Dungeon Crawler is a new, independent collectible card game that can be played solitaire or against a friend. It won’t be out for a few months, but Robot Viking got an excellent preview of this fun, fast-paced game of dungeon exploration.
Publisher Gifted Vision sent me a big box of playtest cards so I could try out the game hands-on, including some mock booster packs. Dungeon Crawler was designed from the ground up as a solitaire game that could also be played competitively, so I tested out the solitaire version (I haven’t had a chance to play against another person yet). After watching the helpful tutorial on the Dungeon Crawler website, I shuffled together some decks and played a few games.
The premise of the game is pretty simple. You start with your team of four adventurers in play, plus three quest cards. You’ve also got a dungeon deck and a crawler deck. Each turn you’ll draw cards from the dungeon deck to create an encounter, then play cards drawn from the crawler deck to help your adventurers defeat the encounter. Your goal is to accomplish a certain number of your quests (depending on the difficulty level you pick) before your adventurers die or your crawler deck is depleted. You can also win by depleting the dungeon deck.
There are some ingenious features that make each game feel unique. As you draw cards from the dungeon deck, the points on each card count toward the game’s encounter limit (five in the standard difficulty game). When you hit the limit, you stop drawing and play the encounter. Some dungeon cards have a point value of zero, so you can end up with quite a variety of threats arrayed against you. If a card has more points than will fit into the encounter (because the encounter already has four points worth of cards in it, and the next card is a three-point card, for instance), it stays on the deck and gets pulled into the next encounter regardless of the encounter limit.
The dungeon deck is made up of creatures, terrain, events and traps — the things you’d expect to find in a dungeon. Some weaker creatures, traps and events will leave play at the end of the encounter, but some events and terrain have time counters which keep them in play through multiple encounters. Tougher creatures will also stay in play until the adventurers manage to deal enough wounds to them.
The crawler deck contains equipment, tactics, magic spells and “NPC” characters who can help your adventurers — basically, dungeon loot. Your adventurers have a marching order that determines which one gets attacked in the encounter, and each adventurer has skills in certain areas that serve as the resources necessary to play your crawler cards.
It only took a few turns to get the hang of the game, and from there, each encounter flowed very quickly. You can play through a game in less than an hour easily, and probably much less than that. Obviously, a two-player game would take longer.
There’s an interesting variety of artistic styles on the cards, from the slightly abstract work of Jared Von Hindman to the Photoshop manipulated photos of Priscila Santos, along with some straightforward fantasy art. When I say the art and graphic design of the Dungeon Crawler cards is excellent, I don’t mean, “…for an indie game.” It’s simply high quality art.
The few flaws I found with Dungeon Crawler were generally semantic or minor. A couple of cards weren’t clear to me (Broken Formation stood out in particular), and a few others felt awkwardly worded even though I mostly knew what they meant. Combat between the encounter and the adventurers takes some getting used to — it isn’t complicated, but I was confused for a while by the fact that adventurers attack and defend with their stamina, while cards in the encounter typically have an attack value and a stamina value.
My last complaint is simply that some of the card names don’t allow enough of the game’s flavor to come through. Dungeon Crawler was designed around an original fantasy world, but many of the cards have generic names like “Leather Armor” or “Ghoul.” I’d love to see some of the game world shine through. “Jalora’s Leather Armor” or “Ghoul of the Vexxar Pass” would be much more evocative.
Those quibbles do not prevent this from being a very engaging and interesting game. I’ve already thought of some deck ideas that would be nasty in a two-player game (a dungeon deck filled with zero-cost undead, plus a few mummies, which restock undead into the dungeon deck, and some other high-cost cards could swamp your opponent’s adventurers and kill them all in a few turns if you manage to keep your dungeon deck from running out). For solitaire, I think the most fun would be had by shuffling together completely random decks from your collection. That way it would feel like a true dungeon crawl — you’d never know what enemies you might face or treasures you might find.
When Dungeon Crawler comes out later this year, the starter pack will include some nice double-sided tokens to keep track of time counters, wounds and other status effects on the cards. And in the next two weeks, we’ll have some exclusive previews of Dungeon Crawler cards that have never been seen before!