Do you remember role playing inspired board games – such as Battle Masters, Dragonstrike, Hero Quest, or Heroscape – that used to thrive in the late 80s and early 90s? Well – even if you don’t – Josh Presseisen and Forest Moon Games have certainly proved that their memories have not yet forgotten, having recently released their adventure board game tribute: Mighty Dungeons (out now, $1.99). While the end result of this most recent package from the creators of Relic Rush (our review) does a great job of capturing various tiny nuances of the now gone genre, it sadly loses something in the process by no longer having a sit around the table social component.
Mighty Dungeons begins much the same as any game of Dungeons & Dragons would, with the player deciding which of a multitude of classes – each with their own pluses and minuses – they would like for their hero to be. However – unlike their pencil and paper based brethren – the beginning stats and abilities of all these characters have been predetermined to save time, greatly speeding up the process of character creation. It was this streamlined ease of access style mentality that made these board games highly prized by some back in the day, also serving to make Mighty Dungeons fit in well with the coffee break mentality of many modern iDevice users.
From here – after first buying an initial piece of equipment or two – it is time for the lone hero to venture forth on a beautifully clichéd quest to save the world from various forces of darkness, one dice roll at a time. The bulk of this is handled either by moving around various grid based environments that are slowly revealed as you move through them, the player occasionally having to deal with traps along the way, or via turn based combat against monsters. The tap based controls in both of these segments are immediately self apparent, sans any form of tutorial, and within minutes most anyone will be venturing the dangerous locations like a true pro.
While many of the board games that Mighty Dungeons is based upon would let a hero chose which monster they attacked each turn – as well as consider concepts such as flanking – in this iOS game all fight are exclusively one-on-one fare, with all other nearby monsters politely standing around as they wait their turn. This deviation from the norm comes in acknowledgement of the fact that in the real world these games would generally never be played solo – not counting the position of the Game Master himself – and therefore a more traditional set of combat mechanics would see the villains jumping the hero all at once in the first room he stumbled across, making for a truly short adventure. While this caveat was utterly necessary to make Mighty Dungeons feasible as a single player experience, it has the unfortunate consequence of turning every single fight into a carbon copy random dice roll slapping match.
While the loss of combat variety was bad enough, what perhaps hurts Mighty Dungeons far more is the loss of the social aspect that was inherently a large part of the appeal of playing games such as Hero Quest. Without other people creating teamwork based strategies in tandem with you, making jokes and quips as each dice result is cast, and even sometimes completely tuning on the group in a moment of greed, what’s left is not exactly all that compelling for more than the first 10-20 minutes. While my initial thoughts might be to suggest that Forest Moon Games adds a play-by-turn online multiplayer mode to the extremely solid framework they have thus far crafted into Mighty Dungeons, I would have to say that last year’s Pocket Heroes (our review) has already shown just how profoundly inconvenient multiplayer play-by-turn is unfortunately destined to end up.
On a lesser note of complaint, Mighty Dungeons also seems to have something profoundly wrong going on with the results of its built in random number generator that – while easily survived – will quickly be noticed by anyone who plays the game for very long. By the developer’s own admission they are using the same basic dice rules, as featured in Hero Quest, to determine the result of attacking/defending: giving someone a 1-in-2 chance of hitting on an attack roll, a 1-in-3 chance of successfully defending if you’re a hero, and a 1-in-6 chance of defending if you’re a monster. The game determines damage by seeing if you rolled more successful attacks than your opponent rolled defenses, but there is something heavily broken when I near consistently roll precisely ten successful attack dice out of a grand total of 53 each and every turn.
That said, there is quite a bit that Forest Moon Games has done extremely right with the work they have so far done in crafting the RPG board game tribute that is Mighty Dungeons. While logically comprised nearly entirely of static images, Mighty Dungeons goes above and beyond the call of duty – at least in regards to what normally passes for unanimated images in iOS games – with a plethora of artwork that simultaneously captures the feel of old school role playing while also meshing together in an eye pleasing fashion. Furthermore, the developer has set up an entire website dedicated to letting users create future campaign scenarios for Mighty Dungeons that will then go on to become freely downloadable by all the other players (its just unfortunate that all of them will be a bore to play through).
iFanzine Verdict: While Mighty Dungeons fits extremely well into quick gameplay sessions, and presents the classical game board experience on iOS with easy to use controls and colorful graphics, it unfortunately fails miserably for something that isn’t really the developer’s fault. While the game starts out a nostalgic memory lane joyride for about the first quest or two, it quickly devolves into carbon-copy tedium where – thanks to the modifications that were necessary in order to make lone heroing feasible – nothing is truly different from anything else. While many nice things have been implemented here – such as the ability to support user generated content – Mighty Dungeons unfortunately proves that the most important part of those old board games was the social mechanic, something that Pocket Heroes has shown may be impossible to successfully add to Mighty Dungeons in a way that won’t just end in disaster.