Before I begin I was sent a prototype copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you prefer to watch a video of this review check it out below.
There are very few fantasy RPG like games that I will not try out. Maybe I have a problem, I dunno. I also love exploration games, and particularly love games that can be solo played. So Forgotten Depths managed to tick all of those boxes for me. I got the chance to demo it at Origins this year, and then spoke with the designer in order to get a chance to do a preview of it.
The premise behind the game is much the same as you will find in many a fantasy game. Danger threatening the world, and it is up to the heroes to venture down into the dungeons, grow in power, find treasure, and slay the big bad at the end.
The game itself plays out in two phases…sort of. The first is the exploration phase. In this phase you are trying to find your way down through the maze of tunnels to reach the next level down. This plays out much like the game The Abandons (check out my review of that if you are curious); you are drawing and laying small square tiles that represents the maze you are making your way through. In Forgotten Depths, if at any time you are unable to place a tile legally, you lose. The idea being that you simply cannot make your way down and you give up like the loser you are!
Assuming you do not get stuck, you will be faced with events, which could be good discoveries, or poison clouds you stumble into; monsters; treasure; or hidden secrets. Of particular interest here is the hidden secrets. These are discovered by placing tiles in a specific order, which if you manage to do so you get to explore the event deck. These result in some story, and usually a fight. If you survive you get to come out of the event with more power, or loot, but you might have weakened yourself.
The only other thing that I need to mention is combat. Combat is random card draws from a set deck for each character (though items can modify your deck), and another set monster deck. Each hero draws a hand of three cards and gets to play them face up in front of them (how many depends on each combat), then once placed the monster deck flips cards out in front of each. These cards are compared, if the hero card is higher the hero hits for the value on the card, and the monster returns a hit for the difference between the two; if they are the same, it is a block and nothing happens; and if the monster is higher the hero takes the damage. Pretty simple!
Eventually you will find steps down to the next level, at which time you fight a big bad, which if you survive you will get to level up, and heal etc. Make it through three floors and you get to face the ultimate evil and try to save the world. No pressure.
So what do I think?
I really enjoy the exploration aspect of the tile drawing, it has a cool table presence and is a delight to explore. There is enough variance in the paths to keep you guessing. I also like the idea of the secret rooms, how noticing a certain pattern as you explore lets you unlock a great secret. Though more on this below.
I also really appreciate the challenge of combat. It is not easy, as usually the monsters have the advantage. You see a monster hit always takes priority over a hero hit. Not only that even if you land a hit, if you choose to hit hard, i.e. you have a 10 and your foe a 3, you still get hit for the difference. So maybe it is better to do less damage in order to take less on the return hit. It is a real challenge. In fact this whole game is very hard. I think that is a good thing, and it is a combat system unlike any I have played before.
I also appreciate the artwork (keep in mind that I had a hand made prototype, so it will certainly look a bit different), it is very well done. I enjoy looking at the images, and wish that all the cards I had were completed. In the same vein I appreciate that the heroes are all women who look like they can actual adventure. There is also good racial diversity.
I have a suspicion that this will not be an issue with the final version, but this is a game that really needs to be organized well. If it is, then it is a lightning fast set up, if it is not then it takes what feels like forever. A good insert will go a long way for this game.
I am also looking forward to the story being a bit more fleshed out. It is there, and it is actually a bit more detailed than the blurb I gave above, but I want to know more about the heroes, and more about everything. I am really hoping that happens.
There is so much luck in this game. I mean so much. You are at the mercy of luck with pretty much everything. The tile draws and combat are the most egregious. It is possible to just be obliterated in the game due to luck. I remember when I demoed this at Origins we actually lost about three tiles in due to the luck of the draw. I played several combats where I just got smashed because my hands just never matched up favorably to the monsters.
If there was just a tiny bit more luck mitigation this game would shine. It I could draw two tiles and pick one this would help keep you from getting trapped, or more importantly give you a better chance to unlock those secrets. I am not sure the best way to mitigate it in combat, maybe let the player place cards after the monsters…I dunno. But let me use the strategy the is screaming to be used.
Bringing it all together
Forgotten Depths is a good solo-able dungeon crawler. It has a cool table presence, good art, great diversity of character, a fine story, and cool combat mechanics. The only real drawback is there is just not enough, in my opinion ways to mitigate the luck of the draw, which does result in times the game feeling unfair. This game is quite hard already, it does not need any help in killing the players. This is a good game, but it is SO CLOSE to being a really good game.
Forgotten Depths? More like forgotten beginning of this article!
* Fun solo-able Dungeon crawl
* Very hard
* Good art
* Really fun, yet simple, exploration and combat mechanics
* Very highly luck dependent, it is possible to just lose and there is nothing you can do about it
* So much potential for expansions
* This is a good game, just a stone’s throw away from being a great game