There have been a lot of interesting new takes on the Roguelike genre lately. FTL put you in command of an enterprise-esque starship. Eldritch combined Bioshock-style combat with Minecraft’s voxel-based randomness. The upcoming Crypt of the Necrodancer adds an extra D (for dungeon-crawling) to DDR. Billing itself as a “reverse-roguelike,” Guild of Dungeoneering (which is currently up on Steam Greenlight) has similar ambitions. Unfortunately, whether or not in can achieve them remains to be seen.
The idea behind Guild of Dungeoneering is pretty simple. Instead of guiding your hero through a randomly generated dungeon, you build the dungeon using cards, and a randomly generated hero explores it for you. You can construct an elegant path for your hero to follow, but he or she might go completely off the rails depending on their personality. The goal is to beef them up by killing monsters and earning loot, so that they’re equipped to take on the boss when he inevitably shows up.
Loot cards can be played when you have enough “hope,” which you earn by killing monsters. Monsters are summoned using “dread” which accumulates every turn. In theory, this keeps you on a curve of better and better loot and stronger and stronger encounters. In practice, due to the random nature of the game, it can all go wrong very easily, and not in a fun way.
When you fail, it always feels like the game’s fault. You can spend a buttload of hope placing a great weapon, only to have your hero ignore it entirely and wander off aimlessly. Worse still, you can be stuck with a bunch of loot you can’t place because your character either refuses to fight the monsters you summon, or because the ones you have are all too strong for him. Your randomized hands can completely screw you, never yielding the weapon you need, which is a huge problem because combat is the only part of the game that’s not random.
Rather than determining victory based on dice rolls, combat is governed by a set of rigid stats (strength, armor, HP, and speed) that rely entirely on your equipment. You can only deal damage to the enemy if your strength is higher than their armor and vice-versa. If neither of you can damage the other (which happens distressingly often) the fight ends in a stalemate and your turn is wasted (honestly, it’s worse than just being killed). Of course, your character can randomly decide to just fight the enemy he can’t beat AGAIN, or worse, he can end up being trapped in an endless loop as the dungeon boss chases him back and forth across two tiles, neither able to end a hit. Of my three playthroughs, two ended this way.
Guild of Dungeoneering needs a lot of polish and refinement before it’s worth anybody’s time. The pen-on-graph-paper visuals are charming, and the writing elicits a few chuckles, but the gameplay is just plain frustrating. A good roguelike gives you just enough rope to hang yourself with, but here you get nothing. Everything is left to chance. Players need to be able to construct their dungeon decks, or at least have some way to influence the hero. Without some level of transparent control, it feels less like a game and more like a convoluted slot machine.