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Designer Diary: Dungeon Roll

Chris Darden
United States
Lake Saint Louis
Missouri
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Microbadge: Dungeon Roll fanMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level I - One small step for geek... One giant leap for geek-kind!Microbadge: Geekway to the West attendeeMicrobadge: Parent of big sister and little brotherMicrobadge: Golden Meeple
I’ve been playing games all my life. I remember long days of playing Conquest of the Empire and Dungeons & Dragons with my cousins, discovering my local FLGS and joining a Blood Bowl league, Tornado Rex and Fuzzy Heroes with my younger brother, and then Magic: The Gathering. During my Magic days, I had some success locally in tournaments and built up store credit In prizes. When I left Magic I realized a couple of years later that I still had some of that store credit and I should do something with it. I stumbled upon BoardGameGeek when researching information about RoboRally (one of the games I collected and played while playing Magic), and saw the number one game was something I’d never heard of: Puerto Rico. I placed an order, brought it over to my friend’s place, we loved it, and the rest is history.

Since that moment, board games have become a large part of my life. I’m one of the organizers of Geekway to the West, go to plenty of other cons, and believe in advocacy for the hobby in general. I’ve had aspirations to be a game designer for nearly as long, and have tried out various designs with various levels of failure and success.

Dungeon Roll began its life in June of 2012, when I read a thread here on BGG about a company wanting a press your luck dice game. I began thinking about that very topic and started playing around with various ideas in my mind. I enjoyed games like Martian Dice and Zombie Dice, but was looking for a few more decision points within those games. It was at that point that I came up with the idea of having opposing dice pools: two separate colors of dice, one representing the game and the other as the player. I grabbed two sets of six siders and set about testing out ideas.

The first thing that emerged, and is still present in the game, is the idea of canceling out dice in the game’s pool with dice from the player’s pool. I then needed an advantage for the player, and thought of the dungeon delving theme. Thus, 1s became Fighters in the player’s pool, and 1s became Goblins in the dungeon pool. And Fighters will be really good at dispatching Goblins, so it only takes one Fighter to take out any number of Goblins on the other side. From there, I developed the three other classes (Mage, Cleric, and Thief) and their counterparts (Oozes, Skeletons, and Chests).

As you can see, this is very much a game where the theme grew out of the original mechanic. I find I typically design in this way, I think of something that will work well as a game, and then try to marry that with a theme I really enjoy. I find working out of a restraint helps me design. I operate in a much better environment if I have parameters, rather than telling me I can do whatever I want. However, I feel theme is absolutely integral to the enjoyment of a game. So even though I find the designs I work on are often born out of a mechanic, the theme comes along very early in the process and the rest of the game is inspired out of the integration with the theme.

So I had my four die faces, but needed to fill six slots. I realized I needed a few things: A way to reroll dice, a way to bring dice back, and a big creature. The Scroll became a way to reroll either side of the dice, potions were placed on the dungeon dice to be a way to bring back fallen party members, and I put an Ogre on the other side, making it require two heroes to defeat. That wasn’t exciting enough and was quickly scratched and a Dragon was put in instead.

Putting the Dragon faces to the side, to represent the noise and disturbance the adventurers were making in the dungeon, and a countdown timer to when the Dragon would appear worked really well in playtesting. When three Dragons were set aside, you had to face the Dragon (which required, at the time, one of each class to defeat).

With one face remaining, I decided to put a wild (The Champion) on the adventurer dice, to give the player more options. At this point, the game was simply roll your party up, and then roll a number of dungeon dice for the level you’re entering and go for as long as you can, or until you can’t win. Points were given for opened Chests right away, and if you left successfully, you got the number of points equal to the last level you successfully beat. Also, if you beat the Dragon, you got a token worth 3 points that other players could steal from you once they beat the Dragon. Rather quickly, the Dragon token felt out of place, and I thought it should just be points that the player gets to keep.

At this point, I playtested a lot more (really easy solo, and the game is quick enough to get others interested in trying it), and brought it with me to the St. Louis Board Game Designers meetup group. We’re fortunate here in St. Louis to have such a group, as well as two members who are already published designers (Aaron Belmer and Mark Sellmeyer). I showed it to them and others in attendance got some feedback and a few things to chew on. Aaron was very helpful in providing feedback and promptly asked me for the files and created a set himself to take to GenCon and play with his buddies there. I kept hearing great feedback from him and decided it was probably time to shop it around.

Being involved with Geekway has given me lots of great contacts in the gaming industry, especially among publishers. We get tons and tons of support for our convention from lots of great people, especially for Play and Win. So, I leveraged that relationship and arranged a meeting with Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games at BGG Con 2012. We sat down to play it with Steve Carlson and I think Michael saw something there immediately. Steve wished there were actual treasures to draw when you opened Chests, and Michael was looking at the box I had used (a small box for sleeved Magic decks that opened on top), and suggested the box could look like a treasure chest. Right there on the spot, we tore up pieces of paper, put various VP amounts on them, and threw them in the box and played again. After tossing around a few more ideas, he asked me if he could keep that copy of the game, and not to show it to anyone else until he had a chance to show it to a few more people. I worked on adding treasures into the game and saw it change quite a bit. It made the game more exciting, and also allowed for more decision points and the opportunity to press further into the dungeon.

A few weeks later and some exchanged emails, I had a contract waiting for me in my inbox.

At that point, more game development began, which Michael will cover in more detail in his developer diary. That development process is really a whole other chapter in the making of Dungeon Roll. I started with an abstract design built around a mechanic, and saw it turned into a very thematic and dynamic game. It now has magic items and Heroes, which give the players a different game experience every time they play. I’ve been involved in the entire process, seeing the needs that arise and coming up with solutions, implementing them, and then working with the TMG development team to revise, test, and work out solutions when they arise. Our focus has been fun above all else, and I think we’ve succeeded. I’m very happy with the team that’s worked on Dungeon Roll, and I’m excited to see it on Kickstarter!
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Mon Mar 4, 2013 4:06 pm
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