I thought it was a good time to write a blog and discuss the design process and choices for Of Dungeons Deep! Of Dungeons Deep! has been in construction for more than one year and it started off as a much smaller game with the intend on testing some simple mechanics and it grew from there.
The Early Days
Of Dungeons Deep! (ODD) was first designed for the micro game challenge on The Game Crafter, which had 128 entries. I designed two games for the contest, ODD and Dig Down Dwarf. Dig Down Dwarf went on to win the contest with its simple push-your-luck design with a bit of strategy, but ODD still ended up a finalist. The main critique was that ODD only played with 2 players. This was intentional, as I was trying to design the smallest, yet strategic, dungeon crawler I could and this forced it to be a two player game at the time. When I first set out to design ODD, I had two very specific design goals in mind.
1) I wanted to make the smallest dungeon crawler out there, that also was engaging and fun. I was at the time pretty obsessed with the game Love Letter and its extremely small size and its ability to be a blast. In fact I am pretty sure the success of Love Letter had something to do with there even being a micro game challenge. So I had to limit the card size of the game and after a bit of math, I decided on 42 cards. Making a dungeon crawler with less would not afford me the ability to complete some of the things I wanted to do with the game. I ended up adding two dice for players to track their health and two more for each player to use special card attacks. Lastly, ten crystals were added to be used as power crystals and a way for players to adjust difficulty. It all fit nicely into a 72 card tuck box. Mission Complete!
2) The other goal was to be able to test out some mechanics that I had been wanting to try and this small game allowed me to do just that, and these core mechanics are still the foundation for what the game is today. Let’s look at each of these separately.
a) Blind Bidding. We have all likely played games with this mechanic, but few dungeon crawlers use it. I was inspired by another smaller game called Dungeon Raiders. In that game each player has five cards ranked from 1-5 and each level of the dungeon is made up of five dungeon cards. Players deal with each room separately and in order (left to right). Each player plays a card face down and then reveals. Higher numbers are best in most situations, but the bottom line is that I really enjoyed the simple use of bidding as it forced bluffing and in turn player interaction. When designing ODD, I borrowed the base idea from Dungeon Raiders, but instead of dealing with each dungeon card one at a time, I had players place down one of their own cards for each dungeon card and than reveal. I did not stop there. I had players repeat this process another time, so that each player would place 2 cards to each dungeon card per level of the dungeon. This extra phase of card placing really squeezed everything I could out of the bidding and bluffing in the game. Players would now get a chance to see other player’s intent before they placed their second card. This added a nice layer of depth to the game and a lot more tactics.
b) Deck-building. Now I needed a way to have players gain power and items without adding more cards to the game. Most dungeon crawlers have a separate deck for treasures or abilities. I needed to make this happen with what I already had, so I made the dungeon cards duel purpose. I borrowed this concept from the solo play game Friday. When a player would defeat an enemy that card would be rotated and added to the player’s discard pile. Players could see the treasure they were going to get, so players would try to go after the cards they wanted, or stop other players from gaining certain cards. In the end, this created a tangible and organic way for players to get more powerful throughout the coarse of the game. However, this was very subtle and the deck-building was never the focus of the game like it is in true deck-builders like Dominion or Thunderstone, but rather an elegant way to deal with the limited size of the game. It just so happened to work really well, and players really enjoyed the way they could customize their decks for future rounds.
I was quite pleased with the design and entered it into the contest. I had high hopes for the design and I was rewarded with getting into the finals only to lose to myself.
But Not All Was Perfect With the Game!
After the contest I received a lot of feedback from players and the judges. Two issues were brought up over and over again and needed to be fixed. Luckily, it was not too hard to make the adjustments needed.
Only Two Players? This was the biggest complaint. The game was really enjoyed by those that played it, but everyone wanted the game to allow for more players. This was an easy fix. I had initially designed the game for two players to reduce size, so adding more players was simply a task of adding more and different health targets for each of the monsters based on the number of players. It was at this time that I decided to make the game solo play as well. Basically if you played with two players the monsters would be easier to defeat than if you were playing with three or four players, and harder than playing solo. I added four Health Targets to each of the Dungeon Cards based on the number of players. I tested and re-tested to get it well balanced. It was an easy fix.
Not Enough Variety? Again, this was a causation of the game being a micro game at the start. Originally, you played as either a Brute Centaur (12 cards) or Alchemist Gnome (12 cards). This was fine for a few plays, but after about 5-6 plays gamers found the characters repetitive, even with adding dungeon cards to their deck. The other issue was that there was only 5 types of enemies. So even after players switch characters, for a new taste, they still ended up feeling a bit disappointed after numerous plays. It was a micro game mind you, and not really designed to be a main course. I had designed it to simply scratch that itch for a very compact experience, but I knew changes would have to be made if this game was going to go to the next level. Two big changes came.
1) The Characters. At first I had thought of simply having 4-5 characters to choose from. Each would be a deck of 12 cards. That would equate to a low ratio of cards to variety, as I would be devoting upwards of 60 cards and I would end up with only 5 choices, thus a 12:1 ratio of cards to variety. Not what I wanted. I briefly even considered simply adding more characters, up to eight, but obviously this simply added cards, and cost, without effecting the ratio. This is when I had an epiphany! I will again borrow a mechanic used by another game. That game was Smash Up! The ability to choose two separate decks and “smash” them together really is a novel idea and one of that games biggest hooks. So I went to work on this new front. At first, I was simply going to have eight decks of six cards each. This had a very high ratio of cards to variety with only using 48 cards, but having a whopping 64 combos. I almost went in this direction, until I decided on something in the middle. Two things were bothering me. 1) I did not want to completely copy Smash Up!, and 2) It did not feel 100% thematic that two equal adventures would be paired up to do some dungeon delving. Having a long history of playing RPGs and reading fantasy novels, I decided to go with a Main Hero and a Sidekick (Henchmen), to really hammer home the old fantasy theme. In the end I have gone with four Heroes and four Henchmen for the base game. This still uses 48 cards but offers up 16 combos and still feels very thematic. With each additional Hero or Henchmen that gets added to the game, the variety will increase greatly.
The Hero cards would represent the backbone of the party and the overall flavor, while the Henchmen would add character to the party to balance or enhance the abilities of the Hero. Problem solved!
2) The Dungeon Deck. This was an easier issue to solve. Simply make more Monsters and Items! The original five enemies was boosted to 12 for the base game and more items were added as well. This is easily expandable as well, by simply adding more enemies. Only 21 dungeon cards are used in any one play through of the game, so the base 28 cards offer a new experience each time you play. The more dungeons cards added down the road the better for the overall replay value of the game.
Initially I had handled all the art and graphics myself, using some public domain images and the power of graphics programs to add color and such, but I always wanted a different feel for the game and I knew that in order to accomplish this that I would have to move beyond my own capabilities. It is a humbling moment when you realize you simply cannot do it all. So the search began for the right artist. I had one in mind at the onset of this quest, but I still looked into a few others. In the end my original choice was the best option. So I reached out to Derek Bacon, an amazing illustrator who had done work in two games that a good friend of mine had published. Derek was very approachable and really seemed to be on board from the get go.
I sent him a list of Characters, Monsters, and Items. I gave a very brief one sentence description for each. I wanted a nice mixed variety of sexes and races, so that the game would appeal to all. I also wanted a nice mix of classic dungeon creatures with a couple that are not often seen. For some cards I gave Derek the green light to do whatever he wanted, and he did not disappoint. Derek seemed to love the art direction and he got to work right away. The process has been very smooth. He first sends a sketch, and this allows me a chance to ask for changes, and then the final version shows up. His work really reminds me, and others I am told, of old vintage Disney stuff. I also sense a bit of underlying darkness to the cards, a hint of Tim Burton if you will.
In the end,it has been a long road in designing and re-designing Of Dungeons Deep!, but I am veryvery pleased with the results. I held a playtest event a week before the Kickstarter launch to show off all the hard work, minus final artwork, and everyone had a blast. I am very excited to get this game into people’s hands to enjoy!