I’ve never played card-based dueling games or role-playing games. Although I consumed Advanced Dungeon & Dragons gaming books (dungeon master guides, monster guides, etc.) with enthusiasm as a middle/high schooler, I never played or got into tabletop gaming. I liked the storytelling tools, but I wasn’t interesting in the gaming.
In a way, I’m still the same. I like playing games now, but I am routinely disappointed with the options before me. Yesterday I was talking to a couple of my students explaining to them that I don’t want to play a game where I have to slog through a fixed, preset story. A lot of games that are billed as ‘story rich’ feel like active choose-your-own-adventures. Which has a place, but is still rather stifling. Give me the option to encounter and engage stories (quests, if you will), but don’t force me to. I want a world I can experience, craft, and find my own way–create my own story. So although games like Dragon Age, Assassin’s Creed, and Elder Scrolls Online are cool, I’m certain they’d end up boring me because I would be set into a fixed narrative.
But I keep looking, keep playing. Playing and wanting to be have better play aren’t mutually exclusive. I like these games and I’m looking forward to getting further into them. As a nascent PC Gamer and someone resistant to console gaming, I’m still a noob. But I know why I play games, it’s not just to experience stories (although, I like that and want to keep doing it) but to craft them through my game-play.
This is where Guild of Dungeoneering comes in as a delightful game.
The game is painfully simple yet has enough of a twist to be addicting; the sweet spot for gaming. Rather than being a character who quests, you play as the dungeon master or, more precisely, the dungeon. You play “not in the role of a single, glory-seeking hero, but a rejected thrill seeker-turned-guild master looking to steal some glory from those who doubted you.” Each turn you pick three of five cards consisting of treasure, baddies, or dungeon rooms placing them were you will as your guildie moves through your maze picking up the treasure and defeating the monsters. At least, one hopes. My most successful guild member is woefully inexperienced.
I’ve learned that card tossing games aren’t as easy as they seem. Lasha turned out to be my longest lasting guild member. Her death after the above dungeon earned me the How Are We Still Hiring? achievement won when you ‘Fill up your graveyard with at least 20 tombstones.’ The face-palm that happened when I realized that I was just trolled by an achievement was rather epic.
The art of the game isn’t impressive, but rather it’s functional. It combines the love of study hall doodling on graph paper with D&D. It’s quirky and adept. Quite frankly, I would rather have these two qualities in game artwork than something too stylized, anime/hentai-y, or hyperreal.
I also kind of feel pixel RPG games have reached a saturation point. I mention this because Guild of Dungeoneering could be that kind of game, but it nearly immediately finds its own voice. By being “a unique blend of tactical card play, dungeon crawling, castle building, character progression and, last but not least, turn-based combat,” GoD manages to collect the best qualities of each creating a seamless synthesis. What I’ve come to understand is that I’m a rather shitty card battler, which means the meagre loot I’ve collected has allowed me to construct an incredibly dull guild hall.
There are qualities of this game I wish were amplified. Who knows, maybe in future iterations it will be. I kinda feel this is a game screaming out for user made downloadable content. But if GoD doesn’t add DLC as an option there’s no worry. In fact, more cooks in the kitchen could very well muck up a design that “is intuitive and color-coded and any attempt to explain it through language is wasted because two minutes actually fiddling with the systems make them incredibly apparent. It is excellent design.“
My own failings as a gamer perhaps make this game more engaging for me than it would be for more hardcore gamers. I’m not to the point yet were I can sit down and burn through a game to its end. When I play, it’s to relax after work or as a reward for getting shit done. So the fact that there may not be replayability isn’t a hinderance for me, but I can see how “Without a new game plus mode or even difficulty options, Guild of Dungeoneering feels very once-and-done.” The desire more involved gamers have of wanting to have more control is another aspect that I don’t see as much of a negative, “why is there no means to more strongly create or influence a deck? Where is the potential to do something outside of the main story missions, as well?” What gets me about this kind of need for control is how arbitrary it is applied, but it would definitely make GoD even more addictive.
But as I slowly improve like the bald ranger Iator, I’m finding Guild of Dungeoneering plenty enjoyable, challenging, and fun.