Virtuous: Cardinal Quest

Go Quest, Young Man
Hacking, slashing and indeed crawling through dungeons should get boring, shouldn’t it? Even when they’re randomly generated, aren’t they all the same? Dank, grimy, dim and claustrophobic. Rubbish places. If I came across one at the bottom of my street I’d complain to the council. But when Cardinal Quest invites me to go slay an evil minotaur I’m more than ready to trudge down, level by level, seeing what I can discover. Spruced up, streamlined Roguelikes are becoming more popular and this is a fine example.

Two things to state straight off the bat. This is an attractive game and it will attempt to hold your hand. I know some people find this sort of thing very disconcerting. Especially as most Roguelikes are ugly brutes that don’t even have hands to hold yours with. You have to coax their charms out of them. Admittedly when you do, suddenly every visual facet makes sense and every action is second nature. With Cardinal Quest, there’s less coaxing and less payoff, but there’s plenty of fun to be had.

Picture this scenario. A kobold stands in a room, conveniently blocking the route to a treasure chest. The swine! You should give him a piece of your mind. First of all though, best to ‘w’ield your short sword. No, don’t ‘h’old it, ‘w’ield it or you’ll be fighting with your bare hands. Now, go at him!

Well, this is no good at all. You hit him but he hit you back. You’re bleeding everywhere. Best ‘d’rink a health potion. Actually, no. You’re better off ‘q’uaffing it. Try to ‘d’rink it and you’ll end up ‘d’ropping it. Now, hit him again.

OK, he’s dead. Step over the body and ‘l’ook in that chest. Actually, what you’re doing there is ‘l’ooking at the chest, not in the chest. Listen, just ‘o’pen it. OK, now ‘t’ake everything out of it and ‘p’ick them up. Hmmm. For some reason you just ‘p’ut the chest on your head.

That is almost exactly how Roguelikes are played by the common man. A confusing world of letters and symbols that are pretending to be both nouns and verbs. Don’t get me wrong, I love them but sometimes it’s a pleasure just to wade in and start exploring. In Cardinal Quest I always wield my weapon. It sticks magically to my hand. If I find a better one, the old one is magically converted into money. I don’t even have to find a shopkeeper! If I find a duplicate, my character says “I don’t need this” and, once again, he converts it into money.

It’s refreshing because it means the inventory doesn’t become cluttered and you can concentrate on finding fun new stuff. There are still choices; find a good sword and it won’t replace a good staff because they have different qualities. But find a better sword and that’s the only one you’ll keep.

If you find a helmet it goes straight on your head. You can’t forget to equip it or wear it as a shoe.

Magic and skills are handled in a similar way to Desktop Dungeons, though the game is more action, less puzzle. You find skills, they fill slots and have a cooldown timer. It works brilliantly. My only concern is that there may not be enough variety in enemy types and equipment but only time will tell, particularly as designer Ido Yehieli seems keen on additional content, including difficulty levels and the ability to save. At the moment there’s no save option at all but this is a small game to play in short bursts so it didn’t bother me too much at all.

The newly available demo allows you to explore down to level three, which if you fully explore every floor is a fair bit of game. And it’s all random so a few playthroughs will let you see more stuff. If you want more the game is currently $4.45 through BMTMicro or FastSpring, though Ido does say he’s submitted it to other digital portals and is waiting to hear back so if you like all your games in once place, it could be worth seeing what happens on that front.


  1. Kaira- says:

    “If you find a helmet it goes straight on your head. You can’t forget to equip it or wear it as a shoe.”

    Casual gaming ruins everything!!1

    • omicron1 says:

      Aye, that’s the problem. What if I run out of arrows, and want to throw my helmet at a low-health Orc? (i have actually done this before; it’s awesome, though not particularly effective) What about the roguelike genre’s famous supply of deus ex machinas?
      Simplifying the control scheme is all well and good (why have different commands for wearing armor and putting on rings?) but don’t simplify the gameplay!

    • Bhazor says:

      @ Omnicron

      Agreed, the improvised weaponry is the best part of Dwarf Fortress Adventure mode and beating a wolf to death with it’s own unconcious cub stands as a personal highlight.

      This sounds way too streamlined and without the puzzle core of Desktop Dungeons to offset it.

    • Unaco says:

      What if the Helmet is CURSED?!?

    • Medo says:

      Agreed. What if I need to pass a batch of ground that is covered in acid that quickly dissolves flesh and leather? Wearing two old rusty helmets as boots (and praying that I don’t trip – yes, and in the game) might be just the thing I need.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      If these are the experiences you crave, you will not find them here.

      But if you do want a gloriously complex RPG that isn’t based in a dungeon, might I suggest Unreal World. Crafting and hunting and freezing to death on a cold winter’s night.

      link to

    • Vandalbarg says:

      Oh my, that looks delicious. Thanks for bringing to my attention.

    • Jesse L says:

      You are the recipient of the ‘random commenter connects my two favorite websites’ award for the year. Excellent! Literally every day when I go to work I open RPS and then Playing D&D With Porn Stars.

      Zak is a GREAT great writer. Love his work. And his art. And his gamemastering style. Etc.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Do you have a copy of Vornheim? It’s the best city sourcebook/toolkit in years. I’m using it to help build my own Lankhmar-esque city.

      On topic: as I said on the forums, I tried the Cardinal Quest demo, thought it was too simple and too easy. Not a good combination. Compare, say, Plants vs Zombies (fairly complex but easy) or Angry Birds (simple but hard).

    • Temple says:

      Somehow everytime I mention I like playing with pornstars I forget to mention it is a webpage.
      About D&D.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      This is why modern RPGs are so utterly tedious. No care taken for dungeon crawling players. Excellent article, thank you for posting.

      Notch must have read this, Prelude of the Chambered is the perfect example of dungeon crawling distilled for the “casual hardcore” gamer. I’d prefer more of it and save-games, though, obviously.

    • malkav11 says:

      I loved his memoir We Did Porn but had no idea he had a D&D blog. That’s awesome.

    • JackShandy says:

      Wow, so glad to see this response. I’m exactly the same, Jesse L. Zak is my hero. Looks like the RPS and Porn Star DnD readerships overlap more than I thought.

      I’m planning to get a copy of Vornheim soon for my first try at DMing, can’t wait.

  2. BurningPet says:

    Not really sure if i am allowed to say it (sorry if not, ido!)

    but regarding this:
    “My only concern is that there may not be enough variety in enemy types”

    i have already drawn 6 new enemy types so far and i plan to paint atleast 6 more.

    (suggestions regarding those enemies are always welcome)

  3. Lobotomist says:

    I did the graphics :)

  4. Bhazor says:

    @ Adam Smith

    When did you last ‘p’lay a rogue like? Because I’ve played them for five years and never seen an interface like you describe.

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      I first started playing them more than a decade ago and continue to do so, though not always for comedic effect.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      Never played Nethack? Shame!

    • Quirk says:

      w for wield: Nethack, Angband
      (h is a movement key in Nethack)
      q for quaff, d for drop: Nethack, Angband
      l for look: Angband (again, movement key Nethack)
      o for open: Nethack, Angband
      t for take: , is common to Nethack and Angband. t is throw in Nethack, fire in Angband. I’m sure some Roguelike somewhere has gone with t.
      P for put on a ring or amulet: Nethack

      The control setup he’s describing is pretty close to the major roguelikes, perhaps a little clearer. I believe w and q go back as far as Rogue itself. If all the key bindings are completely unfamiliar to you, you must have been playing some terribly niche roguelikes for the last five years…

    • Fede says:

      Other examples form ToME 2 and UnAngband 0.6 (all should be the same in Angband):
      d drop
      q quaff
      w wield
      t take off
      g get
      i inventory
      e equipment
      T dig
      a aim wand
      z zap rod
      u use staff
      o open doors
      l look
      k destroy object
      r read
      m cast a spell
      M map
      C character sheet
      D disarm

  5. Lobotomist says:

    Sorry double post

  6. Marcin says:

    Very interesting, and timely! I’m working on a roguelike myself so this discussion of streamlining is of great interest to me. Pray continue with the nattering, o Hivemind!

    (game looks great, will be grabbing it immediately, and hi to the creators! I’m totally going to steal your best ideas!)

  7. Quirk says:

    whoops, reply fail

  8. andrewdoull says:

    Back to the topic: Cardinal Quest is great.

    Despite it’s surface simplicity, there’s a surprising amount of replayability. And by surface simplicity, I mean elegant UI. It can’t be overstated how well the UI works.

  9. JackDandy says:

    Can’t agree with you about that, Adam. Frankly, the only RL that game me so much trouble was Nethack, and even then the level of complexity is rewarded by a higher amount of possible interesting outcomes.

    There are many user-friendly RLs who keep a greater amount of complexity, too. Check out Stone Soup, or DoomRL! They’re a blast!

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      Thanks for the suggestions and I do already love them both. Stone Soup is possibly my favourite roguelike. I hope I didn’t come across as recommending the streamlined at the expense of the complex, I just think it’s a lovely alternative. I think both can exist together happily.

    • Lobotomist says:

      Just because something is streamlined doesnt mean it cant have complexity.

      But you have to understand that roguelikes like dungeon crawl or nethack had up to 20 years of development.

    • Kdansky says:

      Proof that streamlining does not automatically correlate with low complexity: Go. The rules fit on half a page, yet any amateur will beat the best programs handily.

      Proof that difficult to use does not automatically and always result in high complexity: D3.5*

      *At any level above 10, combat degenerates to Save or Die** spam.
      ** (or be so badly crippled that you cannot hope to realistically win anymore)

      It is perfectly possible to create a game that is highly complex yet simple to play. It’s just a lot harder to do so.

  10. jamesgecko says:

    It is streamlined. Really streamlined.

    – Lives.
    – Not many spells. Maybe there are more in higher levels?
    – No mana; all spells are on timed recharge. I played all the classes, but I’m not sure if they charge faster for the mage, or if class just determines your starting equipment.
    – You can (and will automatically) equip any equipment you find; there doesn’t appear to be any class-specific equipment.
    – No cursed weapons.
    – Only five potions, all of which are clearly defined.
    – No food.
    – No shops.
    – No monster zoos?
    – No wands or digging?
    – Exploration is optional. If you find a staircase, you’re high enough level to take it on. Maybe it gets harder later?
    – Only magic is ranged?
    – No ranged enemies?
    – No traps?

    I was interested because I thought it might be a streamlined roguelike with a lot of depth. Alas, Crawl is probably the closest one can get to that right now. Maybe DoD?

  11. Lim-Dul says:

    Soooo… You are reporting on all the new cool graphical streamlined RogueLikes and yet POWDER was never mentioned on the site? D:

    link to

    Yeah, it was for the GBA initially but it works just fine on Windows, so totally qualifies for RPS!

    • Wilson says:

      That looks pretty neat actually. I’ll have to take a look at it.

  12. jrodman says:

    Played the demo, liked it, bought it. I think roguelikes are at their most fun when you don’t really know if you’re going to win or lose. When you’re really on your game, that might be true in crawl or nethack, but typically newer players are just going to die every time.

    These simplified roguelikes give that feeling to new players, but not experienced ones.

    I view it as easing me back into that world. Will I stay for the stone soup? We’ll see.

    Incidentally fastspring was bugging out, so i purchased with btmicro.

    • jrodman says:

      Hmm, after an hour or two with this, I have to say that I enjoy its simplicity (it does get harder, lower down, not hard yet). However, it seems to regularly crash, at least on the mac. sadface.

      Hmm, It’s a memory leak. I wonder what tools are available to debug actionscript memory leaks. If it was implemented in C or similar, I’d have found the problem by now.