Developer: Underbite Games
Release Date: December 14, 2016
Super Dungeon Tactics is a paradox; it is adorable, it is charming, and then it will utterly punish you for putting your barbarian too far into the enemy horde. It’s a game that flourishes as a flavorful turn-based video game, but it never lets itself forget that it started as a board game.
I have had a long and heartfelt enjoyment of the Super Dungeon Explore world. I first played Super Dungeon Explore in 2011 at PAX East with a few friends, drawn in by the miniature sculpts and the bright colors; it was fun and frenetic, a board game inspired by a mixture of Gauntlet: Legends, Dungeons and Dragons, and anime. I’ve always had a version of the game on my shelf, and for a while, shared it every time I could with friends.
|Introducing Jon to Super Dungeon Explore was one of my best decisions... including killing him repeatedly in it|
Now, five years later, Super Dungeon Explore still is on my shelf, but now, it’s also on my computer. Super Dungeon Tactics by Underbite Games was just released, and is an attempt to digitalize the tabletop experience. I have a long history of enjoying the concept behind the game.
The Premise: For Crystallia!
First, some background: the world of Super Dungeon Explore is one that is filled with adorable characters and monsters, but dark, creeping evil. Crystallia is a land filled with light and life and many different bits of terrain…but its creation made a shadow world, one ruled by an evil presence named The Dark Counsel. This evil overlord has created spawning points, letting its twisted creatures spew forth to corrupt the land.
In the board game, one player would be the Dark Counsel, where monsters would appear, and how terrible bosses would try to destroy a team of heroes. The rest of the players become the afore mentioned heroes, choosing from an array of paladins, princesses, rogues and mages to assault the dungeon as a team. You work to clear out the spawning points, gain glory through ridiculous item upgrades, and assault the boss. The experience could be hours long, but was filled with shouts and laughter, usually with chips and drinks crowding the table as you and your friends excitedly rolled dice to see who lived and who died.
|Favorite characters appear in SDT, now reimagined with plot points and dialogue to help immerse you|
This video game, Super Dungeon Tactics, takes on the difficult task of trying to translate a well-loved franchise from one medium to another. To do this, you take the role of the adorable heroes of Crystalia, managing them as a growing guild that is trying to help save a poor defenseless town hidden in the woods. It’s a campaign directed by dialogue screens and still shots of artwork, where you are helping the whole team figure out the mystery and fight back the darkness.
The Basics: Translating Dangerous Dice To Digital Duels
While you are in combat, the game begins to look very familiar. Like the board game, the action in Super Dungeon Tactics is turn based, and on a grid of tiles. Heroes move and attack, while monsters do the same, until you meet your objectives or are overrun by your foes. Your characters have the ability to use basic attacks, activate red buttons (Offensive Special Attacks), or use blue buttons (Defensive special tricks) to succeed. The basic formula is still here: there are always more enemies than heroes, and its up to your strategy and some luck to blast your way through to the boss or spawning point.
This is the point where the video game begins to deviate from the original game, and quite sharply. In the original game, every hero attack was determined by a pool of dice, a pool that was determined by equipment, buffs and debuffs. Your strong impish rogue could suddenly miss an incredibly crucial attack, or your more support based hero could accidentally hit harder than your dwarf fighter in a particular round. In SDT, individual attacks have been standardized across the board: a quick look at any character will let you know how hard you will hit, and a look at the grid shows where you are able to.
Rather than take out the dice rolling altogether, Underbite games has chosen to integrate them back in an interesting way: at the start of each round of combat, dice are rolled, with symbols such as health, shields, power icons, or skulls on each face. You then spend time assigning these dice to the characters currently in combat. Assigning your mage a red button power up, for example, would allow them to use their special ability that would cause a strong enemy to slowly burn to ash over multiple rounds. Giving a shield to your over-extended archer might help them stay alive as enemies come to crush them.
|Here, while fighting a giant enemy, assigning a shield might help me survive an attack, or assigning a red button might let me access special attacks|
It is a brilliant reimagining of how dice create luck in a game. Instead of allowing randomness to dictate moment-to-moment combat, it instead creates the conditions and parameters in which you have to fight for a set period of time. For a round, you can take a character and super-charge them with power, letting them go all out in damage. However, you have to measure this against what you might roll next round.
The Good: Guild Managing And Kobold Bashing, Hand In Hand
Let me just say how much I enjoy the combat in this game. It takes the great ideas of Super Dungeon Explore and translates them into combat that feels quick and understandable. The little popping noises I hear when I pick up my characters and put them down are adorable, making me feel like I am moving small miniature pieces. I’m able to fight hordes of adorable foes, feeling challenged, but not over-pressured as other games in the genre (Darkest Dungeon, X-COM 2) shoot for.
|This game loves throwing uneven odds at you, and it feels great to fight through dozens of foes at once|
The charm of Super Dungeon Tactics, at the end of the day, is it’s biggest selling point. It is a strategy game that is inspired from board games, and it wears that badge on its chest. For me, the second biggest selling point is one that most people probably share: it lets me play a semblance of a massive tabletop game by myself, without the frustration of getting a group of three or more friends together, and without having to paint and prepare and store dozens of miniatures. Trust me, I love painting and wargames plenty, but the ability to stay up until 2 AM and play a game at my own pace is great too.
Going back to how dice are used: SDT uses this reinvented system to create enough luck to give it the feeling of board games, without causing the frustration (and slowdown) of having to roll for each individual character on the board. This is a good thing, because Super Dungeon Tactics will have some fights pit you against thirty or more monsters. It also adds a fun ‘push your luck’ style of play without it being too overwhelming. I’ve sometimes rolled power-up dice in spades, and used them on my heroes to let them steamroll foes for a turn; In horror, I’ve then rolled nearly all skulls a round or two later. Skulls give de-buffs to your heroes, and so, I found myself restarting that particular fight as my characters were destroyed, having been over-extended.
The guild managing is, like much of the game, simple, but effective. You get to choose which heroes fight in particular campaign missions, and also how they are equipped. Equipment is incredibly important in this game: each character has four slots, and filling those slots with particular weapons or power tokens will change what attacks they have, and their overall level. They will also change the actual dice you bring to roll between rounds; making your dwarf fighter wear heavy armor and weapons might give you a die that is covered in protective symbols, while giving a light cape to your rogue will give you a die filled with movement symbols and power buffs.
Finally, I do want to mention how surprised I was to get sucked into the campaign. I was expecting a very simple ‘hero’s journey’ scenario, with excuses for combat strung together rather than any depth. What I got was a storyline I became interested in. Underbite Games did a great job making me care for the silly cartoonish characters, and I enjoyed when the campaign would create ‘acts’ of scenarios, where I would divide my forces into teams, and watch them flush out kobolds, or save a town together.
The Issues: Interface Errors
With all of that being said, there are some issues that need to be addressed. First, the core combat in SDT is fun, but it is stymied by some shortcomings. First, the animations in combat could have been flashier; they are serviceable, but simple. For myself, someone who appreciates that this is a recreation of a board game, I don’t mind this, but if you are expecting grand spectacle like the animations you find in XCOM 2, you might be a bit disappointed.
Second, and most importantly, the interface could use some work in Super Dungeon Tactics. I enjoy the basic design, where your hero stats look like character cards, but it leaves some things to be desired. Status effects (poison, fire, etc) that you receive during combat are visible, but it took me multiple combats to actually see where they were listed. While you can see which abilities each character has right on the card, you can’t select them to activate them, but instead hit space-bar to open a radial menu to use them. It’s a small oversight, but I’ve found myself using the wrong attack in combat multiple times because of the game’s auto-selecting.
|The game's old fashioned charm is a blessing to some, but not might be for everyone|
None of these are game breaking, but they are frustrating. The best example of this might be how in your guild hall, you re-equip your heroes with all of your found items…but there is no way to sell or trash items that have long been obsolete. From my perspective, the game would be a near-perfect single player experience with just a few tweaks to the way the game is presented. Underbite Games has already patched out several issues like this since release, and are doing another update patch this week however, so I am happy that the game continues to have its weak points addressed.
Super Dungeons Tactics Succeeds In Bringing Tabletop Charm To Steam
Super Dungeon Tactics feels care-free and fun, while giving you a true strategy RPG experience. It’s a great, brightly-colored world that feels different from the grim perma-death grinds of XCOM 2 and Darkest Dungeon, but it doesn’t let you off the hook in terms of tough fights. I found myself in combat where I had to take my time plotting out my attacks carefully, but never feeling the paralysis of analysis that can sometimes overtake board games of the same style.
Twenty dollars for this game is a fantastic price, partially because of how great the game is, but also how surprisingly long. I had originally been afraid that this game being single-player might make it feel cheap, but instead, the campaign offers dozens of missions on the main story alone, enough so you will get hours of gameplay.
If you are an old fan of Super Dungeon Explore, or finding out about this game for the first time, Super Dungeon Tactics deserves a good long look. Right now, it’s my favorite thing to play after a long rainy day of work; take it from me settling down with a drink, cranking the chiptune-inspired music, and carving my way through dozens of kobolds is a great way to end your day.