Have You Played… Dream Quest?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Non-competitive roguelite-card game mash-up Dream Quest was my favourite game of 2014 – but that year I played it entirely on an iPad. The PC release came a year later and without fanfare. Fast forward further to last December and it finally scored a Steam release, though I fear that came too late to make the impact it needed.

Of course, it’s the art that’s to blame. Look past it, I beg you.

The craft of this thing, underneath those squiffy hand-drawn graphics. The sheer amount of possibilities and balancing crammed below that crude skin. Traditionally, a videogame adaption of collectible card games leads heavily towards the competitive – Hearthstone being the most visible – but Dream Quest locks the cardplay to solo adventures.

You creep cautiously around single-screen dungeons, using strategic thinking to devise the best order in which to tackle lurking enemies. Take on someone too strong and it’s likely that their deck’s power will far outstrip yours, but focus only on picking off the weak and you won’t power up enough yourself to then stand a chance against said strong’uns. It’s an extremely delicate balancing act, interwoven with turn-based card gaming in which increasingly complex and devastating combinations can be made.

All the while, you’re upgrading both your deck and your character by visiting stores or completing micro-quests – building, building, building with the goal of survival. Every layer of the dungeon gets tougher. Some of the monsters’ card abilities will seem rampantly unfair. They’re not. You just have to learn. And you will learn, by failing and by dying. An archive of knowledge will build in your head, remembering exactly what each card does, what it best combines with, and how to survive it.

How can the surface appearance possibly matter when the design is this spectacular?

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15 Comments

  1. warkwark says:

    I played it awhile. Good game. Could use a touch more variety. If you like this, look at the oddly named Gumballs & Dungeons for mobile. It has similar tile mechanics and strategizing in the dungeon levels, but adds kitchen-sink levels of other stuff: a gradually growing home base, crafting, hero management, you name it. Free to play but not obnoxiously so.

    While this is a fun game, I do have to say: there really is no excuse for the graphics being so eye-gougingly bad. Normal-bad? Sure. I mean, there are lots of bad-looking games… and then there is this. It’s as if the dev was *daring* anyone to play it. I’ve tinkered with making Unity games, and… look, he could have spent less than $100 on the Unity Asset Store, grabbed a couple of 2d icon & graphic sets, creatively assigned them to cards (I say creatively because the pre-made art won’t line up *exactly* with his cards), and… done. And then, the first thing out of anyone’s mouth when they recommend this game wouldn’t have to be an excuse. ;)

    • Winged Nazgul says:

      There’s rumors the graphics were sourced from the lone developer’s children. Either way, if you get into the game properly the graphics should fade into the background as you concentrate on the game’s great mechanics.

      Speaking of the lone developer, this game was good enough to get him noticed and a job at Blizzard. Recently, I tuned into a Day9 stream previewing news cards from the upcoming Hearthstone expansion and there he was with Day9 and the caption stated that he was a senior game designer now so good on him.

      • warkwark says:

        Yes, graphics do tend to fade into the background if you’re enjoying a game. The only time I’ve ever not had that happen is with… *this* game. I’d get into a nice flow, and then my eye would brush across that execrable Microsoft Paint stickman for the thousandth time, and I’d think Oh My God Why???

    • dbsmith says:

      In terms of variety, just in case you didn’t realize it, a lot of content is unlocked as you go through the game and earn achievements. New classes, new cards etc…

      But yes, otherwise your variety comment isn’t entirely unfair

  2. Gothnak says:

    Still the best iOS game ever. I bought it what must be 2 years, i am still playing it, only last night i finally finished it as the really fun Professor. Still need to unlock Bard and Dragon.

  3. Gothnak says:

    Also, if someone wants to checkout Monster Slayers on Steam, it’s not out yet, but openly says it has taken inspiration from Dream Quest.

  4. Morph says:

    Absolutely fantastic game. Played it most days for at least a couple of years on ios, and still go back now and then.

  5. Moth Bones says:

    I like the graphics. I can be Samantha the Strong! It’s a terrific game and thank you for reminding me.

  6. asmodemus says:

    Just wanted to chime in. Dream Quest is utterly brilliant. I’ve been pushing it onto card game friends for a while and every one of them absolutely loves it.

    The graphics horror fades away rather quickly and really should be ignored because the game-play and design are rock hard. Triple A games wish they could be this elegantly made.

    Difficult, compelling and clever, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    • dbsmith says:

      Totally agree. Got my first win at 50 deaths, was so proud and happy. 100 deaths in, still haven’t won it twice.

      This game is a design masterpiece.

  7. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    Is it actually a “collectible card” game? Because it sounds more like a deck-builder. The latter is fine, the former implies lots of time commitment for no good reason to have a good experience.

    As for the graphics, buh. My own programmer art is far far worse and also I play games like Dwarf Fortress. Graphics Shmaphics.

  8. April March says:

    I played it at RPS’ behest. It was good. Not great. I don’t quite understand the praise it gets.

    I had assumed that the graphics were placeholders. 😶

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