Guild of Dungeoneering feels to me like the Pokemon RPG, honing the battle mechanic to a sharp point.
For reference, in the Pokemon RPG, you collect Pokemon with different moves (along with strengths and weaknesses) that you use to battle opponents and progress in the game. In Dungeoneering, you build a guild hall which attracts Adventurers that you use to explore different territories in the game.
Once you send an adventurer into a dungeon you are given a goal that you need to accomplish in order to exit. Usually this involves defeating some number of enemies or collecting some amount of loot.
Each dungeon is made up of a number of “hallway” tiles like a maze that determine where the adventurer can go. You will fill these hallways with coins and enemies.
Your adventurer will move automatically based on the location of coins and enemies. So while you don’t have exact control over where your adventurer goes, you can guide them with the tiles you place.
Once you encounter any enemy you will battle them. Similar to Pokemon you will select attacks and defenses that you will defeat your opponent with. However unlike Pokemon, your attacks/defense is determined by cards you draw. So it’s (basically) impossible to spam attacks repeatedly. The enemy by default attacks first unless you use a quick attack.
If you defeat an enemy they drop loot, usually in the form of additional cards you can put in your deck, which improves your attacks and abilities over time. You have four slots that you can equip to improve your deck and your starting stats.
What is Cool about the Game?
I want to start by talking about what I think is the coolest part of the game, the fighting mechanic. I compared it to Pokemon because it’s a very similar implementation. Each character has combinations of abilities that they can use, but they are shuffled into a deck of cards so there’s an added randomness to whether or not you will have the attack/defense you need when it comes up during your turn.
Added to this is that the cards are resolved simultaneously, so attacks and defense needs to show up at the correct time to be effective. This builds tension over the course of the fight as you can be incredibly close to defeating an enemy but if you are unable to defend or quick attack them at the right time, they can steal a win from you.
It’s also what sets up the rest of the game. Pretty much every decision a player makes impacts the type of deck that you will be playing or facing.
Picking a dungeoneer
Each room you build in your guildhall determines what types of adventurer you will attract. Each adventurer has different strengths and weaknesses which take place in the form of the deck they will take into battle, in addition to a starting ability that generally interacts with their deck in a positive way. For example, the bruiser class has multiple blocks and defenses, and an ability that deals damage if all incoming attacks are blocked.
These specialties make certain adventurers better and worse against different dungeons. Part of the fun in the game is learning which adventurers are strong against which dungeons and being efficient about diagnosing which adventurer which will work for which dungeon.
Dungeoneering handles this with loot drops that change the types of cards in the adventurer’s deck. You can turn a bruiser (mostly defensive character) into a strong attacker with good defensive stats, or into someone who completely turtles. This type of variability makes each dungeon experience unique.
So first let’s talk about the (basically) part. Adventurers for the most part start with the same base set of stats regardless of how many quests they complete. So one bruiser won’t be that much different from another. However, there are two complicating factors to this.
- Adventurers collect scars over time which improves their abilities. – Each scar they gain gives them a small boost which makes it easier for them to go through dungeons.
- There’s a small opportunity cost that comes with losing a character. Their character isn’t immediately replaced with a new one. So if you have your sights set on getting through a specific dungeon, and a specific adventurer was specially suited for that dungeon, you’ll have to wait some time before you take another shot.
Playing tiles for a dungeoneer to explore
The other interesting thing is that you play the dungeon master, setting the obstacles that the adventurers have to overcome to get to the final objective. Putting this control in the player’s hands creates an interesting tension into the game. On the one hand, the player wants their adventurer to get to the final goal as easily as possible, however, facing challenges has the potential for rewards: loot to improve the adventurer or money to improve your guildhall.
However, this comes at a risk, because fights are determined by some level of randomness (the way cards are drawn), it’s possible that you send your incredibly strong adventurer to face a weak monster and end up losing.
This position is also interesting because it means the player never has direct control over what’s happening to their adventurer. There have been times where I’ve played the game, and the wrong tiles have come, making it difficult for me to get where I want to go.
Takeaways for Game Designers
Don’t be afraid to remove control from your players
Guild of Dungeoneering isn’t typical of a lot of RPGs in that it takes away a lot of choices that standard RPGs give players. But that’s ok! It made GoD a unique experience with a lot of different choices.
Don’t be afraid to give your players significant consequences
Adventurers dying can be incredibly frustrating and challenging, but it leads to a lot of tension and interesting decisions. Even when you have an incredibly strong character, you’re afraid that they could die, taking away a lot of hard work.
Focus on a core mechanic and iterate around it
The entire game of Guild of Dungeoneering in some way impacts or is impacted by the character fighting mechanism. This creates a really tight, consistent experience for players.
Join me next week when I talk about Lords of Waterdeep for iOS!