That Dwarf Quest’s name bears resemblance to the famous early 90’s board game Hero Quest is no coincidence. I was reminded of playing a board game many times while descending this simplified dungeon crawler’s halls. Dwarf Quest is like playing a solitaire version of an entry-level table top dungeon crawler, from its basic presentation to its card based inventory system. Although it’s a simple game, that doesn’t expand much upon its opening gameplay mechanics, Dwarf Quest firmly held my attention for its short duration. Oh, and that wasn’t a dwarf-height-pun, the game is literally 3 hours long. But as any dwarf lover will tell you; short can be sweet.
Dwarf Quest sees you taking control of the titular dwarf on his titular quest presented in a neat one room per screen isometric view. The presentation reminded me heavily of another 90’s product, the NES isometric puzzler/dungeoner Solstice. There isn’t puzzles to be found in Dwarf Quest though, other than a couple of quick lever pulling exercises. The main challenge of the game is choosing the correct time to use the variety of one-off ability cards that your dwarf picks up. Essentially an RPG-lite, Dwarf Quest is devoid of a character screen, attributes, or a leveling system. Instead it features a simpler card system much like those used in board games of yore. There’s a sparse amount of equippable cards alongside a greater amount of one time use cards that positively affect your chances of winning a battle. There is a definite sense of the finite with the cards though and knowing when to hold on to them and when to burn them is the key to success in Dwarf Quest.
I was pleasantly surprised to find Dwarf Quest bucks the current indie trend of relying on randomization and permadeath to give an inflated sense of length. I’m not saying I have a problem with roguelikes but it’s nice to play through an indie game from start to finish knowing I’ve experienced all of its content. When you perish in Dwarf Quest the game simply re-loads to a room or so before the fight you lost. The only problem with this is, if you were particularly trigger happy with your battle cards, you may find yourself facing an enemy sans cards. Because of the game’s autosave and the necessity of cards to defeat some enemies you may have to restart the entire adventure. If you’re decently clever with RPG mechanics I don’t foresee this happening as the game is relatively easy.
It’s fitting that Dwarf Quest lacks an in-depth leveling or character building system as the game mechanics themselves barely progress or evolve. You’ll be doing much the same thing in the opening few minutes of the game as when you’re finishing it up. Dwarf Quest’s gameplay doesn’t get more advanced and it’s mechanics don’t get expanded upon. All of the cards are presented early on and there’s only ranged or melee physical attacks being thrown at you, no magic or strangeness to spice things up. There isn’t any depth to the strategy of the game; either you attack, block, or choose a card to use and most of the time it’s blatantly obvious which of those is the best to do at the time.
Although it’s simple to a fault, I still enjoyed my brief time with Dwarf Quest. It does a good job of capturing a board game vibe, which I always appreciate. It also kept me interested enough to whip through the game’s content in a single session. It did come to me at a perfect time though; I was in between bigger games and looking for something smaller to muck around with on an easy-going Saturday morning. It’s competent visual style and base gameplay mechanics make me excited for a much more expanded sequel. I’m more than willing to part with $5 for a decently entertaining Saturday morning of Dwarf Questing and that’s why the game is getting 3/5 ancestral axes.