The Living Dungeon is an ever-changing tabletop game where its environment is filled with monsters, traps and the worst of all the dangers on this deadly dungeon – other players. The board is made of square rooms that can be either seen as floating rooms above an abyss or as simple squares over a tavern table, and the player’s task will either be to kill other players or reach the exit in order to win the game.
The gameplay is set in turns, and on each of these the player rolls a set of five dice that will be used to progress across the board. The dice have various functions, from the basic movements and attacking to more complex functions like dodging, leaping, and even manipulating the dungeon rooms. The various rooms can be either rotated or flipped in order to open a safer path or even to enclose the enemies within.
Whenever the player decides to flip a room it’s best to know that the underside of the room won’t exactly be a mirror layout of the room above, which means that a bit of luck is needed to not end up with a new room without a floor, especially if it is the room where your character is. Ending your turn in a hole or in a wall will mean that you will die, whilst ending your turn next to one of the various dungeon monsters or surrounded by darkness will also see the same outcome. These are just a few of the situations which will lead to your death. To sum up, there are more ways to fail than there are to win, so you need to carefully consider all the possible consequences of your actions and the ones from the characters around you.
The Living Dungeon features two modes; a single player story that is pretty decent in introducing all the rules and the complexity of the gameplay system by mixing it with a story that follows various characters, letting you practice various strategies. The levels themselves are a combination of normal rounds of the game and puzzles that have specific objectives, which are all intended to teach you new strategies for the multiplayer part of the game. During the story mode, you will gradually be introduced to the new mechanics such as cards that offer special abilities and gems that let you re-roll any dice that you feel won’t help you as much. The re-roll gems are quite useful since in The Living Dungeon you have to rely on random dice rolls that not always offer the best actions. These can be used in order to progress in the level, which is a real problem especially in the single player mode since you can only plan your game to certain points and hope that luck is on your side in order to get the actions you want or need.
As I’ve mentioned, the single player mode sees you following various characters at the same time, all of whom are tied together in order to create some kind of a story. To be honest it isn’t exactly a successful story, due to a series of factors like the fact the characters are pretty unpleasant, whilst the poor voice acting doesn’t help either. The AI, and especially the enemy AI on the story mode, has some flaws that diminish the overall game experience. To start, each time the AI takes its turn, you will see a message on screen saying that the AI is thinking. Sometimes this will be so long that you begin to question whether the game has crashed or not. When they finally decide to make their moves, they aren’t always the smartest decisions, especially when you weigh in the amount of time it takes them to make the decision. There are various times when the AI characters will just walk into a hole, or turn around and walk to the place where they were the turn before. Basically, the AI seems to have a type of behaviour that simply makes no sense at all.
Overall, the single player mode leaves the feeling of lacking polish. For example, the abyss under the dungeon rooms is just a brown and bronze hole, the characters tend to be blended with the background and the camera controls aren’t the best since the camera autofocuses on the active character in each turn, which in turn will leave you struggling to understand if the enemy moves will directly affect you. There are also a few framerate drops and the characters stutter and lag in almost every move they make – something which results in long and slow animations.
With the multiplayer mode, The Living Dungeon only features local multiplayer for now, and you can gather up to nine friends and battle against each other in this deadly dungeon. You can also choose to have some AI controlled players or even play as the dungeon itself. There are four multiplayer modes, one where the objective is to be the first to escape without dying, another where the objective is to see which player collects more heads from their adversaries, and in the other two you will have a designated player to kill while someone else will be trying to kill you too.
The experience of the multiplayer is far more enjoyable than the one provided by the single player mode, especially if you gather up a bunch of friends to play with you. It’s also possible to play it all alone but the AI’s decision making issues that I talked about earlier can be a bit annoying with the multiplayer as well. The only good reason for playing multiplayer against the AI is that you can do it even if you are alone.
In both the single and multiplayer modes it’s possible to view the dungeon as a tabletop game in a tavern, which is complete with background chatter and the clinking of glasses, If you think that by using this view the turns would be a bit quicker then you will be disappointed, especially when using the option to change the characters movements to game pieces instead of the animated ones. When playing with the tavern view, the rolling of the dice will be replaced by an animation over the table instead of the show-up view that is presented on the dungeon. The tavern view also has some serious camera issues, especially in regards to the areas that represent the abyss of the dungeon. Since those areas very much blend in with the wooden pattern of the tavern table, if you don’t pay enough attention you might just end up dying because of it.
The Living Dungeon is an interesting tabletop game, one which relies on the local multiplayer mode which can be quite enjoyable with a bunch of friends. The game doesn’t have online multiplayer for now, but it seems that the developers may just be working on it and that will be a nice improvement. The campaign can become quite frustrating at points, especially when the AI takes to much time to make a dumb movement without any reason for it, and adding the “luck factor” on the dice rolls can push into your nerves when you only get actions that you can’t use to progress through the level.
As I’ve said the game is interesting, but only in the multiplayer. In single player it loses the interest quite fast.