Do you know how hard it is to be a DM? For those of you unaware, a DM or a Dungeon Master, is the title given to the one who is going to create an adventure for the players, who will be creating characters that will explore the world of the DM. Think of it as a game-designer creating an RPG. This is an incredibly demanding job where you will be creating NPCs, towns, landscapes, entertaining battles, events requiring varied skills, and be essentially the God of your creation and keep track of the rules. Throughout all of this, the most important thought-process will be how to make this adventure both challenging and inviting to the players. I had at one point become a DM for 4 games at once and you can bet that made me easily burned out, so I had to quit this for a while and figure out which groups I enjoyed DM’ing for and which I did not.
So by lowering my stress, I was one day searching through old and new games on the lovable GOG and came across a game called Guild of Dungeoneering. A game where you are sort of a DM by creating dungeons for characters to explore, giving them challenges and rewards. It looked simple, but very intriguing and, since I needed something to calm me down while not stopping with RP completely, I invited a friend over (who was nice enough to try out being a DM for a while and became a darn good one) and we started on the adventures our bizarre players would endure.
We all gotta laugh at misfortunes at times, right?
As the leader of the Guild of Dungeoneering, you have an issue with another guild called “The Ivory League” and wish to outshine them by creating your own group of explorers, acquiring treasures, and gaining glory from grand accomplishments to fill up your treasure-room. This character you will be playing as is quite the whiny one, with little sympathy for others. While a decent character that is fun to mock, it is not as effective when he/she essentially represents you and doesn’t convey much more personality than that of a child with a huge ego. It is amusing to read his diary, but the concept doesn’t work well. Luckily, the story is not a forefront.
Despite this, there is a huge focus on granting humor to this adventure, and it is incredibly silly. Puns such as the adorable snowman and brain-monster having attacks called headbutting are so dumb that I can’t help but to smile at this wordplay. After each victory and defeat of a dungeon, you will also be met by a clever bard singing a small song, either praising or mocking you. These are a highlight as they make me want to give it another go either because I am pumped up from my last achievement, or because I want to prove him just how good I actually am, and there is a huge variety in these songs. Even the graves of your fallen dungeoneers have some dark humor, such as my first dungeoneer to fall: “Bernt: didn’t get out much”, and having weapons being anything from swords to forks, shows that the game doesn’t want to be taken seriously. While the story was just there as a setup, the fact that the game has such stupid humor made me smile all the way through. Humour is very subjective, but I always strive for good and bad puns. Just puntastic, am I right?
Story Score: 7/10
As the leader of the Guild of Dungeoneering, it is your job to send out one member at a time for his or her proper dungeon to tackle and win with glory. But before I introduce you to the meat of the game, I want to first give focus to where your strength lies: the home of your guild. It is here where you will be creating blacksmiths and jewelers to make your adventurers able to find better equipment, create trinkets for support in the dungeons such as more health or stronger attacks in the first physical attack, and perhaps most importantly: new barracks for new dungeoneers to hire. Each barrack can contain one exclusive dungeoneer, such as rangers, mime, and apprentice, all having different cards and benefits accompanying them, which we will come back to later.
These expansions for your guild won’t come cheap, however, and this is where the dungeons come in. From an overworld map, you can choose between the available dungeons, and take on one objective at a time in each of them. Each dungeon has upwards to 3 different objectives, each being harder than the last, but you can luckily choose between multiple dungeons should some objectives prove to be too difficult. When you take on a quest, you will be presented with an unfinished map.
In each round, you will get a new set of 5 cards and can lay down upwards to 3 of them. They range from different dungeon-tiles, enemies, and treasures, all in their representative colors. These will be used to create the path and battles for you dungeoneer, and while you have no control over your dungeoneers movement, you can alter their movement slightly. For example, a dungeoneer will rather attack an enemy at the same level as themselves instead of one above or below, however, if a treasure is close, the dungeoneer will rather go for that. They will move once after each turn, but can move a second time if a tile they move to is one they have visited before and does not contain enemies or gold.
Each quest has a different goal, such as seeking out certain monsters or get to specific parts of the dungeons. The diversity in the quests isn’t too grand, but combined with the different enemies and randomized cards you will get, they do give the game some nice variety. When your dungeoneer approaches a monster (or vise versa), you will be taken to a battle screen where the cards the dungeoneer has will take place. Each turn, you will be given 3 cards that represent physical or magical attacks, defenses, a combination of both, or maybe other functions, such as healing or negating the enemy’s defense. Before you pick the card, you will be able to see what kind of card the enemy will play out and can make decisions based on this, unless a trait or event plays out where the card will be hidden.
However, since you will be able to see the enemy’s card, they will be attacking first, unless you have a card neglecting this. It might sound a tad complicated with the “ifs” and “unlesses”, but it never becomes over-complicated thanks to cards having different effects being represented by simple colors and visuals, such as how blue magic attacks won’t be hindered by red physical blocks. Traits character has will also be easily lined up with explanations, so it never becomes overbearing. Traits can come in many different shapes and forms, such as decay which will make one take damage if he/she takes more than two damage in one turn or the alchemist’s ability to gain one more heart if he/she heals him/herself, so it is a good thing that these are explained and lined up. If that wasn’t enough, fountains can appear in certain dungeon-rooms and give status-effects for the next battle. This makes every battle engaging as you will have a small strategy and only focus on one enemy at the time, but never the upper hand as the traits and abilities will come into play and enemies can be quite tough. Your dungeoneer will fill up his/her health after each battle, so the game won’t be too punishing.
By defeating an enemy, you will be able to pick one of at least 3 random prices or take a treasure-card to put on a dungeon tile. The higher level the monster is, the more interesting equipment you will get. I put it this way since each equipment will grant new cards and maybe a trait that can be supportive or damaging. This makes them quite interesting as they are not stat-boosts, but important elements to support your playstyle or vary it up. You can carry upwards to 4 different items, for your head, body, left and right arm, but be aware: new equipment can also mean losing other benefits you had before. You will be taken up a level by each defeated monster in the same level as you are, upwards til 3, with each level up rewarding you with one more heart. Should you achieve victory in a dungeon-quest, you will be rewarded with plenty of gold, with some extras depending on how many enemies you defeated, rooms you visited, and so on. You might also unlock more dungeons and new barracks, so the rewards are very welcoming and needed.
With the next dungeon, your character will start from scratch at level one, with all of his/her equipment gone. Instead, he/she will gain a battlescar, which can either be a positive or negative trait. This makes it sad, but not devastating if a character you spend some time with dies in a dungeon. Yes, your characters can die, and when they bite the dust, they are put in a graveyard and a new one will take its place after you ventured through a dungeon with another character. This is where a minor rogue-like element comes in, but not heavily so since you won’t get much from a dungeon if a character dies or feel much punishment by losing a run due to how short these dungeons are, so it is quite different from the more familiar ones such as Binding of Isaac or Hand of Fate.
This is not necessarily bad, but rather a neat way to count how many times you died than a roguelike element. What is a huge negative though, is how hard it is to prepare yourself for the dungeons. Some fights will be easier if you have a warrior that deals damage if he/she shields every attack, or maybe a ranger will be better as his physical attacks go first and has some magical attacks, but this is hard to figure out before a fight. Will, for example, a spider deal more magical or physical damage? You won’t know for sure unless you tried with a character you basically will send in to die and then give another dungeoneer a fair chance. Another part to this is that the game wants you to be lean with the card-setups, as you might fight varied types of enemies in a dungeon. Combine this with random card-setups, the game can often heavily rely on luck and keep you stuck with one quest for hours. A simple deck-setup or perhaps an encyclopedia to learn about the monsters could have fixed this huge issue.
Some parts can also be a walk in the park because of this. An ice-monk might have the upper hand for a while thanks to his/her bonus-attack trait, but when he doesn’t make victory come smoothly, it will be tough to change your playstyle, or even worse, if you have put money in the wrong elements for your guild-expansions. This is a huge shame as this might be the most important element for any turn based-game: balance. The DLC, which is included with the mobile-versions, makes this issue slightly better thanks to optional dungeons to tackle, but it still could have been better balanced. Despite this huge trial & error issue, Guild of Dungeoneering has enough positive elements to make it enjoyable and more than just an average experience. With short dungeons to travel through and an easy, but engaging card-system (both with battles and dungeon/guild making) it makes for perfect on-the-go gaming. You also have the ability to speed up the game by making it 3 times as fast as it is, so the retries can be at least shorter than expected.
Gameplay Score: 6/10
A broke man’s RP
Before I had miniatures, proper dice-sets, or even a battle-map, we had to make our own playset when we wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. This meant we had to draw our own characters, items, and print out character-sheets at my school as “a part of a play”, as I used to tell my teachers. Guild of Dungeoneering takes this approach wonderfully, with simple, but appealing character-designs and a huge variety of monsters. Nothing looked shallow or crude, but presented with black and white drawings, and red, blue, and yellow representing different types of cards and attacks. It is a very appealing approach and makes it easy to create strategies on visuals alone. Enemies come in a huge variety, and while some are redesigned version of others, the game mocks itself with this as well. Not much difference between a Miner and a Digger, but it shows it knows it with some minor differences in design, and there are plenty of enemies in each area, making it fun to discover more creative monsters to fight against.
Your minions are nicely designed and any equipment they gain will be shown on them which is a lovely detail. The cards also have small icons showcasing what the attack would look like, but while this is nice, the battle-animations aren’t something to speak of as they are only icons floating over towards the characters. The dungeons as well can be very uninteresting, as they vary only slightly between the environments, but it is hard to tell one jungle-location from another. More tiles to distinguish the dungeons from one another would have helped a lot.
The sound effects accompanying the attacks and monsters lurking around are effective, creating the illusion of what the attacks might look like and give the caves an uncomfortable vibe when all you hear are long stretches of flutes or monsters growling. When the music kicks in, it can be very appealing, uplifting or unnerving, and puts you on the edge in battles. Being mostly string-instruments and minor inclusions of flutes and drums, they fit well with this medieval fantasy-world and changes depending on the environment you are in. Jungles will have a heavier emphasis on drums and sounds of animals, while dungeons will have more echo in their tones. All are nice melodies if a bit short. The most important addition to the soundtrack, will be the bard mocking or praising you as you taste sweet victory or sour defeat. He has a very soothing voice with a hint of sarcasm to it, which is very entertaining and all accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, which is very endearing. The intro-song will also get stuck in your head for all the right reasons. So while this take on an RPG is simple, it works great despite some more visual treatments would have been welcoming.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Balancing-issues are the most troublesome when it comes to being a DM and Guild of Dungeoneering, unfortunately, falls victim to this. There will be a lot of trial and error, especially if you don’t balance your guild-expansions and don’t have the DLC. It is luckily included with the game in the tablet-version and is the essential one to play the game, unless you are more of a computer fan. The game is overall fun, with good humor, cute visuals, a smirking bard, and a fun card-game to boot with fun strategies in dungeon-, and guild-building. A bit more balance would have been welcoming as a killer-DM is hard to fully appreciate. Still, success and enjoyment will be in your hands if you stick with it. Just take breaks every few hours or you will be more burned than firewood. Or me.
- Silly and enjoyable humor
- Customizing your home is engaging with varied choices
- Mechanics are easy to grasp and fun
- Clever dungeoneering setup
- Fun, simple and engaging card-battles
- Rewards are well-provided
- Choosing equipment and class is more than just stat-based
- A good take on the Roguelike genre by making death sad, but still keep you hooked
- The visual style is great with nice attention to details
- Nice soundtrack with a witty bard at hand
- Relies on trial and error
- Uncertainty and randomization can quickly lead to your doom or easy victories
- More visual variety would be welcomed
- Animations are lackluster, despite being in tone with style