Review: Guild of Dungeoneering27 Jul 2016 7
Review: Guild of Dungeoneering
Released 21 Jul 2016
In Immunology “GoD” stands for “Generation of Diversity” and is used to describe the way that the immune system can produce hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of distinct antibodies from limited genetic information. GoD also used to be used as “Generator of Diversity,” a hypothetical “conductor” of the immune system, coordinating the body’s response to infection. The Generator of Diversity doesn’t exist: i.e. “there is no GoD” - modern immunology recognizes a number of imperfectly intersecting systems with no central command and control.
My inner science geek couldn’t help but get derailed by this line of thought as I was playing Guild of Dungeoneering (“GoD”), because it produces an impressive diversity of challenges from a limited (but not always transparent) ruleset. It’s anyone’s guess whether there’s a god in GoD, but there is an organizing principle: you, as the Guild Master. There’s also a system of sorts (your sprawling guild hall), and organs (the rooms you add onto it), many of which act like lymph nodes, producing initially-generic and fundamentally disposable adventurers who become specialized through a randomized process based on their encounters (Battle Scars, which add advantages and disadvantages to the adventurer).
I’m not saying that the game feels like a simulation of the immune system. One could easily, and much more conventionally, describe GoD as “Dream Quest meets Desktop Dungeons.” Quite a pedigree. The problem with that comparison is that those games are both traditionally roguelike in their focus, if not in their game mechanics: you control the hero whose survival is your success. GoD doesn't work that way.
In GoD, adventurers die and you collect their life insurance (i.e., loot), along with information about the dungeon that just killed them. As you progress and acquire rooms to attract more powerful classes, it becomes an increasingly good idea to expend a Chump or a Mime to scout out boss levels, rather than risk your Tricky Paranoid Ranger. Cute graph paper scribble art notwithstanding, GoD is hardcore: sometimes you get an unplayable hand of dungeon cards and your smug Shapeshifter goes splat.
That’s because each level in GoD is incomplete, containing a start space and some key rooms, loot and monsters (each represented by a card), but you have to finish the level. Each turn you draw a random mix of cards, and have to do what you can to lure your adventurers to the goal. The game does nothing to explain how this works - you have to figure out almost everything yourself - and I’m still occasionally surprised when my adventurers zig instead of zag. Basically, adventurers like to explore (go to unseen dungeon rooms), they love treasure, and they never back down from a fight. I have a theory that the exact priority depends on the class, but I’m not sure.
GoD manages to be unforgiving without being punishing. Lose focus for a moment in combat, and an obvious win becomes the permanent loss of that adventurer and their Battle Scars. But that’s all you lose. There’s no persistence of experience gained (levels add HP) or equipment (which add combat cards to your deck) between maps. Equipment rooms at your base add shinier swords and sparklier vampires wands to your loot draws in dungeons, and once you buy a blessing, you can use it as many times as you want (one blessing per adventurer per dungeon level, please!).
Certain classes are better suited for certain dungeons, and battle scars can increase this specialization, just like the specific protein key on an antibody that allows it to enervate an antigen and mark it for removal… I apologize, I just can’t get this metaphor out of my head! Blessings mostly serve the opposite purpose, balancing out weaknesses in a class or compensating for a hero’s head trauma.
Given how disposable they, are, it’s really amazing how much Gambrinous gets you to care about your heroes. Each class has a distinct personality and they express it pithily in word bubbles every time they move. From the cheerful hostility of the Bruiser’s cockney to the Apprentice’s poncy disdain for mere gold, the game is chockablok with unobtrusive, amusing writing. This, combined with the fact that each class comes in male and female, with a range of hatched skin tones and features, makes individual adventurers unreasonably charming The monsters are witty as well, from the Fire Demon whose bath you interrupt to the gossipy Beholder using an orb of scrying to peep on its neighbors. Then there’s the Bard...
You can play GoD with the sound off without issue. It’s actually a remarkably accessible game, with all necessary text written on-screen in a highly legible size (on a tablet), no seizure-inducing flashes, and highly defined black and white art that at least some folks with uncorrectable vision impairment will be able to navigate. Players with red-green colorblindness will be fine, but you do need to be able to differentiate blue from red to tell physical defense from magic def. All this is preamble to the fact that, if you’re deaf or always keep your device muted, you’ll never miss the Bard’s narration, but he’s an impressive addition if you can hear him.
The Bard introduces new classes, dismisses your successes, mocks your failures, and reminds you that your Guild isn’t as good as the renowned Ivory League of Explorers (they kicked your aspiring Guildmaster out of their organization for gross incompetence). His sarcastic couplets are brilliant enough to make me want to get the soundtrack so I can be defamed in verse while driving, walking, relaxing, and cursing my dark fate.
GoD has some clear faults. For one thing, after enough dungeons, the first few battles in each dungeon become rote, as minimally equipped adventurers face the same bats, rats and goblins over and over again. Fortunately, the game’s turn-based combat is snappy, and if it’s not fast enough for you, you can toggle 3x animation speed. Better tutorials or a short in-game manual would really help here. I don’t get why the game plays so coy about how adventurers move, but the first five classes do a lot teach the strategy of the game. The hapless Chump illustrates the importance of holding a block against attacks with additional success effects, the easy-to-play Bruiser furthers defensive strategy and highlights the physical/magical damage divide, the Cat Burglar shows off how more damage later can be better than some damage now, the Apprentice enables planning by increasing hand size, and the seemingly-weak Mime shows how to play a monster’s deck against itself. Oh, and the Android build occasionally crashes after taking a screenshot, but that's trivial... unless you're trying to review the game.
Innovation and refinement proceed along different axes, so I’m willing to forgive GoD it’s foibles. It’s already an amazing game and, like Wayward Souls, the plan with Guild of Dungeoneering is to keep developing and expanding the game without IAP by increasing the price of the game with each major addition, a monetization model that values the dev team’s work while also rewarding core fans. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sacrifice some would-be heroes in order to cleanse the land of that infection, the Ivory League of Explorers… I mean monsters, infection of monsters.