Somewhere, in a far away land made of graph paper and playing cards, there is a little graveyard filled with the names of forgotten dungeoneers whom I sacrificed in the name of beating Gambrinous’ charming Guild of Dungeoneering.  With all the talk of loot, monsters, levels, and quests, you might think the game was your run of the mill RPG, but the game attempts to add some zest to the genre by placing you as the dungeon builder instead of the dungeon crawler.

Guild of Dungeoneering puts you in the shoes of the titular guild’s leader.  Scorned by a rival, you vow to collect the greatest dungeoneers and beat your nemesis to the best treasures.  This tale of petulant revenge is thin at best and never gets very fleshed out beyond the initial premise.  Gambrinous mostly uses this as the justification for the game’s overarching design.

You start by building your guild, shelling out gold in order to build additions to your guild’s hall.  These rooms can grant you access to new characters, upgrades, and items.  There’s also a trophy room to admire your big kills and a graveyard to mourn your fallen dungeoneers.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of reasons to spend time in your guild hall.  There’s nothing that makes your guild hall unique to yourself.

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I wish I could say that Dungeoneering is a game where you would want to avoid attachments, but it’s actually a game where attachments are hard to forge in the first place.  Aside from slapping a name on your character, there’s little else you can do to customize them.  But even more problematic is the fact that your dungeoneers reset every time they clear a dungeon.  All the loot you’ve gained, all the work you’ve done is instantly wiped away whether you succeed or fail.  Because you aren’t invested in whether your dungeoneers live or die, it makes it difficult to care about the outcome of the game.  Gambrinous takes it for granted that you will be invested their many dungeons and rival guilds without much incentive, but the result is a lack of motivation for players.

Once you’ve picked your character and dived into one of these dungeons, the game picks up a bit. Every turn players draw five cards which are a mix of enemy cards, treasure cards, and room cards.  Players have to combine these cards to keep their characters progressing through the dungeon.  It’s a smart concept, and it usually works.  The game does a fair job of providing unique objectives to keep players changing their strategy and coming up with new monsters to face.

The strategy element of Dungeoneering is the best part of the game.  Learning the personalities of monsters and heroes, then exploiting those to your benefit is a good bit of fun.  Finding the right armor to compliment your hero and give them a leg up on the competition is rewarding.  When everything is working right, Guild of Dungeoneering can be a strong blend of challenge and success.

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The problem is that a large part of this rests on the draw of the cards.  The random equipment your character receives, the enemies selected, and room types provided can leave you with very few cards to play.  Certain dungeons are unbeatable within the first couple of rounds because the right cards didn’t end up in your hands.  There are also fights where your best equipment doesn’t make a difference because of an initial bad draw.

Guild of Dungeoneering operates on a very small scale.  Characters have a lifespan of only a few dungeons.  This quick loop makes the randomized factors a little easier to swallow as they never set you back too far, but it also makes all the juicy strategy bits feel irrelevant.  It doesn’t really matter how you craft your road to the objective if you get a useless set of room cards in your opening hand.  It doesn’t matter what character you picked if you get bad cards during your first encounter.  You can construct the perfect attack, plot the perfect dungeon, but you’re still reliant on luck in the end.

I really liked the atypical approach Guild of Dungeoneering brought toward the dungeon crawler.  It explored interesting elements, had unique ideas, and occasionally those ideas come together in a pretty spectacular fashion that makes the game good fun.  But those moments are muddled by unpredictable whims of fortune and balance issues which plague the game.  There’s some shallow fun to be had with the game’s hand-drawn world, but it lacks the draw to keep you coming back.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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