Fallen Lords

fallen lords creature card 2
Players:
4
Multiplayer:Pass n play only
AI:No, 4 levels of difficulty
Universal App:No
Purchase for iPhone:None available. Buy an iPad now!
Purchase for iPad:
Fallen Lords
Price: $3.99
User rating:
GD Star Rating
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Fallen Lords, 8.0 out of 10 based on 6 ratings

Ever wondered how Ghost Stories would play as a dungeon crawl? Look no further than Fallen Lords, a cooperative game of dungeon exploration and monster slaying. Can you save the world?

Gameplay

The Eternal Seals are breaking, and the Fallen Lords are emerging to threaten all of existence. Only you, an intrepid band of four hearty warriors, stand in the way of certain doom. (If they look familiar, they should – it’s the same archetypes you’ll find in the arcade classic Gauntlet).

fallen lords setup

You begin the game by deciding the turn order of the four adventurers – note that if you have multiple players (possible only locally, as is common with co-op affairs on the iPad) you will have to decide amongst yourselves who has control of which fighter. Then choose your difficulty level (1-4 Fallen Lords to vanquish) and set off into the dungeon.

fallen lords room card Each tile of the board represents a room or corridor of the dungeon, and will have 1 or more doors. Walk through an empty door to reveal a new tile and end your movement. Revealing a new tile will also spawn at least one monster. fallen lords creature card 2

Each monster will have one to three abilities. Tapping the question mark in the lower corner of the screen, and then a corresponding monster, will reveal it’s card; tap and hold on one of the icons to flip the card and learn more about its specific capabilities. Each monster will also have 1-4 blobs of color. To engage in combat, move one of your warriors into a room with a monster and roll the dice (3 unless modified by some game effect). Each face of the die has one of the 5 colors or a wild card face that can stand as any. Roll at least as many of the correct color as the monster has hit points to defeat it.

fallen lords falling die

In addition to revealing rooms and fighting monsters, the various characters can search for tokens to assist in combat and resurrection attempts on their fallen companions. Ending your movement in a room that saw no combat this turn and has no monsters allows you to roll 2 dice; match the faces and get a token of the corresponding color, which can be used whenever you would need to roll a specific die face.

fallen lords combat

In a neat twist, any character in the room where an action is happening can contribute their tokens to assist. This creates a dynamic tension that underlies a lot of the movement decisions. The old dungeon crawling rule of “don’t split up the party” applies in force here, but if you keep everyone together, you may not be able to adequately explore the dungeon in time, because…

fallen lords doom clock

As you explore, events will move the hands on the Doom Clock – one hand corresponds to each of the Fallen Lords you must defeat. Additionally, if enough creatures of a given color amass, it spells doom (or at least a Curse) for the corresponding character. Vanquish the Fallen Lords before your characters die or the Doom Clock reaches 8 to win the game.

Implementation

FL gets some points for offering a fresh mash up of existing game ideas. The problems with this app aren’t in the idea, they’re in the presentation.

fallen lords monster stats

There is, in fairness, a lot of information inherent in a game like this, but it’s too scattered around the interface. When a new room or monster is revealed, its card flashes quickly on the screen – not giving you a chance to really take it in until it starts resolving actions you probably don’t understand the first half-dozen plays. The artists, meanwhile, thought that flat-shaded, low-polygon renderings would be superior to counters. As such the vital stats of each monster – it’s hit points and abilities – remains hidden from the user unless they press and hold on a tiny icon on their player portrait. This then pops up an overlay of tiny information, useless unless you zoom in. Meanwhile, the enforced overhead view means that we lose what little detail exists in most of these “plastic minis.”

fallen lords dice

The dice are rolled, intuitively enough, by dragging them from the dice cup to the playfield. Unfortunately, you have to swipe quite aggressively to trigger the role in most cases. The dice also bounce off other things in the playfield – a neat idea, but it quite often causes the dice to spend 30 or so seconds being unable to settle, before being reset and rerolled. Similarly it is possible when the map is zoomed out to roll the dice under the playfield, which results in the same delay and reset. Combat is then executed by dropping dice onto matching monsters. Just hope that two monsters aren’t standing close together, as this may cause severe difficulty dropping dice onto the right one. Note also that some monster effects prevent your dice from hurting other monsters; there is next to no indication of this unless the monster’s icon is visible, so it’s all too easy to read this as the interface simply not cooperating, which is an all too frequent status to being with.

fallen lords card back

The documentation (a PDF) and the tutorial (a non-interactive gameplay video with voice over) both reside on external servers. This means that if you have no active connection to the Internet, you have no possible way to reference the rules. Of course during game play, quite a few of the game’s interface states prevent you from doing anything but dragging pieces around – and if it isn’t immediately clear what’s happening, you’re out of luck unless you close the app and do an Internet search. This is all doubly ironic when you consider that zero online gameplay options exist – the only option for multiplayer is having people gathered locally around the same iPad, making the online requirement to actually learn the game all the more puzzling.

fallen lords creature card 3

The interface also orients itself relative to which character is taking their turn, rather than to a single, consistent orientation of the iPad itself. This is very inconvenient for any scenario other than one in which four players are gathered around a table with the iPad in the center. You’d think there’d be an option to affect this, but no – the Options screen only lets you turn the music and sound effects on and off, and also something called “Analytics,” which isn’t explained anywhere in the game’s documentation.

Verdict

This game has some interesting ideas, but they are unfortunately buried in an app that just isn’t ready for primetime. This is in some ways more frustrating than if the game was bad. With dice that would roll at a simple tap, clearly labeled monster and player pieces that easily displayed all critical information at a glance, an interface that never froze to all except one certain, unexplained input…I repeat: this is not a bad game. The app itself just needs several months’ worth of spit and polish, with rigorous testing and strict adherence to best practices of interface guidelines, to really let the innovative game underneath shine through. Kudos to the game developers for putting a new spin on some older ideas. Now get some programmers of the same caliber.