage I cannot say if the meeples will be custom or not.
Meeples and Standees:
Game Designer: Pablo di Stefano & Gabriel Gendron
Art: Gabriel Gendron
Publisher: Nuts Publishing
Playtime (recess for those of the US persuasion): 30 minutes
Gangs of One: 1 player (2 cooperative)
Age of Consent: 14?
This game can be played as a 2 player coop, but has been fundamentally designed as a solo rogue dungeon experience. The exploration phase allows us a degree of freedom regarding movement ensuring the game is not a predictable linear progression. As stats, choices and rooms/locations are all automated by text on each card, we as the sole player, have only our own statistics to worry about regarding our book keeping (with the exception of an enemy health during a Boss encounter). The game is simple in its design and its actual gameplay, but it certainly offers us a good many difficult decisions to make as we progress from level 1 to level 4. The actual difficulty of areas sees no change in physical presentation as each area uses the same deck of cards to draw from. However, to increase the difficulty of each level, the number of areas contained within each level increases. In this way we have two areas to clear on level one, which would be a total of 18 possible locations or rooms before we need to defeat the Boss monster… as we then advance to proceeding levels, the number of areas increase, and so we have to survive a larger number of encounters, potentially weakening us (even to a fatally detrimental level) as we prepare to face the Bosses. It is a simple solution to increasing the challenge but an effective one nonetheless.
Bots and Wotnots:
There is no Bot in this game as we are in effect playing against the game environment itself. The challenges we are faced with, as I touched upon earlier, consist of a selection of numbered choices listed on a card, against which we roll our dice. Successful rolls result in rewards listed and equally failure is met with a list of consequences. Enemy cards are dealt with in a similar fashion. Enemies have certain additional special abilities/effects but in principle we roll the enemy die and have three possible result outcomes. 1 will be a miss at which we cheer and rejoice greatly, 2-5 will be a hit from which we suffer the listed damage… although we can negate some of the damage with our armour but if an enemy hits us with a brutal 6, we have no alternative but to take the full force of their attack.
The environment we explore is randomly distributed into a 3×3 grid so no AI book keeping or operation is required.
The Real Nitty Gritty
- Winners and Losers: Ultimately we have only our selves (and maybe some unfortunate dice rolls) to blame for failure. The game is tricky and an element of luck is needed, but it is not impossible to succeed
- Rules is Rules is Rules: My current prototype has home printed 11 page A5 rule book, most of which is dedicated to explaining the various types of cards and their uses/abilities. The game rules and set up are relatively straight forward, taking up around a page and a half.
- Lucky Bugger Buggers: Dice rolls feature when encountering each new location and can, when in combat be frustrating, but this is all part of the unpredictable nature of combat with nasty beasties. As for other decisions relying on dice roll, this adds a well needed random, unpredictability to a location. With out it each room would be most boring indeed. I don’t get along well with dice but they do not spoil this game experience
- Lows and Highs: The game can seem “easy” at times, as we stroll about the less dangerous rooms, but allowing ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security is, perhaps, a particularly foolish thing to do. The game can so quickly turn round and bite you in the nether regions. Even in defeat, I felt that the game adventure was always a positive one.
- Footprints All Over My Table: When set up, the only space we require is enough room for a 3×3 grid of cards for the dungeon floor, a place for our character sheet and a place for the Monster/dungeon level sheet. In all it is possible to fit everything neatly into a 30cm x 40 cm area
- Set It Up Just To tear It All Down Again: As the component count is low, a matter of moments sets up the hero sheet and a few more to shuffler and lay out a grid of 9 cards may take less than 2 minutes. Equally, packing away is a mere flash of time
Me, Myself and I:
I enjoyed the game, with its simplicity and interesting use of randomly drawn location/room cards to create each area to be explored. With my prototype there were only around 11 of these so I did see some repetition (albeit in different positions within the grid) I know the final game should have something closer to 21 rooms which will definitely mix things up each time an area is created. Dice rolls can be frustrating (especially as they truly hate me with a passion) but clever, tactical movement and decision making can ensure that many of negative effects can be avoided whilst our hero builds up resources, experience and health. With greater strength/health we can withstand the brutal poor die rolls and with experience we accrue more hero dice and stack the odds in our favour.
I do like that much of a big RPG or gigantic dungeon crawl experience is, even if in slightly abstracted form, present in the game. Without encumbering ourselves with extensive book keeping or filling the table with overbearing map tiles and a sea of grey miniatures, we are able to explore as we wish, battle beasties, acquire treasures, weapons and potions, level up our hero, and even succumb to poisons and traps… pretty much everything we would expect to find in dark subterranean passages. It is quick, light but still tense and exciting… definitely something to tickle ones fancy, especially when time or brain power are in limited supply but that dungeon exploration has to be scratched.
Yay or Nay?
Mini Rogue hacks, slashes and stealthily delves its way tothe BSoMT dice back and traps it on a 7 face. A definite must for soloists (or couples wishing a cooperative adventure) wanting something lighter, quick but still with a large consignment of thrills and spills
Right! Now I’ve managed to get a decent sheen on my bronze shin protectors and oiled my leather knee supports, I think I am ready to go down the left passage marked “certain death”… no, wait, the right passage marked “doom awaits you”…. No, wait… maybe I should carry straight on towards that sign marked “exit”?
Something For The Weekend Sir?
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