The Joys of Crawling

One of the games seminal to making me a gamer for life was Warhammer Quest. I was about 13 when I played it first, and although these days a copy of this dungeon crawling and RPG classic most of the time just sits proudly on my shelf, it has been one of the formative experiences of my early days of gaming.

Dungeon crawling has been a lifelong love of mine, and up until a few years ago, I could say that I had played all but maybe the few most obscure or short-lived dungeon crawlers out there. And I enjoyed many of them, all the time remaining on the prowl for a game that would satisfy me completely.

The dungeon crawling genre has lived through thick and thin, now again being more in the “thick” of it, especially with many successful Kickstarter projects drawing deeply from dungeon crawlers of yore. Although I have tried many of them, there has always been this or that missing.

Again, these days my copy of the original Warhammer Quest is mostly serving as a decoration of my gaming shelf, and the dungeon crawl I play most often is the second edition of Descent. Especially with its Road to Legend app it seems to be a best push the right buttons, although it is not without its faults.

Focussed mostly on tactical movement and spatial objectives, Descent in its current iteration is mostly a game about outmanoeuvring your opponents (unless played cooperatively with the application). Trying perhaps to differentiate itself from its first edition, which was concentrated in equal measure on position and combat, Descent now features missions that are shorter and more condensed. This makes for a game with very specific dynamics – and one that (at least in my mind) is not exactly what I’d like a dungeon crawler to be.

The old Descent was much more a visceral struggle, with heroes often fighting tooth and nail for every square, while trying to deny the Overlord points to spawn new creatures. It was also a much longer and much more involved game, often ridiculously complex, especially when trying to play using the Road to Legend (boxed set, not the app) campaign – an element otherwise completely missing from this behemoth of a game.

The second edition of Descent also dropped one more important element of the game, and that is the exploration. To make the game more tactical and in a way more solvable, all the knowledge was given to all parties right from the start. This made for a much fairer experience, but one also somewhat further from what I believe the spirit of dungeon crawling should be.

In a way on the other end of the spectrum we could find the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System games, a series started with Castle Ravenloft, and then continued and expanded with three more standalone products. Castle Ravenloft was a pretty bare-bones game, with some character customization, a laughably vestigial experience system, and a general dynamic leaning way more towards simply a cooperative game, and not a dungeon crawl. It did one thing very right, however: allowed for actual exploration, and one implemented very cleanly.

As much as I wanted to love Ravenloft, and then Wrath of Ashardalon, I stopped buying in after two boxes. I will still any of the four games currently included in the line, knowing full well that it will miss one of the key concepts of dungeon crawling: character progression.

The world of dungeon crawling does not end with Descent and the D&D Adventure System. There is still the somewhat wargamey and simplified Dungeon Saga, there’s the Weird West Warhammer Quest, also known as Shadows of Brimstone, there are other smaller, slightly less known games that contribute to the genre in many ways. Finally, there are games strongly derived from dungeon crawling like the Zombicide series (I will not, for now, be talking about any Cool Mini Or Not upcoming releases) or The Others, but I am still on my quest to find my ultimate dungeon crawling experience.

Only two weeks ago, as NSKN Games we announced that we are working on a dungeon crawler of our own. It will be set in the world of Mistfall, Heart of the Mists and Shadowscape, and as I will be one of the co-designers of this upcoming game, I thought you might want to know how I see dungeon crawlers today, so that you know what to expect.

Still, we are pretty early in the development of this new project, so I thought that as much as I will leave my mark on the design, so can pretty much anyone else, who loves the genre the way I do. Perhaps you have some of your own likes and dislikes when it comes to making your way through monster ridden dungeon. If you do, make sure to tell us.

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