I am all thumbs, so I’m pretty sure it’s my fault that I found Dungeon Drafters a bit fiddly at first. I had trouble selecting things and unselecting things and I made a lot of moves when I thought I was just exploring the UI. Anyway, I stuck with it because the game is so beautiful, with such a lovely pastel colour scheme for its pixelly doll’s house landscapes. I’m glad I did. A few hours in, I’m finding it much less fiddly, and I’m also pretty much hooked.
Dungeon Drafters is a dungeon crawler and a card game. It takes place in a world in which magic is real, and real magic is card-based. So I have three action points per turn as I explore this lovely pixel-art fantasy land. I can spend those points on cards, which will conjure various spells for me, but I can also spend them on moving around each room’s snug grid, and by physically attacking any enemies I am close to.
Complexity and depth tumbles away in which ever direction you look, from the classes on offer, each of which comes with their own combination of spell decks to wield, to the way that the game handles status effects, which turn up in your hand as a card you then have to play – possibly even to your advantage. All of this is great, but to tell you about Dungeon Drafters I really just want to talk about the dungeon I just crawled, as it were. It was a glacier, and it was also a library.
For starters, it was almost unbearably cosy to contemplate. Reader, I would live in this glacial library. Loads of books, of course, but also plump chairs and those little bookcase ladders scattered about. Chairs, while being a lovely bit of ornament, can also provide cover, and many of each room’s props can be transformed, if you have the Polymorph spell, into a mob that can fight on your side.
As you progress from room to room, and from battle to battle, there’s plenty of this stuff to think about, and Dungeon Drafters regularly throws in new ideas. Since this is a frozen library, it has ice tiles which you slip across when you step onto them. This can be annoying, but I also discovered, in a room in which I faced a huge enemy at the end of an ice corridor, I could use the tiles to fly back and forth, moving far beyond my three-action point radius to get out of range after landing an attack.
Enemies are fantasy archetypes for the most part, although they’re all beautifully animated and filled with character. The cards, though, are already becoming a high point. Alongside area of attack and ranged cards, there’s weird stuff like Polymorph, and also Crystal Trick, which allows me to jump to a new position while leaving a sort of dummy behind me to confuse my foes. The best battles make you think about the whole battlefield as much as the enemies within it, and it’s nice to combo a card that allows you to swap enemies’ places on the grid with a non-card melee attack once you’ve brought a victim within range, for example.
I suspect it’s a tough game – when I reached the first boss at the end of the tutorial I was immediately obliterated, and a single room can take your fortunes and properly step on them. But it also feels pretty generous. There’s a hub town I am still exploring and new cards I see every time I head down to the dungeons. Oh yes, and there’s a library, remember. A library that is also a glacier.