2016 saw Paulo Di Stefano and Gabriel Gendron’s game, Mini Rogue, walk away with a host of awards in BGG’s 9-card Nanogame Design Contest. Two years later I was lucky enough to get a demo of the game, which was under development, at the UK Games Expo.
Now, in 2020, the game is coming to Kickstarter and those lovely people at NUTS! Publishing sent me a prototype to get my teeth into.
So, what’s it all about?
Mini Rogue is a dungeon delver that sees the player(s) – it’s a 1-2 player game – descend deeper and deeper in order to seek out the fabled Og’s Blood, rumoured to be a ruby gemstone.
The basis of the game is built around a grid of 9-cards, which forms an area of the current dungeon floor. Players start in the top left hand corner, and once they’ve successfully encountered that location they can then reveal some new ones, choosing one to move to, but there’s a catch. The player can only move to the location immediately to the right or below their current position, and this plays an important part in the strategy of the game, as we shall see.
Encounters see your character battling monsters, trading with merchants, robbing tombs, and much, much more; the prototype featured 11 different rooms with the production version looking to include upwards of 21, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re repeating yourself every time you re-deal the grid.
No Dungeon Delver would be complete without a choice of characters to play, and there are currently four to choose from, with the possibility of this growing during the Kickstarter campaign. Two were included in the prototype – the Rogue and the Mage – both had two unique skills, of which one could be used per area, or at least until the character is refreshed.
Your character has the obligatory Hit Points, but also carries around a bit of food, some gold, can gain armour and potions, and, of course, can earn experience, which is required to level up.
At the end of every dungeon area you get to take a bite to eat before exploring further – no food, oh dear, you’ll be feeling a bit weaker than you did! You then deal out another grid and off you go again, however, at the end of every floor (each level contains a number of the 3×3 areas) there’s a boss to fight, and at the very end, should you make it that far, you’ll have to face Og himself, or at least his remains!
That’s the basic premise of the game, which all sounds rather simple, and that’s where the beauty of this game lies – it is simple, but it’s also surprisingly challenging.
The restriction to movement – either to the right or down – presents some tough decisions. Do you tackle the monster, or go and trade with the Merchant? Obviously the Merchant, right? Well, maybe, but defeating the monster will earn Xp, and you really need to level up otherwise things are going to get tough really quickly. Gaining levels (you can lose them too) means you get to roll an extra die in combat, which means you’ll be hitting a lot harder!
Combat is a simple affair: you roll a number of white dice, depending on level, and a black die for the monster. An X misses, but a critical hit enables you to re-roll that die and add its total to its previous value, but once again there’s a catch, roll a miss this time and no damage at all is dealt with that die.
The monster hits on a roll of 2-6, with a 6 ignoring any armour the character wears. The amount of damage caused is presented in a table on the monster card, and can quickly whittle you down.
There are also condition dice and should you find yourself burdened with one, then they get rolled along with the combat dice, such as poison and curse, and these spice things up nicely. Poison causes you damage whilst a curse makes you a bit clumsy, knocking one off all your die rolls!
It can often be tempting to follow an easy path through the dungeon grid, but that clever restriction on movement can get you in trouble. Move all the way to the right or all the way down, and you’ll be stuck with only one path to choose from, and when things are getting tight in the old Hp department, you may regret your early choices.
The whole game is about risk/reward management. You need certain things to enable you to make progress through the dungeon – food, HP’s, better armour, Xp, etc. – but some are easier to come by than others. For instance, the best way to gain Xp is to battle monsters, but if you’re running short on Hps, or an imminent fight with a Boss is looming, do you really want to take on that Goblin Warrior?
And so, every time you’re faced with a choice of locations you have to consider the gains each may give you, and the fact that some will depend upon a die roll as to whether it’s a good thing or bad (the higher level you are them more dice you roll, the better the chance of success – you really need those levels!)
Well, that’s a very quick summary of the gameplay, though by no means have I mentioned everything, and now, having played through a dozen or so times, here’s my thoughts…
I only played this solo, and I loved it, it really tickled my fancy in many ways.
Firstly, it takes just a minute or two to set up and get going, which for me means quite a lot. This is a game I can reach for whenever I’ve got a spare thirty minutes or so, and I haven’t got to spend most of that time setting things up and figuring out the rules. It also takes up very little space, another bonus for those on the go.
Despite the dungeon area being small and restrictive it still gave me the feeling of adventure and exploration, and that’s mainly down to the decisions you have to make when choosing where to go. The desperate need to level up is held in check by the need for food and the lust for gold, both of which you’ll need to make headway.
Entering into a battle is often a risk, as the monsters can whittle your Hps away with alarming speed, and you can never be quite sure what the next locations will contain. But, the reward in Xp for winning is what you’re chasing, as levelling up, and quickly, is crucial – the risk reward mechanism is a compelling part of the game
The Boss monsters feel just that, and you need to be prepared: No armour? No potions? Only level 1! They’ll laugh at you and kick your butt!
Finally, it appeals because it is simple. It isn’t cluttered with unnecessary components, or drowned in unfathomable rules. The gameplay is straightforward with only a few things to concentrate on, and yet it still offers a challenge. It still requires a degree of thought to make your way deeper into its murky depths.
In its original 9-card format it was easy to see why Mini Rogue did so well as a print and play. Now though, Mini Rogue is all grown up, or at least entering into adolescence, and whilst it’s still a mini game, it’s now got a bigger heart!
Mini Rogue is coming to Kickstarter 9th June
Check it out HERE
You can find more information, and download a Print and Play version, over at the NUTS! Website, HERE