I see board games in the store and they always look so cool and then I buy them and bring them home, I’m so excited to open them, and then I play them, like, twice… This column is dedicated to the love of games for those of us whose eyes may be bigger than our stomachs when it comes to playing, and the joy that we can all take from games, even if we don’t play them very often.
Introducing a new feature here at I Played it, Like, Twice: Versus Mode, in which we pit two board games with similar loglines against one-another to see which one comes out victorious. For the first installment of this periodic feature, we’ll be looking at a pair of fantasy dungeon crawlers themed around chibi-style character art, Arcadia Quest from CMON and Super Dungeon Explore from Soda Pop Miniatures and Ninja Division.
Here’s the thing, though, before we get too far: these games aren’t actually that much like one another. Come on, you may be saying, how different can two chibi-themed fantasy dungeon crawlers be? And the answer is: surprisingly.
We’ll start with the art style. Both feature what are known as “Super Deformed” or SD characters – ie, ones with huge heads and proportionally tiny bodies – but the art style of Super Dungeon Explore hews more toward the “classic” SD art that you’ll find in, say, old-school Japanese video game RPGs, while the art style of Arcadia Quest is more reminiscent of big head caricature artwork.
This makes sense, in a way, because the two games have a very different focus. Super Dungeon Explore is trying to capture the feel of an old-school video game – and mostly succeeding. Monsters appear from spawn points, wounds are tracked with hearts, and the version of the game where enemies are controlled with a behavior deck is referred to as “arcade mode.” Even the art on the floor tiles has a slightly pixelated fuzziness.
If Arcadia Quest is inspired by video games, they are of a very different type. Where Super Dungeon Explore is either fully co-op (in the case of arcade mode) or all the other players against a GM-like “Consul” (in “classic mode”), Arcadia Quest is every-player-for-themselves. In Arcadia Quest, rather than taking control of a single hero, each player assembles a “Guild” of three heroes, and competes not just against the monsters on the board but also against the other players in an attempt to come out on top.
This Guild mechanic is probably Arcadia Quest’s most innovative and fun contribution to the form, and it’ll come back up in the space-themed spin-off Starcadia Quest, where it’s crews of spaceships, rather than Guilds.
Beyond that, though, Arcadia Quest will feel at least somewhat familiar to those who have played other CMON games like Massive Darkness or Zombicide. It uses the same large, 3×3 floor tiles as those games, with players moving from one large square to another, rather than counting movement on a one-inch grid, as Super Dungeon Explore does.
From the little time I’ve spent with them, both games seem quite fun, and it just depends on what you’re looking for. Super Dungeon Explore apes a top-down RPG-lite game pretty unerringly, and Arcadia Quest offers a bright and goofy guild battle interface, but one is fully co-op and the other fully head-to-head, so the two experiences are very different.
It’s tempting for me to declare Super Dungeon Explore the winner here for one simple reason: the art style in Arcadia Quest just doesn’t do it for me, even though they are … basically the same, at least at a glance. (For whatever reason, I like the art in Starcadia Quest much better, even though they are even more identical.) Super Dungeon Explore was also the first one off the block, and its cartoony setting seems less mean-spirited than Arcadia Quest, which sometimes borders on spoof, rather than affectionate homage.
There are problems with Super Dungeon Explore that have nothing to do with how the game looks or plays, however, starting with the price tag. These sorts of miniature-heavy games are never cheap, but Super Dungeon Explore tips the needle at one of the highest price points in the field.
The core game routinely costs more than $200 retail – or, it did, back when you could still reliably buy it new. I lucked out and picked up the (cooler anyway) standalone Forgotten King expansion at a Half Price Books for a reasonable fee, but the prices on Super Dungeon Explore are simply beyond what most people can (or would) pay for a game, and that’s without getting into trying to pick up out-of-print aftermarket stuff.
Nor is that the only problem. The original Super Dungeon Explore game came out in 2011. All the way back in 2015, Soda Pop and Ninja Division launched a Kickstarter to bring to life an all-new version of the game called Super Dungeon Explore: Legends. It superfunded, unlocking all sorts of stretch goals and raising over a million dollars (you read that right).
More than five years later, it still hasn’t materialized. I didn’t back the Kickstarter – indeed, I hadn’t even heard of it until I started doing the legwork to write this column – but those who did are (rightfully) pretty unhappy.
In their (limited) defense, the makers of the game have continued updating with, at the time of this writing, the most recent update coming in July of 2020. But these updates are generally notices of new games, other Kickstarters, or changes in plans. There’s been precious little progress that can be seen online toward actually fulfilling these pledges, let alone getting an updated version of Super Dungeon Explore onto store shelves.
All of which can make throwing more money toward this endeavor feel a little icky (or iffy), even if you can scare up a copy of any existing game. Arcadia Quest, on the other hand, you can likely pick up at your friendly local gaming shop for something like $100. Which, while still a lot, probably feels much more reasonable.