Review: Mighty Dungeons25 Apr 2013 0
Rumor has it we're in something of a board game renaissance. True, this is a rumor that's largely being spread by Your Friend Who Really Digs Board Games, but, still, have you played Settlers of Cataan yet? What'd you think? POSERRR...
Ahem. Point is: board games. Specifically, how the aptly named dungeon crawler Mighty Dungeons wants to be one, and how, noble as this quest may be, sometimes a "there" and its subsequent "back again" just isn't the same without a fellowship at your side.
Mighty Dungeons apes tabletop adventure game HeroQuest in more than one regard (developer Laylio Games' website for Mighty Dungeons explicitly mentions the influence of the Fantasy Flight board game). Players cast themselves as one of several fantasy archetypes: a dwarf, wizard, elven ranger, barbarian, assassin, etc. Class stats are a simplified, streamlined D&D affair. Instead of your wizard having a high "intelligence" or "wisdom," they have more "mind points," which determine which spells a character is capable of casting. Body points reflect how much damage you can take, attack how much you can dish out, and speed how many times per round you can swing at your foe. So familiar, yet... goofy.
Once you have your chosen avatar, it's time to jump into one of the game's several quests. And, hey buddy, wow, are there a few quests here. Drawing again from HeroQuest, Mighty Dungeons has a modular, buffet-like approach to questing. Missions are arranged in themed blocks, with eight quests to a particular story. It's exactly the sort of bite-sized setup any smart Dungeon Master, competing with their fellow RPers hectic schedules, would organize. Except none of the stories are being told by your best chum from grade school, who's been working all week on their mind flayer impression. Matter of fact, you're playing alone. Oh, and all the quest plots kind of... suck. Not in an endearing, "Craig just vomited up orange soda trying to do a mind flayer" kind of way, either. We'll get to that.
First, it's worth noting that Mighty Dungeons at least nails the look of a tabletop gaming experience. More impressive a visual asset than its quite serviceable goblins and zombies is that board, and it really is a board. As you move your hero--represented, like every other creature on the overworld, by a neat little token reminiscent of a pog--you reveal the hallways and rooms of whatever particular dungeon you're exploring, all of them superfluously tiled and gamey as hell. Beautiful. You can almost feel the dice.
Almost. Because while the look of Mighty Dungeons might be spot-on tabletop, what you actually do in those countless visually indistinguishable underdark caverns isn't. When a skeleton or an orc sees you (getting seen, in this case, means being some indeterminate distance from an enemy pog), they charge right at you, in real-time. For a game that devotes so much to modeling space to players in a tactile, instantly familiar way, Mighty Dungeons doesn't ask you to do much with its maps. There's no real need to use chokepoints to trip-up packs of monsters (there's an over-simple model for enemies having a numerical advantage, the "gang bonus" added in a recent patch), no stealth, and only the most basic hazards.
Combat itself, even with the recent addition of location targeting (head attacks miss more often but cause criticals... it seems?) just doesn't offer any interesting choices. Weapons and spells aren't plentiful enough or different enough to warrant the kind of stat-comparisons and preparatory, pre-combat brow-furrowing that might compensate for a lack of tactical depth in-battle. As it stands, running a quest in Mighty Dungeons entails a rapid series of taps in succession: 1) tap to move until you see an enemy pog, 2) tap on that pog to fight it, or wait until it engages you, 3) tap the attack button real quick, until you run out of attacks or time for your turn 4) maybe tap to cast a spell, or to heal, if you, like, need to heal? 5) repeat. It's mechanically bald; featureless, frustrating and forgettable all at once.
Still, it could be fun. It has that potential. Maybe if you were actually throwing the dice, and had some friends to laugh at your misfortune. But what Mighty Dungeons shows us (and this is a dirty secret, friends) is that, yes, sometimes we don't play board games--or any sort of games for that matter--because they're, objectively, of sound design. Sometimes we play broken things--Talisman, Monopoly, Life--with our mates, and not worry about janky mechanics because, hey, we're interacting with people, and any game which facilitates that has hit on one of the most basic components of fun. In "real" "life" "we're" the "pieces" too, "dude." That's a feature which tabletop games have by default, and one that Mighty Dungeons was, inadvertently, built around. It's a game in desperate need of friends--your friends, specifically.