Its a very simple turn based card battler, however, it plays out like a game of solitaire. You have a shuffled deck containing heroes, monsters, items, traps and potions. You take each turn pulling a card off the top of the deck and laying it out on the play area. There are 5 spaces for the monsters on the left and 5 spaces for your heroes on the right. Plus you have your Castle at the top. Ultimately, if the monsters overrun your heroes, they pour out of the dungeon and attack your Castle. Three hits and its Game Over. The aim of the game is to slay all monsters, whilst protecting the Castle, and to amass as much gold as loot to hit the High Score table.
Each Monster and Hero has two stats, their Fight (or Attack) value, and their Magic value. Placement is everything, and you place the Monsters too, so setting them up to be slayed by what you have is key to a winning strategy. The two stats are compared, side by side, and if BOTH stats are higher on your hero side, then the monster dies and is removed from play. If only one or the other STAT is higher, then its a stalemate or draw. If BOTH your stats are lower, you lose, and your hero dies. If you kill a monster, you reap the reward in gold specified on the card. If your hero dies you lose the amount of gold from your winnings. You can draw items that have both plus and minus modifiers to the stats, and you can only lay one item onto one card. You also have an armoury slot to place items you don’t or can’t use, however, this is a discard pile as such, and you can only take off the top of it, if you can lay it. So you quickly lose the ability to play some items because they get buried by others.
Simple, isn’t it.
However, there are factors in play that really do bring the game alive, and they’re wrapped around this basic mechanic. The trap cards, allow you prime the areas you place monsters with negative modifiers, or randomisers that reduce stats. There are also specials where in the case of a stalemate or draw, something extra happens, such as a Curse (where the opponents stat is reduced by 1), or where the opponent is actually shuffled up or down a slot on the play field, and it subsequently pushes the other cards off the board. If a hero or monster falls off the bottom of the play board, then they are returned to the deck. If a monster is shuffled off the top of the board he automatically attacks the Castle (something you don’t want to do in a hurry – since three strikes and you’re out!). As these shuffling specials kick in your troops shift up or down the ranks and have to fight again, only this time with opponents who are different. These chains can become quite complex, if you’re trying to plan for them. And they do add a level of uncertainty as the specials are applied.
The Cards are very well presented in the game, with some nice traditional fantasy artwork adorning both fully zoomed cards and the mini tile versions.
Overall, the game has me entranced. Its a simple enough game mechanic, but the subtleties of the specials and the addition of items and traps really do make for an interesting game as it unfolds. If you have all five monster slots filled, and another monster rears hit ugly head, he immediately goes for the Castle. So your strategy becomes lining up easy kills, so that you can always keep a monster slot or two free. If they fill up, and trap cards land, you then have to lay them on your Hero side, again shifting your focus to damage limitation. The few games I’ve had have been quite hard, but very engrossing.
There are two expansion decks you can buy for an extra 59p each, and with the game costing just over a quid, you can pick them all up just over 2 quid. Well worth the money. The expansions only have a few cards extra (7+, I think), which does seem kind of tight, but if they’d perhaps called them boosters rather than expansions, for the pittance you spend, its worth having some more variety added to the game. Like Dragons, and Dragon Slaying specials!
The only criticism I have and this might have been a bug I stumbled upon, is that I backed myself into a corner where I couldn’t progress the game. I had a measly three cards left in my draw deck, and most of the monster and hero slots where filled, however the “Chase” or slot shuffling mechanic had the same 4 cards rotate through the cycle. So I’d place a monster, they’d draw and shuffle the other 3 monsters down, flipping one off the bottom. Which went into my draw deck. So with three monsters left in my draw deck, I would place a monster, they’d fight and draw, and all shuffle down, and the one on the end of the line would go back into my draw deck. Nothing I could play would change that. So I had to end the game and lose the high score. So, perhaps there does need to be a little tweaking here and there. But I’ve only had it happen the once.
The game is hooked into Open-Feint if you like that high score comparison stuff, and the music and sound effects are all nicely done. Theres even a mechanism to enter a code and unlock bonus cards, which will keep the card collectors baying for more freebies. From the Dungeon Solitaire Twitter feed, you can unlock the Baloran Bounty mini-expansion until 30th April 2010 with this code 033-084-049.
The game is a “drooler” for me, with my wanton lust for strategic card games. Griptonite, its official, I’m sold. Now release more cards!!