Popup Dungeon Review
If you’ve ever wanted to create your own board game or virtual D&D campaign entirely from scratch, Popup Dungeon is the perfect game for you. What started as a Kickstarter campaign six years ago is now a well-crafted experience that opens up a world of possibilities for players with the desire to create their own tabletop experience. With the ability to customize everything from the characters in your party to the enemies you face and the abilities you play with, Popup Dungeon is truly a limitless achievement that embraces player creativity.
Popup Dungeon uses turn-based strategy as its main mode of combat. You can lead a party of up to five characters through various dungeons and levels and control their combat moves by selecting different ability cards during their turn, keeping in mind the amount of action points each hero has to work with. The mechanics are simple and clear enough for any new player to pick up, and by no means would they throw any veterans of turn-based strategy for a loop.
By default, there are a few different game modes to choose from. You can take your party through rogue-like dungeon runs, grind against 25 different bosses in a challenging and seemingly-endless mode called the “Wizard’s Tower,” or play through the game’s D&D campaign-like story missions. The story mode plays out like a true tabletop experience, unfolding narrative scenarios that allow you to make decisions for your party and prompting you to roll a D20 for different skill checks along the way. This is all presented through different dialogue cards on a virtual table, with real maps and battles rendering whenever you launch into an encounter.
The papercraft style of the artwork is incredibly charming, and the variety of maps (or, tiles) are a joy to witness. Ranging from Japanese fishing villages to classic dungeons, the colorful and stylized tiles are full of life and whimsy.
A World of Your Own
Outside of the game’s quick play modes is where Popup Dungeon really shines with its unique and boundless creation system. Players have the ability to design every part of the experience entirely from scratch, just shy of designing the map tiles themselves — which, according to Humble Games, could be enabled in the future. You can create brand new characters and customize features such as their appearances, voices, and preferred gear, but this only scratches the surface for what’s actually available. Sure, you can simply assign your character to wield a ray gun or a parking meter or a David Bowie Knife, but you can also let your nerdy heart run wild by customizing every aspect of your hero’s weapons or abilities. If you want to modify the action point costs, cooldowns, area of effects, or even the conditions and powers of any ability, you can do so. Absolutely everything can be modified or created from scratch, and you can use either the game’s templates, the Steam Workshop, or your own imported work to create new artwork or audio.
This customization applies to more than just the characters in your library. You can modify or create new enemies and write their back stories or assign AI conditions to them. You can control which types of environments they appear in down to the specific room you’d like to find them in. On the far nerdier side of the creation spectrum, there’s even a full mode for editing and creating projectiles, where you can set the speed, shape, pacing and radius of a projectile attack, to name just a few customizable elements.
In addition to the creative liberties you can take with your characters, enemies, gear, abilities and more, you can also create full-on game modes. Here, you can specify the layout of the world you’d like your party to explore and manually place levels, story encounters, challenges, and more. You can add ambient sound or music to any part of the map you desire, and modify the conditions for different challenges or dialogues. It’s beyond impressive the amount of freedom players are given, though it can be a little tough to navigate at first.
The Ultimate Playground
The creation modes do not display tutorials, making certain elements a bit more confusing than others. There is a glossary that explains different terms from the gameplay and interface, which can be helpful if you’re seeing a word or symbol you haven’t figured out the meaning of yet. Certain text can be hovered over to reveal an explanation in the creation menus, however, some fields go completely unexplained. Specifically, the projectile editor was the toughest to figure out, since almost none of the fields could be hovered over, and certain tweaks were indistinct in how they affected the overall result. Still, none of it is overwhelmingly complicated. Rather, the amount of content available to choose from is the overwhelming part. The game itself already comes with thousands of templates and presets, not to mention the thousands more you can find in the Steam Workshop. Do you want to dress up your characters like Geralt of Rivia or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? If you can dream it, chances are, you can probably do it.
Popup Dungeon is a fantastic starter game for newbies to the turn-based strategy genre, and it’s the ultimate playground for those who want complete creative freedom to make their own tabletop adventure. You could play around with the creation tools for hours and almost never skim the surface of what’s possible — the sky is truly the limit here. Though it’s certainly not a game for everyone, it’s one of the most impressive experiences I’ve seen for customization, and a must-have for anyone who wants to create an in-depth D&D campaign. The lack of tutorial in the creation section makes the learning curve slightly steeper than it needs to be, but it’s certainly not impossible to figure out. As for the quick play modes, the default combat can get a bit monotonous, and for this reason, I wouldn’t race to recommend it for turn-based strategy veterans with no interest in modifying the game in some capacity. Still, the cheeky humor, deep customization tools and charming papercraft style make Popup Dungeon a true gem for creative gamers.
***PC review code provided by the publisher.***
- Limitless customization
- Beautiful papercraft style
- Great for newbies and creative types
- Creation needed to freshen default gameplay
- No creation mode tutorial