Running a business is difficult, but running one successfully can seem like an impossible task, which is why there are games that provide a way to do just that. While you can spend time learning to run a real business like a theme park, it's more exciting to open up shop in a fantasy setting. Thanks to studios like Monster Shop Games, we can experience this in titles such as Dungeon Merchant. In addition to trying to survive in fantasy economics, there are also related debts that need to be paid and interesting gameplay.
Business games are usually made with the intent to run a company simply to see how far you can go. Dungeon Merchant is one of those cases that provide reasoning and motivation for wanting to open a shop in a world that has a need for adventurers. As the story goes, there was an evil wizard causing chaos throughout the land with an army of monsters. So, a band of brave warriors confronted the wizard at his tower and destroyed him, with only the mage surviving. However, when they returned to town, they were not greeted as heroes but instead were billed for the collateral damage caused by the explosion when the wizard died. To pay off the damages, the mage decides to open a shop for adventurers, and you're in charge of taking on this new noble cause.
Every business is different, but there are shared principles you can apply to each one to help guarantee success. Dungeon Merchant applies them to make for successful gameplay. For example, it's very active as a management-based game. You have the lower screen, which is tailored entirely to running your shop and gaining new stock or employees. Then there is the top screen, which is dedicated to adventuring and action. The balance between these two creates a dynamic and exciting scenario to keep you entertained no matter what you're focusing on at the time.
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Then there's the overall pacing. Most management games are passive with the goal of setting up as much automation as possible so you have to do less work. While this can be satisfying in its own way, it's a whole other kind of satisfaction to take matters into your own hand. There is always stock to go through, shelves to clear, merchants to deal with, orders to fulfil, warriors to hire, and dungeons to explore. You may not build a huge empire, but that's not the point. It's all about proving you can make the most of what you have.
If you're a good salesman, you'd want to do what's best for the customer while still making a profit - but this isn't how it always plays out. In Dungeon Merchant, sometimes you have to overcome a bad deal. This can be seen in the amount of RNG. You have no control over what warriors will show up for hire, and you can only have four at a time. So, if you enter a period of nothing but ghosts and a mage never shows up, you'll just need to struggle through and take a loss until one hopefully appears. This also applies to the chances of loot drops and what the travelling merchant will have for sale.
Then there's the issue that the game plateaus rather quickly. There's only a handful of upgrades you can buy and you can raise enough money for them with a dedicated play session. Once you do buy them, it's simply a matter of time of grinding and taking riskier dungeon missions until you raise the 100,000 gold needed to succeed.
Dungeon Merchant is a 2D management game about running a shop for dungeon adventurers to pay off the debt from their own adventure. It's active and varied, with a pace that keeps you moving. It does depend a fair amount on RNG to improve your chances and could use more in terms of expansion. After all, being a dungeon merchant can be a hard and fast life.