Too Long; Didn't Play: Card Dungeon

Sponsored By: Mantid

Time Shuffling: 53 Minutes

Cardstock Review

Some GWJ folks got together and made a roguelike with stacks of charm.

Now that I’ve sold you the game, let me tell you why I don’t like it…


Chipboard review

Video games have been striving to imitate real-world games since time immemorial. The justification was simple: I want to play something that would require too much space to set up, and too much space and store when I’m not using it. So instead of having to dedicate an entire rec-room to a ping-pong table, you only had to dedicate your television to it.

The original Rogue is a logical extension of this desire. It has all of the elements of a turn-based tabletop game, with the benefits of an infinitely variable game board (that much paperboard would be murder to store) and the ability play it alone (no need to set up a bunch of other humans). From my hermit-triumphalist perspective, it’s perfect in concept. The problem is that a lot of things are perfect in concept. Leasing a car, for example, is perfect in concept. Then you remember how math works, and it’s not so much with the perfect.

Card Dungeon, though, does a pretty good job with the hand it was dealt. The turn-based format works extremely well – better, in fact, than the original Rogue, because you get to control your attacks instead of just bumping into things until somebody dies. The game deals you three cards at the start of each level that can be used during your turn. The cards have limited durability, but the levels are generally littered with treasure chests that contain new cards. If you have a good run, and you’re half as much a consumable-hoarder as I am, you’ll spend a lot of time staring at your screen trying to decide between a barely used awesome card and a slightly less awesome card that has a full load of uses on it.

Of course, as a Roguelike, you have to deal with randomness. The levels are random, the enemies are random, and especially the card drops are random. That’s all fine, except for that time that I used up my attack cards and the only drops were for passive attacks that did no damage. I almost put the game down after that, but tried it again and proceeded to get a ton of cards that laid waste to everything and everyone, with area-effect damage and my choice of debuffs. I’ll put up with a bad run once in a while so long as the game delivers the BOOYAH once in a while to balance it out. Card Dungeon delivers the BOOYAH, so I’m ok with it.

The art style is probably the most thematically appropriate aesthetic ever. It’s a video game trying to be a board game, and it looks like a board game! The characters are all cardboard cutouts in those little plastic stands that boardgame publishers use when they don’t have the budget for plastic miniatures but don’t want to completely cheese out with chipboard circles, as in that rerelease of Mall Madness from a couple of years back. The art on the little virtual cutouts is perfectly appropriate for your mid-tier board games, which is to say it's aesthetically pleasing while looking just rough enough to maintain that indie cred. Sort of like rustic pottery, which you know is authentic and hand-made because the potter left obvious fingerprints in the clay.

All told, it's as good a Roguelike as I've ever played, so if you're into that sort of thing, why not go pick it up? If nothing else, you get to experience a soundtrack by GWJ’s own Podunk.

Will I be shuffling every day?

I think I'd like to keep playing until I beat the first level, at least. So yes, I'll keep at it for a bit longer. At least until I figure out why I can sometimes move three spaces at once for no apparent reason.

Would you call it Deck Souls?

I have a hard time saying Card Dungeon is the Dark Souls of Roguelikes. Games like Card Dungeon are, by necessity, highly dependent on luck and hence tend to be more like what some board gamers call “Ameritrash” games, which I presume is defined as any game where the final winner is determined by a dice roll. It sounds like an insult to me, but I fail to see how sharing space with Monopoly or Dungeons & Dragons is a bad thing.

Regardless, the difficulty on Card Dungeon is too dependent on the luck of the draw, so I can't give it the coveted Souls-Like award. But don't let that fool you. It's darn hard, and even if you're not counting frames of animation, you're still counting cards, and that can lead to some hard times if you do it in the wrong places, let me tell you.

Twenty-seven out of fifty-two Souls Cards.


Neat! Thanks for the nice review. Btw, the 3 steps at once are there when there are no monsters within... 10 tiles (if I remember correctly).

I think this is also on IOS. If so, anyone have any experience with the game? I loved that other cardlike game on IOS but the company took the servers down. That game was based on a PC game--card hunter or something?