During Dungeons' tutorial, your assistant explains that being a Dungeon Lord is not simply about defeating heroes and fending off attackers. It is more like running a pig farm, where you heroes are the livestock and your job is to keep them docile and make them fat before the inevitable slaughter.
You do this by fulfilling their various needs: treasure, equipment, knowledge, and combat. The exact mixture and amount of what they want depends on their class and level. For example, mages love scrolls and libraries, while melee classes love gear. As you satisfy these needs, the heroes accumulate "soul energy," the currency that pays for most dungeon upgrades. After they have accomplished their goals, they try to leave your dungeon.
This is where your dungeon lord gives them the axe. After you defeat them, everything they stole is returned to you and they are carted off to prison, where they slowly wither away while supplying you with their soul energy. However, it is important to remember that Dungeons' adventurers are stand-ins for players. They are prone to getting bored or frustrated if your dungeon doesn't have good pacing and satisfying challenges. To keep them entertained, you must hit them with the right mix of monsters, material rewards, and eye candy.
The last element is what makes Dungeons feel like a game about level design. To keep adventurers moving in the right direction, like visitors to a haunted-house, you must lure them with light sources and decorations. Using all these tools, you can exert a considerable amount of control over where heroes go, what they do, and how quickly they do it.
This is important because there are two things you want to avoid at all costs. The first is overpopulation. If too many adventurers are coursing through the dungeon at the same time, they start slaughtering monsters without breaking a sweat, and they start looting your treasures faster than you can replenish them. The result is a mob of bored, frustrated heroes. Which brings us to the second thing you want to avoid: when heroes get bored they try to destroy the heart of your dungeon, which ends the game.
All of which is terrific fun, and since the heroes get stronger and more demanding as the game continues, your dungeon remains a work in progress. I love watching a group of heroes get caught up in exploring a particularly exciting chamber, following the trail of visual breadcrumbs I left for them. It is also rewarding to build a particularly cool room to fascinate the adventurers.
Still, Dungeons has a large measure of frustration and tedium. The heroes' various needs are similar enough that a "one size fits all" approach to dungeon design will typically do the job. Additionally, there isn't much incentive to make heroes happy. There are so many of them running around that picking off dozens of marginally satisfied heroes is about as effective as nabbing happy ones. Taken together, those two elements sap away a lot of the strategy.
I'm also not sure how I feel about having my dungeon lord running around killing heroes. It is a mundane touch in a game that is, for the most part, fresh and witty. It also seems discordant when Dungeons spends so much time pointing out the absurdity of the Diablo-style RPG, and then employs the same conventions and rewards. Besides, there comes a point where you are so busy running around with your dungeon lord that you have no time to enjoy the fun of dungeon construction.
Still, Dungeons has enough humor and variety to overcome its shortcomings, and the campaign throws enough curve balls at the player to make up for its strategic shallowness. It could have better pacing and a little more variety, but as it is, Dungeons is a very witty, very enjoyable surprise. My needs are satisfied, and I don't feel like heading for the exit just yet.
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