Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 6/6

Dungeon Solitaire for the Ages

An early game of Labyrinth of Souls

When I first set out to create Dungeon Solitaire, I had in mind to create a kind of classic solitaire game — something that could withstand the test of time. I grew up playing a lot of games. Solitaire and Dungeons & Dragons were around throughout my childhood. In creating Dungeon Solitaire, I can see now I sort of combined what I loved about them both into a single game.

Concept art by ML

The first few games of Tomb of Four Kings I played were magical. I knew I was onto something, if only for my own enjoyment. Soon I was enjoying the game so much I wanted to share it with others. Since then, it has only gotten bigger and better, and more magical.

As I write this, there is a global pandemic going on. My school job is canceled for now and my martial arts teaching is on hiatus. I’ll be working from home until things get better. I just launched a book and I’ll be working on more writing projects. I’ll be working in my backyard, cooking dinners, and doing what I can to support E. as she works on the front lines of this crisis. Other than that, if I can contribute anything to help the world through this, I will. Maybe playing Dungeon Solitaire will help somebody somewhere pass the time or forget their worries. I hope so. Tomb of Four Kings will always be free and all you need is a deck of ordinary cards to get started.

Dungeon Solitaire phone app design notes

Going forward, I have plans to release an omnibus rulebook, tarot-sized cards, and some t-shirts in the coming year. I have been trying to get a Dungeon Solitaire phone app off the ground for a couple years now, but circumstances have led to various setbacks. I’ll continue to work at getting it done with the help of one or more partners, and hopefully we’ll see that happen at some point.

Labyrinth of Souls rulebook layout concepts

Special thanks to Josephe Vandel for suggesting we collaborate, and for creating the incredible art for Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground. Thanks to everyone who backed these games on Kickstarter for helping Dungeon Solitaire reach its full potential. Thanks again to Elizabeth Engstrom and Christina Lay for making the Labyrinth of Souls fiction project a reality. And thanks to everyone who has supported these games, posted reviews, and spread the word. It’s been wonderful journey, and I am more than happy to keep it going.

I can only hope that more people discover the magic of Dungeon Solitaire. I don’t know how popular it could become … and it’s not that important. What’s important to me is this: many people have found some joy in it, and in my own estimation — admittedly biased — I think the game succeeds as a classic for the ages. I can’t imagine ever really tiring of this game or not being entertained by picking up again, playing a few games, and delving into the depths of the dungeon.

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls & Devil’s Playground

Labyrinth of Souls novels

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 3/6

Devil’s Playground Design Notes

Devil’s Playground development in progress

It’s been two years since the I designed the Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground game and expansion rules, as well as the rules for all the variations of Dungeon War included in the Devil’s Playground rulebook. Each game is its own design puzzle, as intricate and vast as the labyrinth itself. Many of the specifics concerning the design decisions are lost in memory, but in revisiting Devil’s Playground here, we will attempt to recover some of them.

Ever since the success of the Labyrinth of Souls game, I had in mind to make some kind of expansion or follow-up game. It took two years before Josephe Vandel and I teamed up again to make Devil’s Playground. With him in Germany and me in the US, our work process was carried out over the internet, in much the same way we did during Labyrinth of Souls development. And thinking back, the main issues we faced with Devil’s Playground — and how we dealt with them — are as follows:

First “All In” game combining DS with LoS

Is it a stand-alone game or an expansion? Why not do both! That alone created a unique design challenge. However I designed the Devil’s Playground stand-alone game, it also had to work as an expansion for Labyrinth of Souls. This was pretty tricky, especially considering the numerous mechanics at play already, the balance of difficulty, and all the possible game variations. The key to this, as with all the Dungeon Solitaire variations, is thinking about the various game components as being modular. Then each step in the design is carefully considered and tested in the stand-alone game and as a modular expansion.

How do we thematically expand Dungeon Solitaire and the Labyrinth of Souls? The dungeon in Labyrinth of Souls is already vast, what new challenges could we add to it, and how would they come together as a stand-alone game? I imagined the Devil’s Playground to represent both the deepest and darkest reaches of the labyrinth and a kind of mystical conflict that permeates not only the entire dungeon but also the souls of adventurers. This sets the stage for the demons, sins, and graces in the primary arcana, as well as the thematic tone of the game. I had only to work out the mechanics, which in this case, took a fair amount of testing and retesting at table.

Notes for Josephe on card layout

What should the new suits be in the secondary arcana? I knew I wanted to add two new suits and I kicked around a number of ideas. Eventually, to come up with the idea of a divided house of shields, united by a single ace, a number of factors came into play. Part of that decision was thematic, as it mirrored the overall theme of internal conflict. Part of it was guided by limitations in the numbers of cards in the deck. The color scheme played a role, and even the simple aesthetic of the French suits used in the Labyrinth of Souls deck.

What unique cards can we incorporate into the game? There were a few magic/cursed item and event card ideas I had left over from Labyrinth of Souls development. So I resolved to include cards for Mog’s Sword, Rizar’s Pole, The Dark Star, Portal, and Dungeon Plague. I needed one more for seven sub arcana cards. I was working on a short story about a time-travelling wizard named Malhak, who tries to change the past in order live a life with his first love. I liked the story and I liked this character Malhak, who lived in a tower, on a rocky precipice, at the edge of the Plains of Ektheon, ten-thousand years in the future. Hence was born the idea for Malhak’s Tome and the tone of the “Words of Malhak” that are found at the beginning of the Devil’s Playground rulebook.

How can we explicitly tie the new deck into the LoS deck? When we made the LoS minor arcana, Josephe went ahead and made elevens for all the suits. They weren’t part of the official deck, but they were kind of fun, like a boss card for each suit. So these were a natural fit for DP. I just had to come up with the titles and mechanics. As usual, Josephe did the rest with his incredible artwork. Once all the elements were in place, the remainder of the cards were made into dedicated hit point cards that could be used with DP and LoS.

Full color art by Josephe Vandel

Regarding the artwork, Josephe and I worked much as we did on LoS. We decided to do full color this time around for something new and to set the expansion cards off from the LoS cards. For most of the cards I just sent Josephe a title and game mechanic. On few card he asked for ideas and on a couple I had specific things in mind. For Goblin Market, I sent him photos of wall street stock traders, gesticulating wildly with contorted faces. From that, he made the post-apocalyptic bank facade artwork. For Oblivion, I sent him a 19th century photo of a woman in an opium den. The Wheel of Chaos was from a sketch I drew during LoS development, and The Watcher was from a terrifying dream I had many years ago. The end results were pure Josephe Vandel, and exceeded my every expectation. All the credit is his for the fantastical mind-blowing art in Devil’s Playground.

Play testing Dungeon War

Regarding Dungeon War, I have to say this game was so much fun to make. I grew up playing games like chess, checkers, and Stratego. And for a while in the late 90s, I played games like Magic and Legend of the Five Rings. The idea of making a card-based wargame that used the Dungeon Solitaire cards was too tempting to pass up. I initially was aiming at something like the Legend of Five Rings gameplay, but this soon proved unworkable for various reasons. Like Dungeon Solitaire, I wanted the game to be playable with just an ordinary deck of cards at the most basic level. That meant the core game needed pretty simple rules. I took my inspiration from chess, really, and incorporated aspects of the classic card game War for combat resolution. I was and still am as excited about this extra game as I was with the actually game. Honestly, it could have been its own book, so making it a stretch goal added massive value to the Devil’s Playground rulebook.

When I consider the number of Dungeon Solitaire variants possible between the LoS and DP rules, I’m still excited by the unexpected possibilities that turn up in play. The modular nature of these games and the complexity of being able to throw all the cards into the same game or an extended campaign is pretty awesome. I feel like I could play these games my whole life and still be entertained and surprised by them.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

 

Dungeon Solitaire Retrospective: Part 1/6

Enter the Dungeon

An early game of Dungeon Solitaire

Back in 2015 I sat down on a bed with deck of playing cards to design a game that involved dungeon delving, exploration, and monster slaying. I never could have imagined where this would lead. In so many ways, this game has exceeded every expectation I had for it, and in some ways, it has really changed the course of my life.

Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground

Later that year, I teamed up with artist Josephe Vandel to launch a Kickstarter for an expanded tarot version of Dungeon Solitaire. Now, five years later, there are three Dungeon Solitaire games, with a whole bunch of variations, that reach all over the world. With the exception of maybe Antarctica, Dungeon Solitaire has been played on every continent. Please correct me if anybody has delved into the dungeon from the south pole.

Christina Lay with ShadowSpinners Press

A series of Labyrinth of Souls stand-alone novels (nine so far) have been published by ShadowSpinners Press. They feature a host of veteran and award-winning authors, as well as talented newcomers. Everyone has been a delight to read. In all likelihood, this is the only independently designed and published game to have its own fiction series. In October, I’ll be at the World Fantasy convention for the third time to help promote the Labyrinth of Souls novels and all the Dungeon Solitaire games.

Looking ahead, the success of this game helped cement my publishing skills and encouraged me to pursue more game design. I am planning to release an Dungeon Solitaire omnibus edition rulebook and tarot-sized cards later this year. And in the months and years ahead, I expect you will see releases for games like Weird Roleplaying, Grimstone Fantasy, an expanded edition of Giant, and Warbound.

Chariot concept by ML

In addition to my ongoing game design work, the success of Dungeon Solitaire helped along — directly or indirectly — a number of other projects. My novel, The End of All Things, is in the Labyrinth of Souls series of stand-alone novels. My latest book, That Which is Before You, is a work of spiritual non-fiction that has its roots in something extraordinary that happened during the time that I was writing Labyrinth of Souls. And all this has laid the groundwork to publish further works, including a complete trilogy of fantasy novels that I wrote over a period of twelve years, a collection of my short stories, and at least three more spiritual non-fiction books.

So looking back — and ahead — Dungeon Solitaire has had a huge impact on my life and my writing/game design career. I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to put out so far, and there’s a lot of great work yet to do.

Most of the year, I still have a day job, so I just move ahead with the time I have. As a one-man publishing operation, I really enjoy getting to do a bit of everything, from design, writing, and testing, to editing, layout, and proofing. It’s hectic sometimes, but I love having so much control over the vision and execution of each project. I have also been blessed to work with and get feedback from some incredibly talented people. I am so grateful for them and for all the people who have backed the Dungeon Solitaire Kickstarters. You’ve changed my life, and that’s quite wonderful. And I’ve been so happy to be able to share Dungeon Solitaire with gamers around the world.

If I can be shamelessly honest for a moment, I am still a huge fan of this game myself. I think it’s awesome! It is everything I wanted to create in a dungeon-delving card game, and so much more. And it’s just fantastic to see like-minded souls discover its magic.

Playing Devil’s Playground

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Release

The general release is here for the new Dungeon Solitaire game, Devil’s Playground! The new game book includes a stand-alone game, a two-player version, expansion rules for the Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls tarot game, four variants of a new original cardgame called Dungeon War, and guidelines for fortune telling using the Devil’s Playground custom card deck.

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground is a fantasy adventure card game. Fight monstrous diabolisms, overcome obstacles, and endure misfortunes as you delve into the darkest dungeon in a quest to defeat three powerful demons. Along the way you will collect treasure and unique magic items, encounter strange locales, and acquire three divine graces. But beware, the dungeon is deep and even if you survive all immediate dangers, a fate worse than death awaits those who linger too long. You may face starvation and insanity, terrible curses and demonic possession, forever haunted, in the darkness of the pit.

Most of the games require the Devil’s Playground cards, available separately. Expansion rules also require the Labyrinth of Souls rulebook and cards. Dungeon Solitaire print rulebooks, PDF rulebooks, and custom card decks are available through the following outlets:

Print Rulebook: Amazon

PDF Rulebook: DriveThru RPG

Deluxe Cards: DriveThru RPG

Standard Cards: Gamecrafter

Learn more about the complete line of Dungeon Solitaire games and stand-alone novels here on the Labyrinth of Souls page. Gameplay videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

Devil’s Playground Progress

The Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter was a big success. Thanks to 314 backers we topped out at $13,605 in funding, and added eight substantial stretch goals to the project and some Kickstarter exclusives. I’m very excited to share this game with all our backers, and still anticipate shipping on time in June.

I’ve been very busy this last week doing final play-testing for the stand-alone game, putting together a rough draft of the entire rulebook with all stretch goals included, getting a start on creating the interior diagrams and tables, and coordinating with artist Josphe Vandel on the remaining artwork and card formatting. All the elements are starting falling into place, and everything is looking pretty awesome so far.

There’s still a ton work to be done though, including further play-testing on stretch goal games and variants, editing, re-editing, and re-re-editing the rulebook. Finishing final tables and diagrams and doing the interior layout. Then book and box covers, Then card proofs, book proofs, backer surveys, shipping logistics and finally orders! It’s a lot to do, and I will be on a tight schedule the next two months.

dp-playtesting

Devil’s Playground play-testing in progress.

Stay tuned here and on the Kickstarter page for further updates as the project moves forward. They probably wont be as frequent as I would like because I’ll be focused on the game itself, but don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. In the meantime, check out all the amazing Dungeon Solitaire games and Labyrinth of Souls fiction that is already available.

Three Days Left for Devil’s Playground Kickstarter

It’s been an exciting month, and an amazing success so far thanks to all the enthusiastic backers and supporters of the Dungeon Solitaire games. The Devil’s Playground Kickstarter smashed its initial funding goal in under 24 hours, and has gone one to hit seven stretch goals. We are on the cusp of another stretch goal with three days left to get in on the Kickstarter.

Time to get into the dungeon, and get in on the great rewards! There are high quality red-back cards for both the Devil’s Playground and the Labyrinth of Souls games, both featuring incredible, original artwork by artist Josephe Vandel. Included in the rulebook are a stand-alone dungeon delving game, Labyrinth of Souls expansion games, an all new card-based territorial wargame with multiple variations. And by getting in now, you will get two Kickstarter exclusive cards with special rules for incorporating them into your games.

In these last three days, please help spread the news by sharing this post or the Kickstarter page with your friends and gaming groups, on your blogs and especially on social media. This kind of word of mouth really makes a difference.

There is nothing more I can say, except to thank you deeply for all your support, enthusiasm, and encouragement. These games can only reach their full potential with the support of backers like you. And so I leave you with a few words from the introductory material for the Devil’s Playground rulebook, words taken from Malhak the Great’s Tome of Demonology:

At last, thoughts fall like shooting stars in the gravity of awareness. Some burn with the light of blinding suns, others with the light of a dim candle. But all catch fire and burn out. Nothing ever remains. Yet until that time, the soul is a house divided. It is a devil’s playground, at war with itself and everything it encounters.

I have seen the pox-ridden skies Illeanth, and the vermilion seas of Yoon. I have conversed with voices in realms of unending darkness. I have nosed perfumes so exalted that a single whiff bore a thousand years of bliss. I have walked with the first ragged tribes of humanity, and I have tasted ashes in the fallen ruins of their great civilizations. I have seen the arcs of eons and heard the silence that reigns in the depths of space.

And yet, all of these experiences have been but dreams within dreams within dreams. For in the emptiness between thoughts, there is no good or evil, no up or down, no light or darkness, no backward or forward, no past or future. There is no sight, no sound, no taste, no smell, no feeling. There is only that which cannot be uttered.

Until the sun rises beyond the distant mountains, until the spring comes, until we wake again, we remain lost in a dungeon of our own making. Until the illusion of the mind itself is destroyed, we wander in its depths. And though we ourselves designed the patterns its winding halls, we do not know the way out.”

The Art of Josephe Vandel

Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground have both been the fruit of a wonderful collaboration between myself and artist Josephe Vandel. The rich world of dark fantasy he has created in the cards has been the perfect representation of the adventures, ideas, and themes I have been endeavoring to evoke in the rulebooks. And yet he has surprised me again and again with the scope and the imaginative originality and detail of the artwork.

Josephe’s skill as an artist were evident from his prior work, but the Dungeon Solitaire art has exceeded my expectation at every turn. So many pieces arrived on my screen to wide eyes and an agape jaw. The unexpected, the beautiful, the horrific, the weird, and the wonderful are all on display. He has delved deep into dark realms of the psyche, and researched rich architectural details. Time and again he has delivered pieces that are highly original and highly evocative.

We were absolutely thrilled by the funding success and reception of the Labyrinth of Souls, and are super-excited that so many backers have already made the Devil’s Playground Kickstarter such a success. We’ve had a lot of fun working together to create something incredible and unique for the gaming community. We talked quite a bit about what the Labyrinth of Souls and the Devil’s Playground are about thematically, and while Josephe has always been incredibly receptive to feedback and any direction I wanted to give, it has rarely been needed. I have been more than happy to give him plenty of latitude to express his vision, and the incredible results speak for themselves.

I am so grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate with Josephe and for his contributions to Dungeon Solitaire. He has created something extraordinary in the Labyrinth of Souls and Devil’s Playground decks. At once, his illustrations are evocative, dark, and filled with symbolic depth. And ultimately, the cards have the same classic and timeless quality I hoped to achieve with the rules. Taken as a whole, the decks present a unified vision and a grand space for the imagination to play in.

This is just some of the incredible art featured in Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls and Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground.

Check out the Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter now!

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground — Kickstarter!

Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground has been in development for a while, and has now launched an official Kickstarter campaign to reach its full potential.

Artist Josephe Vandel and I have teamed up again to bring you this new evocative fantasy adventure that includes a 54 card custom deck, with both a stand-alone game and expansion rules for the Labyrinth of Souls tarot game. There’s going to be gorgeous full-color artwork, higher quality cards, and plenty of extras. Creating the Labyrinth of Souls was a dream come true, and I am super excited about this new game, the new artwork, and the expansion rules. I hope we can all make this incredible journey together again, from Kickstarter to production. We’re planning to make the Devil’s Playground a reality, and we’re looking forward to delivering another great game!

If you don’t know what Dungeon Solitaire is, it’s a dungeon delving fantasy card game. The original game, Dungeon Solitaire: Tomb of Four Kings, is available for free, and is playable with a standard deck of playing cards. The greatly expanded tarot game, Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls, is available in print on Amazon and other online book retailers, and in PDF through DriveThruRPG, with custom cards available through Gamecrafter. The Labyrinth of Souls has also inspired a series of stand-alone novels published by ShadowSpinners Press, with books by Elizabeth Engstrom, Christina Lay, Eric Witchey, Stephen T. Vessels, and myself so far, with new books on the way by Mary E. Lowd, John Reed, Cheryl Owen Wilson, Lisa Alber, Cynthia Coate-Ray, and Pamela Jean Herber! And now, I am super excited to be creating a third Dungeon Solitaire game and once again expanding the world of Dungeon Solitaire.

Check out the Dungeon Solitaire: Devil’s Playground Kickstarter now, and support the creation of another great game!