Review: I Keep Having This Dream04 Mar 2016 0
Review: I Keep Having This Dream
Released 22 Feb 2016
I Keep Having This Dream is a tile laying game by Fireflame Games, the creators of Dungeon Raid. Like Dungeon Raid, I Keep Having This Dream is a RPG-Puzzle Hybrid more characterized by bold iconic art than worldbuilding or story. Unlike their previous hit, which made maximal use of familiar match-three mechanics, I Keep Having This Dream is a highly original design, in which one explores a dungeon-like dreamscape by laying tiles one at a time, some containing attack, health, and armor boosts, others containing snags (monsters).
The basics of play are simple: your Nemesis is chasing you and you must lay tiles until you reach the level exit, defeating snags along the way. The game’s tutorial is lucid but extremely short, leaving the player to discover the mechanics as they play or, in some cases, through tooltips revealed through an extended press on different parts of the UI. The building complexity of the game is handled well in this game, but it’s also easy to miss key bits of strategy, like the entire event system. Events are single use super powers that must be charged before use, but you don’t get access to them until you choose Events as a level-up perk.
I Keep Having This Dream could have been a fantasy dungeon-crawler, but the decision to make it a game about a nightmare, the kind where you’re running from something you can’t see, suits the mechanics and adds to the novelty of the game. Minor snags just have stats, but major snags have surreal and psychological themes, like Emptiness, which discards your hand when you defeat it, and Legion, which forces you to beat every other snag in your hand before taking it on.
The only way to lose is to let the Nemesis catch up to you. If a snag beats the stuffing out of you, you automatically regain half your maximum life, but not until after your Nemesis advances and levels up, increasing the number of tiles it will devour next time. If you get stuck with no legitimate plays to make, it eats your entire trail of tiles, clearing the block and but also leaving it nipping at your heels. You can discard tiles, including minor snags but not major ones, but when you do, your Nemesis advances to the nearest defeated snag and, if you discarded any snags, levels up.
The experience and equipment systems piggyback onto this mechanic: to gain control (gold) you have to place control tiles onto specially-marked spots on the map, and you experience for defeating snags, but not until the Nemesis eats the tile that snag was on, so sometimes you want to make it advance. Filling the control gauge gives you a choice of new, more powerful equipment, and doing the same with XP lets you level up a stat and choose a new perk.
Leveling up your stats and equipment increases the value of the attack, health, and armor tiles you draw, with a high stat and low-level equipment or vice-versa giving a broad range of values and stats and equipment of the same level giving predictable draws. This presents an additional strategic element and encourages risk-taking, as snag stats start to outpace the value of balanced, predictable builds. You can draw items with special abilities, but only as a random chance based on the perks you’ve chosen.
The interactions of the control, experience, event, and discard systems offer some real strategic complexity without ever becoming baroque, and the snippets of dream-description at the beginning of each level are tantalizing, but I Keep Having This Dream doesn’t deliver on it’s fullest potential.
Tile laying games like Carcassonne and Alhambra making tile placement crucial, and tricky especially after the first few plays. At the end of each level, when you have to collect a certain number of keys in order to unlock the exit, and paths to the exit are prohibited until then, things tend to feel taut, especially as you’re usually holding onto a couple of special snags by then. For most of the time, however, working with the tiles is no real challenge, as you’re surrounded by empty space. Covering the space to reach the exit is the bulk of each level, and while it never reached the point of tedium for me, it’s straightforward, grind-y, and also defuses the tension of being chased by the Nemesis.
It’s not a critical design flaw, as snags get more powerful the longer you linger in a level, but it is a failing of the original design. That flaw gets compounded as the challenge of the final few plays of the level often comes down to what you have in your hand, but it takes so long to get there that having the right tiles feels more like luck than planning. I wish the game moved back and forth between resource accumulation and taught challenges more often and in a more varied way.
My other gripe with I Keep Having This Dream is the missed opportunity for rich worldbuilding. The game always begins with “I keep having this dream / It always starts like this,” and when you “die” it says “And then I wake up.” That setup begs for some explanation: perhaps a final ending to the game, or maybe nothing more than hints that it all fits together somehow. As far as I can tell, there is no overarching plot or hidden narrative here, just randomly delivered flavor text and multiple tilesets.
That’s a shame, because I kept wanting to read a descent into madness and/or otherworldly horrors into I Keep Having This Dream and getting popped back to the mechanics of play. Fireflame’s taken their art up several notches since Dungeon Raid, but it’s still more informative than evocative. For example, you can unlock additional protagonist tokens, events, and major snags as you play, but all the protagonist tokens all look the same to me.
I Keep Having This Dream is a quick-playing game with an innovative design that’s easy to get into and develops real complexity as you play. It’s distinctly uneven in places and could have been more atmospheric, but it has a strong “one more turn” hook and high replay value. If you’re looking for a lunch-break dungeon crawl, like tile-placement games, or are a fan of Dungeon Raid, you should check it out. Moreover, it’s a must-play for game designers, especially board-game designer, as even its flaws are interesting.