Card games fused with roleplaying mechanics work extremely well. There are a multitude of titles already out there such as ‘SoulSpark: Battlecards’ and ‘Spellstone’ to attest to that fact. Few of them however attempt to craft a monster catching and dungeon building mechanic into their structure and this is where Dungeon Marauders finds its niche.
Created by SPQR Soft, a one man app development group that is focused on bridging the gap between table top gaming and touch screen devices, Dungeon Marauders is very much an extension of the SPQR Soft philosophy. It encourages local multiplayer as well as solo play and for the most part manages to do so with a great deal of flair.
Graphically the game uses 2D hand drawn art assets set as card illustrations on a 2D field. These are drawn in a chibi-manga style that is reminiscent of Munchkin in its execution and manages to convey the essence of the kind of fantasy environment that Dungeon Marauders is trying to put across. It’s gritty but not too serious, it’s funny but you’ll die – a lot! Most of the time you’ll be looking at one card on screen and a series of smaller cards containing actions dictated by easy to understand icons on the screen below. There’s not a great deal of flourish to events however, and we don’t even really see cards move or flip, which would have brought a great deal of life to events in the absence of card effect animations. There are also some graphical design flaws to the games layout on screen and although the main menu is easy to understand, some buttons are placed in a fashion can cause a little confusion at first and doesn’t look visually appealing.
There’s not a lot of sound or story to Dungeon Marauders, which is a shame because some vocal work would add an amazing amount of depth to the games tutorials and possibly could serve to expand upon a backstory for what’s going on as well. As it is there are minimal sound effects of the ‘click’ variety, some atmospheric looping tracks and little of anything else. Plot or narrative are a complete non-event, which feels like a wasted opportunity since the developer is aiming to liken back table top games, which have proven that even the most preposterous of game mechanics can have a narrative function. It’s evident however that plot was never intended to be included, and this does allow for the games mechanics to come more to the fore and shine in a manner that usually would be masked behind a narrative reasoning or sense of world. Freed of having to tie the games design into this structure, Dungeon Marauders has things happen ‘because that’s when they do’ and may be all the better for that.
Gameplay is where the meat of this game lies, and there’s a lot of it to be found if you can tolerate a painfully slow HP regeneration rate which acts as a cap to this games play time in a manner similar to how other titles use energy meters. Almost everything you can do will throw you into a battle, and it’s entirely possible that low level characters won’t survive long enough to raid their first dungeon on their first solo game. That said the HP total does expand as you level up and there’s both equipment and weapons that can be purchased to give you more of a fighting chance in traditional RPG manner. Essentially the game revolves around the concept that a dungeon can be made up of five cards in linear order. Cards fall into two kinds, monsters (which are fought in turn based fashion) and traps, which must be disarmed or damage will be taken. You are dealt a hand of three cards from your deck, which is affected by your class and the gear you have equipped. Most of these will be attacks, defend and disarm options. It’s handy to try and keep at least one disarm card in your hand at all times and all three cards can be sacrificed to the bin in order to gain a random new selection between events. Using a card immediately discards it and a new random card is selected from your deck. In this manner the chances of progressing are kept random and you may or may not get exactly what you need to progress. Monsters have various rules attached to them and getting past them requires that their HP totals be reduced to zero. Combat and trap management feels fluid to play and works exceedingly well. You progress through all 5 cards in a dungeon (which has been made by another player and is uploaded to the net, giving almost infinite variety) and escape with levels and loot to get stronger. You also have your own dungeon to administer to and can place any 5 cards of your own collection into the 5 slots available to form it. At first you only have a handful of lowly goblins, but venturing out into the ‘Wilds’ randomly generates a string of encounters that you can escape from at any time, but might throw up a rare card. When you see one of these you can throw a net, and then must defeat the monster or trap to claim it as your own, ending the session and adding that card you your collection. It’s surprisingly addictive and makes for a fantastic dip in and out again experience. Although you start as a default warrior, additional classes are available and each has their own one-use special move that can be whipped out in an emergency when exploring a dungeon, these also alter what gear your character can equip. Local multiplayer is accomplished by the game generating a scanable icon that allows others to immediately try their hand at your dungeon, and bosses can be encountered in pre-set locations that require a group effort to take down. Of course IAP exists to lighten the load, allowing for everything from grabbing some additional gold to removing that pesky HP regeneration period between dungeon dives and I’d recommend buying the latter option, largely to support the developer but also to get the most enjoyment out of this title.
I can’t stress enough how good the core gameplay of this title is. Dungeon Marauders is a very well-crafted game that really does feel like a table top system ported to iOS and incorporates a dungeon building mechanic that is simple but extremely affective. Sadly the game requires that you’re online at all times to play and features no solo offline campaign, which I’d love to see in the future because without one the experience feels slightly bitter-sweet. Graphics range from beautiful in the card art to dull in the games overall presentation and some work to the UI would go a long way to making this an iStore classic. I advise everyone to go out and try it for themselves, but can’t knowingly give the game too high a mark in its present state.