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Designer Diary: Dungeon Fighter, the Combat Party Game that Originated via Partying

Silva Lorenzo
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Board Game: Dungeon Fighter
The first draft of the idea that later became Dungeon Fighter came when we were frequenting university during a high-booze night, thanks to a splendid target and some darts flying around.

Us being brave level-20 geeks, though, the idea of simply throwing darts at a target like your regular tough pub guys wasn't a great attraction, especially when doing so could become a wonderful, gaudy and loud fantasy adventure in which yelling "TAKE THAT, EVIL LORD!" would earn you the respect of your party fellows (instead of becoming an indelible social stigma).

That was a very pleasant evening and rivers of alcohol were poured – for many people the two things are synonymous – but for some years "Dungeon Fighting" stayed just one of the many leisure activities a man (or a woman) could do after a day of not-studying Biology.

When we finally passed the Biology test, we expanded upon Dungeon Fighter more and more, with the gradual appearance of new elements such as monsters of increasing strength, rewards in gold coins, and the concept of the Shop where you could buy original objects such as the elvish darts, the dwarvish darts, and the wizard's darts. Our imaginations was very limited...

It took us many years to realize that we could change the idea into a real game! As hard to believe as it may be, the idea that Dungeon Fighter could become a board game never hit us, even though conceiving of, editing and producing games is our daily job!

But how to evolve Dungeon Fighter from a simple pastime with darts to a full-blown board game, while keeping the dexterity aspect that made it so compelling?

Obviously the first problem was to find an object players could throw at the monsters without the risk of losing their eyes or becoming human pincushions. And so, even though reluctant, we had to give up the idea of putting in the box objects such as darts, shurikens, or throwing knives.

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Lorenzo Silva learns the risks that come with creating a game

The first version included a basket-cup in which players would throw a die, an idea that proved to be fun for the first two minutes – then became totally boring.

In the second version we created a primitive rectangular-shaped board, but unfortunately it had a little issue, namely that the players sitting in front of the longer edge had a clear advantage since their target was significantly larger and thus easier to hit.

Board Game: Dungeon Fighter
Evolution of the dungeon map

This detail, even if negligible for some, brought us an ingenious intuition: The board had to be round so that every player would have the chance to throw his dice from the same distance. (The fact that this is the typical shape of a dartboard is merely an innocent coincidence, no matter what malicious people may think.)

The second issue we had to overcome was that simply throwing a die grew boring quickly because it's relatively easy to get accustomed to the task and hit a bull's-eye with tedious regularity.

To add some spice to the whole thing, we started by adding the much-hated empty spaces. (Even now when we hear our ears burning, we know somebody out there has just tried a jump shot from under his leg against the Boss, his die has unfortunately hit one of the holes in the target, and he's cursing our given names with words we prefer not to repeat here. We know that deep down you're sensible souls.)

Soon we came up with the idea of "acrobatic" throws, which is what made DF the game it is today. We spent many hours deciding which were the easiest and most difficult throws, giving them lower or higher power levels accordingly – only to discover one day that one of the playtesters could perform catapult shots (which we thought were almost impossible) with alarming ease, while simply being unable to throw with his weak hand (which is considered by many one of the easier tasks).

This situation, since observed in many other of our guinea pig players, brought us to the simple but not obvious conclusion that throws didn't necessarily have difficulty levels that could be easily compared between one another, and this greatly simplified our balancing work.

Board Game: Dungeon Fighter
Evolution of the monster cards

The last tricky issue we had to solve was...the Dungeon! We couldn't make a fantasy combat game without a Dungeon worthy of the name – not to mention the capital D! – if for no other reason than because the game was already called Dungeon Fighter. We had to put a Dungeon in there one way or another!

Board Game: Dungeon Fighter
Evolution of the hero cards
For your own sake, we'll spare you the list of all the Dungeon variants we considered, from the labyrinth full of crossroads, traps and dead ends to the one in which the monsters wandered around the corridors on their own and you could have an encounter with the Boss in your first fight; suffice it to say that after many (many) trials and errors, we understood that the game couldn't be based on complex exploration, but had to focus on fighting, power management, equipment and acrobatic throws! Nevertheless, in the Dungeons of DF you still can find life fountains, hidden treasure chests, and deadly traps.

Another turning point in the creation of Dungeon Fighter surely has to be when we showed it to Heidelberger Spieleverlag at Castle Staleck. In our legendary wisdom, we forgot the target board in Milan and had to draw a pen-and-pencil version in a hurry, with rather "original" results! Anyway, DF was generally well-received by most of the people present at the event, and Heidelberger showed its interest immediately!!!

When we finally had to choose the graphic style we were going to adopt for Dungeon Fighter, we didn't lose too much time thinking about it and we hurried to call Giulia Ghigini. The sweet Giulia, for her part, conquered us instantly with a fantastic draft of the cover, an early version of the one now on the box. After that happy event, though, she was tortured and whipped by Cranio Creations' evil art director because time was running out, and more drafts were needed.

That's roughly how Cranio Creations created Dungeon Fighter, but soon we had to face the next challenge: actually producing the game, a task that also heavily weighed on the shouders of Heidelberger's guys, expecially Heiko Heller. That brave teutonic knight has produced more than one miracle to make possible the presence of Dungeon Fighter at Spiel and Lucca in 2011.

We're proud to share the fun of those old university nights with all of you, no matter if you are or will soon be skilled Dungeon Fighters!

Cranio Creations (Aureliano Buonfino, Lorenzo Silva, Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino & Alessandro Prà)
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