The PG series is a collection of articles featuring analysis incorporating the perspective of my eight year old daughter, Lila.
It goes like this: each player is dealt a marker and a colorful laminated sheet. They also get a card that says “Rogue”, “Wizard”, “Fighter”, or “Cleric” as this is clothed in D&D and not the Communist Manifesto. A goblin with a mouthful of Cheetos belches “go!” and David Bowie starts crooning about the babe while flamingo gremlins toss their heads around.
Yeah, things are weird. This game is weird.
It’s one of those experiences that twits describe as an activity and not a game. Said twit is right in that playing Dungeon Scrawlers is akin to independently working your way through one of those activity books you give a child. I’m sure you’re familiar with the beguiling Highlights Magazine. I don’t know if they still have those, but they should.
This is a game though and it’s a real-time one. Each person draws a continuous line through a maze using their dry-erase pen. We’re all working the same labyrinth on our own personal sheet. You come to rooms and they have spells you have to trace, monsters you fill in, and treasure you must outline. Some have doors that are locked requiring specific keys, others have portals that teleport you across the map. There are bosses and interesting twists scattered throughout the 10 included dungeons.
It’s admittedly rad.
Dungeon Scrawlers feels like a post-roll & write design. I’m not sure it would exist without that ubiquitous genre focused on simultaneous solitaire play. There’s a lovely low-fi façade with graphic design pointing to a scrappy notebook aesthetic. This ties wonderfully into the Dungeons & Dragons school setting it flirts with. What’s amusing is how well this appeals to both a 36 year old father and his eight year old daughter. My mental pathways connecting high-school RPG campaigns and her giddy enthusiasm of scribbling inappropriate song lyrics and deranged sketches.
There is a problem though. Its identity lies squarely in its novelty. This is the type of title you pull from the depths of your shelf to show people. It hits hard as you live vicariously through someone else’s first contact. This is the cardboard version of a box of shark’s teeth.
The shine wanes over time and it has it tough competing with more rich and compelling games, ones slotting into a similar timeframe such as Cockroach Poker or The Crew. Dungeon Scrawlers never loses its charm even after you’ve played through each of the 10 mazes, but it does lose some of its pop.
Lila is eyeballing me. She thinks I’ve gone mad and personally insulted her identity. Ah yes, she’s become a gamer.
For her, Dungeon Scrawlers is like chocolate dynamite. It combines aspects of drawing, coloring, and puzzle solving. It’s a bright and cheerful game that’s certainly appealing visually. All of the different maze layouts present distinct personality and present interesting challenges.
There’s not a ton of strategy here and it’s not the type of game that you can deliberately analyze or even identify strong play, but it does have an element of skill that improves over time.
I beat her in our first play. She digs in. I don’t win again.
Each character receiving their own special power is fun. It’s Lila’s favorite part. You see, the Barbarian only needs to fill in a monster’s head rather than their whole body. The Rogue can collect treasure by passing straight through it as opposed to outlining it. These are cool feats.
Plus, she reminds me that there is an element of humor. When I accidentally clip a wall I let out a petulant groan. She likes to imitate this in the post game. We both laugh. I curse her under my breath.
We like to look at each other’s path through the maze when finished. They’re always divergent, each of us selecting a particular vector at the behest of an unseen warlock of determinism. She often hesitates to swipe the adventure away, wanting it to linger a moment longer. It makes me smile.
Oh, she’s heading to the shelf right now. “What are you doing?” I ask.
She grabs Dungeon Scrawlers with her little digits. “This is my moment.”
A review copy was provided by the publisher.