Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Playing Dante’s Inferno felt like being there

Take a simple dungeon crawl. Now, set it in Dante’s version of Hell. Finally, add the Catan economic system. That might sound cool but what we got was a complete, horrible mess.

Climbing into the Wayback Machine, I rediscovered Twilight Creation’s Dante’s Inferno, a game I apparently did my best to block out. A friend of mine got it around when it first came out. We were already familiar with Catan and we thought it was promising but we were done by our second play.

I have a weird opinion of Twilight Creations. I sincerely believe that they love what they do and are trying to give the world cool games. And I think they are willing to take chances. But so many of their games that I’ve tried seem like they need two more rounds of development.

And Dante’s Inferno is near the bottom of the heap for me. But not as bad ZombieTown. That was literally unplayable, although a horrible rulebook had a lot to do with that.

You steadily build a square spiral to the center of Hell where you try and defeat Lucifer. Each space has a number and resource and if one of your pawns is on a space, they can earn that resource Catan style and spend it on different effects.

Back in the olden days, the game just ended up being a tedious slog. Now, older and more jaded- I mean wiser, I can see why Dante’s Inferno has so many problems.

The combat, which consisted of trying to rolling high on two dice, was simplistic and weighted against the players. (Which is thematic, seeing as how damned souls shouldn’t have much chance against demons, but still not fun) Fighting demons is something of a last resort but it should be more interesting.

And the Catan economic system doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the system. You don’t really set up an infrastructure, particularly since other players can force your pawns to move. Everyone’s resources are public knowledge and there are ways to directly attack the other players, so trading isn’t as desirable.

And the rulebook was so bad that we weren’t at first sure how you fought Lucifer (turns out the same as any other combat). And you had to collect and then spend resources to build the inner layers of Hell, turning just progressing into a slog. And- THERE WAS JUST SO MUCH THAT DIDN’T WORK!

If we had come across Dante’s Inferno a couple years later with a lot more games under our belt, we wouldn’t come near it. At the same time, I have a feeling if the game had been developed a couple years later, it wouldn’t have so many issues. Welding a Euro game structure to an adventure game theme was pretty experimental and daring for the time. I have to give credit where credit is due. But the experiment failed.

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