One of the greatest difficulties facing any indie developer is that of making games that stand out amidst the ever-growing sea of titles boasting budgets that could make even some Hollywood directors blush. For Gambrinous, a Dublin-based studio run by Colm Larkin, such a task could have been a daunting or even disheartening one. It’s fortunate, then, that the developer has allowed his game to venture out into that harsh world with as much boldness and creativity as the explorers in his wonderful Guild Of Dungeoneering.
To attempt to categorize this game in just a few limiting genres would be an immense disservice from the off. The gameplay comprises a unique blend of tactical card play, dungeon crawling, castle building, character progression and, last but not least, turn-based combat. Sound like a lot?
A storybook introduction explains that the player has been the victim of some rather unfortunate guild-shaming at the hands of the mysterious and prestigious ‘Ivory League.’ Spurred to determination by their wretched teasing, the narrator explains how he resolved to craft and expand his own guild. From this point the player’s sole objective is outlined, and the game commences without wasting a moment more.
Cards are employed instantly and players are granted a first ‘Barracks’ card with which to break ground on their guild. With this in place, a first explorer also arrives and gives the player the chance to leave home and navigate a first dungeon.
The first indication of how special this game is comes in the form of a truly charming style; settings, characters and all animations are rendered in a hand-drawn scribble. From the daftest soldier to the cruellest goblin, everything in the game exudes charisma, and this is accentuated by the well-rhymed verse introductions and classic, fairytale soundtrack. Each success or failure is scored by the combination of hilarious passages that will leave players eager to leave the guild for another adventure.
While the charm of this game may be a coup of its own, such a thing is never enough to capture the attention of its players. The beauty is far from being skin deep for Guild Of Dungeoneering, however, and its gameplay provides a perfectly quaint personality to match. We’ve already talked about how difficult it is to classify the game to one genre, and its various elements pay perfect homage to so many classic formats. As a deck-building card player, it does far more than just offer another Magic clone like so many recent attempts have done. Since the cards are employed in so many of the game’s key elements, it can never be accused of being a copy.
At the guild screen, cards are purchased and employed to new rooms, attract new explorers and to unlock helpful new items or weapons. In the dungeons the cards are split into three categories: Seek, Dread and Hope. Each type contains a new tool in helping players traverse the dungeon and achieve objectives. Seek cards lay down new areas to cover impassable gaps in the earth while Hope cards place loot and treasure in areas for the explorers to unlock. Perhaps the most interesting type, however, are the Dread cards, which place new enemies into the world for the explorers to face off against. In early naivety I initially avoided playing these, but later realized they can be extremely useful in helping gather experience or items for explorers to employ later on against tougher foes. The direct route is certainly not always the best one in this game.
Speaking of enemies, the game’s foes offer a sturdy combat challenge in the third of the card-based challenges. Each encounter plays out through the use of Battle cards which allow your explorers to strike their foe or seek to defend and preserve their own valuable health. Players have the benefit – for the most part – of seeing what their enemy is about to utilize so that they can hope to choose the correct successful counter. This is limited, of course, and players usually have a maximum of four cards available at any time and these take a variety of different styles.
The cards players have in their deck are decided by the items collected through the dungeon and the given abilities of any explorer. This is a great system, but it does take a little getting used to as the sarcastic names and descriptions can occasionally obscure their actual use. The only major gripe I had was that the game could’ve used a more robust tutorial in the early stages to overcome this, but this problem goes nowhere near detracting from the experience.
Guild Of Dungeoneering was a genuine breath of fresh air to play; it gives players the simple objective of expanding their fledgling guild and offers immense freedom in how each person would choose to achieve this. The charming mix of gameplay styles keeps the whole experience feeling fresh, and a quaint style wraps the whole package up into a neat and consistent package. This is a game that demands so little, but offers players so much in return. It is a true gem and simply deserves to be played.
This review is based on the PC version, which was provided to us.
Guild Of Dungeoneering's uniquely blended gameplay is a genuine breath of fresh air and will enchant its players immediately.