Dungeons of Naheulbeuk is an adorable XCOM-alike
But are there dragons?
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An XCOM-style strategy game in a high fantasy setting is an idea that makes so much sense you've got to wonder why no one's come up with it before. Nothing says this kind of game has to be set in space, and Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop game that started the collective obsession with strategic high fantasy RPGs, is a turn-based game that shares a lot of the same principles.
XCOM and DnD are inextricably linked, but it took me Dungeons of Naheulbeuk: The Amulet of Chaos to actually realise that. I know - the name doesn't do it any favours. But it speaks to the game's slightly goofy charm, however unintentional - eager, sometimes a bit too much. This isn't a dark, epic kind of fantasy, it's the one where the demo starts with your party instantly cracking terrible jokes. All your DnD races and classes are there, and the sprites are very, very cute. The green troll looks a little bedraggled and has a snaggle-tooth poking out from under his lip. The dwarf has eyebrows so bushy they seem to cover his eyes.
The setting for my first encounter is classic DnD fare, too - I take on a group of goblins in a tavern. Your party has seven members, which honestly would be quite a challenge for any good dungeon master to handle, and I too, need a moment to familiarise myself with all the different skills. Each character carries a health item, a ranged weapon and a meleé weapon. There's also a defence-raising skill, an overwatch option and four special abilities per class. These abilities, too, will be very familiar to DnD players or fans of most RPGs with the same origin: the rogue can throw caltrops or stab an enemy in the heels with his daggers, causing them to bleed each time they move, the mage's spells cause additional elemental damage.
The precious moments I take to get into the game nearly spell my doom, because Dungeons of Naheulbeuk is nothing if not challenging. It's not the large number of enemies - that's normal for a game like this. It's more that the setting has everyone at close quarters. I can't tactically flank an enemy who has enough movement to instantly round the table I'm crouching behind. If everyone is already standing heel to heel to each other, getting attacks in can seem impossible. In a game where everyone has a melee weapon, taking cover only works until the enemy reaches me, and they tend to go for me with no regard for their own safety. I'm also not entirely sure about the maths model at this stage, as I miss an awful lot for having a clear hit chance.
But I'm a simple woman - I'm very excited about the chance of playing an XCOM-style game with an actual story, and everything just looks so nice I want to see where the journey takes my party next.
We're covering this game as part of Rezzed Digital, highlighting our favourite indie games from the delayed EGX Rezzed.