PAX West 2019: Hands-On With Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels

If you’ve been following along with our news posts, you may already be aware of the Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels Kickstarter campaign… which was launched, then cancelled, then relaunched with some adjustments based on backer feedback. When the new campaign went live, a lower pricing tier was introduced that makes it more likely for more fans of the Shovel Knight world to enjoy the board game—so of course when we saw the game being demoed at PAX West in the tabletop area, we knew what we had to do.

At the time of writing this, there’s only around a day left in the campaign, so to preserve the time remaining and convince as many of you as possible to support the Kickstarter, we’ll try to keep this brief. Especially since the previous sentence has already told you where we fall on this thing.

The basics, in case you need a refresher or this is the first time you’re hearing of the game: Shovel Knight: Dungeon Duels is a 1-4 player side-scrolling board game based on Yacht Club Games’ popular Shovel Knight video game series. Players head into a dungeon, make their way through it whilst avoiding traps and fighting enemies, and eventually engage in a boss battle with one of the infamous members of The Order of No-Quarter.

Let’s back up a bit to the definition above. When we say “side-scrolling board game,” this is not hyperbole. Panda Cult Games has quite literally created a functional, side-scrolling board game: as players progress through the dungeon, tiles will slide to the left and new tiles added to the right to mimic the progression through a side-scrolling video game. These tiles are removed and added until the stack runs out, whereby players will “exit” the level… and land in the boss room. This is an entirely different board that slots onto the play area where the scrolling tiles once were. Can you picture it? It’s incredible.

Gameplay is fairly simple in and of itself. Players can take three actions on their turn, in any combination or order: Move, jump, attack, or buy. Jumps won’t always land, either—which is dangerous, because there are traps and spike pits all over the damn place, and if you take damage, you lose half your treasure. And your rival players can collect it! But you want to progress quickly because there are also Relics scattered throughout the play area that provide excellent bonuses.

And while you’re technically not allowed to harm your fellow knights by attacking them… the knights’ code says nothing about an extra hard shove. Near a pit. Oops? Strategic maneuvering is required as players can knock each other into pits, enemies, or other less than ideal positions.

While the gameplay in the main level was fun and innovative, the most impressive element—the thing that blew our minds and sent everyone we talked to about the game for the rest of the weekend rushing to try it out—is the boss fight mechanic.

The boss exists and moves on a grid and does so using its own unique deck. The deck randomizes attacks… until you reach the end of the deck. If the fight is still going after reaching the end of the deck, it isn’t shuffled, merely flipped over and started from the top. This means if you’ve been paying attention during the fight, you can effectively figure out the boss’s attack pattern… just like in a typical side-scroller. Yeah. It’s that cool.

The artwork is fantastic, the miniatures are perfect, and the game just makes sense. It feels and plays like a side-scroller, while also being a highly satisfying board game—and it’s got that Shovel Knight humor and aesthetic all throughout.

Plus, it’s fun. Ultimately, that’s what a board game experience should be, and Panda Cult games has made it happen. We’re thoroughly impressed, and if you choose to back this project and experience it for yourself, we’re certain you will be too.

You can do that right here.

Final Note: Big thanks to the Panda Cult Games crew who took the time to demo the game for us. This team is clearly very passionate about their product and loves what they’re doing—and are listening carefully to feedback from backers and from those who’ve had a chance to demo the game. We walked away feeling like our comments were heard and appreciated. It makes a difference knowing the people behind a game care so deeply about what they’re doing!


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Author: Faith View all posts by
Faith likes games and books and cake and writing and Lara Croft, not necessarily in that order. She also thinks a Skylanders cartoon show is a really, REALLY good idea...

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