There's a charming simplicity to Guild of Dungeoneering. Its systems are hardly complex, and it never strives to be an elaborate experience. That works in its favor because what you're left with is a game that's simple to grasp and easy to pick up and play. The game blends dungeon crawler elements, RPG mechanics, and card-based battles magnificently to create an experience that you can play for hours or pick up when you've got a few minutes to kill. It's just a shame that it's not on the 3DS or Vita, because those handhelds would've been a perfect fit.
'This is the Guild of Dungeoneering!'
You start out in the titular Guild of Dungeoneering. This fortress acts as your central hub where you'll prep for battles, obtain new dungeoneers, and buy more abilities in the form of trading cards. At first it's a small area with practically nothing in it, but it's here that you enlist your first dungeoneer and send him off for battle in the name of bloodlust and greed.
As you play through the various dungeons, you obtain gold to expand the Guild. Every time you purchase a new character class, for example, you can place a set piece card to create a new room. These rooms only serve cosmetic purposes, but because you choose where everything goes, it's still cool to put together your very own custom hub.
Initial character classes include the chump, bruiser, and mime, among others. These function as you'd expect them to, with the chump being an all-around decent starter character, the bruiser dishing out heavy offense, and the mime stealing enemy moves and going for offbeat offense. Later on you can purchase stronger classes such as the barbarian, which inflicts self-damage while doling out strong attacks, and the most holy grail knight, a powerhouse with high health and impressive offensive and defensive techniques.
Before you can purchase any new classes or buffs, you'll have to embark on your quest and earn gold. Dungeons start out with a few rooms, enemies, and items in place, but you build the dungeons as you go. You never control your dungeoneers. Instead, you build the levels around them, and they explore on their own depending on where you place treasures and baddies.
You begin a dungeon with a hand of five random cards that include any combination of enemies, treasure, dungeon rooms, and halls. You then place up to three cards as you see fit depending on your objective, at which point the turn ends and you're dealt five new cards. Sometimes it's as simple as defeating a certain number of enemies or opening a set number of chests. So based on the hand you're dealt, you can finish these quests rather quickly.
Other times you're tasked with reaching a boss character or getting to a goal. These objectives require more time and strategy. Bosses have higher levels, so it works in your favor to place a lot of enemy cards. This helps you level up and gain new abilities and cards which in turn give you a better chance against end bosses or high level enemies that may be guarding certain treasure or dungeon exits.
When you enter a room with an enemy, the game immediately takes you to a battle screen. Enemies are easy to take out at the start, but as you progress to later dungeons, the difficulty amps up significantly. Your battle deck consists of cards you've obtained from previous battles or treasure chests in dungeon rooms, and because everything is randomly obtained, your hand could be excellent or it could be a dud.
Each turn, your enemy puts down a card, so you always have the advantage of picking last. This means that you usually have a chance to pick a better card — of course, that's only if you have better cards than your enemy, or if your enemy doesn't have a buff in place that doesn't allow you to see his cards.
Cards vary in a lot of ways. There are physical attacks, magic attacks, blocks, and health. Cards are basic at first, but as you get deeper into Guild of Dungeoneering, you come across something like a card that does two physical damage on an enemy while granting you one extra health point per successful attack. Certain cards are all about defense, so if an enemy performs a move that does self-inflicting damage but you block, he'll lose health while you remain in top shape.
When you defeat enemies, level up, or open up chests, you're rewarded with spoils of varying benefits. You could pick up a new weapon which grants you more battle cards, thus giving you new offensive moves or defensive strategies, or you could trade your winnings in for some gold. Depending on what you've collected thus far, you may or may not want to add new cards to your deck, especially if it means that you have to replace a powerful card.
Randomness versus permanence
Every time you enter a new dungeon, you're dealt an entirely new hand of cards. Nothing carries over from previous battles, so you don't actually build a deck over time. Instead, as you purchase new cards from the Guild, they're added to the overall deck that you draw from as you play. Attack, defense, and health cards, however, don't stay with you between dungeons.
The random element eliminates the chance of you ever having an overpowered deck, but it also takes away any sense of permanence. This isn't too bad because the more cards you purchase the higher the chances of drawing better cards. Still, things can get annoying and tricky when you're taking on tougher creatures and keep getting weak cards. It also doesn't make sense that a warrior would obtain swords and shields (which grant you new cards), only for him to enter another dungeon without any of his previously discovered equipment.
Pen and paper
The look of Guild of Dungeoneering is one of its strongest features. The whole thing looks like it was drawn on grid paper, and seeing as cards create the black-and-white pen-and-paper world is absolutely novel.
The sound is also solid and includes a good soundtrack and cool effects. Hearing the sounds of cards being put down, pencils scribbling on a notepad, and sheets of paper being moved around compliments the schoolyard aesthetic perfectly.
I wish I would've had the opportunity to play Guild of Dungeoneering on my 3DS or Vita. It's a great game that would benefit from the portability and touchscreen functionality of those devices. It's such a fun little title, however, that playing it on my computer still didn't detract from the entertainment value.