Moe's Game Table: Unbroken by Altema Games Kickstarter Preview
Publisher: Altema Games
Game Designer: Artem Safarov
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Kickstarter Price: $29 CAD
Most dungeon crawlers pursue the familiar script; a group of plucky adventurers rush headlong into danger, with visions of riches and derring-do filling their minds. Players battle their way through, snatching up a trove of gold and magical items before emerging victorious. Another job well done, with pats on the back all around and a refill on snacks and drinks, before setting up the next adventure.
Here’s where Unbroken breaks that mold and sets itself apart. Your party has not fared well, in fact you are the lone survivor. Battered and alone yet unbroken, you steel yourself for revenge against the denizens of the underworld.
Die and learn
When first contacted by designer Artem Safarov to do a preview of Unbroken, I was quite intrigued to see his take on a solitaire dungeon crawler. The gist is simple, as the lone survivor of a decimated party, you must pass through a gauntlet of four increasingly difficult levels of monsters to win. Sounds easy right? Well, it most certainly is not.
An immediate comparison can be made to last year’s One Deck Dungeon, another solo dungeon crawler. However, the two are very different experiences. Unbroken deals with less random chance and provides far greater player agency. The decisions and risks taken are purely your own choices, rather than being limited by luck of the dice. This is a major driver in the game and evokes a strong sense of ownership in your character. You are totally invested and become that character. I really dig that!
Your venture isn’t about running through the dungeon cracking skulls and dodging traps. Instead, it’s about carefully planning your trek to prepare for each level’s monster using the limited amount of time and effort afforded you. Effort is your life and you begin with 13 small effort, once it hits zero you’re dead. Effort is spent for every action taken but can also be increased by resting or combined into either medium or large efforts. These higher effort levels allow you to inflict greater damage, mandatory for combating those level three and four baddies. Managing time and effort as you would in a real-world situation is the main focus of this game, and where its greatest hook and challenge lies.
Every level allots you a set amount of time, increasing proportionally the further you go. However, like any good challenge, there is never enough time or effort to do everything you want, making decision points very important.
Travelling through the labyrinthine depths, you’ll deal with minor encounters along the way. These encounters are card driven and random, allowing you to accrue other resources and sometimes abilities. Resources gained can be used to build and upgrade weapons, or you can avoid fighting that level’s monster by tricking them with a bribe of goods. Yes, trickery is a very valid tactic, especially when running low on effort the further along you go.
Gaining resources and upgrading weapons costs both time and effort, which must be balanced carefully. Run out of time and the next creature will ambush you, striking first and costing you precious effort and possibly more. Likewise, if you spend effort carelessly you’ll either be under armed or too weak to make it successfully through the fight.
The first couple of levels aren’t particularly challenging, instead they are more like preliminaries before the main events of the third and fourth levels. They’ll help you get a feel for what you should be doing, what actions to take and how to prepare. Don’t get overconfident, all chuffed with yourself for taking out level one or two monsters easily. Once you embark on that third level, if you’ve not improved yourself and weapons, you’re very likely to end up that creature’s next meal.
We’ve all heard the old adage, “live and learn”, well for this game it’s “die and learn”. You will die often in this game, but from each failure you will glean a new morsel of strategy to apply for your next attempt. You must be equally smart and bold if you wish to survive the catacombs. Experience is often the toughest taskmaster, and each trip out will teach you a little more about managing risk versus reward.
Fighting in Unbroken isn’t simply about rushing headlong into danger, punching everything in the teeth. The intelligent fighter examines themselves, recognizing both their current physical state and abilities before diving headlong into the fracas. Discretion is the better part of valor, so keep in mind that not every fight needs to be won on brawn alone. A judicious use of trickery to fool a creature by bribing them with something you have that they want is a valid tactic. Always know your enemy by investing effort into scouting ahead, it will save your hide. Sure, you’ll lose out on treasure, but you’ll be alive and better rested for the next challenge.
During combat you inflict wounds using weapons, skills acquired, and abilities. This is why you must be prepared, as chance plays little factor for the player on offense. When on the receiving end however, creature attacks are randomly determined by die roll. Combat always has an element of chance, but this randomness can be mitigated by the unique traits, skills, or abilities of your chosen fighter. This gives the player a different experience with each of the four characters, testing you to find new approaches in handling the 24 different monsters you may face.
Trust me, you’ll want to be well-prepared for each combat. I cannot tell you how many times I have died by being short just one effort! It’s maddening, but in a very good way. Thankfully, Unbroken plays fast enough that you can knock out several games in short order, and it always beckons you for just one more play.
Unbroken has been out in the public as a print and play for a year, allowing designer Artem Safarov the time and feedback to hone and polish it into a finely tuned game. He’s managed to maintain the right balance without detracting from the challenging experience he first set out to create. The four unique heroes will be pushed to their limits against the various monsters, creating a new experience every time. Add all of this together with some phenomenal artwork and there’s a real winner here!
You will break, and keep coming back for more
At its heart, Unbroken is a euro-style resource management game, blended with an astute mix of push-your-luck. Unbroken sets itself apart by putting you in the first-person perspective, providing a thoughtful and challenging exercise in managing risk versus reward. Everything centers around managing limited resources and time, while making a steady stream of strategic and tactical decisions, and then dealing with the outcome.
What really draws me in is that you’re not only crafting weapons for the challenges ahead, but your character as well. Taking ownership of them to the point that it is no longer a simple avatar in that dungeon, it’s you. Combine that with a steady failure rate, and it’s a true test of your mettle. A solo game that I can beat with regularity loses my interest fairly quickly. Unbroken makes you work for and earn every single victory, making for a satisfying finish when you win!
Everything is a choice, even combat. You can opt for battle or finagle your way past an opponent, ignoring the payoff. It takes an acute mind and attention to several details to insure that one is properly prepared for the challenges that await.
Advancing along your travels in Unbroken, your decisions help drive both the journey and narrative. While not a story game, your actions and encounters in the dungeon builds one. As a short game averaging just 20-30 minutes it never overstays its welcome, and each play creates its own little episodic vignette.
One thing is for certain, Unbroken will certainly break you, and you will keep coming back for more. At $22 US ($29 CAD), there is solid value here and for solo gamers, backing this one is a no-brainer!
Unbroken goes live on Kickstarter at 10am EST.
Company Website: http://altemagames.com/
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/ArtSafarov
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/altemagames
Note: A prototype copy of this game was provided to me for this preview.