The air is crisp, the night is young, and the streets are eerily quiet. As the full moon illuminates the clear evening sky, you step onto the front porch of a seemingly ordinary house in a row of seemingly ordinary houses. You wait for one beat, two beats, three. The faint chirping of crickets fills the air. Then, finally, a curious eye peers at you from the peephole, scrutinizing you for a bit, and the door finally opens.

You come face-to-face with an eccentric old shopkeeper named Krumit as he welcomes you into his quirky abode. He tells you why you’re here - you’re to save the world somehow even though you’re not quite sure yourself - but as the cards open themselves up to you under Krumit’s enchanted coat, you embark on an epic quest and your hero’s journey begins.

As exciting as that sounds, that’s really all I can make of the story. Oddly enough, for a game that’s titled “Krumit’s Tale”, it didn’t exactly give me much of the tale itself. But I digress.

"What time is it?" It's NOT Adventure Time

Launching on the 27th of August, Slothwerks’ followup to Meteorfall takes you on an intense adventure to rid what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world of evil creatures all wrapped up nicely in a roguelike deck building game. You have to make your way through each dungeon in the form of a 3x3 board - a new random tile drops down onto the board each time you clear one, either by defeating enemies or acquiring items and abilities. You basically have to defeat the creatures using weapons, shields, and magic abilities that you acquire throughout the dungeon. Once all the enemies are defeated, you get bonus gems for any unused tiles on the board and then move on to the next.

Of course, each dungeon gets progressively more difficult as you go through the world map (which looks like it was somehow destroyed by a toxic explosion of some sort), and when you die and lose a battle, you start from the very first dungeon all over again.

Everything reminds me too much of Adventure Time, and I’m a self-confessed AT nerd. I love everything about the show, from the artwork to the story to its really, really weird weirdness, and Krumit’s Tale is a lot like a game set in the AT world. Given that I thoroughly enjoyed playing Adventure Time’s own mobile card game titled Card Wars (based off an episode of the show with the same title), it probably gave me a slight bias over Krumit’s Tale in that I absolutely loved it just as much.

Unforgiving but addicting

The thing is, Krumit’s Tale might seem simple enough, but it’s actually excruciatingly difficult, mainly because the deck is random and because it unforgivingly banishes you back to the very beginning of the first dungeon when you lose. Of course, that’s common for a deck building roguelike, so that’s nothing against the game itself. But to win each battle, you really have to think a few steps ahead to gain the upper hand, as having the right cards isn’t enough.

One wrong move can spell the difference between a win or a loss, and there’s no room for overconfidence here. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I could breeze through the rest of the dungeon after defeating the boss only to get clobbered by a random minion right when I could see the finish line. There was even an incident (let’s call it the “No, I didn’t rage-quit after losing because I spent two hours in this run and still lost” incident) when I was finally at the final big boss of the game, in the last dungeon, with only the Uberlich as the last remaining enemy, with a quarter of his life left, and I thought I had him but then this passive tile called the Megaton reached the bottom row of the board and dealt me 5 damage and it was game over in an instant. As you can tell from That-Moment-Which-Shall-Henceforth-Not-Be-Named, I went on an epic rage-quit for like a minute, then went right back into the game and started all over again because I was just that addicted.

What inevitably draws you back even after a big loss is the fact that there are so many factors that come into play with every run. You can get dealt better cards, or you might realize that you could have done something differently in a certain dungeon. You could have skipped a turn in battle, or discarded a tile instead of using it. You could have saved your powerful weapon for later in the game, or you could have used it up to free some space in your 4-tile inventory. Do you consume gems to buy better, more powerful abilities, or do you keep the low-level tiles that cost less gold so that you can easily acquire them during battles? The possibilities are endless - add that to the fact that there are five heroes to choose from, each with their own pros and cons.

Mutations and heroes

If you play long enough and gain more experience, you can unlock all the characters so that you can have more options to choose from for each run. So far, I’ve been able to unlock them all, but out of Bruno, Greybeard, Mischief, Rose, and Muldorf, my favorite is Greybeard by far. He’s a sorcerer that uses spells to attack enemies from afar, which means that you damage your enemies mostly without even engaging them face-to-face in combat. Bruno is more of a confident melee fighter (those pouty lips don’t lie), Rose uses her hearts as a weapon (I like her second), and I believe Muldorf is a necromancer. His strategy mainly revolves around summoning skeleton creatures to fight for him in battle, which makes him my third pick.

I like Mischief least, probably because I have no idea how to play her. She’s intentionally more vulnerable, with less health and less basic damage, but she supposedly makes up for it using stealth. I lasted two rounds with her before I died an instant death, and never tried to use her again. She’s probably meant for more experienced players who’re looking for a challenge, and - sadly and admittedly - that’s just not me.

Speaking of challenges, at the start of each game, you can choose to go for a standard run or pick some mutations to keep things spicy. If the regular run bores you, you can opt for certain conditions to make your run more interesting. These conditions include handicaps or limits on your starting health and equipment. Once, I tried a mutation where each tile is a loot box that gives you random items with each round - it’s actually pretty fun, and it’s a nice change of pace if you’re tired of the regular ol’ dungeon.

There’s also an Easy Mode on the mutations list, which is a huge boon for anyone who gets frustrated easily. Fair warning, though: even though it’s supposedly “easy”, all it really does is give you a small handicap at the start of each dungeon. You still have to strategize carefully through each round, picking the right bonus cards (and shopping for extra ones using gems you win) at the start of every dungeon.

So many hours, so many questions

The ending sequence itself isn’t very satisfying - I guess after all that, I was kind of hoping for some fanfare at the very least. But I suppose the reward is the gameplay itself, and the satisfaction of having beaten the game through your wits and patience. Krumit’s warnings based on the Uberlich’s last words also set the game up for a possible sequel, so at least there’s something to look forward to.

A full run usually takes me two hours, because I tend to overthink my moves. I’ve managed to clock a total of 12 hours in this game, which is surprisingly more hours than I normally spend on action games like Uncharted on the Playstation 4 - what’s incredible is that you won’t even notice the time. At a price point of $6.99, the game doesn’t require an internet connection, and you can easily play it with one hand because it’s in portrait mode, so it’s the perfect mobile game to play anytime, anywhere. It also auto-saves your progress, so you can stop playing in the middle of a dungeon and come back to it later (although it can be really, really hard to stop playing when you're immersed in the thick of it).

Overall, Krumit’s Tale takes the typical deck building roguelike and adds a quirky twist to it that’s so odd, it’s good. I kind of wish there was a way to restart the same dungeon when you realize you’ve made a wrong move, or start from the same dungeon when you lose. But I guess that takes out the challenge from it all, doesn't it?

Also, I’ve always been a story-based gamer, so the lack of a deeper plotline is a shame, what with the richness of the character descriptions and Krumit’s own random ramblings throughout every dungeon. There could have been so much potential to expound on an already interesting world, as even the most basic items have fun captions.

Even the bosses don’t take themselves too seriously. For instance, Philanthropist Dragon Bartholomew (so he’s a good guy?) seems to have a personal vendetta against my hero, saying, “Greybeard - I’ll find you, one day, get my hand back, and make you regret betraying me! Ooh, a shiny…” Krumit’s notes refer to him as “the last known dragorn, a fearsome and unfortunate looking race born from highly irradiated chickens.” So I guess Greybeard probably ate his chicken leg or something? I need to know!

While these add a level of depth to the overall experience of the game, I still would have loved to learn more about the lore and about who Krumit actually is. What kind of horrid fate has befallen the world to make it look as gloomy as it does? What are gew-gaws? Who is the Uberlich? And why are Bruno’s lips so darn pouty? These are just some of my burning questions about the game, but alas, we will never know the answer to them.