Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dungeon Solitaire, Tomb Of The Four Kings: Solo Adventuring With Just A Deck Of Cards

True story: When I was younger, I used to have a book of solitaire variants. I'd while away the hours with a deck of cards playing klondike, pyramid, spider, clock, etc. I was in my 80's D&D phase at the time, and I noodled around with designing a version of solitaire around a dungeon-delving theme. One concept was to have the cards act as 10 x 10 rooms, laid out in a random map format, as the other cards acted as monsters and treasure and...ughhhh, I never got further than the conceptual point.

So imagine my surprise and delight to discover that Matthew Lowes has developed and released the rules for Dungeon Solitaire: Tomb of the Four Kings! This snappy little solitaire card game uses only a standard deck of cards (plus one Joker) and challenges the player to enter a long-forgotten tomb, fighting monsters and gathering treasure. You only score if you can make it back out alive, so watch your hit points and don't run out of torches! You score more points if you're able to discover the four treasure rooms of the Kings, so will you delve even deeper into the crypt, or will you run for the entrance when the mighty 10 of Spades surfaces?

Since its release, I've been playing game after game when I can find the time, and this solo card game is exactly what I tried cobbling together years ago. You set aside the 2 through 10 of hearts, which acts as your hit point gauge. As you take damage, you turn over the cards until you either escape or die. The rest of the deck acts as your GM for the delve. You initially turn over a card at the beginning of each turn for your "encounter." The deck then become your "action" deck as you try to surmount the exposed challenge. Clubs are sealed doors which must be battered down or lockpicked. Diamonds are trapped treasure hoards which must be disarmed. And spades are the monsters and creatures guarding the dungeon's rooms and corridors. The higher the value, the tougher the challenge. After the encounter is exposed, you must turn over a card from the action deck of an equal or higher value to overcome the obstacle (suit doesn't matter). Succeed, and you survive to gather up treasure and go deeper into the tomb. Fail, and you take hit point damage equal to the difference.

The gameplay gets even more challenging when you account for the
aces and the faces. Aces are your four torches which represents an ever-dwindling supply of light in the dungeon. When an ace turns up, you set it aside, as it's gone out. When the last ace turns up, your last torch has gone out, and you are plunging into darkness, losing the game. Jacks represent skills learned while adventuring ("jack-of-all-trades"), and each allows you to bypass one encounter of the matching suit. For example, the Jack of Clubs represents the lockpick skill, so you can bypass any one "sealed door" encounter. Queens are the Divine Favors of the Goddess, which allows you to immediately win any encounter in which she surfaces. And the Joker is the Scroll of Light, allowing you to relight that last torch when it goes out.

As you can see, there's a lot of strategy and pre-planning to consider as you adventure in Dungeon Solitaire. Should you press on, or turn around and hope to make it out alive? Will your torches hold out until you reach the surface? A perfect score is 4/100, so even if you survive, there's always a higher score to strive for. And there's no denying the portability, as you only need that afore-mentioned deck of cards to play anywhere. (I would love to one day have a custom card deck created with an appropriate dungeon-y card back with each card face representing the creatures, doors, treasures, torches, goddesses, and Tombs you'd encounter. One day, perhaps.)

John Payne released his home rules and variants for Dungeon Solitaire, so here are two of my suggestions to the gameplay:

MORE HEALTH, LESS LIGHT: Your hit point gauge is made up of the 2 through 10 of Hearts. When the 2 is showing, you technically only have one hit point left. (When that card is turned over, you're dead.) I suggest taking the Ace of Hearts and adding it to your HP gauge, giving you a "true" 10 hit points. However, you now only have three torches during the delve, making survival more difficult. Which is more important: one more hit point or one more torch? Play this variant and see!

ACCUMULATED DAMAGE: When you encounter and fight a creature (any Spade card), you must turn over a card of equal or higher value to win. Failure means you take damage and continue to turn over cards until you win. If you're up against a 9 or 10, you're likely going to die before you turn over a similarly high card. I suggest that each non-winning card deals damage to the creature. For example, you reveal the 10 of Spades -- a very high level monster. Your first action card is a 6, so you take 4 HP damage. But rather than staying at a level 10, the monster would now be wounded down to a level 4 creature, as you did 6 points of damage. The next round, you reveal a 3, so you would now take 1 HP of damage (4 - 3) while doing another 3 points of damage to the monster, who is now at 1 HP. The next card you reveal should end it's life. With this method, you won't die so quickly as you turn over card upon card hoping to equal/beat a 10. Instead, this method has you slowly weakening the creature until you finally (hopefully) defeat it.

Dungeon Solitaire: Tomb of the Four Kings is available as a free download at Matthew's site, and links to the files appear at the end of this blog post. It's an amazing game, Matthew, and thanks for releasing it to the wild for us!

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