Dungeon Drafters Review – It’s Time to Du-Du-Du-Duel

    Title: Dungeon Drafters
    Developer: Manalith Studios
    Release Date: April 27, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Dangen Entertainment
    Genre: Dungeon Deck-Builder

For many, card games are a treasured pastime; whether it’s the joy of opening booster packs or testing out a new deck, there are many layers to what makes them so engaging. In the realm of video games, especially indie titles, cards have been used as a way to experiment with new gameplay styles to various degrees of success.

Dungeon Drafters from developer Manalith Studios seeks to combine the best bits of card games with the roguelike genre while specifically taking cues from the Mystery Dungeon series. Bringing these two concepts together could be a recipe for success, but at the same time, something could easily get lost in the shuffle. So let’s take a look and see if this is a winning fusion or if it should have been left out of the deck.

As Dungeon Drafters begins, you are given the choice of six characters, each with their own unique starting deck. This deck serves as your foundation and helps you understand the four archetypes. Each archetype is essentially a different playstyle, and while your choice sets you on a specific path, once you gather more cards, you’re allowed to experiment with them as much as you like. For example, red ‘Raider’ cards tend to focus on dealing direct damage, Green’ Traveler’ cards often influence your movement during battle, Blue’ Oracle’ cards specialize in indirect damage, and Yellow’ Warden’ cards focus more on defense and healing.

Regardless of the archetype, there are hundreds of combinations to tinker with that provide plenty of freedom to practice with unique combos. Along with the main dungeons, a single-floor beginner dungeon is the perfect place for testing things out. While the game is an ideal playbox for anyone who loves card games, it provides plenty of handy and helpful info for anyone inexperienced with the genre. There are plenty of well-written tooltips, and the UI is very user-friendly, so you’re only a button or click away from learning the rules.

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Once your deck is built, it’s time to head into the dungeons. You can move and attack freely outside of battle, but once you encounter a group of enemies, you’re thrown into a turn-based fight. With three moves per turn, you really need to think about your options carefully, especially when faced with an unfamiliar foe.

Like a game of chess, one wrong move can lead you into some pretty sticky situations; since death sends you back to the hub and burns away any loot you might have found, you really can’t afford to be careless. As a result, the game becomes very challenging, but most of the time, any mistakes made come down to strategy rather than unfair systems. The difficulty is more about outsmarting the game and overcoming the often harsh challenges placed ahead of you.

While this challenge is welcomed, I definitely feel like it might be too much of an obstacle for some. As user-friendly as the systems are, I’m sure that for some, this level of difficulty just isn’t going to be super appealing. Such a challenge is pretty synonymous with the roguelike genre, though, and part of the fun is that gameplay loop of death, victory, and self-improvement. Dungeon Drafters is very addictive in this respect, and while I cursed myself for my mistakes, I always had the urge to get back on my feet and head back into the dungeons.

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It helps that the dungeons never get boring. Each of the main dungeons has its own mechanics and enemy varieties. There are puzzle rooms that test your wits for the chance at extra loot, replenishing shrines, and even some lore about the dungeon you’re raiding. The bosses really put your skills to the test and really ramp up the tension as you try to manage all of the various mechanics going on at once.

The fantastic soundtrack also makes each venture pleasant, with every floor changing the composition of the same song to keep things interesting. With detailed, colorful, and well-animated pixel art graphics, the visual style is super appealing. The characters only add to this charm with a great fantasy anime look.

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While you’ll spend most of your time in the dungeons, there’s plenty to do in the main hub. It’s highly populated with colorful characters, and while not everyone has something important to say, it helps the world feel lively. There are several quests to undertake, and there are even a few side activities to explore.

First, there’s a fishing minigame, which is simplistic but can help ease some of the stress that might build up after a particularly challenging run. Then there’s the Slime Numbers game, which took me a few tries to wrap my head around, but in the end, turned into a fun little series of brainteasers. And after you conquer your first boss, you unlock the arena if you want to test your battle prowess.

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If there’s anything lackluster about Dungeon Drafters, it’s the narrative. It’s overall very simplistic and doesn’t tread any sort of new ground in terms of fantasy tropes. As one of the six adventurers, you are out to stop a terrible evil sealed away long ago. That said, the gameplay is clearly the main focus, and some of the additional lore you learn while exploring the dungeons shows at least that the story wasn’t an afterthought.

With the high level of challenge present, and the vast possibilities for unique decks, Dungeon Drafters is bound to last players a while too. For completionists, gathering every single card will take many hours, so the value here makes it all the easier to recommend.

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With a charming and polished presentation, engaging and challenging card-based mechanics, and a wealth of content to get stuck into, Dungeon Drafters is a real treat for card game lovers. The challenge might be off-putting for some, and a whole game centered around cards might not be the easiest to market, but the experience leaves itself open to those willing to give it a chance. Ultimately, Dungeon Drafters merges its ideas into a perfect, synchronous game that is easy and fun to learn while also challenging and satisfying to master.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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