Spotlight: Dungeon Encounters


Dungeon Encounters is easy.

Don't get me wrong, it's quite challenging, but it's easy to learn and simple to opt in, even in the face of other gaming choices. Sure, I could put some time into that beefy triple A I'm covering for the podcast... but why would I do that when I can just dip into Dungeon Encounters?

Despite having almost no narrative, this throwback dungeon crawler oozes story. Exploring and conquering a hundred 100x100 grid maps doesn't sound like a particularly heady tale, but there's more show than tell here. At the top of the game, your adventurer's guild is a roster of low level characters with evocative art and neat snippets of backstory, but it also includes people who are "wandering." These higher level adventurers have gotten lost in the dungeon—some are unconscious, some have been turned to stone, all are in need of assistance. It's like stepping into a story in medias res.


Even the biomes, with their freeform crossword presentation, are rich with story. The forest features long, winding, intersecting trails, while the desert explores a feeling of being lost in a sandstorm with cubes clustered together in odd patterns and clumps. Later on, a sprawling labyrinth makes it easy to see your goal, but turns you around in twisting passageways. These designs appear as simple as grid paper, but coupled with a few simple sound effects, they evoke a sense of place better than any photorealistic graphic could.

The dungeons are cool, sure, but the encounters? They are incredible.


Fast, fun, and strategically deep despite simple mechanics, the turn-based battles lean heavily into the abundant variety of character stats and equipment. Each character has a different spread of hit points, proficiency points, and a speed rating, making team members stand apart from the jump. But it's the gear that lets you kit each character into a specialist or take advantage of unique equipment for certain characters. Within the constraints of their proficiency points, you can arm your characters with two different attacks, a helm for magic defense, armor to protect from physical damage, and a trinket slot where you can stash an evasion cloak, some jewelry that ups your damage, or another knick-knack of your choice.

Dungeon Encounters not only got me back here to the front page after a pandemic-fueled leave of absence just to sing its praises, but it also got me nostalgic in the best possible way. It connects to a childhood part of me, sitting in the back of math class, using my graph paper to create dungeons for that weekend's second edition D&D game. It lights up the same part of my brain that consumed the original Bard's Tale, eager to make my best shot at the room filled with beserkers.

While it can be a brutal game—your gold can go negative real fast (yeah, this game has debt) and parties can wipe out in the dungeon—but despite it all, you always have a path forward. Failures feel exciting. Even when my best warrior was turned into a hamster, which might have caused a rage quit in another game, I found it such a wonderful surprise (and my adventurer's guild roster was deep with alternates), that it just became part of the narrative, a story I will always remember.

Like I said, Dungeon Encounters is easy.


Thanks for writing up your impressions! There is a real satisfaction to exploring all the tiles, and the combat is delightfully math-y.

It is a brutal game, but so far I have recovered from each setback. There are some wild things that can happen in that dungeon.

As the podcast crew shifted over the past couple years, I came to realize how much I was vulnerable to Rich's enabling.

Rich has a tendency to like a lot of the games I like, and to talk in a language that makes me want to play them. But I had to train myself out of just insta-buying what he recommends, because we diverge in a couple key respects: I don't (usually) like jank, I don't (usually) like procedural generation (but see Hades), and I definitely don't like playing games still in Early Access.

Of course, when Rich started raving about this bespoke gem, it enabled me real hard. I've been playing Dungeon Encounters as my commute game, and just today had one of my party members turned to stone on floor 6, then suffered a TPK on floor 7. I was getting too careless, pressing ahead to see if I could get some kind of warp to town or ascend one floor ability. Ahh well. Time to assemble the B Team!

LastSurprise wrote:

As the podcast crew shifted over the past couple years, I came to realize how much I was vulnerable to Rich's enabling.

Reading this totally made my day! <3

I will happily keep enabling, (but also underline when there's jank and whatnot so I don't destroy wallets... too much.)

Ha, glad it did! And, Destroyer of Wallets would be an excellent tag and/or third handle for you to pick up.

LastSurprise wrote:

Ha, glad it did! And, Destroyer of Wallets would be an excellent tag and/or third handle for you to pick up.


New sig.