Sunday, June 17, 2012

In Which The Warlock Makes a Major Alteration...

So, let's talk about something that I haven't brought up in quite a while:  Dungeon Slam!

I've occasionally broken out DS! now and again in the last year or so, but I haven't exactly been doing a whole lot of substantial revision on it.  The biggest issue keeping DS! from being a "real game" is the run-time:  I can't seem to get it under two hours without making major changes to the game mechanics and the way that chance is involved with the game itself.

Risk--has anyone finished that game?
That's a major problem, because few games run longer than two hours while maintaining an element of fun.  Ask yourself, when was the last time that you played a game of Risk for more than two hours, before the novelty of Risk wore off and a clear winner was evident, and everyone else worked to stave off that winner for an extra hour or so.  Don't get me wrong:  Risk can be fun, but it often takes so long to play that few manage to ever complete that game.

A session of Dungeon Slam!
from Origins 2008.
Similarly, Dungeon Slam! also suffered from a pretty major issue that many rpgs also suffer from:  Contested Roll Syndrome.  Contested rolls--also called opposed rolls or contests--have a propensity to slow games down immensely, as they make every chanced encounter (which are fairly common, natch!) into a minimum of two dice rolls, rather than one.

Imagine, if you will, a "static" system like Savage Worlds or even d20.  Each dice roll is compared against a number, which varies based on the difficulty of a task.  Modifiers are then made based on the circumstances facing the situation and the person acting within it.  However, in a system based on contested rolls--such as Dungeon Slam! as well as Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and several other games--that static modifier is replaced by another roll, on the act-ee's part.

While you'd figure that this wouldn't slow down the game too much, once you start adding in modifiers, re-rolls, and other chance-altering mechanics common to most games, the game slows down to a crawl, which brings us back to the core problems with Dungeon Slam!.  It simply takes too freaking long.

But, with its numerous problems and several competitors on the market--Super Dungeon Explore, Munchkin Quest, and Dungeon Run come immediately to mind--I've decided to put Dungeon Slam! on the shelf indefinitely.

That said, writing Dungeon Slam! hasn't been a waste in any sense of the word.  In fact, I learned a lot from the act of writing it--particularly in how to structure a game and how to format a prototype for Publisher and Adobe.  And, there's a lot I can take from the best elements of Dungeon Slam!...
  • The PvP race structure.
  • The item upgrades mechanic.
  • The open-board motion.
  • The ability to actively screw your neighbor without specifically engaging them.
  • The fundamental stats and mechanics (minus the opposed rolls).
And, friends and neighbors, that's just what I've been doing for the past two weeks.  I've been reformatting the best bits and piecees of Dungeon Slam! into a new game with a new genre and idiom...

...but to see the fruits of my labors, you'll have to tune in for the next entry!


  1. For the record, I recently played a Risk game in an hour and a half. Granted, it wasn't for the rules as written, it used the following house rule:

    Turning in three risk cards always gives a constant number of troops depending on the combination of cards you turn in:
    •3 Infantry = 3 Troops
    •3 Cavalry = 5 Troops
    •3 Artillery = 7 Troops
    •1 of each = 10 Troops

    These values are constant and do not increase over the course of play. Consequently, the game goes about an hour and a half shorter since you don't wind up plopping down 70 troops and taking over half the world, only to have your opponent do the same next turn.

    I think the big game design lesson I see from this is that if the goal is to have the greatest control over the territories/resources/whatever, then the game goes much longer if the balance of power can quickly and frequently change. It seems that the best way is to have the balance of power either slowly and frequently change or quickly and infrequently change.

  2. It's amazing how much difference a single rule can make. Something as simple as this--I've seen that rule before, and actually used that when co-teaching social studies a few years back at my old job--can really make for a huge difference.