Guild Of Dungeoneering Review

Guild of Dungeoneering is not a story of heroes. It is not a tale of bravery. It is not a tale of gods and demons and the men caught in the wake of their eternal struggle. It is the story of petty street trash looking to die an ignoble death to buy a better bedroom. It is the story of anonymous, disposable failures casually flitting through a death maze of your making towards dubious fame. It is a game for losers. And that is what makes it great.

On the surface, it’s pretty simple. You’re presented with the journal of a douchebag: A guy who was kicked out of the world’s premier guild of heroes before deciding, out of spite, to start his own guild of famed adventurers. Having neither fame nor adventurers, he settles on your first character after he answers an ad on a poster: The Chump.

No, really, his class is Chump. He fights like a chump. He defends like a chump. The narrator sings ballads of his chumpery. And the chump has been chosen to conquer a dungeon full of rats, zombies, and goblins.

Cat Burglar Used BAD PUN. It’s super effective.

The gameplay exists in some beautiful nexus of all RPG styles, flitting between being a card-combat title, a turn-based system, and good old-fashioned Dungeons & Dragons. The format, with its focus on leveling up fast in quick bursts of gameplay to survive the ultimate challenges, pleasantly recalls Half-Minute Hero, albeit stripped of that game’s 8-bit flair. You start with the Chump, but eventually earn enough gold to hire one of several classes of useless adventurer: Apprentice, Cat Burglar, Bruiser, Mime–you read that right–before choosing which dungeon to raid.

The twist is that you have control not over your hero, but over their environment. You’re dealt five cards at the start of each round with an enemy, a treasure or a chunk of room to place in tiles along your hero’s path. Your job is to place those rats, zombies, and goblins in your Chump’s line of sight, in the hope of beefing him up with enough XP and weaponry to direct his attention toward his set goal, which might be as simple as looting three chests in the area or all the way to slaying a pissed-off minotaur. And if that handicap isn’t enough, he’s got to do it in a dungeon drawn on geometry-class graph paper.

Where’s that sad Mad World cover when you need it?

Guild of Dungeoneering becomes endearing the second you start and realize the aesthetic is little more than every middle-school nerd’s D&D scribblings, with crudely drawn dialogue bubbles and enemies traveling along a marginally less crude grid of multi-directional rooms. Battle plays out by a series of handwritten Magic cards picked up at random from enemies who either attack or defend from physical or magical damage. The cards themselves are a riot. The Chump defends with Cower and attacks with Closed-Eyes Punch; the Cat Burglar throws cats for physical damage; the Bruiser attacks mostly with Cockney insults and bar-brawling moves. And, in my head, sounds like Jason Statham–even the female variant. The point is, it’s easily the most fun set of commands since Citizens of Earth.

When the game’s immense charm and good-natured snark wears off, the challenge sets in. You might think that building a straight and narrow path to the goal is the way to win, but you fast find out it’s really a very elegant way of getting yourself killed. What you really want is to kill as many enemies as possible before you face the boss or go after the big treasure, which is typically guarded by high-level enemies. Later dungeons will have enemies who won’t wait on their square, but instead will start to pursue you with a vengeance, two tiles at a time. None of the dungeons are impossible and playing smartly enough could net you a win the first time you meet the boss, but it also works the other way around–the wrong enemy at the wrong time, with the right luck when the cards deal out, could see your adventurer dead early.

Pretty sure this is exactly what Chuck Norris’ dreams look like.

And oh, die you shall. There is quite a bit of trial and error involved in figuring out how and when to place which enemies to make for a nice steady curve of difficulty over time, but the game is very good at throwing a curveball by placing stat-debilitating fountains in your way, or giving a low-level enemy the Fury buff, which gives them double damage after half their life is gone. It’s times like that the game makes quick work of killing heroes. It does occasionally frustrate, leaving so much of your success up to the luck of the draw, and it makes quite a few dungeons altogether irritating, but those stretches never last long enough to result in a thrown mouse. Mostly, it adds to the game’s snark. Every hero can be renamed, and it fast becomes a fool’s errand even bothering to get attached, when running into the wrong bear or bat in the maze means we’re looking for another Barbarian in 10 minutes.

What happens instead is getting attached to specific personalities, to the awful, hilarious puns and the ridiculous variety of makeshift armors and weaponry gleaned in your travels. Facing a Fire Demon armed with a tree branch, while wearing a straightjacket and a cooking pot for a helmet, is the best kind of absurd–a brand we don’t get often enough from modern RPGs.

There may not be much more to the game than the constant adventures, but it’s tailor-made for short, easily-digestible chunks of gameplay. It would’ve been right at home as a 3DS or mobile title, but it has an honest shot at displacing Minesweeper as a go-to timewaster whenever there’s 5 minutes to kill, and you feel the need to slay a rampaging hellbeast with a fork. If that’s not a need you’ve ever had, don’t worry. After a few go-arounds with the Guild, it will be.

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