I like deck-builders because I hate building decks.
Hm, let me try that again.
I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like to make a decision unless I’ve examined all the options and am satisfied I have made the best choice. So I’m pretty good at, and enjoy, games where the number of options each turn is limited. But I hate games where the number of available options is virtually limitless. That means I like playing Magic the Gathering, but hate building a Magic deck.
That’s why I like deckbuilders. You’re given a starting deck so you can leap right into playing, no messing around. Each turn you pick (say) one out of four available cards to add to your deck, and while there can be a lot of strategy to that, there’s a limit to how much analysis I can do. So I like deckbuilders.
Enter Guild of Dungeoneering, which despite the name, is a deckbuilder. And a fairly fun one, although the game has more length than depth. Although oddly, the first thing I’m going to mention is the music. No really – you need to listen to this.
This is the Guild of Dungeoneering, on a quest but never fearing,
Oh to be a dungeoneer, swimming in pools of gold!
This is the Guild of Dunfeoneering, all the monsters keep appearing,
Oh to be a dungeoneer, whose stories will be told.
What’s that sound? I hear a noise! Something’s coming girls and boys,
Run for the hills and far away! The Guild of Dungeoneering.
Curse and swear but don’t despair! The way out of here must be over there,
I think we’re lost but what do we care???
The Guild of Dungeoneering!
The concept is that you run the guild. You select a dungeoneer, a dungeon, and one piece of equipment. If you complete the mission you’ll get gold, which you can spend on expanding your Guild (which translates to getting new types of dungeoneers and equipment). It’s like a light-hearted card game version of Darkest Dungeon.
Dungeoneers come in many types – from the basic “Chump” to the thuggish “Brusier” to the mysterious “Ice Cream Monk” and the mystical “Yodeller”. You’re encouraged to treat them as disposable – you have one of each type of dungeoneer, but they’re replaced (for free) if they die, and they don’t really earn XP so death doesn’t mean much.
When they enter a dungeon you don’t control the dungeoneer, you’re dealt a hand of 5 cards and asked to place rooms, monsters and treasure into the dungeon. Dungeoneers move towards certain treasure and monsters, so you have to coax them to go in the right direction (and not into a level-inappropriate encounter).
Combat works by you and the monster trading blows by one card per turn. The cards will do (generally) have a number of points in Damage (magical or physical) and/or Block (magical or physical) and/or healing. Each unblocked point damage does 1 HP point of damage. First to die loses. If you win, your HP will be fully healed before the next combat.
The deckbuilding really comes into play with combat. Each dungeoneer has its own starter deck of combat cards, and each creature you kill allows you to select one item of loot. Each loot item (typically) adds cards to your deck, but you can ony keep four loot items at a time. So you’ll spend a lot of time weighing up which cards are best for this Dungeoneer and this dungeon. There’s some complications to the loot, some items give healing or special traits (such as “spiky”, which means you deal 1 x damage when you block all damage). But it’s pretty straightforward; Magic the Gathering it ain’t.
Each dungeon typically involves you trying to build your dungeoneer up with the right loot so that they’re tough enough to take on the boss. Picking the right dungeoneer is pretty important – dungeons (and dungoneers) tend towards either physical or magical damage, and some dungoneers are just tougher than others. So the wrong person in the wrong place will die before they get any loot.
So does it work?
Generally, yes. The gameplay is deep enough and varied that it’s engaging, and it will take you a fair few runs to sort it all out. They add new dungoneers, new monsters and new traits which occasionally shake up the gameplay. And it’s perfectly suited to a phone – open it up, play a few cards, close it down.
Mechanically it’s interesting in how it encourages you to embrace failure. If a dungeoneer dies, you here a funny little tune, but that’s pretty much it – you don’t lose anything. That gives it a very different feel to both FTL: Faster than Light and Darkest Dungeon, where death is often a huge setback to overall progress. This is a fun game – and the “fun” mechanics perfectly fit the game’s visual/aural tone. At the start you will probably die quite a bit, but you won’t really care.
A sorry tale, a gory story
Another hero dies for glory
In the ground they rest the head,
Dead, dead, dead.
It’s interesting to compare this game to Dungeon Rushers because they both share the same weakness – once you solve it there’s nothing else to do. But Gulid of Dungeoneering is by far the superior game for one good reason – it forces the player to experiment with all of its systems.
Dungeon Rushers and Guild of Dungeoneering both have the same amount of gameplay options, in fact if anything Dungeon Rushers has more potential depth; it just doesn’t require the player to use any of that depth. Guild of Dungeoneering, meanwhile, avoids that with one simple design choice – to win, you must experiment with the different dungeoneers.
And the different dungeoneers have different playstyles, and work best with different loot. So the design choice forces you to engage and experiment with all the options that the game has to offer. And even smarter, the game makes a few choices that prod you to switch it up. Namely:
- There’s no XP. So there’s no benefit to using the same dungeoneer over and over.
- If a dungeoneer dies, you can’t use that type of dungoneer in the next run. So if you fail, you’re forced to try something different next time.
- Dungeoneers who win develop temporary “battle scars”, but often those traits make the character weaker. That encourages you to not only try someone else, but also to not get too upset if they die.
- Getting access to new dungeoneer types is something you purchase with gold – which makes them feel like a reward for success. And who doesn’t want to try out the fruits of victory?
- The later dungoneers are more powerful than the early ones. So when a new one comes along, you’ll want to try it out to see if one of your earlier dungeoneers is now obsolete.
This all said, the game still suffers in that once you solve it, there’s nothing more to do. There’s quite a few dungeons here, but the gameplay is not deep enough to warrant the game’s length. After a while you find yourself using the same basic strategy even with new dungoneers, and it’s at that point that the game has reached its use-by date.
Why do game designers insist on adding content once the gameplay has become tired? The maxim “always leave them wanting more” exists for a reason!
But on balance, do I recommend it? Yes. Although I would get the iPhone version instead of the PC, I don’t think the gameplay is deep enough to warrant sitting down at a desk and playing this piece.
Release date: 14 July 2015
Purchase date: 5 June 2017
Complete date: Approx October 2017
Platform: iOS (also available on PC and Mac)
Time spent: Approx 15 hours
Pubisher: Versus Evil
Creative Director: Colm Larkin
Game Design: Oli Garland
Recommended for: People who want to try a digital deckbuilder or a light, turn-based dungon crawler.
Not recommended for: People who are looking for the next X-Com.