You’re ready, you have weapons, expertise, supplies, a few magical keys and hopefully luck on your side. But do you really dare to enter the Forgotten Depths and explore a monster-infested dungeon while seeking both treasure and the staircase out? I had a chance to review a late prototype of the 1-3 player co-op dungeon crawler game Forgotten Depths from Void Knight Games and here’s how it went…
First off, there’s a lot of setup for this game. In fact the numbered inventory of items for gameplay is just shy of fifty, between cards, tokens, map tiles, tokens and record tokens. That’s one of the more challenging parts of the game, actually; because there are feature cards, monster cards, legendary location cards, stair guardian cards, action cards, item cards, ability cards, there are a lot of different cards to set up! Once you get it all sorted out, though, this is a really fun game with some ingenious ideas that make both exploration and battle quite entertaining. Better yet, it’s a solid one player game too, as I tested out with my half-dozen run throughs.
Let’s start with the basic player area. In this instance, I’m Bren The Fighter, so I get matching cards that are, well, let’s start with a photo:
Along the top are the ruins cards since I’m playing the Ruins level (eventually the game will have three levels). Left to right they are Ruins Legendary Location cards (the 3×3 green grid in the top left circle, and I realize that I have a setup mistake here: The “I” card should be on top, not the “III” card), Ruins Feature Cards (the eye) and Ruins Monster Cards (the slashes). Below that is the pile of Ruins map cards – the real fun of the game – along with a starting entranceway tile that includes a white pawn denoting the location of the adventuring party.
There are tons of colored tokens that I expect will get custom shapes to help you remember which is which. Key to remember are the yellow cylinders that let you unlock doors. You start with three (note there are three on my player card on the lower right) and there are more you can find or acquire. Red tokens mark monster encounters (so you don’t bump into a new monster once you’ve cleared out a map square), green tokens denote explored features, purple are monster health, yellow discs are additional monster health, and the white mark your abilities and health.
The bottom row, left to right, are the Fighter’s item cards (the treasure chest), ability cards (the diamond) and, in a smaller deck, the all-important action cards that let you battle and defeat the monsters. Finally, on the lower right, the hero player card, this one for Bren, as I said earlier.
The game is played by switching between exploration and encounters, and since the starting map tile has nothing to encounter, your first move is to flip over a map tile. They can be placed anywhere that doesn’t break the map, so I quickly place out both of these to start exploring my dungeon:
The map space on the lower right offers exits in three directions and a hidden room on the lower portion. Sections marked with a keyhole, logically enough, are locked doors and require a key (the yellow cylinder) to unlock. I have unlocked the lower portion and gone into the hidden room to encounter the eye icon. Above me is a great locked room with two monsters to defeat (each claw mark is a monster) and a treasure (chest) to open once I’ve defeated them. Towards the right edge is a special mark of note: The white “peg” is an edge of a legendary location. Set up your map properly to denote specific legendary location configurations and you can unlock great treasures!
But back to that eye icon. (eye-con?) because it denotes one of seven different special elements, a Feature. The others are monsters (the claw), doors (the keyhole), chests, campfires (a healing location), legendary locations (as shown above) and stairs. Stairs are guarded by particularly tough monsters and they’re one way: Once you head up or down a staircase, there’s no turning back to keep exploring the current level.
In this instance, I head to the Feature and draw the top Ruins Feature Card (along the top of the first photo). Then I grow the map further (I don’t have to explore the room shown until I’m ready to do so, you can grow out your cavern pretty quickly to help plan your assault as needed). Instead, I head to yet another map tile and encounter a monster! This means I reveal a Ruins Monster card:
As I said, this is a prototype so the final art will not just be a pencil sketch. Key to focus on, however, is the information at the bottom of the card. Monsters get names, a rating of how tough they are (this one’s a “Light” monster so it’s easy to kill), an indication of how many there are in this encounter (“Pair” means there are actually two for me to defeat!), and the monster health value: first value (8) for a one player game, second value (16) for a two player game and third value (24) for a three player game.
Monsters draw from their own card deck and you battle by comparing their cards with your own action cards. The lower portion shows how that’s going to work with this beastie: 2 monster cards to 1 action card for when both centipedes are around, then 2:2 when it’s down to just one centipede. (yes, the graphics take a bit of interpretation as you play). For round one, here’s how it goes:
Note that on the very top, I’m marking off both centipedes health with the purple disc tokens on the health tracker mat. My health is at 30 as denoted on the Fighter player card. Here’s where it’s not entirely intuitive: Since there are an uneven matching of cards, the hero goes against the single highest monster card. So for this it’s 8 v 3, so I win the encounter. But while I wanted to hit the monster for 8-3 or 5 points of damage, they actually sustain a full 8 points of damage because of my ‘8’ card. Fortunately that kills centipede #1 because otherwise I would then sustain 5 points (8-3, though logically that should be -5) of counter-attack damage. First centipede killed, so for the next attack I have more power: 2 monster cards vs. 2 action cards. I defeat the giant centipede (phew!) and, a bit later in the exploration, gain the following treasure:
This is another spot that’s confusing. In this instance I need to extract the ‘4’ and ‘8’ cards from my character’s Item Action Cards, as denoted with a chest icon on the face of the card, then replace two of my default action cards with these more powerful cards. Think of it this way: It’s a deck builder! But you’re building your action deck so you can become more powerful and better at defeating the monsters you’ll encounter. Build it up and you’ll be ready to take on that stair guardian, a particularly nasty monster.
Some time later, here’s where I am:
The tile I’m on (denoted by the white pawn, remember) is interesting too: There’s a secret room that has a single monster (which I just defeated!) and a treasure chest (which gave me the heavy broadsword). But see the tiny three black dots in the cavern? That means that I can sneak past without engaging that monster if I want. Of course, why have monsters if you don’t fight ’em?
And so it went, alternating between expanding the map through exploration and encountering objects, chests, monsters and similar. Once you figure out all the setup and the nuances of all the different cards, it’s quite a fun game, actually, and the battle will eventually start to make sense too. But the great challenge I found with this prototype is that it almost felt too complicated, trying to offer every mechanism for gamers rather than focus on a simple and streamlined design. Forgotten Depths could also benefit from an iconographic redesign to make everything far clearer, perhaps even different color cards to help with both organization and gameplay both. There’s a terrific dungeon exploration game inside Forgotten Depths if you have the patience to learn and figure out all the nuances of its gameplay and design.
I’m hoping that all of my concerns are addressed in the final design pass before the game shows up on Kickstarter and is then ultimately shipped. I have confidence that game developer Peter Albertson is going to be looking at all of this feedback quite closely, that’s for sure!
Forgotten Depths, by Void Knight Games. Relaunching on Kickstarter April 15, 2020. Estimated retail: $45-$50. Kickstarter backer price (expected): $30 + shipping.