Welcome to the latest in a series of columns on Pocket Gamer. We've sought out the best writers in the industry and invited them to analyse the mobile scene for us. The marvellous Susan Arendt is unearthing indie gems and celebrating modern classics. This week she reveals how the comedy roguelike Guild of Dungeoneering makes the core elements of gaming feel fun and accessible...
If you play video games on a regular basis, odds are pretty good that you’ve considered making one, or at least had the idea for one. It’s an appealing, but daunting concept: I can’t even draw, how am I supposed to make a game that people will actually enjoy? Behold the Guild of Dungeoneering, which looks like it was drawn in on the back of your high school math homework, right down to the graph paper background.
Everything in Guild of Dungeoneering is a fairly simple pencil sketch that looks like it began life as a doodle. The weapons, equipment, treasure and monsters your Dungeoneer encounters as they sally forth into the wilds is something even the most artistically challenged could approximate with a little effort, while also being fun to look at. At no point while you play do you lament the lack of photorealistic environments, or wish there was more color. The sparseness of the visuals is part of Guild’s enormous charm, because it feels like something you could make for your friends with a few good pencils, some crayons, and a ruler or two.
It’s incredibly inspirational, an adjective the developers probably never thought would be applied to their game about a spiteful master sending out an endless stream of chumps (that’s what they’re actually called) out into the world to collect treasure to line his coffers. But the pencil-and-paper aesthetic makes game creation feel attainable, something more overtly complicated games tend not to do.
A delightfully uncomplicated way to die
The gameplay is pleasingly straightforward as well. You’ll recruit different kinds of Dungeoneers to your guild, each with different strengths and weaknesses. No matter how seasoned they are, they’ll start each run through a dungeon at Level 1, so there’s no need to worry about remembering stats or min-maxing your equipment. You’ll fight monsters and if you’re smart, you won’t try to fight monsters that are a lot stronger than you. No arcane rules or random number generators determining if you hit or not, just whatever cards are in your hand versus whatever cards are in theirs. If they run out of hearts first, you live. If they don’t, you die.
And, spoiler alert, your chumps are going to die. A lot. Regularly. Sometimes after just a turn or two. But who cares? There are always more chumps ready to risk life and limb for your benefit. RPGs usually come with a certain amount of stress as you desperately try to prevent your beloved heroes from dying, but here? Pffft. Death is just an opportunity for you to try a different class of chump. I recommend the Cat Burglar - the puns are *chef kiss*.
Guild of Dungeoneering is a very fun (and funny) roguelike, and yes, of course it took talent and experience, and hard work to put together. Just balancing the various cards available to your Dungeoneer and the monsters to ensure you always have a fighting chance requires a deftness that the true newb is unlikely to possess. But when something so enjoyable is, at its core, so simple, it makes game creation feel possible. Heck, even the theme song is the kind of thing you could come up with in the shower.
Will your first effort be anywhere as good as Guild of Dungeoneering? Oh, lord, no. But that’s okay! Not every run as a player will go well, either. Every attempt to nab treasure teaches you something, like don’t taunt the trolls. Okay, maybe you should’ve figured that one from the start, fair.
So if you have a game idea, try making it. Start with a basic concept - like dungeon runs - and then figure out how it works. Put it on paper and see if it’s fun. If it isn’t, why not? Fix that. It doesn’t matter if your art never progressed much past stick figures and the only supplies you have at hand came from the dollar store, just start.
Read our review of Guild of Dungeoneering here. Susan will be sharing more insight into indie classics, like Agent A or Severed, every week. Bookmark her page now, she'll complete your gaming education. And check out Jon Jordan's insight into gaming trends on Mondays, and Harry's Hot Takes every Friday. This is the time he decided what mobile games dogs would play.