Dungeon Quest – On Theme

Dungeon Quest is a placeholder name, which is going to make for some odd Google searches one day due to the vagaries of keyword searching. But I think that this is an important bit to think about in terms of game design, because, and this is true, the theme of your game doesn’t need to really matter for a long time.

Previously I spoke about a concept know as Top Down and Bottom Up design. Top Down means to start with a concept and then try to find the mechanics that could support the idea. So if you wanted to make a game about pirates, you would figure out the tropes that you were interested in and work from there. Would your pirate game have adventures? Ships? Would you attack other ships? What does winning look like if you are a pirate? There’s a lot to work from, and focusing that concept into concrete mechanics becomes the tricky bit. Bottom Up means that you start with a mechanic and build out from there. So maybe an interaction is interesting, and you think that you could build out a game around it. The tricky part with those is that maybe, just maybe, that mechanic isn’t enough to support an entire game. Or you create a design where that really interesting core mechanic is lost in the shuffle.

My designs tend to start from a Bottom Up position, and then work towards the middle. In other words it’s a hybrid. Once I have the base mechanics established, I look for a top down theme to apply, and then look to see what sort of designs I can find in the other direction to fill out the design. Case in point, in Paper Zeppelin the idea wasn’t always to make a twin stick shooter, but a scrolling 2D shooter. Once I realized that I wanted to use a zeppelin, it meant that I also wanted to arm that zeppelin with a turret, which means multi-directional shooting, which led to thinking about ways to limit the arc of fire and so on. That also helped me to establish limits on what the game should be doing. If something doesn’t make sense in the theme, then it shouldn’t be in the design.

The mechanics of Dungeon Quest are at their core a deck building and encounter creation engine. I could put almost any theming on top. For example, I considered changing Dungeon Quest into a game with Mecha. Instead of Classes you’d have different chassis. Damage would have additional malfunction abilities and the core triad of Combat, Cunning and Magic would be changed to something like Combat, Prowess and Tech. But then the sort of mechanics that I could add would be different. So instead of weapons and armors being limited by type, they could be attached to the mech and the number of attachment points would be the limiting factor. And you could travel to different planets with different effects on them.

Or, you could remove the combat entirely. Let’s make it a Star Trek game, so the triad becomes Courage, Diplomacy and Treknobabble. There are locations and the encounters are Problem of the Week style shenanigans. But now, we’d have cards that would focus more on the concept of solving the encounter instead of defeating it, and the players would fall into the roles of Away Team.

Now these all sound like different games, but the bottom up mechanics of Dungeon Quest allow all of them without making too many changes. Some of these mechanics are rather cool. Like the idea of going to different locations from the Mech version I’ve incorporated into the Dungeon Quest, while the idea of tying status effects to damage doesn’t work in the DQ context.

So if you’re looking at a game, it’s good practice to try to remove the game from the theming that goes along with it, winse it will give you another angle from which to consider the game and the mechanics themselves. And, this is important, you might want to reconsider ejecting the current them if another makes the game better. I seriously considered the mech version. I really did, because of the additional ways that I could create cards and encounters and make the core game more crunchy. But those reasons are also why I didn’t. I don’t want this card game to be that heavy. It’s supposed to be easy to play. Also, sci-fi mecha tropes are less well known than those of fantasy. Which means that the game would be more complicated and be more difficult to teach without gaining too much in the change. If Dungeon Quest is really popular, perhaps I’ll use the core to build another game based on them. But for now I’m happy to loot whatever mechanics and ideas to make Dungeon Quest the best that I can make it.

– In development news (yay!) I’ve added a mechanic called “Class Power” to all of the Class Cards. They are basically a way to use more of your resources every turn, almost like a free card in your hand. What’s interesting is that since I gave them a key word, I can reference them on other cards. So I can have a card that has the following:

Rando Card (3 – Red)
Deal 2 Damage
Activate Class Power

But for the different classes would be read as :

Deal 2, discard a card : deal 2 (Fighter)
Deal 2, draw a card (Rogue)
Deal 2, Trash a Damage Card (Wizard)

In other words, it creates a situation where the same card might work totally differently and support different decks based on the context that it is in. I’m really happy with how it’s working so far, and I think that there is a lot of design space there.

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