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Guild of Dungeoneering Ultimate Edition

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: Versus Evil
Developer: Gambrinous
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2021


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PC Review - 'Guild of Dungeoneering'

by Thomas Wilde on July 21, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Guild Of Dungeoneering is a dungeon exploration game where you don't get to control the adventurer. Instead, you lay out the dungeon one room at a time and try and guide your hero to victory.

There's a lot to like about Guild of Dungeoneering. It's simple to learn, fast-paced, and charming, with pretty decent music and a fun central hook. At the same time, however, all of its systems are based around random chance, which means playing it can devolve into a waiting game. You aren't really using skill or strategy or planning to succeed; you're just killing time until that magic moment when everything tilts in your favor.

GoD places you in the role of the master of the titular guild who's recently been expelled from the more prestigious Ivory Guild and is salty about it. Starting from scratch, your plan is to show your former guildmates what a real guild can do by sending an infinite number of would-be heroes into the various nearby dungeons and caves. If they succeed, you get a lot of gold; when they die, and it's when, not if, you get a little. With that gold, you can purchase new facilities and equipment for your guild hall, which lets you recruit more advanced minions, unlock better equipment, and equip them with short-duration buffs.

The "dungeons" are scribbles on graph paper, deliberately recalling middle-school Dungeons & Dragons adventures, or maybe more accurately, the hand-drawn maps you used to have to keep for the earliest PC RPGs, like Wizardry.

When you send an adventurer into these dungeons, you're dealt five random cards and can play up to three of them in a turn, adding new rooms, monsters, and treasures to the dungeon on the fly. Seek cards generate a new room in the dungeon, Hope cards let you place treasure for your adventurer to pick up, and Dread cards place new monsters in your adventurer's path. Your adventurer's got a mind of his or her own, and you can sometimes redirect him or her by putting shiny objects or new monsters in the way, but typically, they'll go wherever they want.

In a fight, your adventurer goes up against a single monster at a time, and you fight by playing cards against each other. The simplest cards deal a single point of physical or magical damage, but you quickly get more complex options that revolve around self-healing, defense, unblockable attacks, drawing more cards, or forcing a target to discard theirs. It can get a little complicated, as both your adventurers and the monsters accumulate unique skills and passive abilities, but it's easy to pick up regardless, and you should have the gist of it by halfway through the initial tutorial dungeon. It's well presented and intuitive, especially if you've ever played a collectible card game before.

Each adventurer starts a dungeon unarmed and unarmored, at level one, and must equip themselves by finding chests or defeating monsters; equipment can add more health but most frequently adds more cards to your deck, thus allowing the use of more and different skills. The most you can do to prepare ahead of time is by choosing a blessing from one of several facilities you can build, which only works for the first couple of fights or, at tier two, your first action. Any items you pick up are discarded at the end of the dungeon, and any items you replace are deleted entirely.

The problem is that randomness plays too great a role in Guild of Dungeoneering for it to be a truly satisfying experience. Your exploration cards are random, the equipment you get is random, your character's base skills are dealt to you from a shuffled deck (which can cause issues, as the more equipment you have, the larger your character's deck is, and thus the less likely it is to get the cards you need when you need them), and aside from a few preset rooms in each dungeon, its layout is random because you're building it as you go.

The difference between death and success isn't down to you and your decisions but whether or not you were lucky enough to get the right cards at the right time. This comes into particularly clear focus once the game introduces dungeons with time-based win conditions, such as having to make it into a specific room in a set number of turns. It's too easy to be stuck in a dead end waiting for the right Seek card to build a path, for a boss to catch up to you because all your Seek cards were dead ends or roundabouts, or to get killed because all of your healing skills were inexplicably at the bottom of your combat deck.

The only real penalty for losing an adventurer is time, and GoD takes a lunatic glee in killing off your dudes. They're all ciphers, of course, with little to differentiate them besides names and slightly different art. It's difficult to get attached, and even they seem aware that their lives are cheap.

Just the same, I find Guild of Dungeoneering more frustrating than anything else. Playing it, I wish there were more and better ways to customize characters, such as being able to sort a character's skill cards or indeed see them at all before you entered the field. Even if it required you to pay out gold or jump through some other resource-based hoop, it'd be well worth it to be able to take some of the randomness out of the process.

The basic idea behind this game is solid, and the presentation is flat-out amazing. I love the graphics, I like the music, the little snippets of dialogue from your adventurers are fun, and I even get a kick out of the sadistic, rhyming narrator who announces every death, success, and new addition to your guild hall. I want to like Guild of Dungeoneering more than I do. What stops me is that focus on the random number generator and the feeling that my successes have more to do with the stars suddenly aligning than anything I actually did.

I would love to see a sequel that kept the Guild's basic premise and look but enabled you to keep equipment, sort your cards outside of combat, or hold on to character advancement. As the game stands right now, it kills time, and that's about it.

Score: 7.0/10

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