Available from www.andhegames.com
My love for tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs) started a long time ago – way back in the early 80s, when I became obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons. I’d first become aware of D&D through the scene in ET where the kids are playing it; I was really intrigued by what was going on, though a bit young to play it myself at that point (I was five when I saw ET). A few years later, I was obsessed with the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon; it then didn’t take me long to get hold of the iconic red box Starter Set (for my eighth birthday!).
None of my peers really got it. Sure, they all loved the cartoon as much as I did, but none of them really understood the basic game. At that age, I was probably not very good at explaining this new (to me!) and fascinating RPG concept to them either.
We did, however, all get into Fighting Fantasy books, which was an obsession nearly every kid I knew shared. Coming from quite a deprived area of London, none of us were able to buy many of these books new – especially at the rate they were being released – but we all used the services of our local libraries a lot, as well as frequenting car boot sales to get hold of some of the older books in the series.
It wouldn’t be until I met a few other like-minded kids at secondary school that I got my first chance to play TTRPGs. I was a member of the RPG club during my first year; we spent lunchtimes playing Middle Earth Role-Playing (MERP for short), D&D, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG and the wonderful Marvel Super Heroes RPG.
That club didn’t continue into my second year – and it wasn’t until my late teens that I was able to play TTRPGs again. I still didn’t play much, but my friend’s older brother had a collection that allowed me to progress to more mature, science-fiction oriented fare such as Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun. I eagerly read his other game rules; stuff like Vampire: The Masquerade, the Aliens RPG and Steve Jackson’s GURPS (the Generic Universal Role-Playing System). Though I didn’t get to play any of those, they definitely sparked my imagination and opened my mind to the incredible range of experiences that were available.
More recently, I’ve found myself drawn to simpler fare that requires little or no prep – I think it’s true of everyone that, as we get older, we become increasingly devoid of spare time – but this is certainly not a bad thing. Some of the best RPG experiences I’ve ever had have been with games that have minimal rulesets and get out of the way of the players, allowing everyone to just have fun. Fiasco is a game I’d highly recommend; although the base game and included playsets aren’t suitable for younger players, it’s straightforward to create playsets that are age and subject appropriate for anyone. Tiny Dungeon is a D&D-esque game that features next-to-no rules and is great as an introductory experience, or one that you’re just looking to get up and running for a quick session or two (it’s not particularly suited to longer campaign-style play, as characters don’t gain experience or level up).
Which brings me (finally!) to the actual subject of this review: The Cloud Dungeon. It’s a no-prep, one-shot RPG adventure that combines role-playing with papercraft – and it’s awesome. I backed it on Kickstarter, way back in 2015; I have the First Edition, which was published following that successful crowdfunding campaign. Note: the second edition is now available and includes numerous tiny fixes and refinements – plus new illustrations and lots of extras.
I’ll attempt to give you an idea of what to expect with The Cloud Dungeon without spoiling the joy of discovering the game as you go along, but it’s not a spoiler to tell you that you’ll cut out – and colour in, if you want to – a character sheet and corresponding token, name your character, roll a few stats (including quirks to personalise your character further), cut out and collect some coins and items (colouring those in too, if you want!) before setting off on your adventure. You can even give yourself a pet if you want, though this is just a cosmetic addition that won’t change the game’s outcome. Despite the lack of tangible benefit to having a pet, it’s definitely fun to have an extra character card – depicting an adorably silly looking creature – accompanying you on your quest though!
Characters are – mostly – hilariously mundane, dressed for business or in casual clothing. When you pick up equipment through the adventure, such as helmets, armour or weapons, you’ll cut them out and stick them on your character – so, as you progress, you’ll build up your own unique, randomly attired persona. The health tracking is a nice touch – each character has a number of hearts running down the side of their card – you make a cut between each heart and if you lose any during play, just tear off the relevant number of hearts from your card.
The characters themselves, besides looking amusingly ordinary, are drawn in the same lo-fi, cute, handmade aesthetic that the rest of the game shares. There’s a charmingly wonky quality to all of the illustrations and even the text, which further adds to the handmade, hobby craft feel of the game. They have both sides; if you die, you become a ghost – so on the reverse of each character sheet, there’s a spectral version of your character too!
As mentioned, I don’t want to go into detail on the actual content of the story, but you’ll be making group choices as you go through the game – which may or may not come back to haunt you later on – as well as undertaking quests to earn money and visiting shops to purchase more equipment. It’s not too dissimilar to something like a Final Fantasy book, mechanics-wise, though of course here you’re not expected to be tackling the game on your own. Plus, there are a number of surprising elements to the gameplay; though again, I can’t go into these without spoiling the element of surprise.
The book is spiral bound – many pages need to be ripped out and cut up as you go through the game. Though this means you can only use a single printed copy once, you can access PDFs of pages via the AndHeGames website, if you do want to play again. However, the fun you have in discovering the adventure as you go will definitely be diminished on further playthroughs and choices are often limited due to the nature of the mechanics – the replay value isn’t high unless you’re going to be playing the game with different groups each time.
However, given that single-play escape room games and other games of this nature are often a lot more expensive – not to mention less family friendly, which will limit who you can play with – the lack of being able to play the game multiple times isn’t a complaint. For a solid evening’s entertainment – more, if you play through chapters over multiple sessions – it’s hard to argue with the value of what’s included. Not only that, but The Cloud Dungeon feels like a unique experience that everyone of any age can be involved in and have fun with. There’s a few hours of enjoyment here at the very least and possibly longer – depending on how creative you and the other players want to get with colouring and decorating your characters and the components.
It’s a great starting place for players of any age who are perhaps intrigued with – or don’t even know about – tabletop RPGs; not only do you get to go on an entertaining and funny adventure with your friends or family, but you also get to indulge in a craft project as you progress. It’s a fantastic way of spending quality time with kids; it’s imaginative, creative and loads of fun. Get the scissors, tape, colouring pencils and dice out – The Cloud Dungeon is well worth venturing into!
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